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Upgrade your live stream on a budget

I’ve been getting a lot of questions from friends who are performers about how to improve their live streaming setup. Because most of us have been experiencing some form of self-isolation or lockdown for the last several months times have been especially hard for musicians, comedians, and other performers.

Many of them have turned to Facebook Live or other streaming platforms to stay connected with their fans and provide some much-needed entertainment to all of us. It also gives them a chance to earn a little income at a time when it is desperately needed. But after the novelty of watching your favorite local band jamming in their living room wears off people are starting to look for ways to improve the quality of these broadcasts. Especially the audio. No one wants to listen to clipped, distorted sound being crammed through the mic on a smartphone.

So below are some suggestions for how you can upgrade your live streaming chops on a reasonable budget.  

What you already have

Let’s start with what you probably DON’T need. Your smartphone has a decent camera already. And the apps you are using are ones you are already comfortable with. So don’t go changing things just for the sake of spending money.  

More importantly, the video quality of your phone’s camera is a pretty close match to the quality that Facebook, YouTube, or other services are going to broadcast anyway. Spending hundreds or thousands of dollars on a better camera isn’t going to change much for the folks watching at home.

If your phone doesn’t have a headphone jack, you probably already have the appropriate adapter to plug in headphones. If not, you can pick them up from Amazon for iPhone or Android devices.

The first thing to buy – Zoom H1n Field Recorder

So if the video isn’t going to be the problem, that leaves audio. This is where we are going to focus our attention.

There are lots of microphones on the market intended for use with smartphones, but most of them suffer from some of the same problems that the built-in mic does. Namely, they are optimized for human voices speaking at normal volume levels. If you are a musician (or someone who just enjoys shouting into the camera) you’ll already be aware that these mics aren’t the greatest when the volume goes up.

Enter the tried and true Zoom H1n field recorder. Variations of this device have been around for years and are trusted by journalists, filmmakers, musicians, and anyone who needs to capture clear audio in a variety of environments.

The recorder can be connected to a computer (via USB cable), to a smartphone, or simply use it to record audio on its own. The integrated stereo microphones provide crisp audio with no clipping or distortion and the line-in jack even allows for capturing sound directly from a mixing board if you happen to be performing with a PA system.

All of this flexibility for around $120 means that the H1n can be a piece of equipment you won’t outgrow. It can remain a useful part of your equipment kit even as you upgrade other items in the future.

Making Connections – Cables and adapters

While the H1n is a great stand-alone recorder, we want to use it with our smartphone for live streaming. So there are a couple of items necessary to make that connection.

The first thing you will need is an audio splitter like this one. This separates the headphone and microphone signals into 2 different cables. Without this piece, your phone will think the H1n is a pair of headphones and you won’t be able to use it for improved audio.

Next, you will need a cord to run from the H1n to your phone. Any TRS 3.5mm cable will do, but since they are affordable I suggest getting one that is at least 8 feet long. This will allow you to move your phone further away from the performers to catch more of the action on camera, while still being able to place the mic close enough to pick up all the sound.

Finally, you should pick up an inexpensive lightweight tripod to use with your H1n. This will give you even more flexibility in placing it in the optimal position.

Putting it all together

It will take a little practice and experimentation for you to find the best positioning and settings for the H1n to capture your performance. But after a few trial runs you should be hearing a massive improvement in your streamed audio.


  1. I’m assuming you’ve tried this for FB or Youtube and it worked? But let me ask a few questions to make sure I’m understanding how to route things.
    1. Use the headphone/line out on the H1n with the splitter to run audio to the iPhone.
    2. This would plug into an adapter that can change the 1.5mm cable to lightening.
    3. Arm the record button on the H1n and that should send any signal to the iPhone.
    Is all this correct? Could I use a 3 ring TTRS cable instead of the splitter? Same concept but just not splitting the signal into two cables. Thank you.

    1. Hi Ted. Thanks for your question. You are correct on the connections. You will definitely need a TRRS splitter. If you plug a cord into the iphone that is just a 3 ring TRS the phone will treat it as if it were a pair of headphones. So the audio from the H1n will not be picked up. You need the splitter to separate the headphone and microphone audio. Without that separation, the phone will not understand that it should act like a microphone is plugged in.

      1. Okay one last question. I get the splitter and I have a TRS cable with a TRS to Lightening adapter. Do I plug the TRS cable into the headphone or mic line of the splitter? And the other just left open? Would that be all the connections I need?

        And I actually have a H4n Pro so I’m assuming I could run the same system with that mic instead of the H1n correct? Same system and application so… fingers crossed. 🙂

  2. The H4n should work in fundamentally the same way. You will plug the male end of the splitter into the Lightening adapter and then the cable from the H4n output into the microphone side of the splitter.

    1. Awesome. Thank so much. I was thinking the splitter went into the H4n out. This makes perfect sense. Thanks again. I’ve been searching all year for someone who’s done this and you’re the first one I’ve found to make the connections for me. Thanks again so much and be well.

    2. So I have an update and unless I’m doing something wrong, it doesn’t work well. I had really low volume levels recording on my video. I tried turning volume on the H4n headphone out all the way up and tried turning the mic input volume all the way up and still had very low volume on the test videos.
      Unless you are confident the H1n works different in some way and for some reason, I’ll have to chalk this up as a fail once again. Really wished this would work.

      1. Another thing to check is the audio settings on the phone. I know that in zoom, for instance, there are settings to turn off the automatic volume adjustments. Sorry you are having troubles with it. It may seem counter intuitive, but you might start with the H4n headphone volume set to minimum and do some tests slowly increasing it. If the phone is seeing too much signal, it may be clipping it.

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