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Summary Details

Query:   I-Pods for Linguistic Recordings
Author:  Fiona McLaughlin
Submitter Email:  click here to access email
Linguistic LingField(s):   Computational Linguistics

Summary:   Regarding query:

A few weeks ago I posted a query to the LINGUIST List regarding the appropriateness of using iPod recorders for linguistic recordings. While iPods obviously interface well with computers, their recording quality was not deemed adequate for linguistic use by many of those who responded to me.

Many thanks to the following people for responding:
Christopher Bader
Linda Barwick (U of Sydney)
Scott Baxter (Purdue U)
Dan Everett (U of Manchester)
Ann Galloway (Kurongkurl Katitjin/School of Indigenous Australian Studies)
Susan Gehr (Language Program Director - Karuk Tribe of California)
Monica Gonzalez-Marquez (Cornell U)
Mark Jones (Cambridge)
Steven Moran (Eastern Michigan U)
Bernd Meyer (University of Hamburg)
Elizabeth Winkler (U of Arizona)

Here are some of the answers I received:

1) One of my colleagues has been trialling an i-pod in conjunction with conventional tape recording equipment for fieldwork in a research project that will include linguistic analysis of some of the interview data. The interviews are conducted in school settings, such as offices or sometimes classrooms. In terms of quality of reproduction, the i-pod
recording is good. However, the battery life is a significant problem as it only lasts for about two hours without needing to be re-charged, despite the marketing claims that suggest a much longer life. Other colleagues have reported similar problems with other brands of digital recorders, plus in the case of at least some other brands their recording capacity is limited and therefore one needs to be able to download regularly during the day, which is often impossible in a fieldwork situation. Another problem they've identified with digital recordings is the difficulty of separating interviews, lessons or other sessions, or perhaps more specifically working out where each one starts
without reviewing the whole recording. Consequently, that group reverted to conventional tape recording equipment because each new session could be recorded on a new tape, batteries have a long life and can be changed quickly and easily, and the media were easy to use and maintain.

2) I have not used the iPod recorder for linguistic fieldwork, but I can give you some input as to why it isn?t and probably won?t ever be a viable solution for linguistic fieldwork.
The iTalk only records at 8kHz, a very poor quality compared to CD quality at 44kHz. Speech will be perceptible, but you wouldn?t actually want to use the recordings for anything.

This is not a limitation set by Griffin on the iTalk. It?s a built-in limitation set by Apple for the iPod because field linguists are not the iPod?s primary market, music lovers are. In its forays into the digital music market, Apple is trying to do things that do not upset the music industry too much, such as creating an extremely portable CD-quality
digital recorder that can be used to create bootleg concert recordings of Madonna and the like.
I?ve heard this very question discussed several times on the internet radio show Your Mac Life and the answer has been the same ever since the iPod came out: no, the iPod will never be a high-quality recording device.

3) I sometimes use a mic on the i-pod, but only for recording group discussions in favourable conditions, i.e. small groups, no noise. The recordings are not very good. I don't think that you can make phonetic analysis. If you are not a native speaker of the recorded language it will be difficult to transcribe the recording. The good thing is that you dont need power supplies or mini-discs, you just put the i-pod on the table and it
records for two or three hours without any problem. The recording can easily be transferred to the mac and then you can a burn cds from it.

4) I haven't tested iPod recordings very extensively, but I haven't been all that happy with the quality or their usefulness in spectrographic analysis.

However, they have two very important uses. First, you can store sound files on them for listening and mimicing, helping with language learning, which I think is vital in field work.
More importantly, perhaps, you can use iTunes to produce a sound dictionary (with close to IPA transcriptions, glosses, and PRAAT-usable files) and then store the entire sound dictionary, easily searchable, on the iPod.

5) I would strongly urge not to succumb to the siren song of high tech miniaturization. I did and I regretted it. I bought the smallest available mini-disc recorder, which was about the size of an Altoids box but not cheap, only to discover that its tiny buttons and poor sound made it totally inappropriate for fieldwork. Poorer but wiser, I bought a Shure microphone and a Marantz tape recorder, both technologies that haven?t changed much in the
past half century. I was (and am) very happy with the results.

6) I'm a phonetics PhD student at the University of Cambridge, UK, and this is an issue which recently came up (briefly) on a Phonetics teaching list, PHONET.

I don't think anybody there had anything specific to comment on having used i-Pods, but the context was the use of MiniDisc (MD) recorders for phonetic fieldwork, and there will be some overlap of problems.
The major problem with using MD and i-Pod is the loss of acoustic information from any compression system used. MD uses a compression system (ATRAC) to allow large amounts of digitised sound data to be stored in a small amount of space, and MP3 does the same, so there is a loss of some information using these formats. If you're doing some kind
of auditory analysis of data, that is not necessarily a problem for you, but if you want to use the recordings for instrumental phonetic analysis (or if you put them into a database where others may want to do such analysis in future), the use of any compression system will have to be specified, and is really not ideal. It could even be downright useless, in fact.

If the i-Pod (or other portable MP3 recorder such as the Creative Nomad Jukebox 3 which i have used) allows you to record in an uncompressed format (WAV), you should use that, and you should select a sampling rate of at least 20,000 Hz so that it is possible to analyse major aspects of female voices and fricatives.

I include the URL to the recent discussions on PHONET.

The following is the PHONET archive - you need to look at points 2 and 5 on the list:

7) I've used one to collect data in a lab setting and to record lectures while abroad. I have no complaints at all. The one thing that may be an issue is the type of research you're doing. Ipods record files as wav and their density is not at high as aiff. I haven't compared waveforms between the two formats; never got around to it because I didn't really need it. If you're doing something in phonetics or phonology, it might
be a good idea to compare the level of detail. Otherwise, if you're doing recording for straight content, then I say go ahead. The recording will be much, much cleaner than anything you'll get with a tape recorder, i.e. no buzzing from the motor. I've got a Belkin voice recorder and I've found the sensitivity to be good enough to capture
comments in a lecture hall that holds about a 100 people from a person speaking at the other end of the room. You have to fiddle with the amplitude in a program like Soundstudio but it's totally doable.

8) I have used my ipod to listen to data, but not to collect it. I use my iBook and its built-in recorder and a program called audiocorder. The program is nagware -- you can download it and use it for free, but if you don't pay a small fee then you get a 10 second reminder at the start of each recording. Once the recording is finished, I can listen
to it with iTunes or transfer it to my iPod. It records the file in something like wav format, but I can convert it to .mp3, if I need to save space, without losing quality

I do discourse research where I am interested in using the recordings to fill in notes that I take by typing on the iBook while doing interviews. So, my transcribing is broad rather than narrow.
9) As to the IPOD, I took mine to Costa Rica this past August for research. I bought the mic that attaches right to the top (the name is at home if you need it let me know). I found the quality of the recording to be very good. And a lot of my recordings were done at the beach or in bars and the market where I got lots of voices other than the person I was talking to. Saved me having to carry the computer down there with me.

Thanks again to all who responded.

Fiona Mc Laughlin
Associate Professor
African Languages and Linguistics
University of Florida

LL Issue: 15.3459
Date Posted: 10-Dec-2004
Original Query: Read original query


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