Recording Rig Necessities for Your iPad or iPhone

By Ryan C. Williams, Mike Levine

Take a look at the devices you need to put together in order to record live audio with your iPad or iPhone in your home or on the road. This task is a job in and of itself, so you don’t want to plan on using the same iOS device to record while performing.

For this rig, the iOS device acts as both the controls and the destination for the recorded audio. You can manage the controls on the touchscreen, and the audio resides on the internal storage of the iPhone or iPad.

If you’re buying a device strictly for recording, go ahead and spring for the iPad and get as much memory as you can afford. The iPhone is an extremely useful device, but you’ll appreciate the additional screen size and lack of nagging cell phone calls while recording audio.

You ask your iPhone or iPad to do so much — record and play music, watch movies, listen to music, play games, read books, surf the Internet, and interact with the many, many apps you can download. But because you can perform all of these activities, your storage can get easily overloaded. And if you don’t have the storage space, you can’t record audio.

Be sure you have enough room for recording (about 3 GB per recording session is a good model) before you get started. And don’t count on recording to the cloud, as WiFi connections and app limitations make this a dicey (if not impossible) proposition.

The apps

The App Store offers some great apps you can use to record audio, including PreSonus Capture, Auria, Cubasis, and MultiTrack DAW. These apps follow the common design of presenting a virtual mixing board on the iPhone or iPad screen, so you should be able to take experience from recording on other devices or software onto your iOS device with little effort.

And, if you’re new to the game, you’ll be working with apps that look remarkably like each other, so you should be able to look up the help you’ll need remarkably quickly.

The interface

Most performing rigs just require a smaller audio interface that can output one or two channels of audio and maybe some MIDI commands. For audio recording, you need as many inputs as possible to allow you to record as many tracks as possible at the same time, especially if you need to record multiple performers at the same time. Eight inputs is a good place to start, and you can adjust up or down depending on your specific needs.

And, of course, you need the mics. You need a decent variety of available microphones in order to be ready for every recording situation. Shure SM57s and SM58s are reliable options for vocals and instruments, but you might also think of a mic to handle lower frequencies such as bass cabinets or bass drums as well as a dedicated vocal mic.

You should probably also look at purchasing at least one or two DI boxes, which allow you to record electric instruments like guitars, basses, and keyboards without the need for a mic. Just plug the instrument into the box, plug the box into the interface, and you’re good to go.

Most audio interfaces come with preamps that you can use to boost the signal for recording audio. The signal that comes from mics and instruments needs a boost to provide adequate recording levels, and some mics might need extra power (called phantom power) to function properly.

If you plan on recording more than two or so mics or line inputs (the input coming from the DI boxes), you might need to look into purchasing additional preamps or using a combination DI/preamp, like the long-beloved SansAmp Bass Driver DI for bass guitar.

The controller

Recording rigs don’t require MIDI controllers as much as performance rigs because you’re able to directly access the screen instead of busying yourself with playing an instrument. Simply slide your fingers across the screen to modify the settings, and you’re good to go. You can, of course, buy a controller if you find yourself needing to modify extra parameters beyond what you can use on the screen.

For example, you could buy a foot pedal that starts and stops recording while you monitor the virtual faders on your mixer. But you could probably save some money here and skip the controller, at least when you start out.

So much of live recording revolves around where you record the audio. You can carry a bunch of gear with you, but recording next to a construction site will never produce great results. Mobile recording means finding the best possible site or minimizing what you must deal with at the time.

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