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Connect your pro XLR microphone to your iPhone

Apple's free VoiceMemo application for iPhone makes it attractive to connect your pro XLR microphone

By Allan Tépper | November 01, 2009

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Starting with software version 3.0 of the iPhone, Apple includes an audio recorder application called VoiceMemo. Many people who have used it have been quite impressed with the quality it offers. There have been other audio recording applications for the iPhone, but nothing is more tempting than using one that's already there, especially one with an attractive icon and slick graphical interface. Given its simplicity and high-quality, Apple's VoiceMemo covers almost any purpose. However, no matter how well it sounds with the iPhone's internal microphone, for a professional journalist, image is also very important. That's why I searched for a special cable that allows connecting a professional XLR microphone into an iPhone.

YourCustomCable.com in the Netherlands


After exhaustively searching for such a cable, I found a YouTube video which showed someone using one he had purchased from YourCustomCable.com. I wrote to them and asked about two special features not in their initial offer:

  • A capacitor to absorb the iPhone's bias voltage (similar to phantom power, yet different)

  • A 3.5 mm female output for monitoring with headphones


Response about the capacitor and monitoring output


YourCustomCable.com balked at the capacitor, saying that it wasn't necessary. I have read different opinions about that over the years. Shure and Jay Rose have always recommended using the capacitor, but Bob Heil of Heil Sound surprisingly wrote back to me saying that it wasn't necessary with any of the Heil balanced microphones. On the other hand, YourCustomCable.com had no problem adding the output for monitoring with headphones. (I knew that Apple's VoiceMemo software doesn't currently offer live monitoring, but at least it could be used today for immediate playback without changing cables, and potentially tomorrow for live monitoring, either with VoiceMemo or some other audio application for the iPhone.) YourCustomCable.com added a tiny surcharge to the price for the monitoring output, and I ordered it. The custom cable cost €30.28 including postage to Miami, Florida, USA and arrived a few days later. They accept either PayPal or wire transfer, and I chose the latter. I hope that they also begin to accept GoogleCheckout.

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Apple's free VoiceMemo application (called Notas de voz when the iPhone is in Castilian language interface mode) allows naming of clips, trimming, and e-mailing of its recordings.


First test with Tanya's iPhone and a Heil PR40 microphone


I was already planning to do a segment about this cable in our TecnoTur podcast, in Tanya Castañeda's segment. Because the only handheld dynamic microphone was on loan to a friend, when Tanya arrived, we connected the custom cable to her iPhone (3G) and (based upon Bob Heil's blessing) to one of our Heil PR40 microphones in the studio.

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One of the Heil PR40 microphones used for the TecnoTur podcast. (Photo by Konstanze Pelargus)


Although the level was relatively low on VoiceMemo's retro VU meter, the PR40 test recording we made on Tanya's iPhone 3G was quite clean. VoiceMemo records exclusively in AAC (.m4a), which is much better than MP3, but not as good for production than recording to AIFF or WAVE. There are other, more professional applications for the iPhone that can record in one of these two production formats, but the file is heavier, and there is currently no direct e-mail function with those other programs, as there is with Apple's VoiceMemo. Given the application (journalistic interviews, made in the field with something like an ElectroVoice RE50 or a Shure SM58), many people will be satisfied having the original recording made in AAC. If you really need to record in WAVE, then consider iProRecorder from Bias for US$2.99.

No compatibility with the original iPhone


After that short test with Tanya, we reconnected the PR40 back to the studio system and recorded a few segments for the podcast. After Tanya left, I realized that the custom cable was no good with my original iPhone, since the headset jack is much further submerged. (Later, I made further testing using Carolina Bonnelly's iPhone 3Gs using one of Roberto Perera's microphones.) Because of the submerged headset jack in the original iPhone, the plug from the custom cable won't enter in completely. I exchanged a few more e-mails with YourCustomCable.com and asked them whether they had chosen this connector for cost reasons or because of scarcity. I also pushed a little more about the capacitor option, since (even though not required according Bob Heil), perhaps the presence of the the iPhone's bias voltage had made the PR40 output a lower audio level. Here was the response:

Dear Allan,

This is the first time we hear that it doesn't work with the original iPhone. A very good point, as we will take it to account to improve this cable.

It is absolutely not a cost issue smile . Scarcity is our main problem. We have found to date exactly two 4pin mini Jacks, taking in account that we are well known with the market and know a lot of suppliers. This type of plug is just so rare that we don't have a lot of choice to choose from. Actually if we are honest, we find the right angled plug looks a bit cheapy and we would love to find a plug that shows more robust. This does not say anything about the quality of the plug, which is fine. We just love to do things the right way first, afterwards we look at the expenses and than try to make a good price point. Quality first!

We have not yet looked at the capacitor option. We will discuss this internally. I will inform you tomorrow about this one.
If you need more information about our cables or our company, we are here to suit all your needs!

Best Regards,



Jesse Versloot
yourcustomcable.com


Photo session with Jorge González


The next day, my friend Jorge González of Acquest Multimedia come over and brought me material for an upcoming camera review we're preparing, and shot all of the photos of the custom cable you'll see in this article.

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A closer look at the custom cable, which currently works with the iPhone 3G and 3Gs, but not with the original iPhone.



Pros


Very reasonable price for anyone who already owns a 3G or 3Gs iPhone. Good construction and appearance. Friendly e-mail responses.

Cons (for the current model)


Right-angle connector will often require removing the case or skin from the iPhone. No current compatibility with the original iPhone.

Wish list


I hope that YourCustomCable.com will begin accept GoogleCheckout, and change to a connector compatible with the original iPhone, which will make the product universal and also eliminate the need to remove the case or skin from any iPhone, since the upper part will be much narrower.

Other comments


I am surprised to see that (apparently) no other company is offering such a cable.

Disclosure, to comply with the FTC's new rules


YourCustomCable.com is not paying Allan T©pper to do this review. To date, YourCustomCable.com not given Allan T©pper any free sample unit. Allan T©pper paid for the cable reviewed here.

Allan T©pper's articles and seminars


Get a full index of Allan T©pper's articles and upcoming seminars at AllanTepper.com. Listen to his podcast TecnoTur, together with Tanya Castañeda, Rub©n Abruña, and Liliana Marín, free via iTunes or at TecnoTur.us.
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Comments

keenast: | November, 03, 2009

Also good to know is that the website of customcable is ‘dutch’ only! Good luck with that wink

Allan T: | November, 03, 2009

Hello Keenast,

Although their website is currently in Dutch (and I don’t speak it), I had no trouble at all communicating with them via e-mail in English by writing via info (at) YourCustomCable.com.

Allan T

haikunick: | November, 04, 2009

Have you tested to see if you can conduct live phone interviews using this custom cable? I’ve always wanted to have a better microphone and monitor to do interview for live radio.

Allan T: | November, 04, 2009

Haikunick,

I have not tried it so far, but I think it must work, since as far as the iPhone is conerned, it’s as if it had an Apple headset connected, which certainly does work to make phone calls.

Allan T

RC Fisher: | November, 05, 2009

A bit late in spoting this article but here now. Well I found a good cable and conector to use and figured I could roll my own. What about the connections on the plug, which rings are the mic in and head phones out? Also what kind of cap to use?

Thanks
RC Fisher

Steve Borsch: | February, 07, 2010

I’ve been using the Blue Mikey (http://www.bluemic.com/mikey/new/) with the iPhone for some time with great results. It’s small, can fit in my pocket and—with the use of Bias’ iProRecorder—gives me results equal to many field recorders I’ve used in the past.

The kicker? I *really* want to do what you’ve done since I have a bunch of different XLR microphones I’d love to use *and* the inability to monitor during recording is a huge drawback to using the Mikey.

Looks like those guys in the Netherlands are disinterested in the US site (says it will be online in Sept 2009 and a redirect is supposed to happen…but doesn’t function) so have you found any other outlets for cables like these?

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