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by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

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By Jason Snell

A week of podcasting with only an iPad Pro

Equipment hooked up
Recording Liftoff from the spare bedroom at my mother’s house in Arizona. (The little blue box is a mute switch.)

Last week I took a trip during which I needed to record three podcasts (Liftoff, Download, Six Colors Subscriber Podcast) with guests who would be participating via Skype. I almost took my trusty old MacBook Air with me, but I decided to see if I could figure out a way to replicate the bulk of my home recording setup without requiring a Mac.

In the past, I’ve done something similar using the Audio-Technica ATR2100-USB, a microphone that can output a digital signal using USB and an analog signal via an XLR cord simultaneously. The problem is that the last time I tried to use the ATR2100-USB with my iPad Pro, it didn’t return my own voice into my ears, making me unable to judge the sound quality of my own microphone. After years of having my own voice return to me, I strongly prefer not to record unable to hear my own voice. (I use in-ear headphones that largely shut out audio from the outside world, so the experience of speaking while not hearing yourself is even more profoundly weird than it would be with leaky earbuds.)

This time I wanted it all, or at least as close to all as I’m able to get with iOS in the mix: A pristine recording of my own voice, that same high-quality microphone audio also flowing across digitally to my podcast guests via Skype, and the ability to hear both my guests and myself at the same time.

I made it work with the addition of one box to my usual iPad workflow. Here’s what I did:

A flowchart.

First, I plugged an analog XLR microphone into my Zoom H6 recorder. That solves the “get a pristine recording of my own voice” problem. But how to get that audio out of my Zoom recorder and into my iPad Pro? If I plug my headphones into the Zoom, I’ll be able to hear myself but not my guests. If I attach the Zoom to the iPad, I can relay my audio—but the Zoom is unable to record audio when it’s being used as a USB audio interface.

Second, I need to route my microphone audio out of the Zoom to a device capable of transferring it to my iPad Pro (and also transferring the voices of my panelists from the iPad back to me). Any standard USB audio interface should be more or less capable of that, and so I used mine—the Sound Devices USBPre2. The trick was how to connect the Zoom to the USBPre2. Fortunately, the zoom has a Line Out port on its front, and the USBPre2 has a line-in port on its side, and I happened to have the right cable (minijack on one side, stereo RCA on the other) to connect the two of them in my random drawer of audio cables.

Third, I attach my USB audio interface to my iPad Pro. (I used a USB-B to USB-C audio cable for this, but an old-school cable will also work with an adapter.) I haven’t yet met a USB device that my iPad Pro is incapable of powering by itself, so the USBPre2 worked just fine. I also attached my headphones to the USBPre2, so I could hear myself and my guests.

That’s it! I could launch Skype, press record on the Zoom, and record a podcast. My guests heard my high-quality microphone audio, I could hear them, and I could hear myself (with no noticeable latency). The only thing I’m really missing is the ability to record my guests’ audio too, as a backup, but I chose to live dangerously and speak only to people who know what they’re doing when it comes to recording for a podcast.

The final step was one that I’ve described before, namely using an external Wi-Fi box to transfer my audio files back to my iPad for editing. This workaround remains until the day where Apple decides to let iPads see external storage devices directly. Then it was off to Ferrite to put the podcasts together after the participants sent me their files and I imported them into Ferrite. (As an added bonus, in a recent update, Ferrite has gained the ability to split multi-track QuickTime audio files into their component tracks. Ecamm’s Call Recorder for Skype uses this approach and until Ferrite was updated, I’d have to use a Mac to split those audio files in two. No longer.)

And that’s it! It’s not pretty, it’s two more boxes than I’d otherwise bring, and I refuse to weigh the difference in boxes and compare it to the weight of my 11-inch Air. The important thing is that I was able to travel with my iPad and no Mac and have more or less the same podcast experience that I have when I’m sitting at home at my iMac.

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