Best digital audio recording device for elderly people?
September 2, 2009 10:27 AM   Subscribe

Best digital audio recording device for elderly people?

I'd like to start recording some family history via digital audio devices. The recording will be done by the person speaking so I'd like to find one that is fairly simply to operate.

Some requirements:

- Easy to make recordings (i.e. no super tiny buttons that are hard to figure out).
- Doesn't matter if it's "hard" to delete a recording as they can just avoid doing deletions.
- Non-removable storage might be fine (they could simply mail me the device) but there needs to be a method for me to download the files to a Mac. Removable storage would be preferred though.
- Ability to make/record lengthy files (i.e. an hour or more).
- Decent sound quality. It doesn't have to be pro-quality audio, but on the other hand I want a fair amount of clarity. I imagine most (or all) of the recordings will take place in a fairly quiet interior location, so the device's mic will likely be used. If sound quality results are poor (or if it's easier for the person speaking) I may get an external mic.

Other options I have tossed out:

- Using a video camera. May be used in the future for scheduled interviews, but not worth the hassle for on-the-spot memory recordings when the speaker is worried about how they look.
- Recording via phone (either to voice mail or during a conversation being recorded on the other end). Sound quality is a bit lower (especially if they are using a cell phone). Recording phone conversations have their place, but it's not what I'm going for here.
- Recording to a pc. Not too convenient as they'd have to boot it up, sit in a certain spot, etc. A cheap laptop may work better, but then there are user interface issues.

I've read some past threads/questions about digital audio recorders, but they are from some years ago and I know a host of newer equipment has some out since then. So what are some good devices to look at?
posted by 1001 questions to Technology (6 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Well, the buttons aren't exactly huge - but the layout is super intuitive, the recording quality is great, and it's incredibly easy to use and transfer files. Zoom H2.
posted by Lutoslawski at 10:30 AM on September 2, 2009

Of the smallish pro digital audio recorders on the market today, the Marantz PDM 620 has the least annoyingly small buttons. It would be as easy and push'n'go for your elderly family members. The compact flash card can be mailed to you, and files can be quite easily transferred to mac or pc.
posted by Aquaman at 10:55 AM on September 2, 2009

I have an Olympus LS-10 which is mildly complicated. But friends have smaller Olympus stereo recorders that I think would work well for that.
posted by sully75 at 11:02 AM on September 2, 2009

Boy, we all disagree here. I think the Tascam DR1 is more intuitive, has larger buttons, and makes better recordings than the others mentioned here. Highly recommended that you order the AC charger, as it uses a rechargeable battery pack.

I've faced this very problem working with Native American elders who have wanted a device "like mine" (they get very familiar with mine, which has become a DR1 in the last year, but has been a Marantz PMD61, a Zoom H4, and an Edirol R09, and I can say with assurance that the Tascam is more durable than any of the others, under extreme conditions in my case).

In the end, it's not just the size of the display (which is bigger on the DR1 than the others mentioned here) or the buttons (I think ditto, although I haven't looked at the PDM 620 rec'd by Aquaman). It's the whole concept of signal flow that throws older folks for a loop with these things. It's like teaching elderly folks to use a computer -- something doesn't quite click on a conceptual level for a long time (forever, if my relatives are anything to go by). Analog minds, I guess. (I don't mean this to be true for everyone, but it's pretty common.)

In the end, I wound up giving my elderly consultants (with their robust agreement) digital cassette recorders (Sony Pressman, the best one costs like 80 bucks) and just digitizing their recordings when necessary. YMMV, as may your relatives.
posted by fourcheesemac at 11:34 AM on September 2, 2009

[correction: Marantz PMD671, not PMD61]
posted by fourcheesemac at 11:36 AM on September 2, 2009

The Marantz 660 and 670 and 671 are larger devices aimed at the radio broadcast and interview crowd. The Marantz 620 is a cigarette-pack sized thing with big soft clearly marked buttons, integral stereo mics (and a speaker for instant reference) and is practically bullet- and idiot-proof.

There are several offerings in this niche, but they are all aimed at slightly different demographics. Zoom aims at the live musician, tascam aims at the field recordist, and marantz aims at the field interviewer. I looked at them all in helping my sister research them, and the Marantz won.

She took it with her out in the field for a few months, interviewing elders of several communities. It was easily used by one and all, and stood up to the elements (and the locals) very well.

Here's a pic and gizmodo review of it.
posted by Aquaman at 11:42 AM on September 2, 2009

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