Looking for better sound quality for your audio recordings on the iPad? Try using a high quality USB microphone. Often these semi-pro microphone were specifically designed to work in certain audio situations (vocals, interviews, instrumental, ambiant, stereo, etc...). Using the Apple Camera Connection Kit, an iPad, and a USB microphone you can have a super versatile mobile recording studio.
Blue Microphones Yeti USB Microphone
The Yeti microphone is unique in that it can be configured to various audio situation usually requiring speciality or multiple mics. By rotating a dial you can record in the following modes:
Stereo - Good for vocals, ensemble choir, and instruments. Obviously in this mode the microphone captures distinct right and left channels of audio.
Cardioid - Good for podcasts, voice overs, vocals, instruments. Here the microphone is sensitive to sound close to the microphone, good for isolating out background audio.
Omnidirectional - Good for conference calls, field recordings, and events/orchestras. Just want to capture as much as you can regardless to direction, switch to omni.
Bidirectional - Good for interviews, instruments, and vocal duets. Like stereo bidirectional captures two channels of audio except forward and back.
The Yeti was the first mic I bought for the iPad. It works well in a wide variety of conditions, but the price you pay is size and weight. It is about 3x the physical size and weight as other microphones I have used. But it provides great control over audio recording. There is a audio jack for zero latency monitoring (when you plug in headphones into the mic you can hear what is being recorded with out any delay). A mute button (with LED) is good for coughs or outside conversations. Most importantly there is an audio gain button. On the iPad there are no controls to adjust the gain on USB microphones unlike most computer. So having an actual dial on the microphone is the only way to adjust the sensitivity of the microphone.
In addition to the lack of gain control, the iPad is very particular about the amount of power USB devices draw through the Camera adapter. While the Yeti works with the original iPad (plugged directly into the adapter), it tend to drop off in various situations. Remember in the movie Apollo 13 where the NASA engineers had to figure out correctly order to power up equipment in the capsule to have enough juice to activate the parachutes. It's like that you are right on the edge, if you plug in the Yeti at the wrong time the iPad will complain about too much power and refuse to work. Unplug and try again until it does. The iPad 2 is even more power miserly. The solution? Use a powered USB hub between the camera adapter and the Yeti. Adding the hub doesn't make the Yeti less portable considering it size, but plugging the hub in may add power considerations. I have a battery pack for the hub.
Using the Yeti is my first choice for its quality and versatility. It lists for $150, but I picked one up for under $100 two years ago. The Yeti gain control dial means you will be able to control the sensitivity of the mic on the iPad. It is big and heavy though. I did run into an occasion where the vocal talent felt too intimidated by the mic. I had to swap out equipment, but I still think the audio would have been better with the Yeti.
Samson Go Mic
Looking for something more portable than the Yeti, I got the Samson Go Mic. The size of a matchbox car, and including a handy clip attachment; the Go Mic looked like the answer. However I ran into several problems. The Go Mic draws enough power to require the use of a powered hub with the iPad and iPad 2. The hub (plus AC adapter) adds to size and weight on the portability scale, but nothing inconvenient. The main problem is the default sensitivity of the microphone—its too low. Without a way adjust the gain the built in mic may work just as well.
The Go Mic has two modes (omni and cardioid). In omni mode there wasn't much difference to the built in mic. Recording voice overs in cardioid mode make some sense, but you'll probably need to Normalize the sound in an audio editor app like TwistedWave. Attaching the mic to the iPad with the clip may be a good solution for recording podcasts on the road. This mic lists for $89, but can be had for under $50. I picked up one used for about $25.
Samson C01U USB Microphone
One of the first USB studio microphones to come to market, the Samson C01U is a cardioid mic good for vocals and close in sound. It captures high quality sound, but like the Go Mic (in fact lower than the Go Mic) is set for low sensitivity. Without gain control on the iPad, you will definitely need to boost the volume with an audio editor app (like TwistedWave). The good news is that because the C01U captures audio at such high quality the boost doesn't degrade the audio that much. You will have a hard time clipping the audio with this mic! You will probably need a pop filter though.
Another positive is that the C01U doesn't need a powered hub. It also comes with a long USB cable, and can be attached to a standard mic stand. Best of all since this mic has been on the market the longest it is also one of the cheapest. Originally listing for $85, it can be had for under $50. Again I picked up one used for under $20.
Samson Meteor Mic
The Meteor Mic is one of the first mic designer to be used with the iPad. This cardioid microphone is good for close-in audio like voice overs or instrumentals. It works with all iPads without needing a powered USB hub. It is small, portable, and to me has a great retro look. Like the Yeti, attach a headphone for zero latency monitoring. A mute button and volume control for the headphones are also included. A built in stand works well for portable situations and a stand attachment is available. The only thing I would change is swap out the headphone volume control for a gain control.
Since it was designed for the iPad the default setting for gain is set to a high sensitivity. Too high in my opinion (which is why gain control is important). You have to place the mic a little far away from a subject to avoid clipping. You will notice a big difference in sensitivity from the built-in iPad mic!
This is a newer mic so the list price of $99 is probably what you will have to pay. I was able to find a used one for $75 though. I carry around the Meteor Mic, but I use the Yeti for planned recording sessions.
- Blue Microphones YETI USB Microphone $103.99
- Samson Audio GoMic Portable USB Condenser Microphone - Black $48.95
- Samson Audio Open Box GoMic Portable USB Condenser Microphone - Black $44.50
- Samson C01U-USB Studio Condenser Microphone - Handheld - 40Hz to 18kHz - Cable $79.99
- Samson Audio Meteor Mic - USB Studio Microphone - SAMTR $99
- TwistedWave Audio Editor $9.99
- Apple iPad Camera Connection Kit $29.99
- Macally 4 Port USB 2.0 Hub $17.99