Record – on audio

There are a wide variety of solid state audio recording devices on the market, but it important to get one that has these basic characteristics:

  • • It can record files in .wav format, to a minimum quality of 44.1hz/16bit in stereo. Many ‘dictaphone’ type machines can only record to the compressed .mp3 format or, even worse, in the manufacturer’s proprietary format. This .wav format is to a broadcast level standard and editing the original files does not reduce its quality..
  • It has a microphone socket to enable you to attach an external microphone.
  • It has a headphone socket to enable you to monitor the recording as it is made.

Solid state Recorders

 

There is a wide range of machines available. I have chosen two popular ones.
The Zoom H5 which has two robust XLR microphone sockets which are recommended if you are going to be doing a lot of recording and if it’s important to have two microphones to record interviewer and interviewee. The thing I like about the H5 above the cheaper H4N is that you can adjust each of the mic levels separately. While normally recommending that you should use a separate mic, I have experimented with using the H5’s in built mics, and in the right conditions, the results are excellent. If you do try to do this you’ll need to avoid holding the machine for long periods of time as it subject to interference when being handled. One solution is to mount the recorder on a mic stand and it can be placed between interviewer and interviewee, at a proper distance from the interviewee’s mouth.

If you’re anticipating not doing recording to an industrial degree, and don’t need to record the interviewer’s questions to the same quality and/or you’re on a low budget, a machine such as the Zoom H1 at approx. £90 is an excellent buy. It has just one mini jack microphone socket which can be vulnerable to damage through heavy use. However it can record .wav to the same quality level as the more expensive H5.
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Microphones

 

You can use a variety of microphones and once again, spend as much as your budget will allow. If you’re confident and prepared to get in close, a hand-held interview microphone is ideal. For many people a tie clip microphone enables the mic to be close without you having to be. This is an approach favoured by many trainee interviewers. If you have only 1 mic socket on your recording device make sure your microphone is omni-directional rather than directional. It will then capture your questions as well as the interviewer’s voice. With two microphone sockets on a recording machine you can have one mic on the interviewer and another on yourself.

Editing software

 

Capturing good quality sound recordings is satisfying in itself but I must admit that there’s nothing as enjoyable as editing those recordings – if only because it enables me to eliminate my voice and have the person speaking alone! There are many audio capture and editing software programmes available to choose from. Download Audacity is a free download but in my experience beginners do not find it easy to deal with. For many years I’ve personally used Sound Forge Audio Studio and have used it successfully in teaching editing to beginners. It’s not expensive (about £40).This has been a great programme for all occasions but when putting together multi-track radio documentaries I’ve used Adobe Audition.

For advice on the best current audio equipment to get for your own needs, I recommend you talk to Nick Hayes, himself an oral historian, who runs Inquit Audio.