Portable digital recorders are essential for recording interviews away from the studio. They give excellent recording quality, and they store the audio on SD or CF flash memory cards for easy expansion. The files can usually be transferred to a PC over a USB connection for editing. There’s a lot to like.
Most of these recorders are made with the intention of recording a live music group in stereo. To accomplish that, many models have crossed microphones mounted to the top of the unit. This works great to gather a field of sounds that is widely spread out in front of the recorder.
The crossed mics are not pointed straight ahead… they are directed 45 degrees or more away from center. So, if the body of the machine is pointed in the direction of your interview subject, neither mic is aimed at them. The interview you record will contain about 70% ambient sound (trees, birds, traffic) and only about 30% of the person you went there to interview.
That’s not what broadcasters usually want. We are interested in hearing mostly the person being interviewed, along with only a little bit of the surroundings.
To achieve this, we typically connect an external handheld microphone on a short cable to the portable recorder. We will start the recorder, then toss it in our pocket with the cable leading out to the mic in our hand. The reporter then has complete control of where the mic is pointed, and what it hears.
For this reason, broadcasters tend to prefer recorders that don’t have mics that protrude from the case (the internal mics are still available if needed, and they don’t take up the same amount of space as crossed mics). Some examples of recorders with flush-mounted internal mics are Marantz PMD620 and PMD661, and Sony PCMM10.
If you find yourself in a situation where you must use the recorder’s crossed mics, hold the recorder so one of the mics is actually directed toward your subject (this means that the other mic will be pointed in a completely useless direction). When you edit the recording, use the audio from the selected mic, and discard the audio from the other mic.