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There’s a myriad of ways to record your research interviews. You could use your phone, laptop, or even a camcorder. However, I strongly recommend using a digital voice recorder. Handheld digital voice recorders are compact, affordable and enable you to easily manage the audio recordings, which makes the process of getting your dissertation transcription easy and cost effective.
TL;DR – the best recorder for interviews; the Olympus WS-853
The greatest advantage of digital voice recorders over older tape recorder is that they have no moving parts, which make a lot of noise, thus your interview recordings are crystal clear, which makes interview transcription easier. Portable digital interview recorders are less bulky, can hold more audio data (up to a 1000 hours) than their analog counterparts. What are the 3 key features you need to look for when buying the best recorder for interviews?
3 Things to Consider When Buying a Voice Recorder for Interviews
Buy a voice recorder that has both built-in memory and a memory card slot – which gives you virtually unlimited recording capacity. It’s okay to buy a digital recorder with a low built-in memory – you can easily increase the storage capacity using an external memory card. There are many different types of memory cards; Secure Digital, CompactFlash, MicroSD just to name a few. The most common digital memory cards store 1GB to 64GB of data.
When choosing a memory card always check its storage capacity. However, the most important consideration should be compatibility. Always go for a memory card that is compatible with your voice recorder. Memory cards are quite affordable – $4 to $25 for MicroSD cards.
2. Microphone Jack
All digital recorders have built-in microphone(s). However, using an external microphone enables you to record high(er) quality audio, especially in a noisy environment. A microphone can either be unidirectional (cardoid) or omni-directional. Unidirectional microphones capture sound from a targeted source, while omni-directional mics capture sound evenly from all directions. Unidirectional mics can suppress unwanted noise and are great for one-on-one interviews. With a high quality voice recorder (for instance the Sony ICD-UX533), you can adjust and monitor the built-in microphone sensitivity/recording levels. Ultimately you want to choose a recorder with a microphone jack, the most common and compatible jack is the 3.5 mm jack.
3. Audio Recording Format
There are two types of audio file formats, compressed and uncompressed. Generally, higher compression means lower quality sound. You should buy a recorder that allows you to capture uncompressed audio in AIFF or PCM (Wav) formats. Audio Interchange File Format (AIFF) and Pulse Code Modulated audio (PCM) are audio file formats that store the audio in its raw uncompressed format, meaning you maintain the original recording quality. High quality voice recorders enable you to record your interviews in an uncompressed audio format.
The biggest mistake you can make!
Be Forewarned: Here’s the biggest mistake that researchers make when choosing a interview recorder: they buy one without a USB slot or external memory slot. Make sure the recorder that you buy has a USB port or an external memory card slot. This will enable you to easily transfer your audio interviews into a PC/Mac, so that you can easily share them with your transcriber. Most (cheaper/older) low quality digital recorders (for example the Sony ICDB600, Olympus VN-7200, Olympus DP-201) don’t have this feature!
And you’ll want to get 2 recorders to record your research interviews. Why? Because you do want to have a backup recorder in case “something” happens…
Best Recorder for Interviews
For a low budget interview recorder I recommend the Olympus WS-852. You can also get the Sony ICD PX333 or Sony ICD-PX440, but researchers have found the Olympus WS-852 to be more versatile, and easier to connect to your computer and share the files. The Olympus WS-852 comes with a built in 4GB flash memory that can record up to 1600 hours of audio. The additional storage slot can be expanded to 32 GB and is compatible with MicroSD flash memory cards. It only records in compressed mp3 format (max 128kbps), which is a major drawback, but has an 3.5 mm mic jack, a stand, and comes with a USB port for easy transfer of the recordings to your PC/Mac – a true bargain! Buy now on Amazon.com.
If you have a little bit of more money to spend, I recommend you get the Olympus WS-853. It has the same features as the WS-852, so you’re still limited to mp3s (max 128kbps). In addition, it also comes with a rechargeable battery and 8GB memory; double the recording capacity of the Olympus WS-852. And it’s only ~$20 more than the Olympus WS-852. This recorder is what you should get if you plan to record your interviews in ideal conditions (quiet rooms with little or no background noise). Buy Now on Amazon.com.
The Sony ICD-UX533 is a little more expensive than the Olympus WS-853, but it has one feature that sets it apart – you can record your interview or focus groups in the lossless linear PCM format. Unlike the Olympus 853, you’re not limited to the MP3 format. If you want to get a recorder that you can use to record high quality recordings, I recommend you get this recorder. Especially if you foresee recording your interviews or focus groups in non-ideal conditions (little or no background noise). Or if you plan to archive your recordings (very important for oral historians).
This recorder comes with an 4GB internal memory – which means that if you record your interviews using the high quality PCM format, it’s going to fill up pretty quickly (~about 6 hours of recording). So I’d suggest you get additional microSD memory. It comes with a rechargeable battery that you can charge using the recorder. Once you connect the recorder to your computer, copying the files to your computer is as easy as drag and drop (at least on a PC). If you’re willing to spend a little bit more (and get a microSD card), this is what I’d recommend you get! Buy now on Amazon.com.