Posted by Joel Eaton on Thursday 06 February 2014
i will not be silenced. kathrynemily (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)
It’s easy to get overwhelmed by all the choices on offer when researching new kit to buy so in this post we look at some of the best tools for recording spoken word at the best quality, for the lowest price. Perfect for podcasts, interviews, audio feedback, and even recording speech for film this blog post gives some sage advice on what's currently available, and how to get the most out of the equipment. By 'high quality' we mean recordings that need to sound better than average, recordings for teaching or marketing materials, not just something that sounds like a telephone recording; perhaps for a larger audience or just something that needs to be very clear and clean sounding. Please note that we are not sponsored or endorsed by any company or product and every recommendation we make is from our own experiences.
As always if you want to join in the discussion please use the comments below. Likewise if you require some in depth advice regarding your own work the get in touch via our helpdesk.
Our first recommendation is that you don’t necessarily need to go and buy an audio recording device for making a high quality production. Chances are your smartphone (if you or a colleague own one) or tablet can do it for you. The computer chips inside phones are that good now you can record at CD quality (sometimes and higher) straight from the off. iOS, Android, Windows, Nokia Blackberry and Sony smartphone devices all provide accessible platforms for direct audio (and video) recording, although the first two formats are generally better supported. It’s all well and good recording to a high quality format on the phone, but it’s the microphone that will have the biggest effect on the sound, and a mobile phone's integrated microphones are generally of a poor sound quality. We’ll get to microphones in a moment.
Likewise, dictaphones are great for note taking or producing low to medium quality recordings due to the low quality of dictaphone’s microphones. They are a great (low-cost) solution for many people, but we’re ignoring them here to focus on getting higher quality recordings.
If you need a shared resource, for example for loaning to students then perhaps a mobile phone is not ideal. Here are a couple of cheap and reliable portable recorder:
Soundman Audio Recorder Price £39
Notes: Requires an external mic. For example the Audio Technica mic in the section below.
Zoom H1 Price £85
Notes: The on-board microphones are of good quality for recording.
Mics for smartphones
Back to smartphones then, and while it is worth remembering that phones have built-in microphones it shouldn't be forgotten that these are designed for telephony, where sound quality is a lot lower than we're looking for here. If you decide to use your built-in mic or go for an external mic then these two tips will help get the best result:
- Record in the quietest place you can find. Most mics are prone to picking up background noise. The quiter the room, the better.
- Don't speak directly into the microphone. Hold it near but speak across the device so that the air from your mouth doesn't go directly into the mic. If it does it can end up sounding distorted or windy.
A lot of external mics for newer iOS devices will now need the Apple lightening adaptor which will add an extra £25 to your setup. For all (and imminent future) iOS and Android devices the iRig Mic Cast is a safe bet as it uses the headphone socket, not the charging one. You can then plug your earphones into the mic to monitor the sound. It provides a mono mic that sits comfortably on top of your iOS or Android device and comes with a free app (otherwise £7) iRig Recorder for recording and editing your sounds. Although not directly supported it has been reported to work with Windows phones and could therefore potentially work with others.
For most Windows, Samsung and Nokia devices an adaptor is available to split the headphone socket ports which allows you to plug both an external microphone and a pair of headphones for recording. This allows you some flexibility in the type of microphone you use (it needs to be ‘self-powered’ with a battery) and means you can store more than one depending on the type of recording you want to do. For example a cardioid mic for recording one person, or an omnidirectional mic (which records sounds from 360 degrees around it) for recording more than one.
Audio Technica ATR-3350 Price £22.50
Notes: An omnidirectional mic (also works with the Soundman portable recorder shown above).
Mics for desktop computers
The Go mic, by Samson, is a USB microphone for desktop recording. For such a small size it offers really clear results. It needs no drivers and has a headphone socket for monitoring what’s being recorded. Its biggest selling point is that it has switchable cardioid or omnidirectional pickup patterns for different recording scenarios.
Go mic Price £30
Most smartphones and tablets that have the ability to record audio will have an associated app to do this, but they are not always obvious. iOS has Voice Memos; Sony, Note Application; Nokia, One Note; Blackberry, Voice Notes Recorder. However there are a wealth of free apps that can make the process easier and more intuitive and you’ll probably want to download one of these.
Voice Record Pro Price: Free
Notes: Control over audio quality settings, sleek user interface
Smart voice recorder Price: Free
Notes: Selectable recording quality. Syncs audio files with Dropbox and Google Drive
In the free audio editing software world you don’t really need to know about anything else except for Audacity. It’s free, easy to install and use and is great for editing your recordings (you can transfer from smartphones and tablets via your PC), such as trimming away any unwanted sections and piecing separate recordings together.
Again, the free headphones that come with most smartphone and tablet devices are generally OK for most uses, but for only a few pounds more you can upgrade to a decent pair of headphones and really notice a difference in quality within your sound recordings.
Closed back headphones are great for when you work in noisy environments (especially busy offices). Here are a couple of closed back headphones that are great value for money.
Samson CH70 Price £15.19
Good for a budget pair of headphones.
Beyerdynamic DT231 Price £31.50
Notes: Great sounding headphones and very comfy. Also very good for music. Excellent value.
Online audio hosting services
Being able to disseminate audio resources effectively is just as important as being able to make them. What with Youtube and Vimeo being the two main websites for sharing videos, here’s a summary of the best options for sharing audio files.
Soundcloud - Soundcloud is basically Youtube for audio (music mostly). Soundcloud’s use reaches far beyond just adio hosting. But it does do that very well. A free account lets you upload a maximum of 2 hours of audio. Paid accounts allow for more but if you can remove older audio or rotate your audio clips online then the free account is perfect.
Audioboo is widely used for educational resources and has a strong community of educational users. The downside is that the maximum audio file upload is 3 mins. Although this could be exploited if you have the time to edit your recordings accordingly.
Mixlr - Mixlr is great for live broadcast of audio if you want to share your files to an audience at a specific time. This could be a useful feature of online learning sessions for distance learners. Primarily used for broadcasting music and therefore more suited for such stuff.
Youtube – A bit of a lazy option but you are able to convert audio files into video formats (you could use an image as a placeholder). The upside of this is keeping your video and audio resources all in the same place.
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