You want to record a call on your smartphone. Maybe it’s an interview for work, a customer service call, or a conversation with a loved one. On Android, there are few limitations (and many of the tips below also work for Android phones).
Things get tricky when you want to record a call while using an iPhone.
You would think there’d be app for that, but Apple doesn’t allow third-party apps access to the microphone and the integrated Phone app directly. However, there are tricks within some apps and services to get around that limitation that can make you a mobile wire-tapping master.
Before you push record, be sure to tell the person on the other end of the line you’re recording; depending on your location, you may be breaking a law if you don’t. Some US states—like New York and even the feds—only require one-party consent, which means you can record without telling the other person or persons. In California, all parties must know they’re being recorded—even if the recorder is out of state. Under federal law, one-party consent is okay, but only if you’re part of the convo; otherwise that’s considered eavesdropping.
None of these laws are as cut and dried as they seem (Nevada’s one-party consent has been viewed by the courts as an all-party consent). Play it safe: get permission on any recorded call. “Forgiveness” could get litigious and costly, and even lead to criminal charges. If you’re nervous, don’t record at all. The folks at Rev did a deep-dive into the laws to help drive that advice home.
Employ Google Voice
If you haven’t used that free Google Voice account in a while, check it out. It provides free voice mail, a free phone number, call-around service (it’ll ring as many IRL phones as you want it to until you answer), and yes, even conversation recording on incoming calls. While it’s possible to make an outbound call using the Google Voice app on your iPhone, you can’t record them with Google Voice.
For recording to work, it must be activated in settings. In the mobile app or or via voice.google.com on the desktop, go to the hamburger menu () > Settings > Calls > Incoming call options.
You have the option in settings for calls to be answered either via the app itself (check off iOS Device) or by having the call forwarded to your mobile number. Either way, you are not technically doing the recording on your iPhone. It’s all done on Google’s servers, which handle the Voice over IP (VoIP) connection.
When you answer calls made to your Google Voice number, tap 4 on the number pad. Participants will hear a robot voice state that recording has begun—this is Google’s way of keeping you legal; Alphabet Inc. wants no part of a lawsuit. To stop recording, tap 4 again or hang up. You can hit the 4 key as often as you like to start and stop recording.
Call recordings are forwarded to you via email and appear in Google Voice’s list of voice mail recordings. You can generally tell the difference between voice mail messages and recorded conversations because the latter are probably of a longer duration, and say “Transcription not available.”
Use a 3-Way Call Merge App
On Android, a variety of apps can record a call directly, unless the phone manufacturer blocks it. On iPhone, recording phone calls is blocked, period. The apps that do exist to record a call—and there are quite a few—have a workaround, but it will usually cost you.
iPhone recorder apps only work because they utilize 3-way conference calls, either incoming or outgoing. The third “caller” accessed is a recording line, provided by a service from the app’s developer. Obviously, 3-way calling is a must-have feature of your iPhone for this to work, so be sure your carrier supports it. In the US, the big four all do, but some smaller carriers do not—at least not in a way these apps support.
A downside to these apps—they are not as simple as hitting a key on the number pad, because you have to do the extra steps to make the merge happen with the third number doing the recording. However, they can all be activated in the middle of any phone call; afterwards you get easy access to recordings in the app and can play, download, share, or export them as desired.
Rev, our top-rated transcription service, offers an app to facilitate recording incoming and outgoing calls by merging in a Rev recording number on a 3-way call. You access the recordings in the Conversations area of the app.
Unlimited recording is free with Rev’s service, there’s unlimited storage, and you can share the recording all you want. It only charges for transcriptions (it’s $1 per minute but offers top-notch accuracy, according to our review). The Rev Call Recording app, only on iOS, is free. Don’t confuse it with the Rev Voice Recorder (also free, for iOS and Android), which is for recording in-person conversations.
Most similar apps will cost you for the recording alone and some limit recording time. TapeACall Pro is $10.99 annually—users get charged again every year—but call recording length is unlimited. Call Recorder Pro is $9.99 one-time but offers only 300 minutes of calling credits; do an in-app purchase to record after that. Both offer “lite” versions to try out with limited record times (60 seconds) and features.
Dial 3-Way Call Recorder Services
You don’t need an app to record your calls with the 3-way calling described above. There are several paid services that let you call them direct to get the recording going before you pull in the other party. This also means you’re not limited to iPhone only. Most charge on a per-minute basis.
RecordiaPro has options for recording both in the US alone (starting at $29.99 for 120 minutes) or worldwide ($40 for 190 minutes). You create an account before you call, put RecordiaPro’s number in your contacts, and use it when you call out or silently add RecordiaPro to existing calls. For $36 per year, it will provide a number you can hand out to take future calls that get auto-recorded. Future recordings are available in your account.
Recordator has a free 10-minute recording trial; otherwise it costs $10 for 67 minutes to start. It works much like RecordiaPro, giving you a number to set up a 3-way conference that does all the recording. For that price, Recordator throws in full call transcription.
Use Your Own Voice Mail—Maybe
If your iPhone has support (via your mobile carrier) for 3-way calling and Visual voice mail, you have an option for the cheapest workaround of all.
When you’re in a call, wait for the Add Call button to light up, so you can add a third caller via 3-way calling. Tell the other person to wait, click the button, and call yourself. Stay on the line and listen to your own voice mail greeting, then for the tone that indicates recording has begun. Tap Merge Calls. All three calls are merged—and the third one (your voice mail) is taping the other two.
Later, you can access the recording like you would any other voice mail message. If you desire, export voice mail messages as audio files.
This isn’t going to work for all carriers. On mine (AT&T), calling my own number dumped me into the audio voice mail menu and didn’t record. You could always try calling the person on the other line again—you’ll go directly to their voice mail, certainly. They could send you the recorded “voice mail” conversation after. However, that’s not something most interview subjects want to get involved in.
Also, carriers have a limit to how long they’ll let you record a voice mail. Test it with your phone and a friend before you trust this method.
A safer option is to do this with a third-party voice mail system like Google Voice or spring for the paid recorder services Recordator.
The Hardware Options
It seems foolish to buy more hardware to record from the iPhone—the most advanced hardware in your pocket. But the possibility exists.
The simplest, lowest-tech option—beyond operating a recorder while you blather over the speakerphone—is a cable, the Olympus TP-8 Telephone Pick-up Microphone for $13.90. It doesn’t digitally capture from your iPhone. Instead, it has a microphone built into the earpiece. Plug the other end into a recorder. Hold the iPhone up to your ear to talk normally. The TP-8 captures each side of the conversation from what comes out of the iPhone’s ear speaker, while you can still hear the conversation.
If you need a recorder, get a digital recorder that can take input via a 3.5mm microphone jack. Wirecutter recommends the $80 Sony UX560 for the clearest recordings. It has almost 40 hours of record time on a single charge, records to MP3, and includes voice activation as well as a pop-out USB connector for charging and transferring data to a PC.
Another reliable, inexpensive, and versatile option: the Olympus Digital Voice Recorder WS-852. For less than $60, it operates on 2 AAA batteries, can hold around 1,400 hours of audio, and has 3.5mm jacks for both a microphone and a headset. It has a USB connector hidden in the top or copy files to a Micro SD card in the slot on the side.
A digital recorder is nice and all, but if you plug a recorder directly into an iPhone using a 3.5mm audio cable, you’re not going to hear the call. Using the iPhone headphone jack—assuming your iPhone even has one—cuts off the speaker. Get the Recap-C, a $99 adapter that plugs into an older iPhone’s 3.5mm jack, with output to a headset as well as to a recorder. The secondary recorder—connected via a 3.5mm male-to-male auxiliary audio cable—is up to you. It could even be another iOS device (or Android or PC, but stick with the digital recorder for simplicity).
An option with far fewer cables is the Esonic PR200. It records your conversation via Bluetooth. The call button in the middle of the device can answer calls on the Bluetooth-connected phone. Hold the PR200 up to your head to talk and listen, as if it’s the phone. It also features a USB end to quickly access recordings on the computer. It will hold about 144 hours of conversation before it fills up the 4GB of storage. It also records like any digital recorder sans smartphone, since it has an external pin-hole microphone.
Wondering how to get an extra phone number to use with your smartphone? Read Burner Accounts 101. And if you’re only recording in-person conversations, check out 9 Voice-Recorder Apps That Won’t Miss a Second.