Drop That Phone (Tuner)! Thoughts on handheld tuners - Houghton Horns

Drop That Phone (Tuner)! Thoughts on handheld tuners

Technology is great!  We have access to many resources in the palm of our hand.  When you think about tuning your instrument, it might seem easiest to download a free tuning app on your phone.  Read below to learn why this is a bad decision! 

1. Your cell phone is a distraction.  Even if you are committed to your practice session, a text message popping up while you have your tuning app open is going to distract you.  You might have enough will power to not respond, but your brain has automatically read the text or the subject of the email you just received.  This is taking away focus from your practicing!

2.  Cell phone microphones are meant to pick up the voice, not sustained pitches.  Research shows that tuning apps on cell phones are not of the same quality as that of a dedicated tuning device.  When you purchase a tuner, it has been created with one function in mind: tuning!  Cell phones are built for many different purposes, with the primary function of the microphones meant to pick up the human voice.

 3. It’s just not worth it.  Frankly, being a musician and playing the best we can on our instrument is hard enough.  Why waste your practice time using a sub-par tuning app on your phone, when you could easily purchase a tuning device?  Your time spent with a reliable tuning device will go much farther than any time you spend with a tuning app on your phone.

Put your tuning app away on your phone, and take a look at our tuners found here. Happy tuning!


–Dr. Sally Podrebarac

Customers have asked how a stand-alone tuner compares to a phone app, so we did some experiments.

We tested each tuner twice, once in a silent room and once with the sound of an orchestra warming up in the background. At least with human eyes we did not notice any significant difference in performance between a silent environment and a noisy environment, although if we recorded graphs of the various tuners’ output and analyzed them we suspect some differences would appear in the data.


There’s a reason the TonalEnergy app is preferred by many brass musicians. Compared to a Korg stand-alone tuner, it responded ever-so-slightly more slowly and did not pick up on every tiny fluctuation that the Korg tuner picked up on, but it did a great job.

We were favorably impressed, and would definitely vote you spend $5 on the TonalEnergy app if a stand-alone tuner is not in your budget.

The insTuner app was also not bad. It was slightly slower to respond than TonalEnergy and missed some fluctuations, but it was the best free app we tested.

If you know of a better free tuner app for iPhone or Android, please comment below and we’ll add an edit to the post. But for now we’re recommending insTuner as the best free iPhone app.

The Pano Tuner app read significantly sharper than all of the other tuners we tried. It was also the most sluggish and least sensitive. If you want a free app, go with insTuner instead.

Dr. Podrebarac was vindicated in regards to Point #1 above: The iPhone received two notifications in the approximately 10 minutes we were testing tuners. If you want to make 100% sure you aren’t going to be distracted by your friends, put your phone away!

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