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    Mic up that iPhone: Follow Up

    I think I still have a ways to go before I'd call myself an authority on using an iPhone (or similar device) to produce bird recordings, but I've learned a lot since my initial post on this topic about a month ago.  Let me comment on three aspects of acquiring bird sounds on an iPhone.

    1) Getting sounds into your device.

    • Good:  If a bird is close or loud enough, the built-in mic can capture acceptable recordings.
    • Better:  An iPhone/iPod/etc. specific mic can add a lot of reach.  I'm still happy with the  Edutige EIM-001 i-Microphone Voice Recorder- it is small (almost too small- easy to misplace) & fairly cheap and really boosts the audio.  The sound quality isn't necessarily professional, but not bad for documenting & researching bird sounds.
    • Best: A high-quality shotgun mic:  David La Puma and others have figured out that an iPhone/iPod/etc. can be a great digital bird sound recorder if you have a quality shotgun mic to capture vocalizations.  The problem is that normal mics won't record to the iPhone/iPod/etc. jack, which is designed for both input and output (iPhone headphones have a built-in mic for phone conversations, talking to Siri, etc.)  An adapter is needed if you want to pipe in sound from a good mic, & fortunately these are available through 3rd party manufacturers.  For example, the kV Connections iPhone 1/8" Microphone Adapter will allow input from a powered mic with a 1/8" (3.5mm) jack.  kV Connections also makes other adapters for different mic types so check them out if you are looking for an input solution.

    2) Selecting an app for your recordings.

    • Good: Use the device's built-in voice memo app.  Free, works fine.
    • Better (maybe?):  Use a 3rd-party recording app (free or cheap) if its features and interface are more to your liking.  For now, I've settled on Recorder (free).  Recordings are pretty easy to get off the phone and onto your computer.  File types are limited to AIFF or MP3, probably fine for dabblers like myself.
    • Best:  Use a professional field recording app like FiRe 2 ($6).  Link over to see the impressive list of features this app boasts…

    3) Selecting sound processing software to use on your computer.  I'm too far out of my league to offer much meaningful insight here.  Perhaps folks with more experience can offer suggestions for us in the comments or in another blog post??  

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    Vocalizing Canyon Wren © Bill Schmoker, Jefferson County, Colorado, March 2009

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    Bill Schmoker

    Bill Schmoker

    Bill is known in the birding community as a leading digital photographer of birds. Since 2001 he has built a collection of digital bird photos documenting over 640 species of North American birds. His photography has appeared in international nature publications, books, newspapers, interpretive signs, web pages, advertisements, corporate logos, and as references for art works. Also a published writer, Bill wrote a chapter for Good Birders Don't Wear White, is a past Colorado/Wyoming regional editor for North American Birds and is proud to be on the Leica Birding Team. Bill is a Colorado eBird reviewer and is especially fond of his involvement with the ABA's Institute for Field Ornithology and Young Birder Programs. Bill is a popular birding guide, speaker, and workshop instructor, and teaches middle school science in Boulder, Colorado. When he isn’t birding he enjoys family time with his wife and son.
    Bill Schmoker

    Latest posts by Bill Schmoker (see all)

    • http://g.co/maps/83x7t Jesse Ellis

      Bill, what are you looking for when you talk about sound editing? I’ve used Raven Pro while at the Lab of O for my dissertation and after, so I have some experience with it, but it’s definitely more of a sound analysis tool. I’ve not really used it for editing much, but it can certainly cut and paste chunks into new files, etc. There are also a number of filters than can probably make a recording sound better.

      Another (free) sound manipulation and visualization tool is Syrinx (syrinxpc.com), which is a simple but fast visualization tool with some editing (filters, etc) function. Full disclosure – I have used it in the field and lab, and know the creator, but no one makes any money from it at the moment, so I stand to get no financial gain from this. The flip side of its price is that it’s pretty basic.

    • http://profile.typepad.com/chaetura Chaetura

      I got a good deal on a Blue Mikey (http://tinyurl.com/72759rd) iPod mic through GroupOn and have tried it a few times with decent results. It actually works through the USB jack not the headphone jack. It’s pretty compact, easily carried in a pocket. I have an iPod Nano w/ a Cyanics Flip Speaker. I had a problem connecting the Blue Mikey w/ the speaker case in place but found an extender for the USB jack which solved that problem. I use the memo recorder on the iPod nano to record, it’s pretty basic but works. I haven’t downloaded any recordings yet but will when I have some time.

    • Cliff

      Does anyone know if any adapters are needed for the average Android phone? I have a Motorola Atrix 2. Would I still need some kind of adapter to allow me to use a higher quality shotgun mic?

    • http://profile.typepad.com/schmoker Bill Schmoker

      Excellent information, Jesse- thanks! I think I just meant software to edit & visualize bird recordings. Raven Pro sounds like one of many excellent choices.

    • http://profile.typepad.com/schmoker Bill Schmoker

      Hey Chaetura- Blue Mikey indeed looks pretty sweet. From what I gather the prior model won’t work on iPhone 4/4s but a new version is coming soon…

    • Charles Swift (Chaetura)

      Good to know, I am thinking about getting a refurbed iPhone 3G or 3GS so should check and see if it will work. Should also work w/ iPod Touch.

    • Charles Swift (Chaetura)

      The Blue Mikey that is. Will try to post some audio when I have a chance.

    • http://profile.typepad.com/schmoker Bill Schmoker

      Folks- my buddy Bob Zilly let me know about another possibility to mic up your iPhone- ths Fostex AR-4i Audio Interface. http://www.fostexinternational.com/docs/products/AR-4i.shtml#2

      From their web page: “Offering excellent quality stereo audio recording, (via Dock connector and in-built AD/DA converter), with LED input level metering, gain control and headphone monitoring, the AR-4i has been designed to dramatically increase the quality of the sound of the videos you take with your iPhone 4.”

      Anyone out there have this to add their comments??

    • http://profile.typepad.com/rickhollis Rick Hollis

      Took a look at Recorder — it is no longer free [it costs a whopping $ 0.99

      I have been playing with Microphone + Recording. My major [problem with it sometimes when I think I stop recording, it does not and I end up with 60′ of recording. The new update allows easy emailing of recordings.

      Use both Audacity and Raven Lite

    • http://www.woodcreeper.com David La Puma

      Thanks for posting this Bill!

      I’m reminded of the old adage: “the best camera is the one in your pocket right now”, and I think this applies just as much to recorders. With FiRe2 you can boost your internal mic to help capture those birds farther away. While you probably won’t be entering your recordings into the archives using the stand-alone iPhone mic, the combination of your phone and FiRe2 will give you enough recording ability to produce sonograms (in Raven, Syrinx or Audacity), confirm identification, and simply record the experience. Adding a powered mic (Sennheiser ME66 or similar) via an adapter like the one you mentioned above, or the slightly bulkier Fostex AR-4i (http://www.fostexinternational.com/docs/products/AR-4i.shtml#1), will give you the tools to produce archival audio from your iPhone. That said, I do most of my recordings from my on-board mic and the FiRe2 app (although I’m saving up for a better mic so I can finally use my custom cable made by the talented Mike Lanzone (photo: http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10150822153825586)). I’ve created a little set of recordings (nothing fancy so don’t get excited!) on SoundCloud.com. You can check them out here: http://soundcloud.com/woodcreeper/sets/recorded-with-my-iphone-4s. In all cases I boosted the input level as much as possible to increase the reach of the mic. Check out those booming Greater Prairie Chickens.

      Good birding- and recording!

    • http://profile.typepad.com/davidpuma David La Puma
    • http://profile.typepad.com/davidpuma David La Puma

      I just ordered it today (B&H has it on sale right now)… so I’ll report back in a week with some results. From what I’ve read there were some issues with the 4s (which I have) but those are supposedly worked out. More to come.

    • http://www.cygnismedia.com/blog/sweepstake-application-ideas/ sweepstakes application

      You can use our iRig devices on Android devices and others that accept the same 4-pole connector that we use for these. Unfortunately, the apps are a different story – we REALLY want to create apps for platforms like Android but the lack of support for low-latency audio prevents us from doing so. Thanks for posting this!

    • http://profile.typepad.com/tfloyd Ted Floyd

      Bill says, “Ted Floyd has figured out some neat tricks with Audacity & I hope he’ll comment on these or offer up a post on the topic…”

      The deed is done.

      See:

      http://blog.aba.org/2012/06/document-rarities-part-2.html

    • http://www.xeno-canto.org Willem-Pier Vellinga

      and after all the trickery: upload the sounds somewhere on the web so they can be of use to all of us! For example on xeno-canto. Here’s a recent write-up on XC that just reached 100.000 recordings: http://www.xeno-canto.org/features.php?action=view&blognr=129 .

    • Ted Floyd

      First things first: An exuberant two-thumbs-up for xeno-canto, one of the very greatest resources for birders and field ornithologists.

      Second: Willem-Pier, I promise to upload all these recordings! (In that regard, see Part 3 of “Documenting Rarities,” which will post tomorrow morning.)

      Third: I have a question for you, Willem-Pier. You say, “after all the trickery,” but I’m wondering: Is that really what xeno-canto wants? In Part 2 of “Documenting Rarities,” you’ll find cuts from raw soundfiles along with their doctored counterparts. Examples:

      * (a) Raw soundfile of a male Bushtit, with a loud car passing; (b) edited soundfile (Audacity high pass filter applied), with sound of car diminished.

      * (c) Raw soundfile of a tooting Western Screech-Owl, with “white noise” (mainly from recording instrument) audible; (d) edited soundfile with “white noise” eliminated (via Audacity noise reduction filter) and overall amplitude increased by about 20 dB.

      Are the altered/doctored files a good idea? Should they be uploaded to xeno-canto? Willem-Pier, I’d love to hear your answers. In the meantime, here are mine:

      * Screech-owl. No, do not upload the doctored soundfile. Even though the doctored soundfile sounds superficially better, it is not; it is tinny and hollow, lacking the timbre of the “real” screech-owl. Even when carefully applied, broad-spectrum noise reduction filters inevitably affect the bird vocalization itself.

      * Bushtit, Take 1. Yes, upload the doctored soundfile. Even though I have the cutoff frequency cranked up to 2.5 kHz, that’s still well below the lowest frequencies in that Bushtit’s vocalizations. Thus, the Bushtit’s vocalizations are unaffected, and the recording sounds better.

      * Bushtit, Take 2. No, do not upload the doctored soundfile. Why not simply provide the user (i.e., of xeno-canto) with the raw file; then he or she can do with it whatever he or she pleases.

      Willem-Pier, what do you think?

    • Ted Floyd

      Another solution?–

      Upload the raw soundfile, and then append to it the doctored soundfile. In the comments/notes field in xeno-canto, clearly indicate that that’s what you’ve done. Willem-Pier would that work?

    • Paul Hurtado

      Ted and others:

      Definitely doctor recordings uploaded to xeno-canto!

      Unlike OSU’s Borror lab and Cornell’s Macaulay library of natural sounds, xeno-canto isn’t really set up to archive audio for scientific purposes. Those recording need to be in an uncompressed (i.e. “raw”) format and “the longer the better” as far as the value of individual tracks goes (more data = better!).

      Xeno-canto only takes short (about 3MB or less), compressed (MP3, no WAV files allowed!) recordings. Presumably due to storage limitations on their end. While that does imply that XC recordings aren’t ideal for research applications, they are still an excellent resource for birders.

      My solution: I upload raw (or closer to raw) WAV tracks to a SoundCloud account, then include a link to that recording in the “Remarks” for the shorter MP3 version uploaded to xeno-canto. Here are those examples: http://www.xeno-canto.org/XCrecordistprofiles.php?XCrecordist=DINTDJNDSO

    • http://profile.typepad.com/tfloyd Ted Floyd

      Thanks, Paul, for the comments.

      Not sure I agree with you on this one, though: “…xeno-canto isn’t really set up to archive audio for scientific purposes.”

      I find xeno-canto’s archives to be the easiest of all to navigate. If I want, say, a flight call of a Gray-cheeked Thrush, or the courtship display of a Common Goldeneye, or the song of a Common Cuckoo, it’s really easy to find on xeno-canto.

      On a whim, I just now looked up the European Bee-eater. Then I sorted by “type,” and I get a listing of all the recordings, organized by song, call, flight call, and so forth.

      That’s awesome. Macaulay, meanwhile, doesn’t seem to offer the option to sort by vocalization type. (Folks, is that right? Or am I missing something?)

      Just as Paul says, it’s great to have multiple resources: Borror, Macaulay, and xeno-canto. But I’m not persuaded that xeno-canto is less scientific than the others.

    • http://www.softechms.com/call_recording/asravoice/ Recording Device

      Another free sound manipulation and visualization tool is Syrinx which is a simple but fast visualization tool with some editing filters, etc function. Full disclosure I have used it in the field and lab, and know the creator, but no one makes any money from it at the moment

    • Ted Floyd

      Nice update by Diana Doyle, in the July/August 2013 Birding, about all of this. Here: http://blog.aba.org/2013/09/pocket-bird-recording-in-the-field.html

    • Bill

      There’s a unique smartphone app, called HEARD, that has caught the attention of birdwatchers. It lets you capture audio AFTER you’ve heard it. It works by constantly caching nearby audio in an ephemeral buffer until you press a button to save the buffered clip to a file that can be replayed anytime and shared online. You can also easily append live audio to the past audio. Check it out.

    • DW

      Hi Bill,

      Have you had much success using your iPhone as a recording device since posting this blog?

      I’m toying with the idea of using an iPhone to record (I already have a sennheisser directional mic), but am not sure whether it’s worth pursuing, or rather spending my money on a dedicated recording device. I already have an iPhone so would just need to get a connector, but am still not certain it’s worth it.

      Are the iPhone recordings comparable to a dedicated recording device or are they just a “nice to have” because you happened to have your iPhone with you whilst birding?

      Thanks,
      David

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