iPhone 4 as audio recorder with external mic: a comparison

I’m a big believer in the best microphone being the one you have with you, and that getting it close to your subject is 80 percent of great audio. Since I always have my iPhone 4 with me, I always have a microphone. But can you really record great audio with it? Or even useable audio?

I decided to run a comparison. Beforehand, I ordered a great little device from KVconnection.com, which allows you to use a self-powered external mic with iPhone 4. It’s called KM-IPHONE-MIC and it costs only 18 bucks.

I did the test in my office, which is a fairly small 13×24 space without much wallcovering, hardwood floors with a throw run, definitely the kind of less-than-ideal recording environment that I have to work in all the time. Perfect for this test.

I ran three tests, reading the first lines from Origin of Species (which I’m currently reading in preparation for a December trip to the Gallapagos Islands). I held the phone and mic about a foot away from my mouth (except for the iPhone earbud mic, which I let hang in its natural position when worn in the ear, which is about 3″ from my mouth. Listen to the results:

1. iPhone with internal mic: Play

2. iPhone with earbud mic: Play

3. iPhone with adapter and Rode VideoMic: Play

4. For a control, I recorded my Tram TR50 recorded to my Zoom H4N. Play

Conclusion: The iPhone with adapter and Rode VideoMic sounds decent! (But as I discovered during this testing and posted previously, the Rode VideoMic suffers from horrible handling issues and so is only useful when I can mount it to a stand while recording). Bottom line is: I could actually use the iPhone with adapter and powered mic for a documentary project if I have to. The external powered mic cuts down on the brightness that’s picked up in both of the iPhone’s native recording configurations. In a pinch I could even use the built-in iPhone mic. But I’ll skip the earbud mics – they sound really tinny to my ear.

44 thoughts on “iPhone 4 as audio recorder with external mic: a comparison

  1. George Jones


    I would suggest you use Dual System Audio. Record Scratch audio via iPhone 4 internal mic & record Production audio via the Zoom H4n portable audio recorder.

    You would sync up both audio channels via PluralEyes http://www.singularsoftware.com/pluraleyes.html The mono analaog audio recorded on the iPhone 4 internal Mic / external Mic input cuts off below 200 Hz and has other fidelity issues.

    I would invest in a battery powered Rode NTG-2 Mic Kit with the excellent Pearston LMT00 Shockmount (to reduce handling noise) versus the lower end Rode VideoMic with flimsy Shockmount. The NTG-2 / Shockmount Kit is $269 at B&H. http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/481528-REG/Rode_NTG_2_Condenser_Shotgun_Microphone.html

    You should also invest in a good deadcat to reduce wind noise and boom pole when shooting outside.

    I use a Zoom H2 with a $25 ATR-3350 Lav Mic and a $50 ECZ-990 Shotgun Mic feeding into a Y cable on the H2 for 2 channel audio and sync in PluralEyes with the scratch audio off my iPhone 4. The 2 battery powered Mics mentioned above are real “portable” also.


    1. Dan

      Hi George,

      Thanks for the tips, especially about the Rode NTG-2 kit. Looks like a big step up from the VideoMic, which I find totally useless due to poor shockmount design.

  2. Rick

    Hm, just wondering, is there a reason that I’d have to use that adapter? Or would it work if I just had an XLR to 1/4″ with an 1/8″ adapter on the end?

    1. Dan McComb

      Hi Rick,
      You DO need the special adapter, which has pasive components that provide DC blocking/isolation between the microphone input for device protection, as well as impedance matching components that allow it to function.

  3. leo

    i have a couple of questions about the rode video mic with km-iphone mic adapter.

    what setting on the mic did you use for the sample?

    did you use the voice recording app that came with the iphone 4? you know the red app with a vintage capsule mic?

    lastly, with using the KM-iphone adapter. have you tried recording with the rode mic while the switch off on the rode mic? did it still record voice?

    1. Dan McComb

      I used the basic setting, which is on with low-cut not enabled. I used the voice memo app that comes with iPhone. With the switch off, it doesn’t record – it requires power.

  4. Golden

    I am trying to find the best way to use my iPhone 4 as a dictation/recorder device THROUGH an external lapel mic, to record lectures and speeches.

    I’m not even sure where to start! Any advice on a good quality lapel mic as well as a great recording app? I want to be able to use these recordings in the future, possibly as voice over for video or advertisments.

    Any help is greatly appreciated!

  5. Jesus

    Will this adapter also work if I record video? I wonder if the audio could improve if I record with an external mic. Thanks.

  6. Jesus

    Awesome. I’m about to start a short film project with my iPod, so hopefully I get good results, thank you for this great review.

  7. Peter

    I’ve tried the KV connector for impedence match with my iphone-4, but the phone refuses to acknowledge anything except the internal mics. Is there a trick or special app required?

    1. Dan McComb

      Hi Peter,
      Are you sure you’ve got the correct KV connector? As long as you’ve got one that is designed to work with the iPhone 4, you should be all set. I know there is a difference between iPhone 3 and 4 models.

  8. Peter

    Thanks, but I have the one they listed and sent to me as compatible with the iPhone 4. Just can’t seem to find any way, either in my FIRe app, or the on-board Voice Memo app, or in the settings menu to switch off the built-in microphones.

  9. Chris Reardon

    Hi Dan. I have bought the said adaptor and have a Sony Electret Condenser lapel mic plugged in, but it is still recording with the internal mic (Iphone 4). Do I need to adjust settings somewhere ? I want to use it with the Video Camera function on the iphone. Thanks.

    1. Dan McComb

      HI Chris,
      As long as the batteries are good in your mic and the jack is plugged all the way in, you should be set using this adapter. I just tested it again with my Tram TR50, and it works great. Maybe there’s something about the Sony mic you have that’s different from my Tram, but seems the Sony should work fine.

  10. Fernando

    Great article! Quick question, would I be able to plug in an external audio source (like from an audio interface or the audio out on a macbook) and 1/8″ into this adapter to record audio? I’m actually looking to record a super clear voicemail greeting and am a bit iffy on shelling out the 20 bones to get it.

  11. Dave

    Hey Dan!

    Thanks for the great article and sample comparisons.

    I’m with Fernando, curious about 1/8″ line-in recording with the KM-IPHONE-MIC. Could you be convinced to try it? Also, this is mono-only, correct?

  12. Dave

    Did more research, back with my own answers. There’s a product with an inline attenuator specifically for line-level input called the KM-IPHONE-MIC-A22. And the mic input has to be mono, as the four bands on the plug are stereo out, mono mic and ground. Thanks again for the article!

  13. Dave

    No problem. I received the KM-IPHONE-MIC-A22 and it certainly works but seems to cut a lot of low-end. I may have to go back with the KM-IPHONE-MIC solution. Incidentally, I was very impressed with the quality of the connector from kvconnection.com – will certainly order from them again.

  14. Jason

    I’ve been using the KV adapter with my iPhone 4 for a while now, or rather, not using. What I found was that when shooting video with a variety of external mics, the audio level is just too low to use. I’ve tried the Rode VideoMic, Azden ECZ 990, and a Sony handheld whose number I forget. After importing into Final Cut Express, the sound levels barely register.

    I wonder if anyone else has had this happen? It seems from the reviews that it might just be me, but I’d really like to be able to use an external mic with the iPhone.

    Thanks for your help!

    1. Dan McComb

      Hi Jason,
      Almost sounds like a result that would happen if the mic wasn’t powered correctly. Also check to make sure that the connector supports iPhone 4 – some of the connectors work only with iPhone 3.

  15. dan collison

    i’d like to use an external mic (i have a battery powered sennheiser and audiotechnica shotguns) with an iphone 4, using the KV adaptor. jason (above) says the level is low. anyone else have that problem? also, can i use headphones while recording?

  16. Al Thom

    I need an app that will allow me to record via an external mic (and I’ve got the relevant mics and cables) and then e-mail the recorded track. I’ve tried Fire2, I don’t want to publish the track to the web, just e-mail it. I also tried 1st Edit, but it’s not very user friendly. Any recommendations?

    1. Dan McComb

      Hi Al,
      The main limitation with emailing is going to be file size. Many email servers won’t allow delivery of files larger than 10 megs. But as long as the file is under that limit, you should be fine to email using your mail app. I know you can do this with Apple’s Voice Memo app, which comes on all iPhones.

  17. Colin Rowley


    Thanks for the work in putting this test together. It’s helpful.

    So, I’ve tested some things here on my own. I purchased a kvConnection ECM-MIC adapter (KM-IPHONE-MIC-ECM vs. KM-IPHONE-MIC) which allows me to use non-powered ECM lavalier microphones with my iPhone 4.

    First, I tried the Olympus ME-15 mono lavalier ECM microphone with the iPhone. Seems to really work great, but the mic feels a lil cheap to me.

    Second, I have some Sony Electret Condenser lapel mics (stereo instead of mono) laying around so I thought I tried these (seem to be a nicer and sturdier lapel mic), but didn’t work with the kv adapter (similar to @Chris’s experience). I thought it might be because it was stereo instead of mono, so I converted to mono with a 3.5 mm adapter and I still wasn’t able to get it to work. Any advice? I’d really like to use the Sony ECM lapels if possible (which are non-powered).

  18. Elliot

    Hi Dan

    I am actually trying to find an external mic that will replicate in every way the iPhone 4’s built-in mic. Although the iPhone’s mic is perfect my uses, I need something I can move a little closer in proximity to my subject than the camera itself.

    I already tried a couple Audio-Techica’s (ATR6550 and AT8010) using the KV adapters, but they’re not even close.

    Any suggestions?

  19. eric

    Hi Dan:
    I just bought an itouch 4 and want to get the setup optimized to record bird song, to the extent that it will allow. I am pretty clueless about audio recording technology and would appreciate if you could spell out exactly what I would need to buy to achieve this. I am having trouble sorting through all the tech stuff above. Thanks much for your help.

  20. Jorge Fleites

    I own fade county barbershop and have a 60 d cannon what mic would you recommend for reality type filming a tha shop. I am also a rookie to the industry and need a editing program for my PC

    1. Dan McComb

      Hi Jorge,
      I’d recommend the Rode VideoMic Pro. It’s got a killer feature that allows you to set your internal recording level to 1 (which is almost nothing), and increase the level of the mic to +20db. That allows you to effectively bypass the crappy Canon preamps, and use the much better mic preamps that Rode provides. This results in about the best quality of sound you can get without going to a more expensive and bulky solution such as Sound Devices MixPre-D or Juicedlink box. It’s my favorite on-camera mic. Just be careful if you get into noisy environments – you will need to turn down the +20 setting to 0 in that case or you’ll get clipped signals, as the mic really sends it in hot to the camera.

  21. Sebastian


    Great writeup – I found this page through a Google search trying to find an answer to my question. I was curious if the same information above applies to Android devices (Nexus 7, Galaxy S3 to be specific) ? I wish to record some interviews and dictation for a short film. I already have a Rode Stereo Videomic and am willing to spend a little bit of money to either get a battery lav or a device where I can use my Rode with my Android tab/phones.

    I am a total audio noob so feel free to share as much as you are willing to!

    Thanks much, open to suggestions

    1. Dan McComb

      I’m not familiar with the Rode app, but I doubt that it can record phone calls using the iPhone on the same phone. You could, however, use it in place of the Zoom H4N to record a call on a different phone. Make sense?


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