What digital recorder should I buy?
October 23, 2006 2:18 PM   Subscribe

What digital recorder should I buy?

I know this question pops up sometimes but who knows if any new recorders have come out since this seemed to be last asked in May.

This would be used for phone interviews as well as in-person interviews (for my blog and for a book project I am working on.)

Most importantly it has to be pretty easy to use. I sometimes have technical difficulties and one time totally screwed up an interview I did with an author by plugging the wrong end into the phone.

It would be really nifty if down the road I could configure it to upload it and then maybe get some software to transcribe the interviews for me. I am very lazy.

So what do you all recommend? Many thanks!
posted by clairezulkey to Technology (13 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I use an Olympus DM-1 digital voice recorder, and I transfer files to my PowerBook using WireTap Pro. Both are simple and easy to use. For telephone recording, I just stick a suction cup to the telephone's earpiece. It works great.

All transcription software sucks. Maybe someday, when we've conquered cancer and colonized Mars, somebody will create a computer program capable of deciphering human conversation and transposing it into intelligible text, but that day's a long way off.
posted by cribcage at 2:35 PM on October 23, 2006

I have the Olympus DS-2. I found none of the choices to be fully satisfactory (I would like to record right to MP3), but this one works well and is Mac and PC compatible, easily. Transferring files to your computer is very easy.
I actually think the most straightforward method for recording phone interviews is either the suction cup or just recording rom a speaker phone with the phone on your desk.
There's no good transcription software, but if you want to invest in voice recognition software like Dragon Naturally Speaking, one option is to listen to the interview on headphones, repeat the words outloud, and let the program transcribe this. Since it 'learns' your voice, this works much better than any other technique.
See this thread for discussion on transcription.
posted by cushie at 3:11 PM on October 23, 2006

I like this one.
posted by chrissyboy at 3:44 PM on October 23, 2006

The best transcription software available right now is Dragon Naturally Speaking. It isn't perfect, but it does a more than adequate job. Some of the Sony digital voice recorders come bundled with it, which is an excellent value. The Sony recorders are all pretty good, though they're not Mac compatible and (if I remember correctly) record in Sony's proprietary file format, which is a pain.

Sony or Olympus are the stanadards here; from there I think it's just a matter of your specific needs (space, microphone placement, compatibility, etc.)
posted by chickletworks at 4:07 PM on October 23, 2006

a good Belkin mike for an iPod works really well -- clean, good audio
posted by matteo at 5:09 PM on October 23, 2006

It depends on how professional you want to get with this. The best place to check as a resource, imho, is the Transom.orgTools site. Great reviews from people in the know.

The Sound Devices 722 is the sine qua non of field recording among many of my fellow radio-producer types: Extremely versatile/flexible, very high quality mic pre's, confidence monitoring off the record head/buss. It comes in two flavors: hard disk and flash card for $2400 and flash card only for $1800. A bit steep for the casual recordist, but if you're aiming high, there you go.
posted by mykescipark at 5:42 PM on October 23, 2006

Olympus WS-310M. Comes with varying memory capacity. Works like a USB Memory stick, sound quality excellent. It was in for repair and the loaner unit that replaced it (Audioline?) was the pits.

Only negative is that the battery indicator is not reliable - indicates Full until the end.

Would buy another one.
posted by w.fugawe at 5:50 PM on October 23, 2006

The problem with the audio recorders is that there are lots of affordable consumer level products with low/basic sound quality and then the insanely expensive pro gear.

I got burned with buying a Marantz PMD660. For $600 USD and XLR mic inputs, i thought it would be amazing, but they skimped on the pre-amps and it gives me a lot of hiss. boo.

The good news is that there are lots of new products coming out to fill the void. Check out zoom h4 (haven't been able to find any reviews, too new?), M-Audio MicroTrack, Edirol R-09...

Also, more geared towards film sound recording Tascam HD-P2.

But for your purposes, the Olympus is probably the best bet. And i second the "forget about transcription software" sentiment. You will not be able to just play back the interview and get a transcript. (But if you send your mp3 off to one of those podcast transcription services... )
posted by kamelhoecker at 8:27 PM on October 23, 2006

Dream on about transcribing interviews automatically. See comments in this thread for more information.

In the meantime, the coolest affordable portable digital recorder is the Edirol R-9 . It has advantages over the Marantz and M-Audio competitors in size, ease of use, and power consumption. It's cheaper than the Marantz (though the Marantz has XLR connectors, a nice pro touch). The M-Audio, I believe, requires recharging the unit, not just switching batteries. The Edirol's battery door is a little flimsy, but its onboard mics are surprisingly good, and you can record 24/16 bit WAV and any number of different mp3 bitrates on cheap CF cards -- tens of hours of compressed audio on a 2GB card, for example.

But invest in good (manual) transcription software. A computer will not transcribe your interviews anytime in the next 5 years. By then, you can get the latest recorder, which will fit on a thumbnail.

Or treat yourself right . . . Nagra has gotten into the act lately too!
posted by fourcheesemac at 8:38 PM on October 23, 2006

Ooops, I meant see this thread for a lengthy discussion of speech recognition and its limits.
posted by fourcheesemac at 8:49 PM on October 23, 2006

PS -- the Olympus voice recorders have *sucky* audio quality. They're fine if you only need voice notes or content, but if you ever intend to broadcast audio (or record music) don't bother.
posted by fourcheesemac at 6:45 AM on October 24, 2006

That's misleading. My Olympus voice recorder's quality is great for recording interviews that I need to transcribe. No, I wouldn't use it to record music or if I needed broadcast-quality; but that's like saying that LPs have bad quality because they don't produce 5.1 Surround. You can't criticize a tool for failing to serve a purpose for which it was never intended.
posted by cribcage at 11:39 AM on October 25, 2006

Fair enough. Like I said, not good enough for broadcast audio. Fine for content.
posted by fourcheesemac at 10:36 AM on October 26, 2006

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