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Hi,

I'm a novice at sound recording but after doing all the necessary research have decided a portable recorder is what best fits my needs (thinking of something like the Tascom DR-40).

However, whilst there is loads of information out there about features etc, i've not seen hardly anything about how best to use these devices, especially where to position them for best results. I was wondering if anyone might be able to point me in the direction of a good tutorial regarding their best use for recording..

My primary use case will be to record another person speaking. I am wondering if it would be ok to leave the recorder on a table or desk, or if i am best to hold it in front of the person (i won't have use of a tripod or mount).

Thanks in advance - it's great this forum exisits as it's so much easier to use than the sound on sound forum :)

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3 Answers

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Hi Richie,

Unfortunately, there is no guaranteed method to get good recordings in any situation. There are a though, a few considerations which you need to think about for any recording scenario - even when using a simple setup.

The main considerations for the example you give are:

  • How much background noise is there?
  • How loud is the person going to be?
  • How will the table be used, and how do I mount the recorder on it?

As you vary the distance between the speaker and the recorder you are altering the balance between how much direct sound and how much reflected sound (from the room) you are recording. When you get the machine try this out and you will see what I mean. It really depends on how you want it to sound. If it's a quiet room, then the table will probably be ok. But if it's a noisy environment you might need to reduce that distance between the recorder and the person you are recording. Similarly, if they speak very quietly you might also not be picking up enough. The best way is to take some headphones, listen, look at the meters and make a judgement from those.

If you want to use the table then you will probably need a mini tripod of some kind, so you can point the recorder at the person. Also bear in mind that any bumps of the table might be picked up from the recorder (coffee cups etc). Isolating the recorder with a suspension will help with this, but they don't come cheap.

Also, do you want to record the voice of the person asking the questions? Then it gets a bit more complicated. I've done this before with the recorder in a vertical position between me and the person I'm interviewing, so one of the stereo mics is roughly pointed at each of us. It works ok, but is a bit risky, especially if they move around a bit. I'd probably only do it if the recording was for my reference only.

The other options are to buy two external mics and use them. Two short shotgun mics will give you more directionality, better sound and greater rejection of background noise. It's all just a question of what you need and how much money you have.

Best thing to do though is get the recorder and do a few test recordings. Try a few different environments, different setups, and see for yourself. The DR40 has xlr inputs, so if you need to expand the system with extra mics you have the option.

If anything doesn't make sense point it out and I'll elaborate further..

Best of luck,

Mark

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Hi Mark, Thanks for the helpful answer, i guess i do need to do some tests, but i need to make sure im making the right gear choices before that stage! So essentially, i intend to record only outdoors and ideally would like to pick up background noises ie outdoor sounds, wind, birds singing etc. I don't really want to use external mikes and was wondering perhaps if i just hold the device up to the person speaking while monitoring to know how far from them i need to position the mike. The duration of them speaking in all cases will be less than a minute...is that feasible/possible? –  richieKostneko Aug 3 '12 at 12:16
    
I see. The same considerations - background noise and voice level apply. You then battle handling noise and wind noise, so suspension and handle and windscreen or furry windjammer become important, and are probably a sensible investment. You should be fine though. –  Mark Durham Aug 3 '12 at 12:42
    
Nice one thanks, gave you the tick for first answer but both answers really good, espcially the bit about the camera grip (great idea) @iain - thanks guys! –  richieKostneko Aug 3 '12 at 15:04
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Set the recorder to 44.1 kHz 24 bit and make sure that AGC (Automatic Gain Control) is off. Make sure that you have a pop filter on (to reduce plosives), and a camera grip to reduce handling noise.

http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B000YHGAMG/ref=oh_details_o02_s00_i00

Then get the recorder in close to the interviewee but just off to the side of their mouth so that they talk across the mic. To test where to put the mic put your hand in front of your mouth and say the letter p, then move your hand to the side till you stop feeling the air, that is where you should put the recorder.

Then ask the interviewee to tell you what they had for breakfast and set your levels, make sure that the levels don't peak above -6dB.

Always check your recordings before you leave in case there is a problem.

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I have had a lot of experience in tracking similar projects, often in less than ideal circumstances. Digest a lot of Mark Durham's answer for guidance. Below are some mistakes, ideas, and suggestions I wish I would have known beforehand.

  1. Some people are intimidated by holding a recorder or microphone to their face. Especially if you are overzealous in adjusting proximity. I once started to feel like Bones from Star Trek, using his handheld medical scanner to sweep over a person's head to determine what species they were or what malady they suffered.
  2. Do some research on interview techniques online to get the best mix of conversation, interview, and information you seek. You might think that the interviews will be a minute each but a relaxed person may suddenly reveal they are an exceptional storyteller and you want to go with it. And even a more average interviewee may talk for much longer and you will edit the answer into a more concise and interesting minute or so.
  3. Watch the coupling - the small tapping of a foot might not even register to you during the interview but the sound transfers through the floor, into the table, and into the housing of the microphone or portable recorder. The plastic housing of my zoom h4 is infamous for this - the vibrations sound like a mortar attack when uploaded and played back in my studio.
  4. Tracking outside with ambient/environmental background has some issues. Any editing of interview will suddenly reveal fluctuations of the sounds. So when you cut a digression; a stammer; the 43 instances of "um," "uh," "you know," "but," "and uh," etc; or unrelated banter you find that the cicada who was nearly 2 blocks away was actually in a full-on rising volume and now the interview contains very noticeable jumps in cicada volume during what would seem to be a fluid conversation. This is true for airplanes, cars, wind gusts, nearby conversations, etc. Controlling your tracking environment solves a lot of issues now and later.
  5. NPR has their storycorps series http://storycorps.org/ which is a good example to follow as the gear/tracking space is portable and needs to service almost exclusively people who have no knowledge of recording. Try to replicate their approach. Also, though the questions you may ask in an interview are likely different, look at how they phrase questions on their website to get people talking.
  6. Using one portable recorder for both people in an interview session usually left me with one booming voice and the other voice sounding like someone trapped under 20 feet of rubble after the collapse of a building, telling me about their first car. This is easy to replicate when you are new to interviews - I did it 3 or 4 times! I found that external mics, even inexpensive ones, did a better job than the mics on the Zoom h4 - just as Mark said above.
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