drone audio

Let us improvise. Let us record. Let Us Drone.

So you’re into Baja racing and have been thinking about getting a Mavic or Phantom to get some aerial footage of the serious action that takes place south of the border. The stable 4K video and 40+ MPH top speed of these drones are great, but you have one question: “will I be able to record audio of the trucks, dirtbikes, and ATVs tearin’ it up?”

The answer is no, DJI drones are not able to record audio as they do not have a mic. Audio can be recorded with the phone or tablet you are using to fly the drone and will be heard in the cached video on that device, but audio will not be present when the video is transferred from the SD card to the computer. This post will guide you in the process of recording audio with cache video and offer a few workarounds for those who would like to ensure they have audio with their high-quality video.

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How do I record audio with video cache?

Cache video is the 720p video that you see on your phone or tablet screen when you are recording. It is stored to your device until the cache limit has been exceeded, or until you clear the cache manually. The following are steps for recording audio with video cache:

  1. While in the DJI GO 4 app, tap the three dots in the upper righthand corner. This will open up the general settings.
  2. Scroll down until you see the “video cache” section and make sure “cache during video shooting” is enabled.
  3. Look below that a bit and you’ll see “record audio with video cache”. Enable that and you’ll be all set up.
record audio video cache

Within that same section under general settings, you can also set the maximum video cache capacity, and choose if you’d like for the cache to be cleared automatically when the limited has been reached.

To view this cache video that now has audio (wahoo!), click on “DJI” in the upper lefthand corner of the screen and go to the “editor” section that will be the second tab from the left on the bottom of the screen.

Although a mic is not needed for recording the audio, hooking up an external one to the phone or tablet you are using will certainly yield better results. Even using the stock iPhone headphones with the built-in mic provided much higher quality audio for me compared to when I had nothing plugged into the phone.  

But I want to see the 4K video with audio

You’ve tested it out and sure enough, there’s audio with the cached video now. You’re feelin’ good. A damper will now be placed on those good vibes as you remember that the audio will not be attached to the videos when they are transferred to your computer.

What to do, what to do. Well, you have a couple of options.

Option #1

Download the cached video to your phone or tablet, which you can then transfer to the computer or another device of your preference. This may suffice if you want to make a quick Instagram story or something, but a potentially choppy 720p video isn’t going to cut it for most people.

Option #2

  1. Transfer the video from the SD card to your computer.
  2. Download the cached video (that has the audio) to your phone.
  3. Transfer the downloaded cache video from the phone to your computer.
  4. Strip the audio from the downloaded cache video using a free software like VLC Media Player.
  5. Take that audio file that you now have and splice it with the original high definition video using video editing software. I use Final Cut Pro, but there are many free options out here like iMovie and HitFilm Express for those who don’t need the advanced video editing capabilities.

I’ve used this option and it works, but there are a couple of drawbacks. It’s rather difficult to sync up the audio file with the video, so any commentary looks like it’s from an old Godzilla movie. If you do manage to get the audio and video somewhat close to synced up, chances are the audio will have an occasional skip in it. You know those annoying black and green lines that occasionally occupy your screen while flying? Yea, well those jumps in the video also mean jumps in the audio. This takes us to our next section.

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Audio from the video cache is choppy and not great quality

If you’ve tried the above method and just aren’t satisfied with the resulting quality, let me suggest a professional (but potentially costly) workaround. When I realized how choppy the audio from the video cache occasionally was I thought I’d outsmart the system by recording audio with the voice memos app on my iPhone. It didn’t take long for me to learn that DJI GO 4 will not allow an audio recording application to be open and recording in the background. Well shucks.

The solution? You’ll need to hook up an external mic to a recording device. Record audio with that device while you are recording the video with your drone. You will then have to sync up the audio and video files with a video editing software; this method will allow you to get the best quality audio/video combination.

Although a professional audio recorder and mic combo will provide the best quality, an old phone with headphones that have a built-in mic will do the job if you are on a budget. Don’t have an old phone lying around? I’m sure you have an old wife, husband or friend lying around that has a phone you could borrow.

Long live Live Streaming

Facebook Live and YouTube streaming are also ways for you to get that audio you’ve been craving. These are great platforms to be able to interact with a following online, and live streaming is the quickest way to get your audio and video up on the internet. The bad? Viewers on the other end see the same 720p video transmission that your phone or tablet displays, which means they see and hear every little jump and skip in the video that you do. Remember that a stronger data connection will provide a better viewing experience for your audience.

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Haven’t tried live streaming with your drone yet? Click here to watch a tutorial video on live streaming.

Can I attach a mic to my drone?

All of the suggestions that have been made thus far have one thing in common: they are ways for you to record audio with your phone, tablet or external recording device, not the drone itself. I’ve seen the question “does the drone have a mic?” asked many times on forums with that person usually getting an answer that sounds something like “why would you want that? All you would hear are the props”.

It is true that the whooshing sound of props isn’t all that pleasant to the ears, but there has to be a way to record audio of the drones surroundings without all that “droning” noise. Cue the creative and enter the daring. Some have resorted to tethering a recording device to their drone; with these tests having varying levels of success. Longer tether equals less prop noise, but it also means a higher risk with all of those moving (swinging) parts.

Others have actually attached a recording device to the drone itself and used software to quiet the drone noise in post-production. I have personally not tried attaching or dangling a mic from my drones so I can’t speak much to this, but it’s something that I’d like to experiment with in the future. When that day comes I’ll be sure to provide you with the results.

Trevor’s Take

I have personally tried most of the methods mentioned in this post, but I, along with many other drone users have one gripe: DJI makes it too difficult! There really needs to be a more user-friendly way to get audio with the high-quality video that our drones record. Until DJI makes this process more intuitive, I shall continue to experiment with different methods and let you guys know what my results are. What about you? Have you used any of these methods (or something entirely different) to record audio with your drone? What were your results?

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