Correction: Field Recording Equipment
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Editor's Note: Due to an error, part of the original message was
omitted in Linguist 14.707.
Many thanks to the several people who responded in depth to my query
regarding field recording devices: (Linguist 14.606). The responses
were helpful, detailed and from personal experience, in all, most
valuable. Respondents pointed out the possibilities for downloading
to computers without redigitizing for phonetic analyses, the need to
work with copies of tapes (rather than original recordings) when
transcribing, prices, and a number of other aspects that enter into a
choice of recording gear. MiniDisc recorders seem to be the most
popular, but a summary would not do the responses justice, so here
they are, arranged by device and only very slightly edited
(salutations and such deleted).
A. Overview of field recording equipment
1. Mark Jones
Dept. of Linguistics
University of Cambridge
I'm a phonetician at Cambridge University. There have been a number of
posts recently on this subject on the linguist list, so if you haven't
already, search the archive. They mentioned the use of MP3 and
portable CD recorders.
I don't know your background, so I'll be basic. What you need depends
on what you are going to do with the data. I've used Mini Disc, which
has great capacity (2.5 hours per disc on mono) and the recorders are
small and relatively cheap. However, for acoustic analysis, they are
not ideal, as the compression system used distorts some amplitude and
DAT is standard for phonetic fieldwork, though I'm planning to acquire an
MP3 recorder which can store files as .WAV files so that the digitisation
process is eliminated (always a huge pain). As far as I'm aware, standard
cassettes remain cheap and good quality, even for acoustic analysis. So I
wouldn't necessary go for new media if you can find a good portable
cassette recorder. Remember, the recording is only ever as good as the
mike, and the recording levels etc. Cheap mikes for computer use often
have great range and good signal/noise ratio. Lip mikes can be very
2. Tsui, Wai-ming.
The Chinese University of Hong Kong
''CUHK email'' firstname.lastname@example.org
Peter Ladefoged has an article on field study in the book The Handbook of
Phonetic Sciences. It might be useful to you. Besides, I've heard that a
digital/audio recorder model number UA-30 manufactured by Roland is quite
good for field study. The price is around US$200.
3. Bartek Plichta
Here's the download link to Plitchta.s talk at NWAVE: Best Practices in
the Acquisition, Processing, and Analysis of Acoustic Speech Signals.
1. Dave Eberhard
''Dave & Julie Eberhard'' email@example.com
I have had my best field recordings made from a minidisc recorder. The
model I used was a Sharp 722. It's small, rugged, and digital - and has
no motor noise that can sometimes
be heard in taperecorder/walkman recordings. It has a rechargable internal
battery that is long lasting, as well as an external AA battery pack that
extends the life of the internal battery. It also came with a remote
controller that is handy during ellicitation sessions.
Minidiscs are better than tape for elliciting lots of material - you can
record up to 250 tracks per disc and then later access any track you want
with a twirl of a jog dial.
By buying a digital headset mic to go with it, it makes a great field
2. Brigitte Pakendorf
Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology
I can really recommend the Sony MiniDisc recorder. I took one along to the
field, and it was amazing. The recording quality is impeccable, there's no
background noise at all - and you can get up to 5 hours (sic!) of
recording on to one MD, with no loss of quality. (At least on the newer
ones with ''LP4'' mode.) The machine is very small and fairly light (though
the charging element is relatively heavy and bulky), and the discs
obviously don't take up much space, either. The batteries last quite a
long time, too - at least, I don't recall having had any problems with the
batteries; in a total of about 5 months in the field doing actual work
(and I recorded all my elicitation sessions) I mainly used the
rechargeable battery, plus in addition 8 or 10 little AA batteries as
backups. The playback button is
a bit tricky and takes a bit of fine motor control and practise, but I got
the hang of it fairly quickly.
There were two disadvantages, though: fairly often, when trying to rewind
just a few seconds, my finger would sort of slip and I'd end up at the
track mark, which then meant having to fast forward to where I'd been -
rather annoying when you're busy transcribing a text. And after about 8-9
weeks of (admittedly heavy) work with a lot of transcription,
the rewind button actually went haywire - I sent in the recorder when I
got back, and they said it had been dirty... So I had to do my
transcriptions off the little dictaphone I'd taken along as a backup,
though I did still record everything on my MD recorder as well, for work
back here at home.
Of course, these MD recorders aren't cheap: I believe I paid nigh on 350
USD 1.5 years ago. But I do think the two advantages of brilliant sound
quality and length of recording that is possible are really worth it.
3. Dr. Jonathan Marshall
Department of English Language
University of Edinburgh
14 Buccleuch Place
We use minidisk recorders. A 2.5'' disc holds 650 Mb, or 74 mins stereo
(148 mins mono) digital sound. You can add track markers during or after
interview, and upload file to PC etc. Crisp, clear sound, and a very small
4. Guido Vanden Wyngaerd
I used to work for a dialectology project which involved interviewing
people at home. We used a Sony Mini-Disc recorder with a small stereo
microphone. The stereo mike was not because we require stereo recordings
but because the sound quality is far superior to that of the mono
microphone. This setup is small, unobtrusive, relatively inexpensive, and
gives excellent quality. I could recommend it to anyone doing fieldwork.
5. Kathryn Remlinger, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of English: Linguistics
Department of English
Grand Valley State University
1 Campus Drive
Allendale, MI 49401 USA
I was using a walkman for years to collect my field data. It finally gave
out and I got a Sony Minidisk Walkman MZ-R700 and a Sony Electret
Condenser Mic ECM-MS907. Both are battery powered, with an optional AC
plug for the recorder. I get near perfect recording. Playback is easy and
the equipment is compatible with other media. The kit is very small--I can
carry it in a jacket pocket, and the disks hold 5 hours of recording.
Overall, it's great. I transfer the data to a cassette tape for
transcribing and to a regular sized CD for use in presentations.
You might contact Bartek Plichta at Michigan State University
(firstname.lastname@example.org) He gave a good paper at NWAVE two years ago on
recording equipment--that's where I learned what to shop for.
(Note the entry for Plithta at A.3 above.)
C. DAT (Digital Audio Tape)
1. ''Christian Huber'' Christian.Huber@oeaw.ac.at
I am presently working as a field researcher for the '''Phonogrammarchiv'
of the Austrian Academy of Sciences''. At least, I can tell you what
equipment we use when doing fieldwork in the Himalayas (as suggested by
our techicians). For recording we use a Sony DAT walkman (recording at 16
Sony TCD-D7, Sony TCD-D8 or Sony TCD-D100
(personally, I like the Sony TCD-D100 best). We use DAT tapes of no more
than 120 minutes. The choice of microphones seems to some good extent
dependent on your recording philosophy (and, of course, what recording
situations you expect). Most people making field recordings for the
''Phonogrammarchiv'' use AKG C41X microphones in an ORTF stereo arrangement
(which simulates the way sound is perceived by human ears). This gives you
a realistic stereo effect when listening via headphones (thus gives you
good results when e.g. recording a festival or performance of musicians)
but may be troublesome in elicitation situations, as you record also a lot
of background noise that you might prefer not to capture on tape. Since my
elicitation sessions are pretty interactive it is important for me not
only to record the informant's voice but also my own (otherwise it might
happen that you end up with some answer without a clue to what the
respective question was). Therefore I need some stereo solution. On my
last field trip I used an AKG C420 headset mike for the informant and an
AKG C417 lapel mike for myself, which worked out better than ORTF stereo
wrt unwanted background noise but still does not seem to me to be the
optimal solution (fortunately my informants found it cool to have the
headset on but people may differ in that respect). Since I do not
exclusively rely on the recordings but also try to write everything down
as a session proceeds the cable of the lapel mike is a little disturbing
every once in a while (especially if the mike happens to fall out of the
clip). Thus I'm quite interested to learn what microphone solutions other
people came obout.
If not working with headsets or lapel microphones it is useful not only to
have a small tripod with you but also some mike stand that allows you to
place the mike(s) somewhat higher above the ground. Depending on what your
recording circumstances are it may well happen that there is no table
around, and even if you're sitting round a table it is often advisable not
to place the mike on the table itself as one might hit the table or
instigate other noises by means of the table that end up on your tape much
louder than you would ever expect. I use a telescopic camera stand on
which you can also fix a microphone.
>ease of playback and rewind (to hear again),
You should not use your DAT tapes for transcribing. Rewinding and going
over one spot on the tape again and again will sooner or later damage the
tape (ie erase information, especially when making excessive use of the
pause key). We therefore transfer the recordings to audio cassette or
minidisc for transcribing (audio cassette walkman or minidisc walkman). I
use the Sony MiniDisc Walkman MZ-R700 for listening again or transcribing
in the field. It's very small, light and easy to handle. If you should opt
for some such solution also make sure you've got the necessary transfer
All the gear I decribed above is easy to handle and carry (important in an
area where you better be able to carry all your stuff). If you get some
new gear better try it out before you go in the field, especially to learn
how to operate the recording level properly. As for batteries you should
pay attention to the fact that batteries' lifetime may vary according to
environment conditions (moisture, cold, ...). I usually prefer to bring
all batteries (Duracell) with me rather than try to fetch them in the
Also note that rewinding a tape costs a lot of energy (much more than
recording) and calculate the number of batteries accordingly. Since in the
area where I work electricity is often available but pretty unstable, I do
all recording sessions exclusively on battery-supplied power. For
listening to the recordings I use electricity from the plug (where
available). In the latter case one has to care about the voltage (and also
make sure one has the right plug adapters).
DAT tapes have the advantage of capturing data in a digital format,
however, in the general case you cannot transfer them onto your hard drive
right from the walkman. You need a (non-walkman) DAT recorder/player for
that (or pay a hell of a lot of money to Sony for the necessary piece of
technology not supplied with the walkman ...). For working on the data
with computers we use WaveLab, but I guess there is cheaper software
If you use an audio cassette recorder be aware of the fact that you need
professional equipment (analogue-to-digital converter) to digitize your
If I can handle the stuff described above, you can as well.
2. Richard Wright
Phonetics Lab Director
University of Washington
Department of Linguistics
Seattle, WA 98144
I have had quite a good experience with the Sony mini-DAT D7 (predecessor
to the current PCM-M1). Small, relatively cheap, easy to operate. One
problem is microphone input; if you go from a XLR cable (typical for most
good microphones) to the Sony mini-phone input you have to make sure you
match the impedance or you'll get a 60 Hz hum (it can be done, you've just
gotta be clever or get someone to build one for you). The other problem is
the medium; DATs are pretty expensive to buy and only really used in
professional recording circles (hard to send one to a pal who wants to
take a look at your data).
Here's a little review (and I see an ad for an adapter).
If you're willing to pay a little more and lug a little more, I've really
loved the Tascam DAP-1: XLR inputs, coaxial digital and analog outputs,
phantom power (for the unpowered microphones).
Here's a price comparison page
There's an option that I'm currently exploring: CD recorders. They record
direct to a CD so there's no redigitizing or digital transfer, and audio
CDs are cheaper than DAT tapes. One word of caution though, you have to
use really good CDRs (not the cheap bulk ones) or you can get recording
errors: look for Mitsui Gold CDs.
Here's a price comparison for Marantz/Superscope Portable CDR
D. Cassette tape
1. Simone Mueller
Institut fuer Anglistik
If you are interested in equipment that works with regular MCs, I
can recommend two:
TCS-580V Stereo Cassette-Corder (VOR) + Stereo/Zoom ECM-ZS90 microphone
The recorder has walkman size; the mic is also small. The recorder has the
option to cut out longer pauses; the disadvantage of this option is that
the first syllable is usually not intelligible. So we rather went for
including the pauses.
Marantz PMD 221 + Crown PZM-189 microphone The recorder has half the size
of a sheet of paper; the microphone is flat.
Both yield good quality.
E. Direct to memory devices, CD writers, and misc. other approaches
1. Cory R C Sheedy | Department of Linguistics | University of
The best I can suggest, if money's not an issue, is the Marantz PMD690
(http://www.marantzpro.com/Products/PMD690.html). It's a digital audio
recorder that works with Flash memory or an IBM Microdrive. If you can
afford it, it's well worth the expense.
2. Ferenc Bunta
There are 2 methods I would highly recommend. Both are digital.
1. Portable digital recorder with a good microphone. A lot depends on how
money you have. If money is not an issue, you may get something like
CDR 300 that records onto a CD. I'm not sure about battery power with this
If you are on a tighter budget, I would get a digital hard drive recorder
(like Nomad Jukebox 3 by Creative Labs). You can record onto it (using a
preamplified mike), download onto a computer, upload files, et cetera
without much difficulty. It has batteries, so it is completely portable,
and the quality of the recordings is pretty good. In addition, I really
like the idea of not having to re-digitize recordings (because it saves
time, and the
quality is not compromised).
I would avoid MiniDisc recorders, because even if they do have a USB port,
they typically do not allow downloading onto a computer. You can download
samples onto the MiniDisc recorder, but you may not be able to download
your recordings onto your desktop/laptop. Thus, if you want to work with
wave files, you'll probably end up re-digitizing your recordings.
2. An external sound card (like SoundBlaster Extigy by Creative Labs) +
your laptop and a good mike. In my opinion, this is the best way to go if
you can set it up. It does require an external power source, so if you
want to use a battery-operated machine, this is not the way to go.
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