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This piano tuning blog is a companion to our How to Tune a Piano Yourself tutorial. In this blog we expand on the tutorial with new information and perspectives on do-it-yourself piano tuning. If it is your first time here, visit the tutorial first.

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Using an External Mic with iPhone

iPod with adapter and Korg mic

The iPhone, iPod touch, iPad and Android have apps useful for tuning a piano or other musical instruments. Many of these devices have internal mics, some do not. However, even in models with a built-in mic, an external mic is a great advantage for electronic tuners of any kind, including these apps. External mics are also useful for movies or serious sound recording with iPod. In either case, the closer one can get the mic to the source of the sound, the better. Ideal mic placement can be poor placement for seeing the display on these devices. An external mic solves this problem. But getting an external mic to work with iPhone is not as straightforward as it first appears. We recommend the following solution.

iPod jack
iPod jacks have four metal bands. The two on the tip are the right and left stereo speaker channels. The second from the base is the ground. The metal band at the base is the mic. Some Android devices have same jack pattern; others have the four bands but in a different order.

Apple sells headphones with mics, but the mic is not very high quality, and it's attached to the headphone cable, which is awkward. Third-party mics offer better quality and more placement options using stands and clips. But third party mics may not work with iPod or Android without a proper adapter.

The iPod and many Androids use a single jack for stereo output and microphone input. The jack is 3.5mm, which is standard. However, these mic-and-speaker jacks have four metal bands, whereas a standard stereo jack has three, and most monophonic microphones have two. While plugging most any headphone jack will match the bands for sound, not so with a mic. Plugging a standard mic jack into a 4-band jack will not work because the signals from the mic jack do not match what the iPod's wiring expects.

iPod mic adapter
The unit as received from KVConnect. I ordered on a Sunday; it arrived via First Class Thursday, about $27 shipped.
iPod mic adapter
I chose a unit with both a mic jack and a speaker jack. They come in many configurations to match just about any sound equipment you may have.

Fortunately KVConnect.com makes the appropriate adapter. They have models for iPod, and several different Android configurations. I purchased one with a 1/4" jack because the mic I wanted to use, a Korg CM-100L, had that sort of jack, as do many professional mics. The unit I purchased also has a 3.5mm speaker jack for headphones or other external speaker because putting any sort of jack into the iPod automatically cuts power to the internal iPod speaker.

iPod with adapter and Korg mic
The app shown is Cleartune - Chromatic Tuner. The external microphone pictured is the Korg CM-100L Contact Mic, on a clip. It is designed for Korg's electronic tuner line, but it uses a standard 1/4" mono mic jack.

With the proper equipment in place, it's simply a matter of plugging it all in.

Some tips: It seemed to work best to plug in the mic before launching the application. Sometimes the apps I tested it on, Cleartune and Tuner Tool, had trouble accessing the mic if I plugged it in while the app was live. Also be certain that any case you have does not interfere with the jack. The jack KVConnect uses is pretty beefy, and shaped at a right angle, much bigger than the tiny straight-on collar on Apple-issue headphones. I had no trouble with the clear silicon skin I use, but those with heavy cases may need to remove them.

Addendum: If you just want a simple 1/4" to iPhone mic adapter, the least expensive option I have found this far is this Peterson model pictured. Note that it does NOT have the speaker port, and will cut the sound to the iPhone/iPod speaker. If you want to hear tones, you'll have to pull the mic, and I found pulling the mic with tuning app live sometimes required a restart of the app before the app found the mic in the right location again.

01/20/11

Comments

Karen 08/27/15

Could you please tell me exactly what connection to order from KVConnection?
Your article is very thorough (and perhaps I am very dense), but I do not see where it holds my hand and tells me exactly which item to order. :-)
(I would like to use my iphone 6 with Cleartune app to tune my harp. If I am alone, it is fine, but with others, a clip on mic would be ideal.)

Thank you so much for your time and advice.
Karen

Scott replies: Karen, speak to customer service at KV Connection and they can advise you on the best connector for your particular situation. Thanks for visiting.

pebo 07/15/11

gStrings by cohortor.org, a free Android app, has options for a very large number of temperaments, some of which I would think would enable its use for piano tuning.

Scott replies: Thanks for the suggestion. Remember that tuning a piano is not just a question of finding the right temperament. Whatever temperament is selected, the piano will have to be uniquely adjusted for the best sound. "Equal temperament" is the most commonly used. Some early music buffs select other temperaments in use in the past.

david Jiang 04/14/11

Hi
Where can I buy the tuning programme for iPhone?

Scott replies: The tuning program shown is ClearTune. It is available at iTunes App Store. For more about tuning software, check our Chromatic Tuner Guide.

Joe Leaver 03/27/11

Not sure about the i-phone tuner, I would like to think a quartz chromatic tuner would be more accurate. Take a look at this website for further info www.mobilepianoservice.com.au

Scott replies:I can understand your concern. But he is iPhone is a capable tuner, because several very expensive but highly regarded apps are available for piano tuning.Tunelab is one such application, and is well-regarded since the Pocket PC days.

Jonathan 03/25/11

It's important to note that most iPhone and Android tuning platforms are *not* good solutions for tuning a piano.
A piano's "scale" (the mathematical relationship between the thickness, tension, and length of strings) is significantly different than other string instruments, and requires significant "tempering" of the octave for all intervals to fit. This means that the theoretical numbers associated with tuning won't work on a piano - so Tuning A4 to 440 HZ, and A5 to 880HZ while theoretically correct won't be "in tune."
For pianos, tuning software capable of specific piano temperaments is required, and as of yet I haven't found any useful on mobile platforms, accept for two well known options for Windows mobile.

Scott replies: Thanks for the comment. It is true that most consumer-level chromatic tuners on mobile platforms have the same shortcomings as inexpensive handheld tuners when it comes to piano tuning, as you have described and we address in our piano tuning tutorial. However, Tunelab is a professional level piano tuning app for iPhone/iOS. I am not aware of an Android option at this time.

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