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Best Mic for Recording a Discussion?
August 27, 2005 5:53 PM   Subscribe

I'm clueless when it comes to audio recording - what's the best way to record about 1-2 dozen people, in a larger room, having a roundtable discussion?

A little background: I'm going to be helping to run the local Social Computing Club this next year. The primary purpose of this group is to discuss new technologies - and then to build applications using them, later. Due to conflicts with assignments and other classes, members, frequently, are unable to attend - but would still like to keep up on the discussions. So, I'm going to be setting up a Podcast of the weekly talks and posting them - but that isn't the hard part. I've hit a wall concerning which microphone would be best suited to record our discussions.

A couple stiuplations:
- Even though there may only be one person talking at a time - it will be infeasible to be constantly moving the microphone. This is due to the fact that the discussions are very much conversational in nature - with the occassional presentation.
- Some form of a stand, to hold the microphone, would be nice.
- It may be possible to position everyone within a 12" radius of the microphone, itself.
- The discussion will be taking place in a larger room, although there is very little echo.
- My budget is anywhere from $50 - $100 - but may be flexible to $120.

What I've done so far: I just purchased a Cardioid condenser mic based upon a number of positive reviews. I have done some testing and it seems to only pick up audio within 3ft of the front of the microphone - which is acceptable for a desktop recording (or for recording music, I assume) but not really what I'm looking for. If there was some way to amplify its recording capabilities, that might be acceptable - but, ideally, I'd like something that could record from any direction.

I then looked at a couple different Omni-directional microphones (omni = any direction, I assume?) but they seem to be either incredibly cheap handhelds or wildly expensive clip-ons. I'd hate to shell out a lot of money (again!) for something that may not even suit me.

Where would I begin to look for something of this nature? What is this type of microphone called?
posted by jeresig to Technology (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
An omni-directional mic is indeed what you're looking for. It's meant to pick up audio from all directions. Many mics have a switch which allows the user to select from among several different pickup patterns.
posted by ludwig_van at 5:56 PM on August 27, 2005

ludwig_van: Looking at different omni-directional microphones - are there any types that are 'better' then others? They seem to vary between the 'handheld' and 'clip-on' variety - would a 'handheld' type on a stand be acceptable, then?
posted by jeresig at 6:00 PM on August 27, 2005

Condenser mics are more sensitive (and expensive) than dynamic mics, but since you're assumedly just looking for intelligible speech and not voice-over quality stuff, a dynamic mic should be fine. I don't have any experience with clip-on mics, but it seems to me that a handheld mic should work fine. Anything that says it has an omni-directional pickup pattern should be suited for this sort of application.
posted by ludwig_van at 6:36 PM on August 27, 2005

There is a special class of microphones designed specifically for recording meetings called conference mikes. They are omni-directional, but also tweaked to pick up less shuffling paper, ambient noice, and the like.

I have one from Sony that's dirt cheap, but seems to work well enough for recording business meetings. Amazon carries some higher-quality ones, as well. There are expensive, professional quality rigs in which you can mike each person, too, that you can buy or rent if the occasion is really worth memorializing.
posted by curtm at 7:17 PM on August 27, 2005

Perhaps one of the sony offerings designed for teleconferences?
posted by craniac at 8:04 PM on August 27, 2005

If by "roundtable discussion" you're actually referring to a discussion which takes place around a table, what you should be looking for is a "boundary mic." In essence, this class of microphone takes reflected sound off a hard, resonant surface (like a tabletop or stage apron) and rejects other sounds.

Return the card, and get as many of these as your budget will allow. Place them equally around the table, at least 3 feet from one another, and you should be set.

If it's not at a table, ignore everything I've said, and accept that this is remarkably difficult to do within your budget and constraints.
posted by piro at 9:55 PM on August 27, 2005

I recommend the Sony ECM-DS70P with a videocamera, MD recorder or tape recorder.
posted by planetkyoto at 4:18 AM on August 28, 2005

Omnidirectional mics: I have had very good luck with the Sony ECM-CS10 - street price approximately $40 at, e.g., B&H.

I have used this mic with an iRiver MP3 player/recorder to capture meetings and conferences, as well as doing "man on the street" interviews and "soundseeing" tours for my podcast. Works brilliantly.
posted by enrevanche at 6:04 AM on August 28, 2005 [1 favorite]

Oy! And don't let anyone tap things on the table if you mic sits there. Take away "clicky" pens, encourage people to take rings off of their hands or keep hands off of the tabletop, don't serve beverages in glasses, etc. I worked in a user lab for a year...what a pain when these tapping, clicking, whatever noises muddied the conversation.
posted by jeanmari at 8:35 AM on August 28, 2005

A boundary mic can be placed on the ceiling as well, with some couble stick tape, or some other creative solution.

If you can manage to run the audio through the noise reduction feature in Adobe Audition, it's highly recommended. For the quality level you're talking about, I'd just set the input high, disregard any hiss and air noise, and make sure to record a moment of dead silence, so that you have a noise profile to apply to the rest of the recording.

Soundprofessionals sells some boundary mics, and they have good FAQs and stuff too.
posted by Jack Karaoke at 10:43 AM on August 28, 2005

Ditto what Piro said, boundary mic would be the way to go. If you are searching, they are also called PZM microphones (Pressure Zone Microphone).

Crown audio has the lock on good PZMs (the patent, and the trademark on the name), and their more sophisticated directional cousins, PCC's. They are condensers, so they need a power supply, usually phantom power through a pro- quality sound mixer. They also have balanced audio output.

Radio Shack sold a re-branded crown mic as the legendary Radio Shack PZM, with a battery power supply and unbalanced audio output for non-professional use.

I don't think they make them anymore, but if you can find a few, they would probably be the most cost effective solution.
posted by sol at 3:49 PM on August 28, 2005

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