Okay, so we don’t record on actual “tape” anymore. (It’s mostly flash memory of one size or another.)

But we sure do a lot of interview recording on portable machines. How do you choose which portable recorder is best suited for your use? Let me help…

First, let’s talk about the microphones. Some recorders come equipped with mics mounted to the outside of the case. This type of setup is best at collecting sound that originates across a wide area (environmental sounds, or a musical performance). For broadcast interviews, they mostly get in the way. Many models are available with mics mounted flush inside the case.

Even with flush mics, the recorder is still configured for a wide, stereo recording. The built-in mics will do in a pinch, but the preferred method is to use an external, handheld microphone for the interview. This gives you lower handling noise, more tightly focused pickup of your subject, and a place to hang a mic flag (promoting the station is always a good thing).

Pro handheld mics have XLR male connectors. Some of the recorders will accept XLR, while some use a stereo minijack. Fortunately, we stock the appropriate cables to connect to either style.

Next, let’s think about some of the special features that differentiate the recorders. We never record using “automatic” record level (you knew that, right…?) The record level will be constantly “searching”, and will distract from what your interview subject is trying to say. Instead, you should set the record level at the beginning, engage the limiter to protect against unusually loud blasts, and let it go.

Some recorders will monitor the sound level before you hit “record”, and determine the best level to use. This setting will be locked in when you begin the recording. Pretty slick.

Other units will take advantage of their stereo recording ability, and make a “backup” recording on track 2 at a slightly lower level (in case the primary recording on track 1 gets out of hand). Also pretty slick.

Of course, you will make your recording in a non-compressed PCM or WAV format. Only use MP2 or MP3 as a last resort, if you simply don’t have the available memory space to capture the event in PCM. This one step will make a significant difference to the quality of your piece, especially if it will be edited heavily before it is played on the air.

The recording is stored on a Compact Flash or SD memory card. Which style of card isn’t usually significant, as the card will probably never be removed from the recorder. The audio files are commonly transferred to the workstation over a USB connection.

There are digital recorders built into microphones, and adapters that will let you use pro mics with an i-phone or i-pad.

Think about the job you need to do, and the format that works best for you. Then have fun browsing the choices.

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