Best way to record an interview?
June 15, 2019 9:48 AM   Subscribe

I need to record an interview that might run about 3 hours. I want to ensure good sound quality and I also want to make sure that whatever I'm using doesn't crap out midway through. Should I use an app on my iPhone? Or should I get a small digital recorder? Personal recommendations highly appreciated. Also, if one method or another lends itself to easier transcription, that would be helpful too. I have no idea about any of this. Thanks!
posted by swheatie to Technology (9 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Is this an in-person interview or phone interview?
posted by pinochiette at 10:23 AM on June 15, 2019

I'm always worried something weird will happen with my phone, so I'd recommend a small digital recorder. Zoom makes good ones, you don't need to get the newest and best, just a small mid-range one — as long as it has good mics. There are probably old or lightly used models on Amazon.

If that's out of your range, consider one of their mics or just a fluffy add-on mic — I have this one and it helps with sound quality a lot (you can just plug it straight in).

If you're nervous about it (I would be too), download an app and do a few test recordings 3 hours long or more and see what issues come up.

Once it's recorded you can upload to a transcription service (there are lots, I've used Otter), it won't be perfect but you can double check the parts you want to quote closely.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 10:35 AM on June 15, 2019

Response by poster: This is an in-person interview.
posted by swheatie at 11:32 AM on June 15, 2019

A Zoom recorder is a great suggestion. It should last hours on a single set of batteries, but keep a spare fresh set around so you don't worry. A Zoom H1n is $99 on Amazon.

A recent phone (at least a recent iPhone) sitting on a table in a quiet room makes a shockingly good recording. There's lots of audio magic inside there that's grabbing voices and removing noise.

You'll pick up voices ok with these setups and you should be able to transcribe unless there's too much background noise - like you're recording in a cafe or something. The rest of the advice is on getting the cleanest, nicest sounding recording you can get.

Any time when you've got one mic between you, try to be in a quiet room without background noise, a room with carpet and drapes to avoid echoes.

That $59 Rode that BlackLeotard suggests picks up only from the front, so you'd point it at your interviewee, not super close, and it won't pick you up very well since it's not pointing at you. For most mics, especially if there is background noise, the voice will be picked up better if the mic is close to the mouth. So that Zoom sitting between you in an empty conference room will be ok but may sound echoey. You can hold a Zoom recorder or a phone in your hand like an old-time TV news reporter and move it back and forth between your mouth and the interviewee's mouth. This might be tiring for 3 hours, though.

Another trick for background noise, If your phone has a headphone jack, you can get 2 super cheap lavalier mics and a cheap Y-splitter and plug that in via the headphone jack. That should be well under $100. I haven't tried that since iPhones lost their headphone jacks, but it worked well inside a noisy conference hall.

Going up from that, cheap mics & audio interfaces can actually sound worse than the above solutions until you get to hundreds of dollars in equipment.

Lots of transcription services online via search. The low end is basically free but uses AI that is often inaccurate, the middle end is about $1-2/minute and accurate (I've used SpeechPad and Rev), and it goes up from there.
posted by troyer at 11:34 AM on June 15, 2019 [1 favorite]

For in-person interviews, I use an older version of this Sony digital recorder (also Wirecutter's pick). I wouldn't rely on a phone, personally. It's fairly expensive, though, if you only need to use it once. It's easy to plug the recorder into a laptop and then upload the file to a transcription service. I use Otter (Temi also works well but Otter gives you free minutes).
posted by pinochiette at 11:53 AM on June 15, 2019 [1 favorite]

Use your iphone app, it's really totally fine. You can see it working if you have the phone face up.

Spend the money instead on Express Scribe Transcription Software and the recommended foot pedal that goes with it (there are cheaper options than the prices on their website).
posted by EllaEm at 11:55 AM on June 15, 2019 [1 favorite]

Best answer: It wouldn't be a bad idea to run two devices simultaneously- whether that's two phones or a phone + a digital audio recorder. That way, you've got some backup/redundancy and if you position them in different areas, you can choose whichever recording has the best sound.
posted by Larry David Syndrome at 1:34 PM on June 15, 2019 [11 favorites]

Seconding Zooms range. I like the H2 with the four mics and ability to record two stereo tracks.

Have it on some sort of dampening or a floor-standing holder to minimize noise from people scribbling notes or whatever - that travels really well through a table if the H2 stands directly on it, and if you're using auto-levels you might miss out on what is said while the gain compensates for noise.

I recommend that you use headphones, at least at the beginning, to dial in levels or check if there's too much noise – a fan might not seem loud irl, but once you record it it's annoying as hell.

If you're super cautious you could get another H2/H1 as backup and run it in parallell.
posted by monocultured at 12:10 PM on June 16, 2019

Before investing in a transcription service, you could also try uploading the audio to YouTube (as a private video) and letting it autogenerate a transcript. You'll still need to listen to it and clean it up (e.g., add punctuation, correct capitalization, correct errors) but it's free and relatively easy. If the audio is clean then the autogenerated transcript may be surprisingly accurate.
posted by ElKevbo at 9:59 AM on June 17, 2019

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