Using a shotgun mic with an iPhone to record birds

I’ve used my existing microphone setup with a dedicated recorder since I picked up the equipment. While taking an online course on How to Record Bird Sounds, one of the setups they showed in the video utilized an external microphone connected to an iPhone running Merlin.

shotgun microphone setup with iphone

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I’ve used my existing microphone setup with a dedicated recorder since I picked up the equipment. While taking an online course on How to Record Bird Sounds, one of the setups they showed in the video utilized an external microphone connected to an iPhone running Merlin. This setup allowed them to get higher-quality recordings and get Merlin’s help IDing what was vocalizing.

shotgun microphone setup with iphone

What I used in this setup:

Microphone with XLR output
Apple 3.5mm-to-Lightning adapter
Rode SC4 TRRS adapter
Optional but highly recommended
Shotgun shock mount

I decided to go down this rabbit hole of researching what I would need to connect my Sennheiser ME66 microphone to my iPhone. This setup should work with any XLR microphone. Check out my current setup for birdsong recording using a dedicated recorder.

Examining this video course closer (they didn’t go into the detail of the setup), I could see they plugged the microphone into the 3.5mm-to-Lightning adapter with another dongle in between.

My microphone has an XLR output so I bought an XLR female-to-male 3.5mm cable and plugged it all in with the 3.5mm-to-Lightning adapter. No dice. The microphone was being powered with its battery, but the phone was still using the built-in mic when running Merlin.

I learned that the microphone cable outputs its signal as “TRS” and needs to be converted to “TRRS” for the iPhone hence the extra dongle I mentioned above in the course’s setup.

Rather than wait for another online shipment, I found a camera store nearby that sells the Rode SC4 TRRS Adapter that I needed. The folks at the store were kind enough to help me plug everything in and confirm it worked before paying.

So, in short, to get things working properly plug all the dongles and cables together THEN plug them into the phone. This should allow the phone to recognize everything properly.

A quick test of this setup shows my audio being recorded in Merlin using the external mic while ignoring the built-in one. Enjoy!

11 thoughts on “Using a shotgun mic with an iPhone to record birds”

  1. Hi Jeffrey
    Do you use this mic on your camera too? I want to get a good compact mic that will record the bird only and not all the peripheral sounds. If it could be used on my iPhone and Canon R5 that would be brilliant.

    • Hi Cliff!

      I haven’t used it with my camera before. I feel like it would take two people, one to hold the mic and one with the camera.

      With the ME 66 or 67 it would require the K6 power module or phantom power (which the R6/R5 won’t provide). If you have the K6 power module, it should theoretically work with a 3.5mm to XLR cable when connected to an R6.

      Let me know if you decide to try it out and what the result is! Thanks for reading!

  2. I use a dedicated recorder now but used to plug an ME66 into my iPhone using the iRig Pre HD by IK Multimedia (no affiliation).

    It’s one dongle with an XLR input on one end and a lightning connector on the other. Plus it doubles as a preamp so you can set your gain and has a headphone jack if you want to use headphones for monitoring. Worked like a charm.

    I’ve since added a parabolic microphone to my arsenal and now use a Zoom F3 to record with 32 bit float.

    • Wow, that’s super cool! I haven’t heard of that device before but it looks great! I love that it allows gain control which the pure dongle solution doesn’t provide (plus phantom power). Do the batteries last a decent amount of time?

      How are you liking the parabolic microphone? Which brand did you get? I was looking at Wildtronics. I’m really leaning to pick up one of those next to use with my MixPre-3 II. What I love about the F3 is that it has a much smaller footprint than my recorder and provides 32-bit float. Thanks for reading!

  3. Very useful, thanks. A couple of questions:
    1. How are these recordings compared to those acquired with your “dedicated recorder”?
    2. Do you still advise this mic for recording with a smartphone or would you suggest a different option?

    • Hi Agus,

      1. I haven’t done a direct comparison of the same subjects using both setups to give a confident answer on this yet, but that is a great idea for a new blog post, thank you!

      Another commenter made an excellent recommendation for using another accessory in this setup (the iRig Pre HD Class-A XLR mic preamp). The main purpose of an accessory like this is to fine-tune the gain (essentially the loudness of the recording). You’d typically boost the gain when the bird is farther and quieter, and reduce it when your subject is closer and louder. Think of it like zooming in or out with a camera lens to get the bird centered nicely in the frame. If you’re too far, the bird is hard too see, but too close and the whole bird won’t fit in the frame (when audio input is too loud, it can clip and become distorted).

      This accessory controls the gain level before the signal reaches the phone and will help your final recordings sound better with less editing in post.

      2. My best advice is to look for a shotgun mic from a reputable brand that you can find that is available. The shotgun mic is going to be way more directional and will help suppress the sounds of birds coming from other directions. I love both the Sennheiser ME66 and ME67. The MKE 600 is still being produced, but personally, I would look at used options of either of the former two before opting for this one. I say this because both of them are longer in length, and microphones, if treated well, will last a long time, so used is great.

  4. Hi Jeff. I was curious too to use a shotgun mic to identify far birds using the Merlin Bird ID iOS app. The only missing adapter on my side was the Rode SC4 TRS to TRRS, so I went to buy one. Here is the setup I tried following your setup :
    – Rode NTG-2 (it provides its own 48v phantom power using a AA battery inside).
    – XLR to TRS adapter
    – TRS to TRRS adapter (Rode SC4)
    – TRRS to Lightning (Apple’s dongle)
    I plugged everything together, quite the same as your setup except the different mic. However the iPhone does not recognize the mic. This is because although the connectivity makes sense and the mic provides the phantom power, there is a mismatch on impedance. The impedance of the NTG-2 is 350Ω with phantom power but the iPhone is used to something higher than 1000Ω (the Apple earphones are 1600Ω from what I saw on the internet). So, in general, I think that your post makes sense on two points:
    1. The connectivity makes sense.
    2. The voltage makes sense (microphone provides the phantom power)
    However, it’s missing on the third key point:
    3. Impedance.
    This impedance discrepancy means two things: either the iPhone reverts back to the inner microphones and neglects the microphone, either the sound is very low and clipping. Maybe the situation is different with your Sennheiser ME66 microphone.
    Therefore, I tried another setup that work with cristal clear sound.
    First setup (iPhone):
    – Rode NTG-2
    – Shure X2u (which I happenned to already had, to connect the mic to my laptop)
    – USB cable from the X2u to USB-A
    – Apple adapter USB+lightning to lightning (and not the USB without lightning to lightning one). This is because the iPhone cannot provide enough power to the Shure X2u.
    – An external Anker battery plugged in the Apple dongle to power the X2u.
    Second setup (iPad):
    – Rode NTG-2
    – Shure X2u
    – USB cable from the X2u to USB-A
    – USB-A to USB-C adapter
    – iPad with a USB-C port.
    The iPad with a USB-C port provides enough power for the X2u.
    Although these two setup give cristal clear sound, they involve more things than your setup, mostly due to having a X2u that does the conversion from analog to digital instead of trying to feed an analog signal to the iPhone/iPad directly with an impedance mismatch.
    I am aware that there are other simpler solutions out there to adapt an XLR microphone to iPhone/iPad.
    I’ll try my new setup soon to see how Merlin identifies farther birds now with a shotgun mic.
    Happy birding!

    • Hi, Noé,

      Thanks so much for your detailed response and a breakdown of your two setups! I’m sure it will help others with a different configuration from mine.

      I’ve been curious about the device another commenter suggested, the iRig Pre HD by IK Multimedia. I wonder if you could use your Rode NTG-2 with this. It would provide phantom power plus let you control the gain. That might cut down on the number of components required to get the microphone to work.


  5. I’m new to this level of birdwatching and song ID. I am so excited by all the bird calls just in my yard that I’m now able to identify with the Merlin Sound ID feature. Has inspired me to buy better quality binoculars and now I’m looking at microphones!
    Question: Do you have some kind of holder for your phone and mic? Thanks.

    • Hi Christine,

      I’m thrilled that it’s so inspiring for you! You’ll learn a lot!

      What I use to hold the microphone is a pistol grip shock mount. It’s comfortable hold and aim the microphone while reducing handling noise. I use a grip made by Rycote. I typically use the microphone connected to a dedicated recorder than directly to my phone.


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