My iPad Podcasting Setup (Podcasting Series 1/3)

I enjoy using my 12.9″ iPad Pro. Moreso than any computer I’ve used before.

I enjoy podcasting with my friend Sean. Moreso than many a side project I’ve started before.

But don’t I need a “real” computer to podcast? Well, not really.

This is part one in a three part series on my podcasting setup and workflow.

State of Recording on iOS

When the iPad Pro came out in the fall of 2015 many a podcaster fell in love with it. For the iOS power user it was the device of their dreams. It was perfect for the more resource intensive tasks like editing pictures, video, and audio.

The Ferrite app promptly offered extensive audio editing tools and the Apple Pencil gave us the precision to make better use of them. The iPad Pro was to be the perfect decvice for podcasting on the go, were it not for that one problem: sharing the audio input.

Unlike macOS, iOS does not allow multiple applications to use the microphone input simultaneously.

That’s why it is still far easier to podcast from a laptop or desktop computer. It is possible on iOS, but requires some workarounds.

Starting Breadcrumbs

A year ago my friend Sean and I thought about starting a podcast together. This May that idea started taking on form. We scheduled to Skype weekly and see where things go from there.

From the second week on we recorded our conversations. At this point I was recording using Apple Earbuds and my 2011 MacBook Pro.

I hadn’t committed to any setup yet as I was waiting for WWDC. Perhaps Apple would open up access to the microphone on iOS. That didn’t happen.

Thus followed my attempt to podcast with my iPad Pro anyway. As with problem solving in engineering, it was natural to reduce the problem to its abstract components.

Five Requirements for Podcasting

Breaking it down I came up with five requirements to double-end recording1 a podcast:

  1. a microphone – picks up your voice.
  2. a recording device – saves the sound to disk. A computer of some kind.
  3. a communications device – connects to your co-host/guest over the internet. A computer usually running Skype.
  4. headphones – plays the co-host/guest’s and your audio.
  5. audio cables – route the audio signals to appropriate places. Analog or virtual cables and interfaces.

Different Podcasting Setups

Before I get to my own setup I want to take a look at how it is generally done. What follows are schematics of common (and not so common) podcasting setups2. These portray different constellations of the requirements above. They aren’t detailed setup instructions as I have not tried most setups myself.

If I got something wrong or you have a setup to add, please let me know. Better yet, build it yourself here (shared iCloud Keynote file).

I’ll post those setups as a separate list in the future.

The symbols, colors, and line types represent the following:

Standard Mac Podcasting Setup

So if we take a “standard” Mac podcasting setup, it’ll look something like this:

You have an external microphone and external headphones. All other requirements are contained within the computer. It can record your audio AND send it to your co-host via Skype. Besides that, it can handle the somewhat tricky routing of audio signals. You can record the Skype call and your audio separately as well as hear your input and the Skype audio combined. With a tool like Loop Back by rogue Amoeba you can even fulfil your wildest virtual cable routing dreams.

Setup variants: when using an XLR microphone there will need to be an audio interface between it and the computer. These interfaces (or the microphones themselves) can also have their own monitoring output.

For longer podcasts, it helps to have one device record the entire Skype conversation for aligning the audio when editing. This also serves as a backup in case anyone’s local recoding fails. The computer can accomplish this no problem.

Standard iOS Podcasting Setup

On iOS this looks very different:

Two devices are required, as the iPad cannot record and Skype at once. The iPad records and the iPhone is used to Skype. Needing the iPhone isn’t the problem as someone podcasting from an iPad will probably also have an iPhone as well. The real problem is that each device needs its own microphone and headphones.

This means:

  • you need to use two headphones
  • your co-host doesn’t hear the recording audio

Recording the Skype conversation is not possible on iOS. If the other person is on a Mac (as is the case with Breadcrumbs), that’s not a problem, as they can simply record the call.

Alternatively you can make do without a Skype recording, as Fraser and Federico do for Canvas.

My iPad & Zoom Podcasting Setup

In my setup I shuffle things around a bit:

I cannot get around needing a second device. But instead of using the iPhone I outsource the recording to a Zoom H4n. The field recorder is not an ideal voice microphone, but makes up for it in versatility. It can separately record input from two microphones over XLR or TRS and even phantom power them if needed (other Zoom models support even more microphones).

The cable routing is also different. It’s something I’ll call the triangle routing arrangement because of this basic setup:

The microphone sends its audio to two destinations and the headphones receive from two. Skype receives from one and sends to one. Besides that, the microphone audio also needs to be saved. The cable routing between them in my set up looks like this:

What you need for this setup:

  1. One microphone with a monitor out
  2. One iOS device with headphone jack (TRRS) 3
  3. Two headphones that can be worn at the same time
  4. One TRS/TRS Y-splitter (simply splits audio out)
  5. One TRRS/TRS Y-splitter (needs to separate out headphones and mic)
  6. One TRS Male-Male extension cable

About the splitters. It sounds complicated at first but made more sense to me as I understood how they work. It’s a bit tricky to explain, but bear with me.

Audio jacks have a certain number of conductors on them. Your Apple Earbuds and your iPhone each have four conductors: the tip (T) two rings (RR) and a sleeve (S). Those carry the left audio signal, right audio signal, microphone/seek-control signals, and ground respectively.

The microphone monitor out is only stereo, hence TRS. This simply needs to be split into two TRS cables (splitter A): one for your headphones and the other for the iPad’s microphone input.

Splitter B is more tricky. It doesn’t double the one TRRS to two TRRS connectors (what some call a “true” TRRS Y-splitter). Neither does it simply split the TRRS into two TRS connectors (what you’d use to hear the same audio on two headphones). It takes the microphone signal from the second ring and maps it to the tip and first ring of one jack (labled microphone). The other jack (labled headphones) simply carries the left and right audio signal as usual.

So, you’re probably wondering how to know if you’ve got the right splitter. If buying one on amazon, check the answered questions and reviews. They’ll tell you in simple terms what it can and can’t do. For splitter B, go with a decent one that has the ends marked headphones and microphone and is from a reputable company.

If you already have the splitters, plug them into your iPhone and and use headphones to check if you can hear anything. On splitter A you should be able to hear something from both split ends. On splitter B only on the headphone end.

Here are some pictures of my connectors and setup:

Splitter A (TRS) & Extention (TRS) - I have a combined splitter and extension cable, which saves me one dongle but is harder to come by.
Splitter A (TRS) & Extention – I have a combined splitter and extension cable, which saves me one dongle but is harder to come by.
Splitter B (TRRS)
Splitter B (TRRS)
The Entire Setup
The Entire Setup

The triangle arrangement of audio cables means I only need one microphone and allows Sean to hear the quality recording coming from my Zoom. I do, however, still need two headphones4. I opted for the over-ear/in-ear setup but you could also do left ear/right ear.

This setup doesn’t have a real chance to shine when recording with only one person. Especially when you consider the poorer voice recording compared to a Blue Yeti or similar microphone. Also, the need to transfer the file after recording adds an extra step to the workflow (I’ll explain how to do this is in Part 2 of this series. For the impatient, Jason Snell wrote about it too).

So in hindsight I should probably have opted for a Blue Yeti and set it up as follows (may well switch to this setup soon).

Alternative iOS Podcasting Setup (With Triangle Routing)

In writing up this overview, I realised there is also a nice combination of mine and the “Standard” iOS setup:

The Blue Yeti’s monitor output enables the triangle routing setup. This means only one microphone is required and the quality recording is sent to the co-host.

Jason’s iPhone & Zoom Podcasting Setup

I saw Jason Snell’s old setup in action at the Úll conference in November for recording an episode of Clockwise. I briefly mentioned my setup to him and he has since come up with a new mobile setup of his own. He appears to have cracked all requirements.

The entire setup hinges on the incredible and rare capabilities of the Audio-Technica ATR2100-USB microphone. It is able to handle all the routing of his setup – even allowing him to hear himself and his co-host over only one pair of headphones.

iOS Only Setup (With Skype Recording)

Yes, this one is ridiculous:

If you are determined to use only iOS devices for recording your podcast and require a recording of the Skype call, I’m afraid you’ll need two more devices. One to listen to the Skype call and another to record that audio.

I added this one to show the inherent limits of iOS as it stands today. There is still some ridiculous hoop-jumping required to go completely Mac free. This is one of those cases. In my opinion, more granular control over the interfaces of an iOS device isn’t too much to ask and needs to be part of “the future of computing”.

Conclusion

Podcasting on iOS is possible and that’s great. Being able to use USB microphones enables quality recording in a mobile setup and the triangle routing arrangement means you can get away with one microphone.

However, in sharing the audio input and in the ease of audio file transfer there still need to be serious improvements made for podcasting on iOS to move from doable to comfortable.

Maybe in iOS 10.3 this spring.


This article was made possible thank’s to help from the following people

  1. Double-end recording means each person records their own audio locally. Files are then combined in editing. Results in far better audio quality than a Skype recording.
  2. Yes, I focus on Apple devices. That’s because it’s what I know. If you have an Android or PC setup to add please do so in the provided link.
  3. That’s any iPad. Also any iPhone from the 2 up untill the 6s. If someone tries this with an iPhone 7 and adapter please let me know if it works.
  4. It is not possible to simply combine the two audio streams at the top of the triangle before going to the headphones with a dongle. Don’t do this. You could damage your devices. I have considered making a small accessory for this but for now it’ll have to be a two headphone setup.

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