What you told us about recording audio with mobile phones (and what your phone says about you…).

By Oct.17, 2012

Early on in the project we put a survey on the web to ask questions about where and how people make audio recordings, and what they make recordings of. We also wanted to know what issues people reported as having the biggest impact on audio quality in their recordings (you can still take part in the survey by clicking here, it only takes a couple of minutes). Three months on, over 150 people have taken part and we have begun to analyse the data. One of many interesting trends to emerge is a series of differences between iPhones and other brands of mobile.

We found that the most common of all devices for making audio recordings was the mobile phone.  But not all phones were equal.  In our survey Apple’s iPhones were more popular than all the other mobile brands put together.  Half of all people who make recordings (with any type of device) use their phones to do so, and, of these people, two-thirds use iPhones. The most common brands in the remaining third were Samsung and HTC.

The survey asked people what kind of problems or noise had the biggest detrimental effect to quality in their recordings. Users of all devices, with the exception of non-iPhone mobiles, selected the same top three recording issues and in the same order; 1) problems with unwanted background noise (e.g. traffic), 2) wind-induced noise on the recording, and 3) noise from handling of the device/microphone.  For non-iPhone users however the most commonly selected recording problem was wind-induced noise (selected by 68% of this group compared to only 54% of iPhone users). It was also found that users of iPhones reported fewer instances of problems with handling noise on their recordings (39% vs. 48% for non-iPhone). These findings relate to audio quality of recordings but presumably similar effects would be found for quality impairment during calls also. Have you found calls with iPhones to be less prone to noise from wind and handling than other brands of phone?

Time for an upgrade? (CC Image courtesy of Ben Schumin)


Survey participants were free to select however many recording problems they wished to report as having a significant impact on audio quality. The mean number of responses across all types of recording devices was 2.1 issues per person. The iPhone was associated with a similar number of problems to the overall average with 2.0 issues per person.  Non-iPhone mobiles however were found to be the most vulnerable to recording problems out of all types of devices in the survey, with an average of 2.8 issues reported per person.

We also asked respondents to tell us what and where they usually make audio recordings. Users of iPhones (like users of all the other non-mobile devices) most frequently made recordings of music-related events, such as concerts, festivals, etc. Non-iPhone users on the other hand were the most likely to make recordings of family and/or domestic life. More than three-quarters of non-iPhone users usually record in domestic environments, compared to only 61% of iPhone users. iPhone users were also the group most likely to record in outdoor urban environments.

There was also a difference in behaviour between the two categories of mobile phone users in what they did with recordings once they had made them. Across all types of devices in the survey iPhone users were the most likely to upload their recordings to the web (only 19% reported that they never upload recordings).  Conversely, non-iPhone users were the least likely (42% do not upload their recordings anywhere).

Professional audio recordists (self-reported) were nearly twice as likely to record with an iPhone than any other brand of mobile. At the other end of the spectrum of expertise, slightly fewer iPhone users felt they possess “little or no knowledge of different recording techniques” (40% of iPhone users vs. 48% other brands).

While the many differences found between iPhones and other brands are no doubt interesting, a challenge we face is to make sense of them. For instance, are iPhone users more likely to upload recordings to the web because the audio quality is higher, or because the phone is better designed to make uploading process easy?  Are fans of social media more likely to purchase iPhones in the first place or does the iPhone make engagement with the web and social media easier than other brands do?

Some of the differences the survey revealed between phones initially seem straightforward to explain. The better performance of iPhones when it comes to wind noise and handling noise, for example, is most likely best attributed to good design rather than differences in user behaviour.  For other findings it is difficult, from this survey alone, to distinguish between differences arising from features inherent to the recording device and traits that are related to the user.  For instance, more than 1 in 4 iPhone users in our survey report that they “always” monitor with headphones when making recordings with their phones compared to less than 1 in 30 people for other mobile brands.  These figures however also coincide with the relative number of professional recordists who make recordings with mobiles in each of the two categories.

So what can we infer from these numbers? Do iPhones need monitoring more than other devices or do professionals simply always monitor because it is good practice to do so? Do these users experience fewer recording problems because the device is superior or simply because they are more experienced and knowledgeable when it comes to making recordings?

The seemingly simple task of comparing quality of recordings between different types of mobile is made more difficult (and more interesting) by our survey findings. Users of different brands of mobile appear to exhibit very different behaviours when it comes to recording audio.  We found differences in what, how, and where people record, what recording problems they encounter, what they do with their recordings, as well what level of experience they have of making recordings – all of which is likely to have an influence on their perceptions of what constitutes ‘quality’.

What most influenced your choice of mobile phone? Were you influenced at all by how well it would record audio?


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