Oral History NSW members regularly monitor evolving technologies suitable for use by oral historians. This information is made available through this website and our monthly newsletter Oral History Network News. Care is taken to ensure that the details are accurate at the time of publishing, but this cannot be guaranteed as both models and prices change regularly.
Please share your experience and advice with others - email us at at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Suggestions for digital equipment suitable
for oral historians
For quality recordings of lasting integrity, we advise you to buy the best equipment you can afford, rather than the cheapest.
Oral History NSW recommends:
- Portable high resolution solid state WAV digital recorders
- Alternative suitable recorders
- SD cards
- Software programs for sound editing
- Software to assist transcription and logging of audio recordings
- Archival quality discs
Help is as close as the internet.
YouTube is a wonderful resource where you can find demonstrations of many aspects of digital recording.
No matter what your question there is likely to be help available. Examples of useful search queries include:
- ZOOM H4N Quick Start Guide
- Audacity tutorial
- Microphone placement for an interview
Another useful website is eHow (how to do just about everything). Type in your recorder’s name and you'll find hundreds of videos submitted from different sources (not just the manufacturers) talking about the pros and cons of each.
PORTABLE HIGH RESOLUTION STATE WAV DIGITAL RECORDERS
Prices included are an indication only and will vary from store to store.
ZOOM H5 Handy Recorder - $395 or $449 with accessory pack
The Zoom H5 is the more recent version of the Zoom H4n. New features include rotary dials for adjustment of recording levels, and interchangable microphone modules. All the other specifications that led us to recommend the Zoom H4n remain in the Zoom H5, such as as the robust pair of XLR sockets for external microphones, phantom powering of external condensor microphones, and sampling at and beyond the recommended sampling rate of 48 kilohertz, 24 bit.
ZOOM H4n Handy Recorder $345 or $389 with accessory pack (8th June 2016)
Oral History NSW reviews of digital field recorders (Feb 2011, Feb 2013) ranked the Zoom H4n as an excellent choice for oral historians looking for appropriate sound quality levels, ease of use and value for money. One of its best features is the robust pair of XLR sockets for external microphones. These same sockets can also be used with 6.25 microphone plugs.
TASCAM DR-40 $289 (8th June 2016)
The Tascam DR-40 has all the features of the Zoom H4n with an additional feature of being able to simultaneously record the same sound file twice – once at the original recording volume, and the other at a lower volume. This can get you out of trouble if there is a sudden peak of recording level that might distort the sound recording.
ZOOM H2n Handy Recorder $249 or $279 with accessory pack (8th June 2016)
If the budget doesn’t allow for external microphones, then the Zoom H2n is a good alternative to the H4n as the recording device can be placed between the interviewer and the interviewee and the built-in microphones can pick up sound equally from opposing sides of the recorder.
ZOOM H1 Handy Recorder $149 or $169 with accessory pack (8th June 2016)
For those with a very limited budget the Zoom H1 offers simplicity of use and value for money. However, although it has a pair of built-in microphones, it has only one socket for external microphones and therefore use of external microphones requires a split cable adapter.
Note: for both the Zoom H1 and H2n it is important to also purchase the Accessory Pack for the essential tripod. Pack also includes windshield, AC adaptor (USB type), Soft Case, USB cable and microphone clip adaptor.
ZOOM iQ6 $149 (8th June 2016)
A stereo recording module for iPhones and iPads with a Lightning connector. If you are using an iPhone or an iPad to record, a microphone module such as the Zoom iQ6 will give a better result than using the microphone built into the device.
ALTERNATIVE SUITABLE RECORDERS
FOSTEX FR-2LE: CF Field Recorder
MARANTZ PDM 661
MARANTZ PDM 671
On most digital recorders, audio is stored on SD cards or Micro-SD cards, similar to that found in most digital cameras and some mobile phones. SD cards are not all created equal. Some poor quality cards may work in cameras but a quality card is required for audio and video recording.
The amount of data that can be stored per second varies from card to card and is defined by a Class number, written on the card with an almost complete circle. Class 1 is the slowest with Class 10 being the fastest. Class 4 is considered the minimum required for sustained audio recording. If no class is indicated on the card, then it is probably unsuitable for audio recording.
Use only quality brands such as Sandisk and Verbatim.
One basic rule of recording is that the recording cannot possibly produce better sound quality than the microphone is capable of delivering. Recording quality begins with the microphone.
RODE M3 $148 (8th June 2016)
An extremely versatile microphone that opens up possibilities for anyone who records audio – from oral historians, journalists and students, to business people adding files to websites and multimedia presentations. Note: Stand and microphone cable must be purchased separately.
A pair of good quality headphones that cover your ears are recommended because they allow you to hear if the recording is distorted or clear and whether there are unwanted background noises that may not be discernible with your ears alone.
Even if you do not intend to wear the headphones during the entire interview, they should be used, at least briefly and perhaps at intervals to check sound levels and possible background noise or interference.
There is a huge variation in the prices of headphones and rarely is anything below $100 of sufficient quality. An exception is the Sennheiser HD201 which is available from VideoGuys and Turramurra Music for around $50. These give good quality sound and are comfortable enough to wear for long periods of time.
Recommended brands include Sennheiser, Sony, Bose, Audio Technica and Beyer. It is preferable to find a shop that will allow you to preview the headphones before purchasing because although quality is important, comfort is also a consideration.
SOFTWARE PROGRAMS FOR SOUND EDITING
For professional use
Pro Tools Audio Editing Software by Avid Designs
Pro Tools M Box 2 Micro
Versions available for both Apple and Windows Platforms
SOFTWARE TO ASSIST TRANSCRIPTION AND LOGGING OF AUDIO RECORDINGS
Express Scribe Digital Transcription Audio Playback Software
Audio playback control software for PC, MAC or Linux designed to assist the transcription of audio recordings. Installed on the typist's computer it is controlled using the keyboard (using Hot Keys) or foot pedal, sold separately.
The software is free for personal use, $24.99 for professional use.
Express Scribe can be used to play and transcribe ordinary WAV or MP3 recordings and includes its own Dock feature to transfer recordings directly from portable recorders. Type using any Windows word processor. Offers valuable features for typists including variable speed playback, multi-channel control, playing video, file management, and more.
Foot controls for digital audio transcription on PC and Mac available. More details
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ARCHIVAL QUALITY DISCS
PRODISC – the preferred choice of used of Libraries and Archival Oral History Collections around Australia.
All discs carry the Gold Plated Data Protection certification label and are printable using inkjet.
PRODISC are the sole suppliers of these highly commended quality products. Selecting the correct type of discs for your needs is important. If in doubt check with PRODISC’s specialist staff.
PRODISC CD-R 74 Audio Master Gold
For accurate low – medium speed recording – real time 650 megabytes (74 minutes uncompressed).
PRODISC CD-R 74 Reference Archive Gold (650 mb)
For critical archiving, preservation, audio/video mastering, photography and oral history.
PRODISC DVD-R (G) Data Seal Archival Gold
For audio, photographic files and video masters
Scratch proof coated. Large 4.7 gigabytes capacity
Note: these discs cannot be played in a CD Player.
PRODISC Archival Packaging Black Archive Flexi cases
High quality, archive specifications, 9mm thick unbreakable, flexible, single CD mailer with clear plastic overlay wrap for external slick and provision of booklet inside.
Only available from ProDisc Systems Australia, order online.
Ph (02) 9016 4415
Speedy delivery to your door
We recommend the informative article on PRODISC’s website “Save your music and photo collection from Disc Rot”