What iPad recording/microphone interface should I get?
February 1, 2019 12:07 PM   Subscribe

Amateur musician, just starting to mess around with iPad music apps, interested in various kinds of recording. What iPad interface should I get? Lots of questions below:

I'm a singer but also mess around with a bunch of other instruments and musicians - guitar/other instruments with both 1/4" jacks and XLR.

What iPad interface should I get (to start with)? I'm interested in a use case that is basically a glorified field recorder, where I won't be using a mixer or have power available, and another use case with a mixer involved.

Are they all basically just a preamp or is there some other function that I should look for?

If I'm using a mixer, do I need something different than a preamp as the interface between the mixer and the iPad?

I see lots of options online. The interfaces connect to the iPad via lightning or via the 1/8" headphone jack. What are the pros and cons?

Recording I currently do (with a shitty digital voice recorder) or want to do:
-I record all my rehearsals for learning purposes. I drag a voice recorder with me EVERYWHERE. I plan to just get a lightning or 1/8" mic for my phone to replace this, for portability. i'm unclear on whether one style of input is better than the other here.
-I'd like the ability to record off the mixing board for an event I run
-I'd like to be able to be able to have a fairly portable setup for doing field recording with microphones, for which I need a preamp. I like to sing in echoey places and found environments , and I'd like to do some kind of more serious recording project around this.

Basically for home stuff I'd likely be working with my mixer, and for some field recording situations, I'd like the interface to be a preamp so I can use a mic directly with the iPad without having to power a mixing board or other stuff. I don't think I'll need more than one input in any of these settings.

I'm not sure that the gadget I'm shopping for today needs to be the perfect gadget for a more professional-quality field recording that I'm planning for the future, though, right now I just want a $100ish thing for home use.
posted by twoplussix to Computers & Internet (7 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
No idea, just a question: what's the mixer at the event you run? If it's a newer digital mixer it may be able to send a stereo or multitrack mix out over USB, in which case you don't need an interface at all for that.

Also: "I don't think I'll need more than one input in any of these settings." You probably do want stereo at least?
posted by bfields at 12:35 PM on February 1, 2019


Do you already own the microphones? Is the ipad necessary?

Reading the question my immediate inclination is to recommend an actual cheap field recorder like the Tascam DR 5x, which has tolerable built-in stereo condensers and can also take a stereo signal via 1/8" TRS.

A class-compliant USB interface (the Focusrite Scarlett series, e.g.) will work with ios, but then you're introducing at least two more cables into the mix, and you'll probably need a powered hub to get enough phantom power for a real condenser mic. I have found USB and 1/8" connected mics to be generally garbage, but someone else may have better recommendations there.
posted by aspersioncast at 1:22 PM on February 1, 2019


I have vocal mics I like and I don't want to own a pricey field recorder- I want to get directly into learning to use DAWs and the iPad is kind of a toy/hobby step to get me to that.

Part of that is a matter of money- I got an iPad Air2 for $100, I'll use it for other music apps and can replace it when it breaks or if I drop it in water or something (real scenario- I do a music jam space at a boating/floating event and things really do go swimming sometimes), the particular field recorder I'd be interested in is more like $600 and rarely comes up on Craigslist, etc.

i'm probably talking about two different products- a super cheapo interface to get me started, and a different product later for the more serious thing I want to do with field recordings.


The question about stereo:

I have this Yamaha mixer at home and I sometimes take it to little jam sessions of about 3 people with mics and instruments. I think we just output from the headphone jack and into an guitar amp. If I wanted to record it's output, what would the setup be? We tend to use the mixer as the only vocal effects on the mics and don't want to complicate that further.

Once every few years I'm in a performing project that plays folk music at small clubs that have an actual professional system and I think I'm gearing up to start another band/project. Once in a blue moon someone had gotten a recording off the mixing board but I can't for the life of me remember how that worked. It was probably someone else's field recorder and likely that someone was friends with the sound guy. I'd like to set up to do that in the future and I'd love to hear any ideas on how that generally works.
posted by twoplussix at 1:55 PM on February 1, 2019


I have a Zoom H5 portable recorder that also works as an interface. The H5 has two combo inputs plus the built in xy pair and provides phantom power. A self-contained device is much nicer than dealing with cables for field recording or recording shows. You could run either the XLR or 1/4 outputs from your mixer into the recorder (or whatever interface you choose). The Zoom doesn’t quite line up to the criteria you listed, but I think it’s worth considering.
posted by doctord at 4:56 PM on February 1, 2019 [1 favorite]


That is the field recorder I'd like to own, but can't afford. It's really a spectacular machine.
posted by twoplussix at 5:46 PM on February 1, 2019


"I have this Yamaha mixer at home and I sometimes take it to little jam sessions of about 3 people with mics and instruments. I think we just output from the headphone jack and into an guitar amp. If I wanted to record it's output, what would the setup be?"

Looks like it's effectively got four output channels--the "L" and "R" under "stereo out', and the stereo jack under "phones". So run one of those to the amp, one to your ipad. This is probably just a matter of having the right cables, no preamps or anything fancier required.

Or just record from a mic in front of the amp or somewhere in the room.

"I'd like to set up to do that in the future and I'd love to hear any ideas on how that generally works."

I'm not terribly experienced, I've only done this a few times. But I've done it two different ways:

1. I recorded from my own Behringer X18, which can send 18 tracks over USB to my laptop. On my laptop I run a DAW (Ardour in my case, which is free). It takes a little one-time setup in the DAW to map the channels coming in over USB to tracks in the DAW, then I just hit record and go. Later I can mix them down if I want. I suspect an ipad is capable of doing the same thing, all that's needed (besides the right kind of mixer) is a usb cable and some software.

2. At a venue with a PA and a soundguy, I brought my Zoom H4n, which has two inputs and two mics, and can record from all four of those things simultaneously. I asked the soundguy for two outputs to plug into my H4n, and he gave me outputs basically representing the same thing he was sending to his PA speakers. Afterwards I compared the recording from the mics and the recording from his mixer, and the one from the mics was more useful. For example, the drums were to low in the recording from the mixer--he didn't need to have turn them very high since the drums are loud on their own and only needed a little reinforcement from the PA.

A smaller field recorder like the Zoom H1n might be enough for now, a step up from your voice recorder but still in budget?
posted by bfields at 3:04 PM on February 2, 2019 [1 favorite]


Considering all you want to do, I think the real answer is "save your money, buy the Zoom." I'm seeing the Zooms for sale new around $280 US, and spending over a third of that for a thing that is less flexible and useful for you in the long run will just delay the point at which you can afford the Zoom.

If you absolutely must have something right now, either $40 iRig Pre or this $60 Behringer UMC22 should get you started with something. The catch with the Behringer or similar interfaces is that it's often unclear whether or not they will receive sufficient power from the Lightning port to work in situations where you don't have any access to power - so its use as part of a "field recorder" setup might be limited.

Are they all basically just a preamp or is there some other function that I should look for?

They also convert from the original analog signal to digital information so you can transfer the files to another computer/ipad/etc. This can be done in real time.

And then there's the part where they do some signal routing and time correction so that when you're working on multitrack recordings (in your DAW), you can overdub new parts while listening to the original recording and get the timing correct.

The Zoom and Behringer (or similar models from Focusrite, Steinberg, and others) will do this, the iRig won't.

If I'm using a mixer, do I need something different than a preamp as the interface between the mixer and the iPad?

Mostly, no. Mixers (and guitars and keyboards) put out a much louder signal - relatively speaking - than a microphone, but units like the Zoom & Behringer & etc will have a gain or level control so you can set the correct input level to the preamp.

The interfaces connect to the iPad via lightning or via the 1/8" headphone jack. What are the pros and cons?

While lightning/USB connectors are not fault-free, any 1/8 jack is just a cheap little connector with tiny metal spring contacts that can break and bend and get dirty. I use 1/8 connections all the time because that's what manufacturers provide on phones and laptops and whatever, but if I can avoid it I do.

Also, there's a good chance that the analog-to-digital-conversion is better in a standalone preamp than the one in the iPad, so if you connect via lightning you'll get a better signal.

(Another reason to go for the Zoom is that it has an internal memory, so if anything goes awry with the connection to the iPad, you'll still have a recording that you can transfer later.)

-I record all my rehearsals for learning purposes. I drag a voice recorder with me EVERYWHERE.
-I'd like the ability to record off the mixing board for an event I run
-I'd like to be able to be able to have a fairly portable setup for doing field recording


All arguments for saving your money for the Zoom - runs off batteries, has built in microphones as backup/additional sounds, takes up way less space and fewer cables than a preamp + iPad. I mean, see username - I'm a live soundguy, I record on people's Zooms (or similar) all the time. Somebody from the act walks up to me with a Zoom and asks for a recording off the mixer, I go, "Sure, no problem." Ideally they have their own cables, but if not I've got spares, and I can if needed hide the thing somewhere so a random passerby can't just steal it if I'm not by the mixer (even soundguys used to 16-hour days need to pee and eat. . . . ) You show up with an external preamp and an iPad I'm gonna go, "Look, sorry, I just don't have anywhere to put it, especially not somewhere safe."

I think we just output from the headphone jack and into an guitar amp

I'm not sure why you would not just use the 1/4" main outputs (the ones in the "stereo out" blue area) for this.

If I wanted to record it's output, what would the setup be?

You would use either the XLR or the 1/4" main outputs into the preamp/Zoom input(s). (as per bfields above.)

We tend to use the mixer as the only vocal effects on the mics

I am not quite sure what you mean here - "effects" usually refers to things like reverb and delay, and your mixer doesn't have those.

Once in a blue moon someone had gotten a recording off the mixing board but I can't for the life of me remember how that worked. It was probably someone else's field recorder and likely that someone was friends with the sound guy. I'd like to set up to do that in the future and I'd love to hear any ideas on how that generally works.

I kinda covered that already, but yeah - most mixers have multiple output jacks, depending on the make and model they can be XLR, 1/4" or RCA. Again, having your own cables plus a handful of adapters to convert plugs makes life a lot easier for me, I don't have to take time poking around in my own stuff to see if I can connect your recorder. You don't have to be friends with the sound tech, but of course you should be polite and friendly and patient - I am at work and connecting a recorder to the mixer can be pretty darn low on my priority list. Let the tech make the connections out of the board, hand you the cables, you plug into your preamp/Zoom, set input levels.

And as I mentioned, doing this with a small "field recorder" like the Zoom is easy-peasy. Anything more complicated is more likely to make me balk, because I really might not have time or space to deal with it.

Plus as bfields points out, the nice thing about the Zooms or similar is that you also have built-in mics, which can definitely work better in some contexts -I can't tell you how many shows I've mixed in small venues (and even in big ones or outside) where there's no electric guitar or snare drum going through the mixer and PA system because they're just damn loud on their own, I don't need to amplify them further.

Add it all up - I say save your money, buy the Zoom.
posted by soundguy99 at 11:35 AM on February 3, 2019


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