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RECORDING EQUIPMENT TIPS
This page isn't designed to cover all the technical aspects of every piece of recording equipment on the market - equipment suppliers can do that for you much more thoroughly than we can! We merely aim to provide information about equipment our clients have recommended, along with any specific transcription issues we've encountered. We plan to regularly update this page, so if there's anything you'd like to see included, please email. Also see our Guidelines pages for advice on the different types of recording.
If budgets are tight, it's tempting to choose the cheapest equipment. This is a false economy as poor recordings take longer to transcribe. What's the point of paying less for a recorder only to pay more for transcription? It may be a cliche but you do get what you pay for. And here's another cliche common in the transcription world - we can't transcribe what we can't hear! Our Transcription Times page covers which factors influence recordings and the subsequent transcription. We'd urge all clients to switch to digital recordings - you'll more than recoup the cost of the recorder in reduced transcription time and costs.
It's worth bearing in mind that recording equipment is changing all the time - especially in the digital field where it seems that, as soon as a recorder comes on the market, it's quickly superceded by a newer model. If you want to talk 'technical', we would suggest you contact the following equipment suppliers. Each will be able to supply recording equipment, as well as accessories such as microphones.
And if you need a central UK recording venue for your focus groups or workshops, we recommend talking to Alan at the Talkback Viewing Studio in Nottingham.
various things to be considered when purchasing a digital recorder:
Quality of recording is usually listed as either SHQ (stereo high quality), HQ (high quality), SP (short play) and LP (long play). SHQ produces the largest file size but is the best quality recording option - use a stereo microphone or more than one microphone in order to use the stereo option. HQ is a good compromise but LP produces the poorest quality. If possible, don't compromise just to save memory space on the card - use more cards or choose a recorder with a larger internal memory. If you record at a low audio quality, the result may not be very clear and the transcription will cost more. Use the highest uncompressed quality level your recorder offers - issues over file size and length of time to transmit the digital files are trivial compared to the production of a good quality recording. Experiment with the level which suits your recording situation - you can probably get away with a lower quality for dictation, but will need the highest quality for multiple participant interviews, conferences or focus groups or meetings.
Frequency responses - you'll also need to choose which level of audio quality to record at. 8,000kHz should be suitable for dictation. 44,100kHz is the highest end of the range and produces exceptional recordings but there is a trade off in larger file sizes.
It's worthwhile considering what digital file types your recorder will produce - we discuss the pros and cons of the more common file types such as wav, dss, mp3 and wma here. And if the ultimate destination for your recording is to be transcribed, check that it's compatible with digital transcription software. This is especially relevant with digital video files. These have to be converted into a digital audio file in order to be 'run' in transcription software. There are various software conversion programmes available but again, check that the eventual output will be compatible with a transcriber's software, and that the conversion process won't degrade the quality of the final recorded file. If the digital video file is not convertible, it may still be possible to rerecord it onto an audio file in order for it to be transcribed. As this takes 'real time', it does increase the turnaround time.
Ensure that the recorder can be used with an external microphone and that the mic you purchase is compatible.
Size of memory - this may be an issue if you're on the road for a while with no facility to download your recordings to the PC. Check if your recorder will take memory cards and, if so, carry spares. The size of memory also seems to be a factor which determines the price of digital recorders - so think carefully whether you'll need a large memory if all you'll be doing is sitting at your desk dictating. Conversely, you will need a large enough memory to cope with long interviews or lengthy focus groups if you'll be away from your PC and can't download the recordings regularly. You'll also need a Broadband connection to upload any large digital files to your transcriber via the Internet.
Computer interface - be aware that some memo-scribe or note-taker type recorders don't have the facility to download to a PC. You'd need to send the whole machine to the transcriber which somewhat defeats the object! Ensure that your recorder has an interface for downloading, usually via a USB connection.
Can the recording be edited later, possibly to insert a few words on dictation? Digital dictaphone systems are dealt with below.
Rechargeable batteries - don't forget to buy enough accessories with the recorder. A recorder which takes rechargeable batteries will work out less expensive in the long run (and be more environmentally friendly).
If you already own an iPod, it's possible to purchase a voice recorder for an iPod and this should be sufficient to record dictation or one-to-one interviews, depending on the recording environment. I'm not sure whether it's possible to attach an external microphone to an iPod, and I believe the voice recorder option won't work with a mini iPod.
Below is a list of manufacturers who produce digital recording systems. Although we could recommend specific models, recorders are upgraded all the time and any specific advice may well be shortly out of date. The links below are to the relevant manufacturer's pages, and you'll be able to see the latest versions. All the independent equipment suppliers mentioned above can supply the latest versions and may well have some attractive package offers.
It's worth remembering that microphones are not as selective as the human ear. We can filter out extraneous background 'babble' such as traffic, other voices or equipment noise. A microphone will hear the lot, from all directions and give equal 'weight' to every sound on the recording. Do NOT rely on the internal microphone supplied with some recorders - it will not work sufficiently well for anything other than dictation.
If there are several speakers, for example in a group meeting or seminar, ensure that there are sufficient microphones around the room to pick up ALL the participants' voices, using omni-directional microphones or a conference mixer system which links several mics to one central unit. The only disadvantage with omni-directional microphones is they pick up every sound - so be careful to minimise background noise and brief your participants thoroughly. Another option is to use a noise cancelling microphone which cuts down on a certain amount of background ambient noise. Do NOT try and cope with one microphone in the middle of a large table and push it towards each person as they speak. You'll only record the scraping noise as you do so! We recommend using a minimum of one microphone for every 2 people placed evenly between the speakers.
Table top boundary microphones that use the table to resonate sound are very good, but also pick up every sound made ON the table - tapping pens, clattering of cups, people banging the table to make a point etc. This is where briefing the participants beforehand coupled with effective and firm moderation comes into its own.
For one to one interviews, we recommend that tie clip, lapel, noise cancelling or directional microphones be used. Lapel (also known as lavalier microphones) or tie clip mics fasten on to the interviewer and interviewee, but can pick up any rustling noises from clothing. If you have a stereo recorder with two microphone sockets, you can use two microphones to capture both your and the interviewee's comments. Or use a microphone splitter to enable two microphones to be plugged into one microphone socket. Omni-directional microphones can be used in interview situations but they do need a quiet environment. A directional microphone will, understandably, pick up sound from the direction in which it's pointed which is, hopefully, your interviewee! Handheld directional microphones are ideal for 'street' recording situations, such as vox pops, where you can hold the mic right up to your interviewee's mouth.
Whichever microphone you use, do NOT place it near the recorder itself while recording. Particularly when using analogue recorders, the mic will pick up noise from the recorder itself. This is less of an issue with digital recorders but you should still ensure that the microphone and recorder are placed as far apart as the lead will allow.
Before you purchase any microphone, check that it's compatible with your recorder. Similarly, buying a cheap microphone for your expensive recorder is like putting a Reliant Robin's engine in a Jag! Good quality microphones are not that expensive.
Again, if you are given a choice, opt for digital. The recording will not only be much clearer, but afterwards, the digital files can be transmitted to the transcriber very easily. There will be no need to copy original tapes and no subsequent loss in recording quality. There are still analogue conference recorders on the market but they tend to be very expensive, although many conference venues are still equipped with them so you may not have a great deal of choice.
A good quality standard audio tape recorder can still produce a good quality recording when coupled with an external microphone. It can still be used to record one-to-one interviews in a quiet environment, but is not advisable for focus groups or meetings. It may be worth remembering that an inexpensive digital recorder will always produce a far better recording than an expensive audio tape recorder, as well as being less bulky to carry around.
do still produce analogue tape recorders but if you're about to invest
in new equipment, consider how long they'll continue to support this
format. Some manufacturers are gradually phasing out their analogue
products and no longer provide spare parts. Some examples of existing
recorders can be found on these links:
We recommend that a dedicated telephone recording system is used - there are plenty of inexpensive options available. Make sure that whatever recording equipment is used is compatible with the phone system you're using.
Now that Skype are offering an option to record conference and video calls to a digital sound file, this may also be a possibility. As this is a relatively new service, we've not yet come across clients who've used it, so would be interested in hearing from anyone who has tried this successfully.
It's unclear whether this is a format which will continue to be supported by the manufacturers in the future. It appears that almost all the manufacturers have stopped making new minidisc recorders. Sony seem to have produced the next generation of minidisc recorders, although you can still pick up the older recorders produced by Sony, Sharp, Aiwa, Panasonic on websites such as Amazon or eBay. If this technology does have a limited shelf-life, any minidisc recordings may need to be re-recorded on to digital to be saved for future use. Remember that we offer a free digital recording of all minidiscs for our clients after we have produced the transcript.
dictation - We make no apologies for yet again plugging digital
as being superior to analogue. A
digital dictaphone has many advantages over a mini tape or a micro-cassette
There are a bewildering number of digital dictaphones on the market. Depending on the volume of material you'll be dictating, the main difference in price between the models is determined by the size of memory. If you'll only be dictating a few letters occasionally, there's no need to buy a recorder with a huge memory. However, you need to make sure that the recorder has a facility for downloading the files to a PC - some memo-scribes and note-taker machines can't do this.
Analogue dictation - some clients still use dictaphone machines, either using mini tapes or micro-cassettes. We would recommend that this equipment is used only for dictaton - not for interviews, conferences, focus groups or meetings. It would be asking the machine to record in an environment for which it was never designed and the recording will be very poor.
are links to manufacturers and independent suppliers who can still provide
analogue dictaphones and micro cassette recorders:
specialise in digital transcription services including
MP3 digital transcription, WAV digital transcription,
WMA digital transcription among many other digital
audio file formats. We also provide standard audio
cassette tape transcription covering micro cassette
or micro tape transcription, plus mini tape or
mini cassette transcription which is also known as audio
transcription or audio typing services. This can be extended to include
minidisc or minidisk transcription services. Extensive
experience in conference transcription services
allows us to offer transcription of conference proceedings
including keynote speaker and plenary
session transcription, lecture transcription,
seminar and symposia transcribing, Q&A
session transcription and transcription of breakout
sessions, roadshows, roundtable discussions and workshops. Interview
transcription services form a core part of our service and include one-to-one
interview transcription, as well as multiple
participant interview transcription. We are pleased to offer discounted
transcription services for charities, students
and universities for their research
interviews, particularly qualitative analysis
transcription compatible with Nvivo and Atlas Ti. Support for oral
history interview transcription projects can include both digital
transcription services and audio tape transcription.
A niche specialty is our podcast transcription services
which also covers webcast transcription. Transcription
services for authors, writers and journalists can
include anything from digital dictation for article
transcription and manuscript typing through to
research interview transcription. Also offered is focus
group transcription, forum transcribing, market
research and vox pop interview transcription as well corporate
or group meeting transcription services. Word processing services and
digital dictation for correspondence is also included.
Teleconferences and telephone
interviews can be transcribed from digital and
analogue formats. Analogue video
tape transcriptions are offered along with digital
video transcription services. Different transcription styles are available
including Intelligent Verbatim Transcription,
Complete Verbatim Transcription, Edited
Transcription and customised transcription styles for Oral
History projects and Focus Groups.
We are pleased to offer free Advice Pages: Equipment FAQs Overview Transcription Times and free Guidelines for: Conferences Dictation Digital Audio / Minidiscs Focus Groups / Forums Interviews Lectures / Speeches / Presentations Market Research Vox Pops Oral History Interview Projects Podcasts Audio Tapes Teleconferences / Telephone Interviews Digital DVD / Video Tapes Webcasts Workshops Our Home Page provides an overview of the wide range of transcription services we provide.
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