Best digital voice recorder for a Mac user doing PhD research?
November 22, 2011 11:33 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for feedback on the best digital voice recorder to buy for my PhD research interviews. It must be compatible with my MacBook Pro laptop.

Each interview will last 1-2 hours and I'll be doing up to 40 interviews and up to 3 focus groups (probably up to 2 hours long), as well as follow-up sessions that I would like to record. My priorities are as follows:

- recorder should be able to capture voices coming from a few directions and up to 3 meters away (and clearly!)

- smooth transfer of files from recorder to Mac laptop

- easily navigable folder system on the recorder

- 4GB memory is ideal (that's the highest I've found)

- should have reasonably long lasting battery time (I'll be using rechargeable batteries)

- I would like to keep the cost under $200 if possible (I may buy a cheaper backup in case my primary one craps out on me when I'm in the middle of an interview).

Please share your ideas! I'm especially interested in feedback from people who have done interviews with digital recorders - and please feel free to share any tips you might have based on your experiences.

Thanks in advance for your time!
posted by sassy mae to Technology (11 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I have a zoom h2, which is well under $200, shows up to any modern computer as if it were a hard drive when plugged in via USB, uses removable sd cards (I have a 4 gig card in mine right now) and can record to wav or mp3. It is designed for music, so it captures voice quite clearly.

There may be better options but I am quite happy with mine (my one complaint is the flimsy cover on the sd slot - mine snapped off, but this actually doesn't impair use of the device at all).
posted by idiopath at 11:41 AM on November 22, 2011

After years of frustration with cheaper digital voice recorders I finally splashed out on an Edirol/Roland R-09HR. It's currently selling at $80 above your price limit, so I won't go on about it, except to say that it has easily paid its way. Fantastic quality of recording; meets all your criteria except price very well. Takes SD cards up to 8GB.
posted by oliverburkeman at 11:46 AM on November 22, 2011

I've been using the Zoom H2 recorder as well. Especially good for focus groups as it has good stereo separation. The user interface isn't the best, but that's what you get for price/quality trade off. I also find I have to use lithium batteries in it to get decent battery life.
posted by singingfish at 12:21 PM on November 22, 2011

I have a Tascam DR03 that I bought to record rehearsals, but my wife has been pretty pleased using it to record lectures. Works fine with her Macbook. I've had it running constantly during 3+ hour rehearsals and it's been fine. (I start with fresh batteries to be safe, so I haven't ever really pushed the battery life.) Decent built in mics that are suited for room recordings, and quite compact.

For your budget, you could easily get 2 unless the prices have taken a weird leap.
posted by mullicious at 12:30 PM on November 22, 2011

Everybody's suggestions so far are good ones, in that they are full-fledged digital recorders, rather than recorders that say "voice recorder" on them, like olympuses. In my experience, high-quality digital recorders have come down in price to the point that you don't need a much lower quality "voice"-specific recorder.
posted by umbĂș at 12:38 PM on November 22, 2011

Not sure of the current price point (it does keep getting cheaper!) but I did what you're doing, essentially (I did an entire year of recording interviews in loud and difficult places) with, yup, as mentioned above, the Roland Edirol. I think you can find some cheaper, older versions as well. It's... remarkable. It saved my ass!
posted by RJ Reynolds at 1:00 PM on November 22, 2011

I have a Zoom h1 and h2. Even the h1 is pretty fantastic, and it's only $99.
posted by Lutoslawski at 1:16 PM on November 22, 2011

Best answer: A few weeks ago, I got a Sony ICD-UX512F, and it's awesome and seems to meet all of your requirements.

Big huge bonus: it has 2 GB of internal memory (3 hours of recording time), plus a slot for a microSD card, so for $10 you can get 16 GB extra, a full day of recordings.

It has a built-in USB thingy, seen here, and works perfectly with my Mac. When you plug it into your computer to transfer the files, it automatically charges the battery! (Comes with a rechargeable AA.)

I've been interviewing people in a variety of situations for the past few weeks, and even though I was nervous about not using a special mic at first, I have no complaints whatsoever about the built-in mic. It's really awesome.
posted by blazingunicorn at 1:55 PM on November 22, 2011

Yet another possibility would be the Sony M10. Ignore the suggested retail price on that page: Google turns up reputable sites selling it for as little as $230, and you might get an even better deal if you hunt around.

Mainly what I like about it is that it's more solidly built and has a better interface than something like the Zoom H2. In a field-interview-type situation that's really useful. For what you're doing, though, it might not matter. In terms of sound quality, I think everything that's been suggested here will work fine. (Do avoid those little cheapass Olympuses if you can.)
posted by nebulawindphone at 2:28 PM on November 22, 2011

Best answer: Recently PhD here. This may not be what you had in mind, but I found it unbelievably useful for interviews (as well as recording lectures and seminars): the Livescribe Echopen. It's a pen which records while you take handwritten notes, links text to audio, and comes with a desktop application for filing and sharing your notes. 8GB for $180, Mac-friendly, mini-USB, excellent range and does a good job of eliminating background noise. The Echopen is really great for interviews: because it looks and acts just like a pen, it doesn't let the act of notetaking distract your conversation, but because it's also a recorder, it relieves the need to take comprehensive notes. I use it principally to note topics as they come up, so I can locate them easily in the audio file later for reference and transcription. Just make sure your subject, for ethical reasons, understands that they're being recorded even if it doesn't look or feel like they are.
posted by idlethink at 3:03 AM on November 23, 2011 [1 favorite]

Get lucky and find a Zoom H4N used on ebay for $200. Two months ago one went for $212.50.
posted by Eiwalker at 2:45 PM on December 20, 2011

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