Getting your a microphone off of your camera or phone is one of the best ways to improve sound quality for video. The majority of cameras and smartphones mostly come equipped with microphone input jacks that accept 3.5mm mini plugs. As we discussed on recording into an iPhone/iPad without an interface, you’ll need an Apple 3.5mm Lightning Audio Adapter for newer iPhones/iPads along with a mic/headphone splitter.
Unfortunately, there’s no preferred standard to which camera and smartphone manufacturers must adhere, and the specifications provided with the camera rarely provide specific details about the microphone input. Most professional audio equipment doesn’t interface with consumer-grade video cameras without an assortment of cables, adapters, and electronics.
Few professional microphones, except for those specifically designed for cameras and smartphones, come equipped with 3.5mm connectors. It’s far more common to see professional microphones with standard XLR connections.
Mic Level vs. Line Level
Mic level and line level specify the level of the signal that the input was designed to work with. Mic level inputs use a far lower voltage (0.001 volt to 0.010 volt) than line level (roughly 1.000 volt). The vast majority of cameras and smartphones accept mic level signals. Try plugging a line level source into your camera or smartphone and you’ll end up with a very distorted signal. Clipped and distorted audio signals are damaged beyond repair, and cannot be corrected with software.
Most mixers and audio recorders output at line level, although some mixers intended for use for video also provide mic level outputs. If connecting a microphone from a mixer, be sure to use the mic level output. The Tascam DR-60DmkII is a portable audio recorder and mixer that has a dedicated output for mic level signals commonly found on DSLR and mirrorless cameras and camcorders.
If connecting from a line level source without a mic level output, be sure to use an attenuator, like this specially designed cable from Sescom. It provides the exact -50dB attenuation necessary to connect line level sources standard mic level inputs. This works well for mixers and portable recorders line level outputs. If necessary, you can can connect to this cable to an RCA output by using a common RCA to 3.5mm adapter.
If connecting directly from an XLR dynamic microphone, you can use an XLR to 3.5mm cable plugged directly into the camera or smartphone input. Note that this will only work with dynamic microphones, not with condenser microphones. 3.5mm mini jacks do not supply the necessary +48V phantom power needed to for condenser mics.
Balanced vs. Unbalanced Connectors
As explained Shure’s Audio Systems Guide for Video and Film Production, pg. 25,
“A balanced connection requires a cable with two wires (one for the ‘hot’ signal and one for the ‘return’) enclosed by a shield of metal foil, braid, or mesh. The shield intercepts the random electrical signals that bombard the cable from various sources and drains them to ground. Together, the wires and the shield keep the audio signal free of interference.”
Camera and smartphone input jacks are almost exclusively unbalanced inputs. Most professional audio devices output balanced line level outputs from XLR and 1/4” phono jacks. Unbalanced mic level inputs require transformers to convert the balanced signals to the unbalanced input of the camera or smartphone. Using the incorrect cables can result in unwanted noise and distortion.
Microphones and Interfaces for Smartphones
Smartphones are easier to use in some regard, as they offer the option to use USB interfaces for professional audio recording equipment. This offers far more flexibility than the common 3.5mm plug found on most cameras.
USB microphones provide a simple and effective connection between professional microphones and a smartphone. Most USB microphones are plug and play devices, meaning that they can work with modern smartphones using simple USB adapters, or no adapters at all. The best microphones for recordings are the ones that allow you to get the microphone off camera. If possible, avoid selecting microphones whose capsules plug directly into phone without a cable.
The Apogee MiC Plus microphone will work on Android phones with USB type C ports, iPhone/iPad with lightning ports, and also for computers with USB type-C and type-A ports. The Boya Lavalier Microphone shown below works for iPhones/iPads with lightning ports only.
Many USB interfaces on the market are plug and play devices requiring no additional drivers for installation. As such, they can be used on devices like iPhones and iPads with a simple Apple Lighting to USB Camera adapter. (Although the name implies that this adapter only works for cameras, it also works for USB microphone interfaces).
Devices like the Zoom U-22 comes equipped with an XLR and 1/4-inch combo jack with available +48V phantom power, as well as a 3.5mm input for line level signals. The larger Zoom U-24 offers the same with an additional XLR and 1/4-inch combo jack along with RCA input jacks for line level recording. The Zoom H5 not only acts as a standalone recorder, but can also work as an audio recording interface for iPhones/iPads, providing a more flexible mobile recording solution.
If recording to a camera or smartphone with a 3.5mm input jack alongside professional audio equipment, use the correct devices to avoid distortion from irreparably destroying your audio from line level signals.
- Use mic level mixer outputs whenever possible, like the ones found on the Tascam DR-60D mkII.
- If connecting from a line level source without a mic level output only, be sure to use an attenuator, like this specially designed cable from Sescom. You can can connect to this cable from an RCA connector if necessary by using a common RCA to 3.5mm adapter.
- iPhones/iPads with lightning ports require an Apple 3.5mm Lightning Audio Adapter and mic/headphone splitter to accept 3.5mm inputs.
- If recording audio to an smartphone, try using a microphone specifically designed for it, like the Apogee MiC Plus or the Boya Lavalier with iOS interface.
- dedicated recording interface like a Zoom U-22 or Zoom U-24. You’ll need an Apple Lighting to USB Camera adapter for this.
We hope this helps you find the right equipment for recording audio into 3.5mm mic level inputs. If you found this helpful or have any questions, leave us a comment below.