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Monday, June 29, 2009

Record iPhone conversations on a Mac with WireTap

I know what you're thinking: this seems creepy. However, there is actually a legitimate purpose here. The reason I want to do this is to record work-related conference calls to supplement my notes. Oftentimes, even with notes, it's unclear as to exactly what was discussed and decided. Disclaimer: there are state laws regarding recording of phone calls you should be aware of if you're going to do this. Google it.

The way I do this is to split the output (the sound coming from the other end of the line) from the iPhone - one signal to the earbuds so you can hear it and one to the computer's line-in input for recording. The input (your voice) is heard by the folks at the other end because there's a mic on your earbuds picking it up and sending it back to the iPhone. However, the computer can't pick that up, so I configure the recording device (in this case, WireTap) to also record what's coming in the computer's built-in mic. This way you've got both sides of the conversation available in the recording. This is one of the great things about WireTap - it can record from two sources at once.

Getting Started
There are a few things you'll need to get if you don't already have:
  • An iPhone (actually any phone that has a mini-jack in/out will work)
  • Earbuds with microphone. The ones that came with the iPhone work well. I have these and they are great. I'm sure a headset would work too.
  • A mini-jack splitter (couple bucks at RadioShack)
  • Male-to-male mini-jack cable (couple bucks at RadioShack)
  • WireTap Studio software. Despite the name, recording phone coversations is actually not what it's designed for! It's a bit spendy at $69, but you can do a free 30-day trial with no software limitations.
What You Need
Setting Up
Plug the splitter into the jack of the phone. Then plug your earbuds/headset into one of the splitter's jacks, and the direct male-to-male cable into the other. Plug the other end of the male-to-male cable into the microphone input on your mac.

Starting the Recording
Once you have the phone and cables in place, start up WireTap. if the small black controller isn't visible, go Window (menu) -> Controller to view it. In the controller window, configure the first input to be "Line In", and the second input to be "Internal Microphone". See below for example.

WireTap Controller

At this point, you may want to do a test call to be sure your levels are correct. Just hit the round "record" button on WireTap's controller and place a call (maybe to a friend or an 800 number you know will be answered by an automated system, like your bank). Be sure that you hear at least 30 seconds of sound from the other end, and make sure you talk as well to get an accurate sampling of sound from both ends.

After hanging up, hit the "stop" button on WireTap's controller, and switch to the "Library" window. (Window Menu -> Library). Your recording will probably be called something like "Built-in Input_recording". You can highlight it and play it right from that window, or you can double-click it to view in the editor. When viewing in the editor, the neat thing is that WireTap shows the sound waves for each source separately (they are color-coded). In the example below, my voice is purple while the caller's voice is grey.

Phone Sound Waves
Listen to the levels, if one side is too low or too high, you can adjust the levels. Go System Preferences -> Sound to open the Sound Settings window. The two lines you want to edit are the "Internal Microphone" and "Line In". You can even do this during your test recording so that you are seeing the actual sound in the level meters. If too low or too high, adjust slider bars. I've found checking the box "Use ambient noise reduction" for the Internal Microphone works well.

System Sound Settings
Once you have your levels right and can hear both sides of a test conversation, you're ready to record! You can export your recordings from the WireTap library as MP3s (highlight your recording and hit the "Local" button), which is good if you want to catalog elsewhere on your computer.

Update 2009-07-23: by request, here's an example of a recorded phone conversation using this method:


  1. I'm trying this set up and it doesn't quite work the way you say it will. Mainly because the Apple earphones mic doesn't connect to the iPhone when using the splitter. If you look at the earphones, you'll notice 3 connection rings. - one of those if for the mic. The splitter will only have 2. Maybe it's working for you because of the mic inputs on your computer?

  2. Hmmm...curious. just to be clear, the problem is that everything works fine execpt that the person on the other end can't hear you speaking, is that correct?
    Couple questions:
    1: Which earbuds are you using, the default ones that came with the phone or the ones I use?
    2: What kind of splitter are you using, same as me or different?

    For me, the sound is definitely going back thru the splitter to the phone. I know this because the person on the other end can hear me when I'm using the earbuds/splitter and I'm away from the computer.

    Anyway, let me know.

  3. If I'm looking at this correctly, the person recording the call will only get the voice of the person on the other end. The Host's voice is lost.

    The microphone doesn't feed the Host's voice back through to the speakers. This would cause feedback, right?

    Can you post a sample video of the call's you have recorded?

  4. The host's voice is recorded thru the computer's mic. Wiretap does not pass the recorded sound through the speakers, so there is no feedback.

  5. It's sad to see that people have to work around and find complicated ways to achieve something that on phones worth $100 is built in.
    The Iphone is a very sexy phone like all other products made by apple, but shame on them for the call record thing and especially for always limiting so much software development

  6. It works fine. As recording for host will be done through your mac book default microphone. It will not work if you do not have built in microphone.

  7. Have you tried this one? it works? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fxepe5qSooQ&feature=related

  8. Interesting. Essentially the same idea, except you're using the digital voice recorder rather than wiretap to do the recording.

  9. such involvement will be running /digital voice recorder / and record mobile phone and dialed the caller? Yes or No? you have some experience with it?

  10. There is no need to use Wiretap. You can create a new aggregated device in your Mac's MIDI settings. Then use Quicktime or similar software to record.

  11. 1) You can just use Quicktime, out of the box. No need for aggregated device. QT pro, btw.

    2) I frequently use my big headphones to talk to the phone, even though they have no mic input. When the phones detects headphones, but sees no microphone through the jack, it enables the usual microphone on the device. It works well, I hear much better and the listeners always told me they could hear well. Apple's speaker have built-in microphones; in this case the mic on the headphones will be enabled.

    3) I'm assuming the mac (or pc if you want) is simply recoding 2 things at once, 1 being the audio output (so we record what the other guy is saying) and the Mac microphone line in (so we actually records ourselves too; our voice also reach our listener thru the usual mic, see #2). Ha. You need a macbook then. Tss.

    4) This is perfectly doable with every computer on earth, mac, pc, linux. Use Audacity instead (available for all platform, even mac) as the recording software. If you do not have a laptop/macbook with built-in microphone, use one (usb or into the mic-in of your computer).

    Have fun

  12. I tried this, but using a digital voice recorder instead of a computer. However, I get a lot of noise. I think because the splitter is very slightly too small for the iPhone, because the earphones that comes with the iPhone has more connection rings: left, right, microphone and a button.

    Any suggestions?

  13. Hi Rory - I just tried your idea with my iPhone 4S. And it works, except that I can hardly hear the person on the other end. I have tried with three different headsets. and although the person's voice is a little weak, I can hear it fine Can you help?

  14. Hi Rory, I'm trying to replicate precisely what you have done, but on a PC, and to Evernote. any suggestions?

  15. i used wiretap studio on my macbook pro. I do not see "line in" or "internal microphone" option displayed in the software. I am using iphone 4s. any ideas?

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