For years, Smule has been working fine with analog headsets, but lacked proper support for external third-party hardware connected via Bluetooth or the lightning port of iOS devices. The latest 6.4.9 update improves that.
You can now connect Lightning/USB microphones and audio interfaces to your iOS device without routing the audio through other apps like GarageBand first. This kind of hardware is now natively supported and you also get proper monitoring this way.
In addition, the support for Bluetooth headphones/headsets was improved. This is especially usefully for recent iOS devices, which come without a headphone jack. Note that this improvement only covers listening to Smule performances. There is still no official support to record from Bluetooth devices.
After starting out with simple headsets, many Smule singers invest in better microphones later — often even expensive professional microphones normally used by singers on stage or in music studios. But as karaoke singer without professional training or a background in sound engineering it’s easy to make mistakes in this area.
Handheld microphones are usually very easy to use—whether you buy consumers microphones like the ones from IK Multimedia’s iRig line or professional stage mics like the famous Shure SM58.
But studio vocal mics are a different category. Studio microphones are usually highly sensitive condenser mics. I’ve seen Smule singers holding them in their hand, but you really shouldn’t do that. The microphone will pick up the slightest, almost unavoidable movements of your hands or the rustling when the microphone cable touches something or moves over the floor. And speaking of the floor: Studio mics will easily pick up vibrations of the floor or unwanted sounds transmitted through the floor. That’s why studio vocal mics usually hang in shock-mount cradle. It removes the hard physical connection of the microphone to the floor through the stand. Keep that in mind when ordering a studio condenser mic for your Smule singing. You might look out for bundles, which are often available. The usually contain a full kit with the microphone you choose, a stand, a cradle, and a pop filter—all working together perfectly without you having to worry about fitting connections for all the parts.
Example of a vocal kit with microphone, pop filter, cradle and stand.
And speaking of pop filters: With a handheld consumer or stage mic, a pop filter might not be necessary and look like you just want to appear professional somehow. But you will need a pop filter for your sensitive studio condenser mic. Popping sounds occur particularly in the pronunciation of aspirated plosives (such as the first “p” in the English word “popping”). Pop filters are designed to attenuate the energy (i.e. air pressure) of the plosive, which otherwise makes the sounds too loud or might even exceed the input capacity of the microphone, leading to clipping.
You are probably too close—positioning your studio mic
But how do we place the pop filter and ourselves in front of the microphone? This questions leads us to the most important tip of the article and the most typical mistake karaoke singers make. Distance is crucial! We all have seen musicians on stage thousands of times, being extremely close to their mic. So they can’t be doing it all wrong, can they? They don’t, but that’s a stage setting, not a studio setting! There are several reasons why being too close to your mic is bad in a studio setting.
Directional or cardioid microphone have a so-called proximity effect. The closer you get to them, the stronger is the low frequency response. That might be great for a movie trailer narration or a radio show, but it usually bad for singing, since it’s just an unnatural sound. For a more natural sound, you have to stay away from your studio mic far enough.
If you are very close to a microphone, the slightest movements of your head can result in significant volume changes. If you move away from your mic, this effect gets smaller and smaller. Note that this does not mean your overall singing volume is lowered. You will compensate for the distance by raising the gain of your microphone.
Recording multiple audio sources
If you want to record multiple audio sources—e.g. several singers or a singer with an accoustic instrument—you will also need enough distance. Don’t worry! While this wouldn’t work well with your Apple EarBuds or other headsets, professional mics are made for this. Even a distance of 40 inch (1 meter) should be no problem to record yourself and your guitar for example. Just point the mic in the general direction of all audio sources and adjust the gain as necessary.
The visual appearance
Many Smule singers who use studio mics and pop filters place them between themselves and the camera. As a result, they hide most of their face behind the pop filter. Well, if you are shy and want it this way, go ahead. But don’t think you have to do that for a good sound. In fact, I made Smule recordings where my condenser mic and pop filter aren’t even visible in the frame. You can move the mic away and place it to the side, so your face is still visible. You might even place it behind the camera or below the camera outside of the camera frame, which is what I often do. You just need to find the right angle, so the microphone pics up your voice. You don’t need to be very close and you shouldn’t be very close.
Finding the right distance and direction
There isn’t a specific distance you should use. You need to try it out and it can depend on the mic you use, your singing style and even the specific song. But as a rule of thumb, start with a distance of 8 to 10 inches (20–25 cm) between your mouth and the microphone or make a fist with both hands and put them both between you and the mic. A good place for the pop filter would be right in the middle—at least in case you can keep your distance to the microphone. If you get closer and closer to the pop filter while singing, move it further away from the mic and use it as a barrier, which forces you to keep your distance from the mic.
A studio setup with a Røde NT1-A
Also, make sure you point the mic in the right direction. As you probably know, the sensitivity of a microphone to sound might not be equal in all directions. This is called the polar pattern. If we want to record a singer on stage with sounds coming from other instruments, the monitoring system and the audience, we need a directional polar pattern to only pick up the singers voice. Such microphones usually have a cardioid polar pattern are directed towards the singer. Studio vocal microphones on the other hand can have various polar patterns and will often be placed upright and the vocals come from an angle of up to 90 degrees. So make sure to place the mic correctly. Usually it is possible to tell from the casing of the microphone where the voice should come from.
Stage condenser mic (Røde M2) vs. studio mic (MXL 990)
We opened a shop at Teespring with a fun little collection of shirts for Smule singers. There are currently two types of shirts available. The shirts in the first category use typical quotes and phrases around music, singing and karoke.
The second category is a little more special. We created mirrored designs, which are specifically made to be used in Smule video recordings. While they don’t make much sense when worn on the street, you can really stand out with them while creating Smule video collabs. The mirrored design will be readable to everyone watching the Smule video.
See the entire shirt collection here: https://teespring.com/de/stores/thesingsalon
Smule released a new version of the Sing! app for iOS. You will first notice a design overhaul covering the entire app. In addition, users of an iPhone X will notice that the app now makes better use of the iPhone X screen.
But the biggest changes appear in the completely redesigned Explore tab. There are new sections for trending recordings, singers and playlists. The Recommended for You section remains prominent, while the other playlists (like Smule Picks, Sing with the Artist, Rising Stars, Undiscovered Talent) have been demoted to the bottom of the Explore tab and need to be opened one by one. And there are now only 4 playlists left – the controversial Killer Karaoke is not there anymore.
So far users don’t seem to report serious problems with the upgrade. iPad users have noticed that the previous option of using the app in landscape mode is not available anymore. I suspect this is a permanent change, but it might also return in a future update.
The iRig Pre has been a highly popular device among Smule singers to use professional microphones with the Sing! app. But since more and more mobile devices now come without an analog headphone socket, the iRig Pre can’t be connected anymore – at least not easily. But IK Multimedia, the makers of the iRig Pre, launched a new series of digital audio adapters: the iRig Pre HD (~US$ 100) and the iRig Pro I/O (~US$ 150). We tested the latter and tell you how it works with Smule.
The iRig Pre I/O and Pre HD provide an studio-quality sound with a 24-bit A/D conversion and a sample rate of up to 96 kHz. There is very little background noise, which can’t be heard anymore after the recording has passed Smule’s audio processing. So you can expect a much better sound than with the iRig Pre or with the usually rather noisy headsets. And since the audio data is delivered digitally to the device, there is no loss of quality anymore through the connection itself and the processing in the phone/tablet.
Comparision: the iRig Pro and the iRig Pre
The new digital interfaces are much bigger than the iRig Pre. You can just lay the device on a flat surface or use the included Velcro strip to attach it to mic or phone stand. This works okay, but a more robust way to attach the rather expensive device securely to microphone stands wouldn’t hurt.
The iRig Pro I/O connections and buttons:
A power supply unit is not included, but supported. The official one from IK Multimedia can cost you another 40 to 50 dollars, but it will allow you to use the device permanently and even charge your phone! This is a significant advantage of the device. The older iRig Pre only works with batteries and needs a lot of them, especially when used with condenser mics.
If you don’t buy the power supply, you can run the device with two AA batteries.
The iRig Pro I/O comes with a lightning cable for iOS devices and a USB cable for desktop computers. A cable for Android phones is sold separately.
A nice feature is that the device powers on by connecting it to your phone/tablet/computer. No need to turn it on and off manually all the time!
Headphone socket and control
You can connect your headphones directly to the iRig Pro I/O. No need for messy splitter solutions if your phone doesn’t have a headphone socket anymore. The output comes directly from your phone/tablet. So it’s not limited to direct mic monitoring, which is a problem of some other digital audio interfaces.
The audio quality of the headphone output is excellent and you can also control the volume directly on the device.
At the bottom of the iRig Pro I/O you can connect either a XLR microphone or a line input with a 1/4" jack.
A switch to turn on the 48 V phantom power for condenser mics is on the left side of the device.
To set the output gain, there is a big control dial on the front of the device.
Smule users who also play electronic instruments can also use the audio interface to send and receive MIDI data.
If you buy the iRig Pro I/O and the official power supply unit, you will have to spend around $200. If that is too much for you, you might want to take a look at the iRig Pre HD, which costs around $100. It offers the same audio quality but lacks some of the connection options of the I/O: there is no external power supply, no line input and no MIDI in/out.
Comparision: iRig Pro I/O (left) and iRig Pre HD (right)
Using the iRig Pro I/O with the Sing! app
The iRig Pro I/O was started to be supported with the Sing! app version 6.4.9 on iOS. Before that, it could only be used by routing the audio through other apps. You need to find your perfect gain settings first, but after that, using the iRig Pro I/O is very easy.
The iRig Pro I/O provides excellent audio quality and with the optional power supply unit you can power the audio interface and even your phone/tablet permanently. This makes it a great solution for very active Smule users who are looking for optimal sound quality. It’s also a good interface if your singing is not limited to mobile devices. You can use the iRig Pro I/O for high-quality recordings on your computer as well.
Most Smule users start out with using the headsets provided with their phone or tablet. If you want to use professional microphones, you will run into the problem of not having a easy way to connect them to your phone or tablet. You need an audio interface—like the iRig Pre. Here is everything you need to know about it.
The iRig Pre is rather small (32mm/1.26" x 35mm/1.38" x 83mm/3.27") and comes with Velco strip so you can tie it to a mic stand—not a professional solution, but better than nothing.
At the bottom is the XLR socket for your microphone. You can connect any professional mic with an XLR cable here, may it be dynamic or a condenser mic. At the front of the iRig Pre is a little knob with three options:
On—use this for dynamic microphones
+48V—use this for condenser microphones
The knob is very small and not easy to handle. And you might need to use it often, since you always want to turn it off when you don’t use the iRig Pre, especially with condenser microphones. The battery can last up to 30 hours for dynamic mics, but only 10 hours for condenser mics. So if you want to use the iRig Pre every day, you will need a lot of batteries. And unfortunately, the device has no connection for a power adapter. It’s batteries only!
On the right side is a thumbwheel to set the output gain. You will have to find a setting that works well with your microphone and then you can just leave it at this setting.
The audio cable (permanently attached to the device) will plug into your phone’s or tablet’s audio socket. It’s a regular combined headphone & mic connection. So any device that works with a typical headset, also works with the iRig Pre. And any iOS or Android app, that support the headphone socket, will also work with the iRig Pre.
Your headphones go into the headphone socket of the iRig Pre. If you use a headset with a microphone, the microphone will be deactivated and only the headphones will work. And if your headset has volume buttons, they will be turned off as well. I found that the quality of the iRig Pre’s headphone socket is significantly worse than what the phone/tablet delivers. So I often would record a song with my headset in the iRig Pre, but then connect them to the phone again for reviewing the song—which can get quite a hassle.
Using the iRig Pre with Smule
The iRig Pre sends analog audio signals across the microphone channel. So the Smule Sing! app will use it like a headset and there are no compatibility issues whatsoever. When you get the device, it will need some trial and error to find the right settings, since you now have two ways to control the volume—the device gain and the Smule volume slider.
Using the iRig Pre can achieve better audio quality, especially in regards to noise, but also in regards to the possible volume range, which is limited with headsets. However, since the iRig Pre is a cheap and analog device, you might not get the full quality your professional XLR microphone can actually deliver. Nevertheless, the interface is a good and popular choice for Smule singers who use devices with an audio socket.
For newer devices that don’t have a headphone socket anymore, you would need another adapter just to connect your iRig Pre. This might be okay if you already have an iRig Pre, but I wouldn’t recommend buying an iRig Pre in this case. If your device only has a digital connection (USB/lightning), you might want to use digital audio interface as well.
Smule users like to upload their collabs as videos to Facebook instead of just posting links, since the video will auto-play right in the Facebook feed. But since you might be republishing copyrighted music, the videos can be taken down instantly or Facebook accounts might be banned from posting videos or even deleted for too many copyright violations.
But there is good news: the first of the 3 major music labels—the Universal Music Group—has now signed a contract with Facebook. The songs of albums published through Universal can now be posted on Facebook without any problems. This includes artists from many genres, present (like Taylor Swift) and past (like The Beatles) as well as movie soundtracks.
An independent list of artists who have some or all of their albums published through Universal can be found here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Universal_Music_Group_artists
Or go to Universal’s udiscovermusic website. It lists the artists and the albums: https://www.udiscovermusic.com/artists-a-z/
Feel free to let us know it this works for you. We tested this and unlike last year, posting original videos from Universal artists did not create any warnings or removals anymore.