Posted on January 16, 2009
A few words about digital audio recorders
Links checked: 31 August 2011
With my students being required to own a digital audio recorder, some things have come to my attention that may be useful to others.
First (and primarily) about the cheap recorders:
Price. We’re talking about roughly $50 (U.S.) for a good-quality voice recorder that has a mic jack, a headphone jack, and USB output for transferring the audio files to a computer for editing. You can see examples here. I have been completely happy with a succession of Olympus models.
Compatibility. Recorders that are NOT “plug and play”: Two factors make a recorder unsuitable for use in schoolroom labs and most newsrooms. (1) The recorder requires software to be installed on a computer before the audio files can be read or copied. (2) The recorder creates its files in a format other than WAV, MP3, or WMA. Recorders that are unsuitable for these reasons include many models from Sony and RCA.
Mac computers. I have finally figured out why so many people claim that Olympus recorders “don’t work with Macs” (this is completely untrue!). If you try to open a WMA audio file on the average Mac, you get a coded text file, and it will not play. Well — duh! — that’s only a file format issue. All you need to do is convert the file to another format (preferably WAV or MP3).
File conversion. I strongly recommend that both Mac and Windows users download and install the free version of Switch, an audio file converter. It is easy to use and does not install any garbage files.
Flip4Mac. Mac users can also add Windows Media Player capability to QuickTime by downloading the WM components; see this page for details. The components are free.
Second, about more expensive recorders:
There are three pocket-size models that you should look at: The Zoom H2, the Edirol R-09, and the new Marantz PMD620 (all also shown here). For various reasons, you’ll get better audio quality with these recorders than you will with any recorder priced below $100 (U.S.).
One thing you can do to get BETTER quality on a cheap recorder is to add an external microphone. You can start with an inexpensive model from Nady (SP-5 or SP-4C), available from Musician’s Friend.
Finally, for audio editing, I always recommend Audacity because it’s completely free and open source, and you can use it on any computer (Windows, Mac, or Linux). Yes, there are other and better programs for editing audio. If you own one, great. But if you’re teaching students or training journalists, I recommend Audacity because then each one of them can install it (legally) on his or her computer and use it at any time.
Feel free to use and distribute my popular basic into-to-Audacity tutorial, which is linked on this page (“printable document tutorials,” under Editing Audio).