The 10 Best Smartphone Mics
Professional Quality Goes Mobile
If you've ever tried to track any kind of live audio with your smartphone, you know how disappointing the results often are. The sound is usually far too thin, far too roomy, and more or less unusable. With an apologetic disclaimer, you might be able to get away with it as stand-alone audio for a podcast or radio program, but paired with a video track, the quality of the entire experience will be irredeemable.
The reason the microphones on this list are so superior to the mics built into smartphones has a lot to do with the size of their diaphragms. Any microphone has a little piece inside of it that senses the vibrations in the air created by a litany of sounds. The microphone then internally translates those vibrations into an electrical signal which is then converted into a digital binary passed into a processor in the phone's sound card.
That's a lot of difficult computing being done with very small apparatuses, and it turns out, in this case at least, that size matters. Larger areas of sensitivity from a larger microphone's diaphragm, as well as more processing power devoted to the translation of the sound into and out of its digital format will result in a higher quality audio.
Essentially, these are all professional quality microphones that have acquired the wiring necessary to communicate with the software and hardware they encounter when plugged into a given smartphone. Rewire any of them to fit into a different kind of transmitter or amplifier, and you'd never know the difference between these and their professional counterparts.
The Most Versatile Options
It's more than likely, if you're here researching these smartphone mics, that you intend to couple the audio they capture with video, whether or not you use the phone itself to capture said video.
I've used smartphone lavaliere mics (aka lavs) dozens of times to track audio for films, hosting segments, interviews, and more, and they almost always get the job done. The small stereo and shotgun mics you can mount on the phones are equally excellent for capturing subjects that are close to the mic itself, but they don't do great work across a distance, since they simply aren't long enough to build a sufficient polar pattern for true shotgun use.
Then, you have the more traditional vocal-style mics on the list, which are ideal for picking up a single speaking or singing voice, but don't do much good to you if you're doing on-the-fly documentary work, for example.
All of this comes down to a simple question: what are you trying to track? More often than not, if you're doing any kind of film work where you want to use the phone to track audio only and capture the video through a professional camera or even a separate smartphone, lavs will be your best bet.
Their size makes lavs easy to hide on an actor, a host, or an interviewee, and, since they plug right into your cell phone, you can have the person wearing the mic simply put the phone in his or her pocket, and nothing will look out of the ordinary. That is, unless you're filming a period piece that takes place before cell phones existed. Then, you might need to throw in a line of dialogue about how all the characters like carrying around decks of cards or something.
The one major downside to the lavs, however, is the threat of clothing rustle. A well-hidden lav mic usually spends its recording time buried under layers of clothing, and any movement by the wearer translates into unusable sound. There are additional implements out there designed to cut down on this phenomenon, some of which work much better than others, so check those out if you want to keep things professional.
Condensing Years Of Discovery
The desire to amplify the human voice spurned on the invention of the microphone before any thought of using such a device for recording its sound surfaced. Early attempts at amplification could more easily be classified as primitive megaphones than microphones.
These were the dramatic masks worn in Greek antiquity by actors in the nation's famous amphitheaters. They had small protruding beaks that increased the vibrational resonance of an actor's voice to throw it farther out across an audience.
The old tin can and string method was the next development in the technology, first arriving 2,200 years after the Greek masks. Then, Alexander Graham Bell's telephone came along, using a diaphragm suspended in an acid solution to transmit the vibrations of the human voice across an electrified distance.
A year or so later, in 1877, David Edward Hughes had his loose-carbon microphone design stolen and patented out from under him by none other than that scoundrel Thomas Edison. A long legal battle ensued, which Edison won, and the microphone set forth on its path toward modernity when, in 1916, the first condenser microphone (the technology on which all the microphones on this list are based) finally hit the scene.