Recording Phone Interviews
June 1, 2007 1:01 AM   Subscribe

Advice on a portable digital recording device. Mostly for recording phone interviews (and not for broadcast), but I'd like something easy to mic, Mac compatible, and not overly complicated or fussy. (Not the first time asked, I know, but the state of the art does change so fast.)

I was leaning towards Sony Hi-MD. Should I pay for the RH1? Are there any big drawbacks in opting for an older model, given my fairly limited demands and expectations? Is Flash better than MD? If I ever wanted to edit the sounds files, does one device spit out a preferable file type?

posted by aaronwsj to Technology (10 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Sony MD's are not Mac compatible. The best you can do is record in real-time from the analog or digital output, depending on the inputs on your audio adapter.

You probably don't need digital output on your recording device for phone conversations, since you're not broadcasting, so a device with a digital output is overkill. In any case, you're recording with an analog mic, so some noise is inevitable. For that reason, as well, an MD recorder is not the best option.

A flash recorder is probably a better choice if flexibility is important. The audio clips can be easily moved to, stored and organized on your Mac. Consider an Olympus DS-2 or similar; they offer OS X compatibility. The iRiver recorders I've seen do not support OS X.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:31 AM on June 1, 2007

I should note the Olympus recorder software exports AIFF files. These can be converted with iTunes or Audacity (among other tools) to MP3 if necessary — or edited directly with any number of audio editors.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:33 AM on June 1, 2007

"Mostly for recording phone interviews"

Would you be having people call you? It sounds like you really want to use electronics, but if it solely for recording and incoming conversation, you may want to look into online services. Grand Central will give you a phone number for free, which you can then route to any phone that you want. If somebody calls this number, you have the option of screening the call. The caller will be asked to state his/her name and then Grand Central calls your phone and tells you that 'so and so' is calling. You can bypass this screening process. Either way, the caller only hears the line ringing. When Grand Central calls you they give you 4 options:

* Accept call
* Put to voice mail
* Put to voice mail and listen in - with the option to take over the call while they are leaving their message
* Or accept call and record

If you choose to record the call, you can download the MP3 from the website. Same is true for your voice mails. Might be worth checking out. Totally free for the time being.

I personally use this for my disposable phone number. On of the great features is being able to block callers. Not only can you block callers, you can play the "This number is no longer in service" message to them so they stop trying to call all together. Great for Craigslist and applications for things that you want to provide a valid telephone number to but not your real number.
posted by dnthomps at 2:13 AM on June 1, 2007

If you are using a landline then you can plug something like this in and get a line out that you can plug directly into the mic slot of a recorder.

I've been using that "mini recording device" from radio shack in combination with an Olympus WS-300M and it has worked well so far.

The files are stored in wma, easily converted as needed to another format, and the recorder itself plugs directly in to a usb port, so no need for any software.
posted by langeNU at 4:12 AM on June 1, 2007

I just got an Olympus WS-300M, I think. It's the 256 Mb device. You can get them for about 60/USD on Amazon. The 1Gb is about 100/USD, but 256Mb is more than adequate for my needs. I was pleasantly surprised to find that it can record my violin lessons and practices pretty well. The microphones seem to be reasonably good, though not anything like production quality. The playback speaker is really tinny, but what do you expect for a device the size of a pack of chewing gum? With ear buds it's much better. I recommend it. (I realize this is slightly off topic.)
posted by vilcxjo_BLANKA at 5:02 AM on June 1, 2007

@langeNU - that first link of yours doesn't seem to be a link...?

I'll 4th Olympus recorders. Aside from iPod peripherals, they're about the only game in town for Mac-compatible dictation recorders, but thankfully they're solid gear. Just make sure you get one that's advertised as being Mac-compatible. Most of their cheap ones aren't -- you want one of the professional-esque ones.

I have an older Olympus recorder that uses the "DSS" compressed-audio format, but it comes with software to convert the files back out to AIFF or anything else. IMO, as a Mac user, you are better off getting a DSS recorder than a WMA one.

However, if you're only going to be doing phone interviews, dnthomps' solution seems like the most elegant and trouble-free way to go.
posted by Kadin2048 at 7:12 AM on June 1, 2007

The iRiver recorders I've seen do not support OS X

What is 'support OS X' exactly? My iRiver H120 (ebay $100) records MP3 or WAV through either mic, digital, or line-in, and outputs either analog, SPDIF, or USB (shows up as external drive).

My old Archos Ondio flash from 2002 (ebay $30) and Archos HD recorder from 2001 (ebay $50) also do this, and show up as external HDs. I like the Ondio because it has an external slot for MMC and (narrow) SD cards so if one gets full you can pop it out and pop another in. It's also slightly faster to read them through a card reader into a PC rather than rely on a USB hookup.

How do you get to be more compatible?
posted by meehawl at 7:42 AM on June 1, 2007 [1 favorite]

On a mac, I'd say get a Skype account, and pay the $29 or so for Skype Out, so you can call any number in the US or Canada for free. Then install the $10 app Call Recorder and you can set it to automatically record any skype call you make.

Then just call people up and talk to them from skype to their phones (it helps to have a nice USB headphone/mic setup).
posted by mathowie at 8:02 AM on June 1, 2007

As somebody who needs to record phone calls to satisfy a training requirement, I've played around with most of the above suggestions.

Here's my take on them:

  • Skypeout with a recording add on (I use Pamela, which is not available for Macs) works like a charm if you have a speedy internet connection. It's excellent for Skype-to-Skype calls, but there can be a little delay if you're calling Skype-to-phone.
  • I've purchased the Olympus TP-7 for use with a regular telephone. The way I use it is to plug the TP-7 into my PC and record the calls using Audacity, which is available for the Mac. Audacity saves the files in a proprietary format, which is easily converted to MP3s. You stick the TP-7 into your ear, then speak on the phone as you normally would (I use a headset). It does a great job of picking up both sides of the conversation. The potential downsides are having an earplug in your ear for an extended time, and if you are using a standard handset you have to do a juggling act if you want to switch ears mid-conversation.
  • Most standard consumer MP3 players now come with built-in microphones. However, the input jacks on these little marvels do not work with a non-amplified source (i.e. the TP-7 or an unpowered mic). The players that I am certain will work with the TP-7 are the purpuse-made voice recorders from Olympus. I know folks who use these with a Mac and are quite happy with them.
  • The concept behind GrandCentral is good. My only caveat is this service is currently in beta and I wouldn't rely on it to record calls consistently. In fact, in my testing when I dialed the GrandCentral number it didn't always ring through to the desired phone, but placed the caller directly into voicemail. Not quite ready for primetime.
  • Despite the quality offered, I'd steer clear of using the Sony minidisc recorder. I was helping a friend set hers up last week and was left totally frustrated with the experience.

  • posted by SteveInMaine at 11:26 AM on June 1, 2007

    There are a lot of possibilities that have been described here, but the easiest would be to buy a phone tap at Radio Shack and plug it into the line in on your computer. Either the suction-cup kind or the kind that plugs into your phone line would work fine. They cost about $15 or $20. You can record on your computer with Audacity, or any other sound editing software.
    posted by YoungAmerican at 12:20 PM on June 1, 2007

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