How mobile journalists can pick the right mic for their phone

byRavi BajpaiOct 30, 2018 in Multimedia Journalism
Man surrounded by mics and smarphones

You unbox your new lav mic, plug the jack into your phone and take a sound check, waiting expectantly for crisp and clear audio, the kind that will make your mobile video kickass...

What do you hear? Nothing? Welcome to the club — you have now joined the cadre of mobile journalists who struggle to find lav mics that will actually work with their phones.

I can’t think of a single journalist who hasn’t had a hard time trying to find a mic that’s compatible with his or her phone. Some mics will work with iOS devices but won’t connect to Android devices, and vice versa. Of course, it’s not as though the problem is restricted to operating systems (that issue would have been easy to negotiate!). Some mics will plug into only certain Android devices, not all.

What’s the problem? If you look closely at the 3.5 mm jack on these mics, you’ll notice they have a very specific design. Mic jacks come in a wide variety, but for our purposes, we only need to talk about two: Tip Ring Sleeve (TRS) and Tip Ring Ring Sleeve (TRRS).

TRS jacks have three conductors, while TRRS have four. An easy way to identify one from the other is to look for the black coloured rings: TRS have two black rings and TRRS have three. Mics work by connecting to your phone’s inner input socket. If your phone has a matching fit, the mic will work.

So how do you find a mic that will work with your phone? That depends on the type and the arrangement of the conductors on the mic’s 3.5 mm jack. The TRS jack fits most Android phones, except for a few new models that will also accept the TRRS jack.

However, it’s also worth noting that while the TRRS jacks have four conductors, they come in two varieties, and each variety arranges the conductors differently. That’s why it’s likely the same TRRS jack may not work with both Android and iOS phones.

So what’s the solution? Adapters -- there’s quite a few options. This Rode adapter lets you connect TRRS mics with devices that will only read a TRS input, mostly Android phones. Do a Google search for TRRS to TRS adapters and you’ll find all kinds of them for sale. To make TRS mics work with TRRS compatible devices, mostly iOS, use this variant from Rode. As part of your MoJo kit, you should keep both kinds of adapters on hand, especially for shoots in unpredictable settings with multiple phones and live streaming.

Ravi Bajpai is an ICFJ Knight Fellow helping top Indian newsrooms improve their coverage of critical health and development issues. Learn more about his work as a Knight Fellow here.