How to Select an Audio Interface for Recording Music on Your iPad or iPhone

By Ryan C. Williams, Mike Levine

One option when connecting a mic to your iPhone or iPad involves putting an audio interface in between your mic and your iOS device. Although this process does involve a little more equipment (and money), you do get a few more advantages than using a dedicated iOS mic, including the following:

  • You can use a wider variety of mics, since you’re not limiting yourself to a mic designed only for use with iOS devices.

  • You can take advantage of preamps that allow you to boost and color the audio in more ways than a dedicated iOS mic allows.

  • You can record using more than one mic at a time. The exact number of mics may vary depending on the inputs allowed by your interface, but that’s up to you and your bank account.

Now, you will be carrying around more equipment, and you will also need to find an independent power source for the audio interface.

You should always determine what you plan to record before buying any equipment. You should also plan on buying the highest level of audio quality you can afford. For example, if you plan on just recording vocals and guitar (with a standard guitar jack), you can get away with two inputs and a single mic, like the Focusrite iTrack Solo interface.

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If you want to record a four-piece band, you’ll need at least four inputs.Should you plan on recording a standard drum set, you’ll probably need at least four mics — one for the bass drum, one for the snare, and two to place over the drums for that overhead, all-kit sound.

Of course, before you buy anything, you should understand the components of the audio interface and why it’s so important to stick that device in-between your chosen mic and your iOS device.

Understanding the components of an audio interface

Every audio interface contains a few common features:

  • Inputs: Inputs allow you to plug in a mic (usually via an XLR cable). Simple, isn’t it? You plug in the mic, and the interface takes that signal and runs it to the iPhone or iPad. If the interface contains more than one input, the interface delivers all of those mic signals to the iPhone or iPad as separate audio sources.

  • Preamps: The preamp boosts the signal of the mic to a higher level in all cases, and may allow you to alter the signal a little using EQ or compression and limiting, depending on the preamp model.

  • Headphone jack: Plug in your headphones to hear the audio as it sounds before it hits your iOS device. Why not use the headphone jack in the iPhone or iPad, you ask? Well, because the audio you hear from the iPhone or iPad will be ever-so-slightly delayed, so you’ll notice a difference if you’re playing or singing and recording at the same time.

  • Outputs: After the sound enters your interface and receives a little TLC from the preamp, you have to get the sound back out. Plug the digital output into your iOS device and the audio outputs to your speakers, and you’re good to go.

Dedicated iOS interfaces and mic preamps

Even if you want to use your own specific mic, you can pick audio interfaces that connect directly to your iOS device. Different docks and interfaces give you the option to connect your iOS device directly and give you the best of both worlds. If you’re buying an interface brand-new for your mics, consider looking at these devices. A side benefit is that these devices usually power your iOS device while you record.

USB interfaces

Just because you already have an older USB audio interface lying around doesn’t mean you can’t necessarily use it in conjunction with your iOS device. You just have to perform a little research.

The key here is using a camera connection adapter. Apple may call it a camera connection adapter, but it really handles most class-compliant USB devices. Apple just doesn’t want to guarantee that it will work with all devices, so they hedge their bets with the approved camera usage.

Understand that because you must use one of these devices to connect the USB interface, this option is only available to iPad users. And you aren’t ­guaranteed to have the audio interface work — you’ll have to check with the audio interface manufacturer to ensure it meets Core Audio and MIDI standards for iOS. But the advantage here is that compliant audio interfaces can move from iOS devices to your home computer by just removing the camera connection kit.

Recording multiple mics

External audio interfaces give you the option to record multiple mics at the same time. This ability isn’t really important if you’re just recording one vocal or instrument at a time, but it does become a big deal when you want to record your garage band and keep the audio tracks separate for later processing and mixing.

A great deal of audio interfaces offer at least two inputs, and many of those offer four or eight inputs with preamps. If you need more, you might be able to get a device to help you out, but you might also want to look at a larger solution.

You’ll also have to purchase enough mic cables and stands to account for all of the mics and inputs you plan to use.

Handling instruments, mics, and MIDI

Manufacturers don’t just make audio interfaces with inputs designed only for mics. Because data connections are at a premium for iOS devices (there’s only one), you might see multiple inputs that account for different kinds of devices, including instrument inputs and MIDI connections.

These types of audio interfaces can help you put together a more full-featured recording option. You don’t have to have any of these extra features, but they can be helpful even if you’re not going to use them immediately.