Digital Voice Recorder for Mac
March 30, 2005 9:17 AM   Subscribe

Yet another voice recorder question: I suddenly have potential access to a reasonable grant (theoretical max. $1000) to purchase a digital voice recorder. I'll be using it primarily for interviews, although recording focus groups are a possibility. I'd like it to be Mac compatible, and hopefully mountable without drivers, so I can just drag the files off of it onto my hard drive.

I want to be able to record a few hours at a time (say up to about 12 hours). Straight to mp3 recording would be good. Obscure proprietary codec formats bad. Some sort file management system on it would be good. I *have* checked out previous Askme threads, but am trawling here for personal recommendations from Mac users ... There is so much out there, I can't really make head nor tail of it, and a lot of it seems to say it comes with PC software only. As I said, the proposal limit is ~$1000 although I think that that would be considerable overkill (and also I would not want to look greedy). I'm kind of travelling, so may not be able to respond quickly to questions, but I will be checking back in when I can. Thanks!
posted by carter to Technology (22 answers total)
This doesn't directly address your mac question, but you might consider whether you can use the money to get a decent recorder and then a fancier microphone. Also, I don't know if they're Mac-compatible, but I would recommend against Cubig recorders.
posted by claxton6 at 9:46 AM on March 30, 2005

iPod with an iTalk?
posted by mrbill at 9:46 AM on March 30, 2005

I would check out the Edirol R-1 ($450).

It's a CompactFlash-based audio recorder with built in stereo mics and it records at 24-bit wav. Think of it as a digital camera, except for sound.

Another option is the Marantz PMD660 ($500), which has XLR inputs to use with a professional quality audio mic if you have one. The battery life is a little better than the R-1, however it only records at 16-bit.
posted by kidhuevos at 10:25 AM on March 30, 2005

The Edirol R-1 is looking pretty sweet...
posted by Aquaman at 10:26 AM on March 30, 2005

Beaten to the punch by seconds!

This round goes to kidhuevos...
posted by Aquaman at 10:26 AM on March 30, 2005

What you need is a good microphone, and the ability to monitor your recording to make sure the levels are set nicely.

What you do not need is 24bit!
posted by Chuckles at 10:51 AM on March 30, 2005

Why do you say that, Chuckles? What's wrong with 24-bit?
posted by silusGROK at 11:42 AM on March 30, 2005

Well if he's only recording them for his own/his organisation's internal use, the additional fidelity of 24-bit isn't really of any use whatsoever.

I'd recommend you look at some of the fancier MP3 players. For example, the iRiver H320 accepts external mics; saves recordings as a standard MP3 (in a bitrate of your choosing) in a standard folder; and the 20GB hard disk gives you essentially unlimited recording time. No onboard organization tools though.

Olympus are the place to go for dedicated dictaphones with Mac compatibility, but they record in DSS format which you have to convert with the bundled software.

(If you weren't using a Mac I'd suggest getting an MD player, since they offer very good organisation-on-the-go and finally allow uploading to PCs, but not Macs)
posted by cillit bang at 12:17 PM on March 30, 2005

The more crucial part of this is the mic. I like the Marantz unit, mostly because it is designed to connect to professional microphones.

I just IM'ed an audio engineer friend of mine and he recommended a single point stereo mic. His first two suggestions were the Audio-Technica AT822 and AT825.

The 825 uses 48v phantom power, both use internal batteries. Both are meant for quick-use field aplications. They're about $300 and $400 respectively.

His only concern is if focus groups involve people sitting around a round table, these mics are directional and you'd get better results from an omni.
posted by mosch at 2:11 PM on March 30, 2005

What you need is a good microphone, and the ability to monitor your recording to make sure the levels are set nicely.

What you do not need is 24bit!

This is true - in the case of the Edirol R-1, 24-bit is an added bonus. Since the R-1 comes with two built-in mics and a headphone jack (right now you can buy the Edirol R-1 with set of headphones for $439), you've got a decent mic and monitoring setup right out of the box.

Considering that the device may be used for focus groups, it may be nicer to have a step up from a dictaphone for better clarity (think of all the crosstalk that would happen during a focus group during a heated topic).

Yes - it's a little bit pricier than a dictaphone or a $300 mp3 player, but it's well within carter's budget and IMO it's a much more flexible dedicated recording device than a dictaphone.
posted by kidhuevos at 2:26 PM on March 30, 2005

The link kidhuevos gave actually has one of the microphones I recommended listed as an option for $219.

As such, you should be able to get a nice setup within the budget.

$439 - Edirol R-1
$219 - AudioTechnica AT-822
$20 - Desktop mic stand
$70 - 1GB compact flash card

Toss in a carrying case, tax and shipping and you're still under budget by 15 or 20%. That also gives you both a nice single-point stereo cardiod mic, and a fallback position of the (probably shitty) internal omnidirectional mics.

FWIW, the first question my audio engineer friend asked when I told of your needs was: 'can they use an existing laptop to do the recording, a USB ADC would be a lot cheaper than a digital recorder'
posted by mosch at 2:53 PM on March 30, 2005 [1 favorite]

'can they use an existing laptop to do the recording, a USB ADC would be a lot cheaper than a digital recorder'

Good point! If that's the case, an mBox maybe? A little overkill, but the ADCs (thats Analog to Digital Converter to the uninitiated) in the mBox are good for the money. It's a similar price point to an Edirol R-1, but you also get a copy of ProTools LE along with it. Then again, we're getting into complex apps with proprietary filetypes...
posted by kidhuevos at 3:24 PM on March 30, 2005

mosch: FWIW, the first question my audio engineer friend asked when I told of your needs was: 'can they use an existing laptop to do the recording, a USB ADC would be a lot cheaper than a digital recorder'

My point was not to besmirch the fairly interesting looking Edirol R-1, but to distinguish the features that matter for the application from the features which are marketing based.

I guess there was a failed attempt to imply a point about price too...

You can do what was asked on the cheap by experimenting a little. The bonus being that the results will be better than throwing money at the issue.
posted by Chuckles at 3:39 PM on March 30, 2005

You can do what was asked on the cheap by experimenting a little. The bonus being that the results will be better than throwing money at the issue.

DIY anything is a romantic prospect for any application, however carter clearly has the financial facilities to purchase a product built and tested by professionals with an R & D budget.

Can you give some examples or starting points for getting decent audio on the cheap, assuming no audio/electrical engineering knowledge on carter's part? I'm not trying to be flippant - from looking at your MeFi profile it looks like you have experience in the field...
posted by kidhuevos at 3:56 PM on March 30, 2005

Also consider Archos. For what you want, you don't need their current generation of gadgets, but they were making pocket HDD mp3 recorders long before Apple popularised the concept, so a lot of their older models are cheap and plenty sufficient. I've found the archos "jukebox recorder" range is good for portable recording. Starts at about $180 on ebay for an old USB/USB2 20gig version.

Unlike pretty much everything else out there (Apple, Sony, Creative, etc), they're DRM-free (uncrippled), and on related lines, the computer should see it as a normal external drive (no crappy proprietary software guarding the gate) but I haven't plugged any into the Mac, so can't speak of the Mac experience with them.
HDD-based so unlimited recording, ~12hr battery life, with field-replaceable batteries if a charger or mains is not availible. A range of recording inputs (digital, line in, built-in mic - check the model since if it has a line-in without a mic-in, and you want good sound quality, then it's probably worth getting an amplified mic or a pre-amp for an un-amplified mic, else using a mic directly you'd have to turn up the gain and you'll get dicta-phone like hiss in the background. The $800 left to play with should easily cover that with plenty left over).

Most models can be upgraded to the Rockbox firmware (developed by enthusiests to replace a mediocre and somewhat buggy firmware with something decent and feature-laden). When recording, levels can be monitored and adjusted, the press of a button can finish the currently writing mp3 file and start another, with no missed sound or gap in what is being recorded. Mono/stereo/mp3 quality can be set as desired, etc. etc. Good value for money, and the lack of DRM makes them worth even more. That said, they're butt-ugly, and I can't vouch for Mac experience.
posted by -harlequin- at 5:29 PM on March 30, 2005

harlequin: Those sound fantastic. Any limitations? When it shows up as a hard disc on your computer, you can just dump the recorded mp3 files to your harddrive?

Any more info on the Rockbox firmware?
posted by sirion at 6:14 PM on March 30, 2005

Good point! If that's the case, an mBox maybe?

Or an iMic (works with PCs or Macs).
posted by mrbill at 6:20 PM on March 30, 2005

Well, my experience, other than a little tinkering, is on the playback side.

What I do know for sure...

You want to be able to monitor the recording you are making so that you can set the level properly (volume, if you prefer). If you don't get the level right nothing else is going to matter.

You need a mic or two that didn't come with your PC. One omni directional and one directional, I guess. Think of it as one for the focus group (omni?) and one for interviews (directional?), but you won't know for sure until you try 'em out.

Whatever you use to record the signal electronically is probably going to do a pretty good job, relative to the purpose. My girlfriend used a 20 year old cheap crap Radio Shack cassette recorder to tape lectures a couple of years ago. With a slightly better than garbage directional mic (bought on sale at Radio Shack for about $40 CAD, big and ugly) the recordings turned out pretty good. The cassettes where a huge hassle, so a digital recorder is a great idea, but a laptop with a mic in is probably plenty for now.

I know, nobody has time to tinker... That is just wrong though. What you don't have time for is mistakes. Spend a little money, try a couple of recordings, play with the level, take it to some environments that you want to experiment in... Whatever... Then come back and try the AskMe process again with some experience to back up the questions. I promise I won't have anything to say then, you will know more than I do anyway. Others here will be able to help you deal with the detailed problems you may still have...

Of course with $1000 USD to blow... Maybe learning isn't worth it... I duno... If it was me I probably wouldn't have the budget or the intention to blow it. Dreaming about the budget though, I would rather have a $400 PIII laptop (or whatever the mac equivalent is, at 1.5x the price) and a decent mic than some all in one digital recorder.

I bet this doesn't come off any better or any more informative than my first post... If I was being paid by the word though!!!
posted by Chuckles at 9:28 PM on March 30, 2005

I have an iRiver H320. It does everything harlequin mentioned about the Archos - with one exception. I wouldn't recommend it for the task requested as a digital voice recordeder, because if there's a way of monitoring recording levels, I haven't found it yet. With a bit of experimentation, the recording feature is very good though. I'm currently using it to rip my vinyl albums to mp3.
posted by salmacis at 1:48 AM on March 31, 2005

I think that frittering his employer's money (and his presumably salaried time) on an unprofessional solution is unfair. If they save $500 now, but end up with a focus group where some of the particpants voices are muffled, what have they really saved?

I'm not suggesting that he needs to pickup some Neumann TLM-170s, an EAA PSP1 pre-amp, an Apogee Mini-Me and an HHB PortaDrive disc record to make decent vocal recordings. I just think that there's a reason that professional equipment exists, and it's not because the purchasers hate money.
posted by mosch at 9:40 AM on March 31, 2005

Wow, thanks all! I had not heard of the Edirol before now - and it does look totally sweet. I think I'll put a budget in for a kit (as mosch suggested), and also give them the option for just the Edirol, and also come up with a kit at a lower price point too. Hopefully one of the proposal reviewers will be a gadget wonk and spring for the Edirol ...
posted by carter at 11:39 AM on March 31, 2005

P.S. Stuff does disappear of the front page quickly, doesn't it ...
posted by carter at 11:39 AM on March 31, 2005

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