She's a talker. We're gonna need a lot of GBs.
December 1, 2012 5:42 AM   Subscribe

My 80yr old grandma wants to record her memories. What is the best voice recorder for the task?

So Grandma wants to tell the family all about how Great-Grandpa worked with Henry Ford. Cool.

She specifically asked for a tape recorder, but I think a digital recorder would be best in terms of ease of archiving. It needs to be simple to use with large buttons. I'd like it to have removable storage card and for it to automatically record onto the card. I basically want the point-and-shoot version of a voice recorder - one button to push.

So, Ask.Me, what is the best recorder for my 80yr old Grandma?
posted by PorcineWithMe to Technology (13 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Zoom H1
posted by smokingmonkey at 5:51 AM on December 1, 2012

From the reviews, it looks like the Zoom might be a little flimsy. Arthritic hands tend to drop things... Otherwise it looks good. Does it automatically record on the SD card or is that something you have to set-up?
posted by PorcineWithMe at 6:34 AM on December 1, 2012

Personally I'd get something with a condenser microphone and actual buttons for the basic functions (stop, record, play, back).

For work I used to use a really good recorder with a condense mic, but I've fairly recently switched to a supposedly good recorder with stereo mics, and in many ways I regret doing so.

The old recorder was great at picking up voices and recording people. The new recorder does a wonderful job of recording background noises and giving you a sense of what the whole environment and the room/place sounded like. While that may be great for radio broadcasting, it's not useful if all you need to hear is what the person has to say. Sometimes the background sound even overwhelms what should be the main audio component.

As for the buttons, I know that years ago when we bought our grandmother portable cassette deck (remember those) so she could record audio letters, we ended up labelling the key buttons--stop got a red sticker, while play and record got green ones--just to make it easier for her to use. So if you buy a recorder with individual buttons (as opposed to a fiddly digital interface or even one with a single master button) I think you'll be better off.

I won't make a recommendation (since I haven't used them) but I'd look for something like this or this.
posted by sardonyx at 7:01 AM on December 1, 2012

An iPod touch with Voxie installed perhaps.

All the handheld cheap digital recorders have tiny buttons and painful screen interfaces. Other than that they all do what you want at a reasonably high level of audio quality (of course you want stereo condenser mica, don't bother with less than that). TASCAM's DR series is the most robust and has the biggest buttons among the low end handhelds. I prefer my Zoom Q3 HD which also takes credible video ($300 or so). You need to spend 3 minutes (grandma maybe 10) to learn how to use it.
posted by spitbull at 10:52 AM on December 1, 2012

PS - does she already have a pc, a laptop, a tablet, or a smartphone? Save your money, they can all record decent cd quality audio, although you may need to buy a mic or USB headset for $30 or so.
posted by spitbull at 10:55 AM on December 1, 2012

Spitbull- she does have a PC, but she'd rather have something she can grab when the memory hits her. I'd be afraid to give her an iPod (great idea!) because I have younger cousins that visit her and an iPod would probably disappear.

Do the Tascams record directly onto the SD?
posted by PorcineWithMe at 11:29 AM on December 1, 2012

All the handheld stereo digital audio recorders record to SD. I would honestly say get the cheapest from Tascam, Edirol, or Zoom. I've used all of them. They are broadly similar. Tascam has the edge for durability and big buttons.
posted by spitbull at 5:45 AM on December 2, 2012

You sure she would not rather video record her memories? Be a heck of a lot richer to have Iin 25 years. Most video cameras record decent stereo audio.
posted by spitbull at 5:47 AM on December 2, 2012

I ask about directly to the SD because a few that I've looked at (I think a Tascam model among them) requires that you go through a menu and select that option and that's probably far beyond her. My goal is to have her pop out the SD and mail it to me - I'll get an extra so she and I can just do a mail swap from time to time.

I would love video, but she doesn't want to be on camera.Plus, it'll probably go missing (see iPod issue). This is the kind of thing where she'll likely wake up at night and have something on her mind, grab the recorder from her nightstand and record a few minutes. Or, she'll be making lunch and think of something. It's not a standard interview situation as I'm hours and hours away. Thanks for all your input.
posted by PorcineWithMe at 9:18 AM on December 2, 2012

They almost all record to SD cards, and in every case I know the SD card can be popped out, stuck in a computer, and present its filesystem with the recordings for you to do what you like with. Many also allow direct transfer over USB (effectively making them card-readers) but you don't need to use the USB.

No digital recorder will allow you to *never* interact with a stupid and counterintuitive menu system; they are just like digital cameras in that respect. But once the typical handheld is set up (certainly true with the TASCAM) and you've input your default recording settings (compressed mp3 at a reasonably high rate is fine for spoken word, frankly, so you can get endless hours on an 8GB card), you power it up with one button, hit record once to enter record/pause and check your levels (or set the levels to auto for grandma), you hit record again and it starts recording, you hit it again to pause again, or you hit stop to write the track to the card. Done and done.

TASCAM DR2D runs about $150. Make sure you get her either an AC adapter or a lot of batteries, as you tend to get about 2-3 hours of recording out of one set of AAs or one full charge of the rechargeable packs in some of the decks.
posted by spitbull at 7:37 PM on December 2, 2012

Advice, though, from an anthropologist who has spent hundreds of hours recording the stories of elders: interview her. If she just has the recorder lying around, she'll end up rarely or never using it. Go over there with the recorder, ask questions, and listen to her talk.
posted by spitbull at 7:39 PM on December 2, 2012

PS -- Zoom Q3HD (my choice for a handheld) gives you the option of video or just audio, is pocket sized and no more kid-attractive than any other handheld recorder (the video screen is a postage stamp) and makes gorgeous recordings, and decend 720P HD video. Even if it's not for you, if others read this thread I cannot recommend it enough. For less than $300 you have a very capable recorder that fits in your shirt pocket, works as an external USB sound interface, provides phantom power for external mics, gives you 3-4 hours on a pair of AA batteries, can handle a 32GB SD card, and shoots acceptable video. It shines as an audio recorder, though.
posted by spitbull at 7:42 PM on December 2, 2012

(Oh, and you can't kill it. I use mine in the field in the Arctic. Indestructible, compared to many of its peers.)
posted by spitbull at 7:43 PM on December 2, 2012

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