Digital voice recording
July 26, 2007 12:52 PM   Subscribe

Recommendations for mobile sound recording on the cheap?

This weekend I am participating in a non-profit fundraiser called PaddlePower(.org). It is a two day suicide awareness event. We would like to record short interviews (30 seconds - 5 minutes) with participants to use in a promotional slideshow/dvd that we produce each year.

Given the conditions (kayaks on water, possibly rainy, no direct A/c power) what is the most economical way to get a good recording?

My thought was to just use a standard Dell laptop (complete care, so if it takes a drink, oh well) with a nice microphone (ie, whatever best buy sells).

Someone else recommended a digital voice recorder, but I have never been impressed by the recordings. I also have an ipod with the voice recorder addon that has a microphone port, would that work well (i've never used it, bought it for class and didnt touch the thing).
posted by SirStan to Technology (11 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
A good quality compact flash recorder with XLR inputs like this one, paired with a good microphone, is the kind of thing professionals use.

The iPod thing works decently well for consumer-level use.

Either way, since you're going to be on the water, do what the professionals do and keep your recording device (whether iPod or flash recorder) in the largest non-lubricated condom you can buy.

Seriously. That's what they do.
posted by dersins at 1:06 PM on July 26, 2007

The laptop + external mic should be okay as long as you don't think it will be too bulky. Using either the laptop or ipod, the mic will probably be your quality limiting factor. General recording advice: Consider getting an extra windscreen to put over the mic since you'll be recording outdoors. And use headphones so you can monitor as you record (or at least check it immediately afterward).
posted by erikgrande at 1:18 PM on July 26, 2007

...whatever microphone you end up using, use a windscreen with it to reduce pops and clicks in peoples speech as well as (primarily) ambient noise.
posted by myrrh at 1:26 PM on July 26, 2007

Flash recorder. The Marantz PMD660 is fantastic, but about $500. That's still cheaper than a laptop, though. With a decent sized flash card, you can record for literally hours on a single set of batteries (which are hot swappable in pairs, by the way). A decent stereo mic will get you nice ambient sound, a regular mic will be fine for interviews (google for "field microphone").

If you want to be really economical, you can basically do the same thing, but with a DAT recorder. They're cheaper on the used market, but you've got to be aware that DAT is a dead-ass format. Also, it's linear, so you'd have to dub out of the DAT in real-time. There are probably older flash recorders that might be cheaper, as well.

(disclaimer) I do this for a living. Feel free to email, it's in the profile.
nitpick: a windscreen won't reduce ambient noise, only wind noise.

posted by god hates math at 2:34 PM on July 26, 2007

MiniDisc recorders are great for portable recording. They are small, do decent sound, relatively inexpensive media, and if you get the right model, support high-speed exporting to the PC when you get home.
posted by nomisxid at 2:55 PM on July 26, 2007

Agree with the PMD660. Ideally you'd combine with a directional mic, such as a shotgun with a good windscreen.

Distant second is the minidisc. It will work but you may have to massage it in post. Hmm, that does sound kinky. You may also have to use the analog output from the MD to get digital copies, a tedious (and lossy) step you can avoid with the Marantz.
posted by trinity8-director at 4:45 PM on July 26, 2007

@god hates math: Thanks... I shouldn't post when I'm half-asleep. :)

@SirStan: When you say "on the cheap", do you have a ballpark budget?

I've played a little bit with the Zoom H4, which is still pretty expensive (~400-500USD) but which has a cheaper sibling, the Zoom H2 (this is not an endorsement - I've not seen the H2 in person), it's a mere $200 and records in broadcast wav format which is potentially a plus for getting into whatever video editing scenario might happen further down the line.

Is there a pro-audio shop in your area that might have some of these devices on hand to play experiment with?
posted by myrrh at 5:32 PM on July 26, 2007

Second the Zoom H4 (product homepage). These are about $300 street, can record to .wav or .mp3, run on batteries, have XLR inputs as well as built-in stereo mics, and record to SD cards. I've used them to record lectures, with very good results. Connects via USB to your laptop for easy transfers.
posted by wheat at 6:37 PM on July 26, 2007

As others have said, compact flash recorders are the way to go.

Are you buying or renting? You could probably rent a top notch recorder for a weekend a for less than buying a low-end one.
posted by the duck by the oboe at 6:40 PM on July 26, 2007

Yep. Zoom H4. It's only $300 on-line and sounds great. With the new flash recorders, there's no reason to go back to the mini-disc.
posted by umbĂș at 9:33 AM on July 27, 2007

Thirding the Zoom. It isn't perfect, but for $300, it's pretty damned good. I bought mine used for $200 on cragislist.

Depending on the quality you need, you might even be able to get away with the surprisingly nice built-in mics on the Zoom H4. They have a very broad pickup pattern, but stick them in somebody's face with the wind guard on and you'll likely do pretty well.

The laptop solution isn't going to get you broadcast-quality sound, and seems pretty ungainly, but I guess it would work. The mics at Best Buy or whatever will be awful.

I would strongly reccomend using whatever you choose a few times in the field before the important stuff so you can get a feel for mic handling, etc.
posted by YoungAmerican at 10:03 PM on July 28, 2007 [1 favorite]

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