It’s a very different situation today, and we see not only the modern smartphone being used in music production, but the introduction of its bigger brother, the tablet becoming a viable recording tool. So, now that we have almost done away with mobile cell interference and we have portable devices that are more powerful than the computers I used to use, how can our phones and tablets broaden our horizons in the home studio, and abroad?
As more and more manufacturers begin to realise that there is great potential in portable devices as recording tools, we are starting to see the development of apps that are derived from fully fledged software DAWs. Native Instruments were quick off the mark in this regard with their version of Maschine for the iPhone creating a new wave of users that then expanded their pocket production to greater ideas. Now, you are able to get just about any of the major DAWs in an app form to allow you to work from your iPhone, iPad, or similar device. Although these apps give you the freedom to create in a portable manner, be aware that they are not allowing you the full potential that the computer software offers, and can never really do so as the device running them just does not have the power to do so. Many users coming from their computer platforms to a portable device will understand these limitations, but there are still plenty of people I come across that are discovering these recording programs by the app first. So, when you are looking for more power, additional features or higher quality recording, effects and conversion, consider moving from the app in your pocket to the full software upgrade on your computer.
Obviously there is of course the ability to run these recording apps on your device with little more than the headphones you use for listening to music with and the on board microphone. But, if you want to get the most from your recording apps, you really need to consider how your audio is getting in and out of your mobile device. This is where it gets a little tricky as there are now more cables, leads, connectors and iOS interfaces available than anyone knows what to do with. So, where do you start when looking for a quality interface at an affordable price and what should be the things to look for? I think one needs to consider what they want from their recording app to begin with before rushing out to buy a device that might not meet their needs. If you simply want to record spoken word for reference, a simple microphone upgrade would more than suffice. If you just want to jam your guitar ideas with a modelling amp, then a breakout that allows a guitar lead to be plugged in at the correct impedance will take care of that. But, if you want a range of recording options, including using separate microphones that require a preamp, possibly even phantom power, and you want good quality analogue to digital conversion, then a decent breakout box style interface is going to be on your shopping list. There are a range of USB interfaces for PC and Mac these days that also support mobile devices. Devices like the Steinberg UR12 (as pictured) which I road tested in the last issue of Mixdown have a dual purpose and allow you to use them with both a computer and a mobile device. This is a really important factor to consider when looking for the right interface for your phone or tablet. It means you can switch from one device to another and include your laptop or desktop computer in the mix as well. The beauty of this is you can work within the full DAW when you are at home, but you then have the freedom to take the app and interface with you to record just about anywhere, especially when you are wanting to work with field recordings for special effects. So, don’t rush out and buy the first thing you find for making music with your mobile device. Also, don’t be tempted to just grab a cheap connection cable and expect it will improve your audio quality greatly. Treat your mobile device like you would any other computer you want to record with and give it the interface your recordings deserve.