How to record audio from Mac to iPad while also using headphones
June 19, 2021 2:46 PM   Subscribe

How can I record audio from Zoom calls on my Mac to my iPad, while also using headphones? I've tried a splitter...

Notability is a note-taking app that lets me take handwritten notes synced with audio recordings. I can tap a note I took and hear the audio from that point in time. I use it on an iPad with an Apple Pencil. I'd like to use it for taking notes about Zoom calls that I join from my Mac, but I use headphones for those. So I need a way for the audio to go to my headphones and to the iPad at the same time.

I tried connecting a splitter to my mac's AUX port. One side of the splitter goes to my headphones. The other side goes to a cable that has a lightning jack that goes into my iPad. I thought that might work because I've seen microphones that connect to the lighting port (e.g.). But my splitter + cable doesn't bring sound into the iPad. Is there something that would?
posted by daisyace to Technology (22 answers total)
Have you tried opening zoom on both computers? You could record on the ipad and participate on the other.
posted by parmanparman at 3:16 PM on June 19, 2021 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: parmanparman, I'm concerned that'd make my participating connection suffer. We don't have the best bandwidth here, and I'm moderating interviews, so I need all the quality I can get.
posted by daisyace at 3:45 PM on June 19, 2021

Maybe a dumb question, but why not join the Zoom call from the iPad?
posted by praemunire at 3:52 PM on June 19, 2021 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: praemunire, a bunch of reasons. First ones to come to mind are... I use the iPad screen real estate for taking notes in Notability, so I use my Mac screen and an external monitor for the participant's video, all the docs I screen-share, the chat where clients can let me know if there are questions they want me to ask, etc. Plus, the meeting links and the docs I screen-share are on my Mac, so it would be extra steps to get them onto the iPad. And I use the Mac's built-in camera for my own video, so I'd need to get a separate one.
posted by daisyace at 4:56 PM on June 19, 2021

Rogue Amoeba makes a bunch of audio utilities, and it looks like perhaps using Airfoil on your Mac with Airfoil Satellite on your iPad, you could do this. I haven't tried it.
posted by adamrice at 5:14 PM on June 19, 2021 [1 favorite]

Notability appears to be in the Mac App Store. I don't have a MacBook and I'm not completely familiar with the Mac App Store, but could you try running it from the Mac App Store? The bottom right of the Notability website has a link to the Mac App Store. I know sometimes Apps have a hard time sharing audio, so I don't know if Notability is something that can run concurrently with Zoom.

If you have a newer M1 Mac, they have the capability to run iOS/iPadOS Apps.
posted by mundo at 5:15 PM on June 19, 2021

Response by poster: Looking at Airfoil, it seems to be for playing sound, not recording it. I want a sound IN solution to the iPad, like a microphone, not a sound OUT from the iPad, like a speaker. Although maybe I'm wrong and it would work if I set my iPad up with Airfoil to play the Zoom audio from my Mac, and plugged my headphones for the call in to the iPad rather than into my Mac? If I did that, I wonder whether or not the speaker that my headphones have would still get my voice to the Zoom call as well. If that doesn't sound like a non-starter, I can give it a try.

mundo, I need to take handwritten notes on the iPad with an Apple Pencil. I can't do that from the Mac.
posted by daisyace at 5:52 PM on June 19, 2021

Best answer: I know you’re trying to reduce bandwidth so you’re reluctant to open Zoom on both your Mac and iPad, but if you turn off the iPad video and mute the iPad microphone, it should use very minimal bandwidth. The Zoom website states that audio only connections require a mere 60-80kbps .

I would try testing this setup to see how it works. You could alternatively connect the iPad to a cellphone hotspot and it would be using a fairly small amount of data on a separate network.
posted by mundo at 6:47 PM on June 19, 2021 [2 favorites]

Is the splitter designed for the four band apple headphones including a mic? It seems like you need the audio input (mono) swapped with one output channel of the computer
posted by nickggully at 8:00 PM on June 19, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Do the headphones you use include a mic you speak into?

And what kind of splitter are you using?

Shortish version is that 1/8" headphone/aux jacks & plugs that do headphones and a microphone have 3 little black bands, meaning 4 connections on the plug & wiring. They're called Tip Ring Ring Sleeve. If it's just headphones there's only 3 connections, Tip Ring Sleeve - left, right, and ground/common.

So if you were using a headphone splitter, like, "share your music with a friend, you both plug your earbuds in and listen to the same iPod" then it might have been missing that 4th connection point, so no "microphone"/audio output signal to the iPad. So a different splitter might work. Specifically a TRRS splitter, like this one.

Or, not sure how well this would work, but if your Mac has Bluetooth you could try using a set of AirPods or similar, use those wirelessly for the Zoom, and then the aux out to the iPad.
posted by soundguy99 at 8:03 PM on June 19, 2021 [1 favorite]

The Headset Buddy should do the trick. Disclaimer: I have not used it myself. I ended up getting a cheap Behringer audio interface (plus a camera connection kit) to get audio into my iPhone.
posted by O9scar at 8:45 PM on June 19, 2021

Response by poster: Ok, thanks! I think I need follow-up help -- here's where I am so far...

- I tried the two-Zooms option and it doesn't work. Great to know that connecting the iPad without video and on mute would use very little bandwidth. But the iPad won't record in a separate app (whether Notability or Apple's own Voice Memo) while it's on a Zoom. So I think that's a dead end.

- So, I need different connectors. I never knew that the number of black bands tells you whether an AUX jack has a mic! Both my splitter and my cable have just two, so yes, I'd need new ones. Except before I order those... there's Headset Buddy. I don't think I get what it does. Is it basically a three-black-band splitter but without the splitter? Or is there something else it does? If I got a splitter and cable with three black bands, would that do what I want, or would I need Headset Buddy for something as well?
posted by daisyace at 9:27 AM on June 20, 2021

Best answer: In addition to the number of connections/bands on your plug, you also need to make sure that they are connected properly. In your case, you need to get the speaker output from the mac connected to the microphone input of the ipad. Most cables (including the one you already have) connect the wires straight through, so you'd end up with the mac's speaker output connected to the ipad's speaker output, and the ipad's mic input would be connected to either the mac's mic, or to nothing at all.

And even more complexity, you need to have the input come in at the right level. The microphone input is very sensitive, since the signal that comes from a microphone is pretty low power. The power that is needed to drive speakers/headphones is much higher, so if you connect an output that is intended to drive headphones into a microphone input, it's too high, and you'll get a blown out recording.

There are two ways around that--either get something that's expecting that higher power, often called a "line level" input, or get an adapter to reduce the power down to what the mic input is expecting. The Headset Buddy linked above is designed for the second option; it will reduce the power down to what would be expected by a microphone, and presumably also connect the wires internally so that the speakers from the mac get connected to the mic on the ipad. You would also need a Male-to-Male TRS cable to connect from your existing splitter to the female end of the Headset Buddy. (You don't need TRRS, because you don't care about getting anything into the mac's microphone.)

Looking at their website, they also have a Line-Level Audio Plus Monitoring product, that would also let you to plug in your headphones to the adapter, so you would be listening to what you were recording. Depending on how important it is to you that you know the recording is getting good audio, you may or may not want to go this path instead. You'd still need the male-to-male TRS cord to connect the mac to the adapter.

All this is assuming your headphones don't have a microphone on them that you want to use, or at least, that it doesn't go though into the mac through the same plug. If that's the case, then you've got a more difficult problem still.

Caveat: I don't own either of the adapters, nor have I personally done anything quite like this. I think this should work, but I've been wrong before.
posted by yuwtze at 11:37 AM on June 20, 2021

Best answer: And I'm just realizing that this might be even more complex--if Zoom doesn't play back your own audio into your headphones (and I suspect it doesn't), then it won't be recorded on the ipad, and you'll get a recording of everyone except you. If the only use of the recording is to sync to when you're taking notes, this may not be an issue, since I'd guess you're not often taking notes while you are talking, but if that is the case, you've got even more issues.

Would be possible to join the zoom audio-only on a third device (cell phone, personal computer) and then plug that device into the ipad with the adapters? That way, your existing setup with your headphones/mic to the mac remains untouched, and the ipad recording will have both sides of the call.
posted by yuwtze at 11:51 AM on June 20, 2021

Shit, yeah, yuwtze has a point re: the proper connections.

The more I look at it, the more I think adamrice's Airfoil idea might be the easiest way to go.

Looking at Airfoil, it seems to be for playing sound, not recording it. I want a sound IN solution to the iPad, like a microphone, not a sound OUT from the iPad, like a speaker.

I think you may be misinterpreting things? The way I read the Airfoil page is you put Airfoil on your Mac desk/laptop, have it send the audio from your Zoom, then you have Airfoil Satellite on your iPad which receives the sound & sends it to Notability.

Looks like they're free to try, anyway, so maybe give it a shot.
posted by soundguy99 at 2:59 PM on June 20, 2021

Response by poster: Hmmm. Airfoil won't do it. They have fantastic support, and when I got in touch, they wrote a detailed and knowledgable reply right back, one key part of which is, "While you could use Airfoil to send audio to your iPad for local listening, we don't currently have any iPadOS apps that could then send that audio received by Airfoil Satellite to Notability for recording."

Some clarifications:
- I DO use the mic on my headphones for the Zoom call.
- I don't care about recording quality beyond being able to make out what's being said. My basic use is: I see a note I took and I don't remember what it meant or I want to hear it word-for-word. I tap that bit of my notes and re-listen to the audio.
- Though it's not ideal, I could live with not capturing my own voice on the Notability recording.
- Yes, I could Zoom in audio-only from a third device if that somehow helps matters.

If either of you, soundguy99 and yuwtze (or anyone else for that matter), has an idea which splitters, connectors, and/or Headset Buddy products are likely enough to work and can tell me a set-up to try, I'm up for trying it! I'll also try reaching support at Headset Buddy tomorrow and see if they have thoughts.
posted by daisyace at 5:25 PM on June 20, 2021

Best answer: Does your headphones have a single TRRS (3 bands) plug? Or are there two plugs that you plug into two separate ports on your mac? Two jacks is easier to deal with because we can think about the headphone and microphone separately, but a lot of newer computers went with a single port in the last few years. (I'm not familiar with Apple, so I haven't tracked what they have been doing.)

I think there's two paths that are likely to work.
1) Get the Mic-Line - Line-Level Audio Input Adapter and a generic TRS (or TRRS?) male-to-male cord. Use a third device to play the zoom call, plug one end of the male cord into the third device, plug the other end into the Headset Buddy's female end, plug the Headset Buddy's male end into the ipad. Use the mac & headphones like you normally do. This will get you both sides of the call, though possibly on a slight delay.

2a) Assuming your laptop headphones have two plugs. Same hardware as 1), but plug the male-to-male cable into your existing splitter, and plug the splitter into the mac. Plug your headphone plug into the splitter. Plug your microphone plug into the mac directly. You get only the other side of the call.

2b) If the headphone has one plug (which is most likely). Same hardware as 1), but source another splitter/adapter that passes the microphone through, but splits out the headphones. I realized just a bit ago that I have this adapter, which I bought without reading the details and which turned out to be incorrect for my needs, so it's been sitting on my desk as a fidget for the last year. I think the intended use case is exactly what you have, but I haven't tried it in that application. You still get only the other side of the call.

So now that I've written it all out, I guess the first linked Headset Buddy is the one you want. They should be able to tell you if the male-to-male cord needs to be TRS or TRRS, or if it matters, and may be able to recommend a different splitter/adapter to use at the mac end if you want to go that route.
posted by yuwtze at 6:12 PM on June 20, 2021

(Thinking more about the TRS vs TRRS for the male-to-male cable. I think this only partially matters, because a TRS cable in a TRRS jack will short the microphone connection to ground. This is fine if you don't care about the microphone, but we do in option 2b. If the splitter/adapter at the mac end connects the mic to both sides, and you use a TRS cable, it's likely to short the mic and ground pins on the both sides of the adapter, which will prevent the mic on your headset from working. If you know your adapter only connects the mic on one side (like the adapter I have does), than a TRS is fine for 2b, but if you use a true TRRS splitter, you'd need a TRRS cable and also need the Headset Buddy not to short the mic to ground internally. TRS would work for 1 or 2a. TRS is probably easier to come by.)

I'd be glad to send you my adapter/splitter, if you want to memail me an address. It's destined to live out the rest of its life in my pile of junk cables, so I won't miss it.
posted by yuwtze at 6:43 PM on June 20, 2021

Could you do this with Zoom running on the iPad and one of those adapters that splits a TRRS headset/mic jack like the iPad has into separate TRS headphone and mic jacks, then plug a double-headed TRS cable between both halves of that splitter?

I'm pretty sure if you connect to a Zoom meeting on the iPad (with video disabled and the mic muted), then switch to Notability as the foreground app, Zoom will continue to send the audio to the iPad's headphone jack, where the splitter connected to itself would send it right back in to the mic pin of that same jack. I don't know if there would be problems with levels. But if it did work, it would have the advantage of recording everything, including your voice.
posted by hades at 8:34 PM on June 20, 2021

Response by poster: yuwtze, thank you so much for all your additional detailed help, and for the offer of your adapter/splitter! My headphones/mic do have a single TRRS plug to go into the Mac's single AUX port. I understand some but not all of what you wrote...
- I understand your option 1, and the slight lag wouldn't matter at all. I think the only other disadvantage is the slight added complexity (and bandwidth) of having to Zoom in from both devices.
- It sounds like with option 2b and a splitter like yours, the above disadvantages go away, but the new disadvantage is that I'd lose my side of the call. That's worse for me, though not an absolute deal-killer.
- So I'm wondering if this 2c would work without any of the disadvantages: Get a TRRS splitter and plug it into the Mac. Plug my headphone/mic into one side. Plug a male-male TRRS cable into the other side; plug that into the 'Mic-Line - Line-Level Audio Input Adapter' from option 1; plug that into my iPad's AUX port.

Unlike 2b, 2c doesn't split apart the headphones and mic. It's clear you were splitting it on purpose, but I didn't understand why (and it's what leads to the disadvantage of losing my side of the call). I suspect it has to do with your earlier comments about the iPad needing to know whether the cable plugged into it is for bringing sound in or putting sound out. But as a trial, if I just plug my headphones/mic directly into the iPad's AUX port, Notability does handle that fine, picking up sound from the mic and recording it synced with the notes I write. So if it's the Mac that's on the other side of that wire instead, I don't understand why that wouldn't still work? But if it won't, I think option 1 is the front-runner.

In any of these cases, I have an additional question about the blowing out/shorting out/grounding stuff. If I connect stuff up wrong, i.e. without the Headset Buddy, would I damage my headphones/mic, cable, splitter, Mac, and/or iPad? Or would it just not work until I disconnected and reconnected the right way? If the latter, I'm thinking of staging my purchases to get the Headset Buddy last, after I check what it does without it -- but if the former, I sure don't want to do that! Similarly, you mentioned some scenarios where it's unclear whether a TRS or TRRS cable is needed. Would choosing TRRS instead of TRS ever damage something, or would it just be a matter of it not working, or even of it working but having unnecessarily cost a few dollars more?
posted by daisyace at 8:48 AM on June 21, 2021

You almost certainly want something from the iRig range, maybe the iRig Stream. It can take audio from your Mac, and from a second mic and send it to your iPad.
posted by krisjohn at 4:29 PM on June 21, 2021 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I have found a super-professional (read: totally kludge-y and not at all professional) solution. I plug my headphones/mic into my Mac for the Zoom as usual; I put one earphone (the one with the mic) in my ear; and I Scotch-tape the other earphone to the tiny hole where the iPad picks up sound. I hit Record in Notability and voilà.

Soundguy99 is mulling this over and may come back with a better way, but for now, it's ugly but it works!
posted by daisyace at 10:52 AM on June 24, 2021

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