Recording focus group discussion is not easy. Focus groups are notoriously hard to control and manage. But crucially, you’ll have to record sound from different sources and direction. That’s not easy. Luckily for you, there’s recording equipment that make recording focus group discussion easier. And that’s my intention, to share with you the best focus group recording devices.

In a previous post, I shared a general outline of how to record a focus group discussion. I listed the 3 things you need to think about while planning your focus groups. I also shared specific recording devices for recording different types of focus group discussion. But I realized that I didn’t provide researchers with options and recommendations.

Summary: Here’s the best audio recorder for focus groups.

  1. Sony ICDUX560 audio recorder – great for small and medium sized focus groups.
  2. Tascam DR05 audio recorder – get this if you plan to use external mics
  3. Olympus ME33 boundary microphone – the best microphone for recording large focus groups; works well with the Tascam DR05.

Before I get to that, there are a couple of general tips that I want to share with you on recording focus groups. And they stem from a realization that most researchers see focus groups as a way to collect rich data in less time and with less effort. How naïve! When it’s time to get the FGs transcribed, researchers get in touch looking to hire us for our academic transcription services. And there’s usually a bit of back and forth as I try manage expectations on the quality of the data/transcripts that they can get from poorly recorded focus group discussions.

If there is one thing that I’d like you to take away from this post, contrary to popular opinion, is that to conduct a good focus group, you’ll need to do a lot of planning – which takes time and resources. So here are my top 2 tips to get you started:

Visit the Venue

A preliminary visit to the room where you are going to record the focus group is a must! I can’t over stress this. Unless you are very familiar with the location where you’re going to record the focus groups (which means that it’s not a neutral location – and you should not be using it to conduct the focus groups), you should plan for a preliminary visit to the room.

Best audio recorder for focus groupsOnce you visit the room, there are a lot of things you need to check. I’m only going to touch on those that determine the quality of the recording, (but do make sure that the room puts your participants at ease and that they’re comfortable).

The first thing you need to check is background noise. Does sound come from adjacent room, or from a busy highway? Fans and air conditioning create a lot of background noise. So you might want to move them around or switch them off or at least set them at a lower setting.

You also want to visit the venue at around the same time of the day – and preferably on the same day of week, as when you intend to conduct the focus groups. The local marching band might be practicing in the adjacent room – happened to me.

Finally you want to have at least one alternative venue where you can conduct the focus group discussion is case there is an issue with the primary venue. If you don’t, and maybe your primary room is locked, you’ll be in a bind.

Do a Test Recording

Again this is a must. You’ll want to familiarize yourself with the equipment and make sure that it works. And the test recording doesn’t have to be long, 5 minutes should suffice to let you know that you can capture audio from all the participants.

When you visit the venue of the focus group discussion, you’re likely to be accompanied by your moderator and maybe someone from the venue (receptionist, librarian etc). Kindly ask them sit around the table and record the interaction whilst you monitor the recording.

Finally, most participants are uneasy about being recorded. From my personal experience, let them play with the recording equipment beforehand.  The first focus group I conducted, I was a nervous wreck. One of my key informants notice this and got me talking about my new mini-cassette recorder. As the rest of the participants walked in, we passed it around, and they all joined in the discussion and that was a great ice breaker.

Best Audio Recorder for Focus Groups

  1. Sony ICD-UX560

The Sony ICD-UX560 is the recorder you’ll want to get if you plan on recording small sized focus group discussions. Its greatest selling point is the ability to record high quality sound files in the .wav format and that you can visually monitor the microphones input on the screen. Great for doing that test recording I earlier talked about.

My only concern is that it comes with 4GB of internal memory. That’s about 6 hours’ worth of good high quality recordings. You may want to get a 64 GB MicroSD card as additional memory. Here’s a detailed review of the Sony ICD ux560. For small focus groups, you’ll want to buy at least a couple of these recorders so that you can clearly capture all the participants. Check price on Amazon.

  1. Tascam DR05

The Tascam DR05 is another voice recorder that I’d recommend for recording small and medium sized focus group discussions. You can record high quality sound using the Tascam DR05 in .wav format. You can visually monitor the stereo mic inputs onscreen. You can also monitor the recording, while the recording is ongoing, with a pair of headphones (great if you have a dedicated recording focus group assistant).

Another reason I recommend the DR05 is that it does have plug-in power: you can connect it to boundary microphones – which we’ll cover shortly. My major concern with this recorder is the sensitivity of the microphones. They are very sensitive. Unlike the Sony, the DR05 records a lot of background noise. If you are recording in a really quiet room, that shouldn’t be an issue. But it’s something to watch out for. Please note that when you connect boundary mics to the Tascam DR-05, the built in microphones are turned off. So you don’t have to worry about their sensitivity. Also, remember to switch on the plug-in power when you connect the boundary mics to this recorder (Home Screen > MENU > REC SETTING > MIC POWER).

The Tascam DR05 is huge, compared to the Sony. And it only comes with 2GB of memory – so you’ll need to get a MicroSD card for additional memory. If you are going to use boundary mics to record your focus group, I’d recommend you get this recorder over the Sony ICD-UX560. It’ll give you enough power to power the mics. But if you don’t plan to use external boundary microphones, the Sony has better internal microphones.  Check price on Amazon.

  1. Olympus ME33 Boundary Mic

I realize that this is a post of audio recorders, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the only device you can use to audio record large focus groups. The Olympus ME33 is the best boundary microphone for recording focus group discussions and meetings. Boundary microphones are great for recording large focus group discussions. Because you can daisy chain them, they enable you to actively cover a large conference room. And they pick up sound very well.

Now, you’ll need to get a number of these boundary microphones. You can daisy chain up to 6 Olympus ME33 boundary microphones. I’d recommend 2 for small focus group and 6 for good sized (18 participants) I’d recommend you get 6 boundary microphones. And you’ll need to connect them to recorder that provides plug-in power, I recommend you also get the Tascam DR05.  Check price on Amazon.

That’s it for this post. I hope you’ve found it useful. If you have any questions, post them in the comment section below. I do read all of your comments and endeavor to answer all of your questions. All the best in your research.

2 thoughts on “Best Audio Recorder for Focus Groups

  1. Elena

    Thank you for such useful blogs about recording focus groups! I am nervous about the sensitivity of the Tascam and want to purchase the Sony recorder you recommend because I may not be able to control background noise in some of our groups. The problem is that I’ll be recording for a group of 12 and from your advice should use boundary mics. Is there an external power source that can be used with the Olympus boundary mics if I get the Sony recorder?

    1. Isaac Post author

      Hey Elena. No, you cannot get an external power source for the Olympus boundary mics. And yes, for a group of 12 participant I’d recommend that you use at least 3 boundary mics to record the focus group. When using boundary mics, don’t worry about the ultra sensitive Tascam built in mics – they are automatically turned off!. The Sony ICD-UX560 has a powered mic jack. But Sony does not say how much power the jack can output (I’ll rig something up and test). I know the Tascam has a max output of 1.7 volts, which is more than you’ll need. Do remember to switch on the plug in power (Home Screen > MENU > REC SETTING > MIC POWER) when you connect the boundary mics to the Tascam…

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