How to Record Music on Your iPad or iPhone with the Best Possible Audio Quality

By Ryan C. Williams, Mike Levine

Regardless of how you’re recording your music, on an iPad or iPhone, you will want to try for the best possible audio quality. Remember that recording engineers and amateur tapers alike have captured many magic moments using technology that, although considered state-of-the-art at the time, would not merit a second look from today’s audiophiles.

You can make great recordings with great technology, but you need to know a little technique to get your technology into the right place. The following advice helps you get your iOS device prepared for the best possible audio you can achieve.

Highest possible audio resolution

Remember that you always want to start with the highest possible audio resolution you have available and work down from that original recording for compression purposes. Go with 24-bit in any case, and work with the highest possible sample rate (probably around 96-kHz) you can while still leaving enough room on your iOS device to actually store all of the audio.

You might need to clear some space by deleting some apps or extraneous files before the recording begins, but the results are worth it.

Maximize the signal-to-noise ratio

Field recordings must contend with several possible disruptions, from random environment noises like wind or falling rain to the loud drunk who just won’t be quiet during the quiet parts of the recording. Whatever the unwanted sounds are, your goal is to find the spot as far away from those sounds as possible while still getting a clean signal from what you are trying to record.

How do you accomplish this task? Put on the headphones, start recording, and start moving around. Keep the microphone pointed at the source you’re trying to record (if possible, maybe during a soundcheck or something) and move around until you find the perfect spot. Most cases are obvious (man, that’s a loud generator!), but a little footwork here and there can be quite helpful.

Setting up close to the source

Remember that sound levels dissipate the farther they travel from the source. Also, certain frequencies tend to carry farther than others. That’s why when you walk away from a show, you more than likely hear the low bass and the reverberations of the vocals or lead instrument.

The low bass frequencies tend to spread over a long distance in all directions, and the lead vocals or instrument tend to have the most power behind them. If you set up where that’s all you can hear, that’s all you’re going to get.

That said, you also don’t want to set up too close to the stage. Why, you ask? Well, getting too close to the stage isn’t the source of the audio. The PA speakers are the source in most cases, and even if you’re at a place that doesn’t use a PA, certain frequencies take a little room to develop as well.

If you’re recording an unamplified source (one without a PA), try to get within a few feet of the performer, but not too close to them. For example, if you’re too close to a singer in a beautiful church, you may miss some of the wonderful natural reverb that church provides. Find a spot that works best, close but not too close, and you’ll be ready to go.

If you record different locations (at the stage and at the soundboard, for instance), those locations will have audio slightly out-of-sync (since sound arrives at different locations at different times). You might need to do a little work after the recording to sync everything up.

If the mic includes a windscreen, go ahead and use it. This simple accessory prevents the sound of wind blowing across the mics from ruining your recordings.

For amplified sources, the best location is actually very close to the soundboard. Think about it — the person determining how the performers sound stands at the soundboard and makes decisions of what to raise and lower to make the overall sound the best it can be. Getting close to that location gives you the proper balance and sound levels to capture the entire performance without requiring too much work after you complete the recording.

A line recording from the soundboard may provide a clean sound for the instruments, but it might not give you the best possible sound of the live event. Sound engineers use the soundboard and PA to amplify the sound, but they also use it to reinforce elements of the performance that might not carry as well. Therefore, the soundboard may over-emphasize those elements over other parts of the performance.

A good stereo mic picks up the crowd noise and other extraneous elements, but it also covers the entire spectrum of the performance at the sound levels set by the sound engineer. Note that larger venues will put more signal through the soundboard and get a more complete version of the performance, though. Try to get both signals, if possible.