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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.

Digital Recorders Microphones Conference recorders
Audio tape recorders Telephone / teleconference Minidisc recorders
Dictaphones

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the time - especially in the digital field where it seems that, as soon as a recorder comes on the market, it's quickly superceded by a newer model.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.

Speak-IT Solutions - our equipment supplier, contact Sean Quiney
Ndeva - also have useful online product guides
Voice Power - very helpful with useful advice
DictateIT - wide range of equipment

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.


DIGITAL RECORDERS
Digital recording systems produce the best quality recording, far out-performing any analogue recording system. When first introduced, digital recorders were expensive but prices are now more competitive. Some of the more popular systems include those from Philips, Sanyo, Sony, Grundig and Olympus. Our clients have found that there is recorder to suit whatever they may need, be it digital dictation, interviews or conference recording. We discuss the advantages of digital recordings here

There are 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.

Olympus
Philips
Sony
Sanyo
Grundig - bizarrely, the Grundig website doesn't mention its own digital recorders but there's some useful information on the Ndeva site.

 


Microphones
EXTERNAL MICROPHONES
If there's one thing you can do to improve the quality of the recording you make, it would be to use an external microphone. You can invest in very expensive recording equipment but still scupper your chances of making a good recording by not using a microphone. It is the one factor that will make the biggest difference as to whether your recording is clearly audible and swiftly transcribed, or barely audible and a nightmare to decipher.

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.

INTERNAL MICROPHONES
Built-in microphones in most portable recorders are of limited value. They are designed to be used for one voice, typically in a dictation situation where the recorder is held up close to the mouth. They will pick up sound from the nearest source, which can be the recorder itself if it's put down on the table far from the person speaking.
If you risk using an internal microphone, for every foot of distance the microphone is from the source of the sound, the recorded volume level decreases by half and the background noise doubles. If you have to use an internal microphone for an interview, ensure that the recorder is placed as close as possible to the interviewee and that the recording is done in a quiet environment. Use any other arrangement and you simply won't pick up any of the interviewee's responses. This will lead to a poor recording and increased transcription costs - the cost of which could have paid for a decent external microphone! Please DON'T use an internal microphone to record focus groups or meetings - you're asking the microphone to function in an environment for which it was never designed.

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.

Most of the microphones listed above can be obtained from:
Ndeva
Voice Power
SpeakIt

DictateIT

You can also buy microphones at electronic retailers like Maplins and Cybermarket.

 


Conference Recorders
Recording conferences presents particular challenges of not only capturing the speakers on the platform but also contributions from the audience. Most conferences venues will be able to take care of all the recording for you, or at least put you in touch with specialist audio visual technicians who can. If you're looking to organise the recording yourself, you'll need a recorder such as a conference kit and the Olympus and Sanyo versions are just two which are available.

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.

All the independent suppliers we deal with can supply conference recording equipment:
SpeakIT - offers both digital and tape conference recorders as does Philips.
Voice Power
Ndeva
DictateIT

 


Audio Tape Recorders
If you are still using an analogue recording system, we recommend that a standard tape recorder will always produce a far better recording than mini tapes or microcassettes. It produces better quality sound with reduced tape hiss. Using C60 tapes as opposed to C90s is also advised as the former tend to break less often.

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.

Manufacturers 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:
Sony

Sanyo
Philips

And some of the independent equipment suppliers we use also still stock analogue tape recorders:
Ndeva
SpeakIT
DictateIT

 


Telephone / Teleconference Recording
One thing we would NOT advise for recording telephone interviews or teleconferences is to switch your phone to loud speaker and place the microphone of the recorder (either digital or analogue) next to it. Or worse, to try and hold a microphone to the earpiece of the telephone receiver. Clients have used both these methods in the past but trust me - they don't work! The recording will be full of hiss, background noise and echo, and voices at the other end of the line will sound as if they're in the bottom of a bucket! You'll only end up paying more for your transcription - money you could have spent on a decent recording system.

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.

More information on specific telephone recording kits can be found on these links:
Ndeva
Sanyo
SpeakIT
DictateIT

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.

 


Minidisc Recorders
The mini disc recorder is an excellent halfway house between the physical world of analogue and the superior recording quality of digital. The recorders and discs are very small and portable, most recorders can be used with an external microphone and they produce a very clear recording (of digital quality), with very little background hiss.

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.

Further information on the recorders available can be found below:
Sony
Amazon
Kelkoo

 


Dictaphones - analogue and digital

Digital 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 dictaphone:
It produces a high quality recording.
D
igital files can be transmitted easily and quickly to the transcriber.
There are no tapes to send in the post, introducing delays and the risk of losing the tapes.
They are as portable as
more traditonal dictation machines.
It has either an internal hard drive memory or can take memory cards of varying sizes.
There is no physical motor or tape movement to either jam or produce interference.
Digital files can be copied as many times as necessary without losing audio quality.
It's easy to move between recordings without searching through all of them.
It's easy to insert additional speech without having to re-record everything.

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.

Links to the various machines on the market are below, along with the relevant pages from the independent suppliers' websites:
Sanyo
Sony
Voice Power
Ndeva
SpeakIT
DictateIT
Philips
Olympus

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.

Below are links to manufacturers and independent suppliers who can still provide analogue dictaphones and micro cassette recorders:
Ndeva
SpeakIT
DictateIT
Philips
Sanyo - mini dictaphones and micro cassette recorders
Olympus

We 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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