Over the past few months, I’ve recorded a number of interviews for BBC 5 Live’s Pods and Blogs. For those who have never dabbled in conducting an audio interview, it really is quite fun to walk up to people and be able to ask questions whilst hiding behind the microphone as if it’s somehow the fault of the microphone rather than the reporter. But everytime I’ve wanted to do something, I’ve had to beg Chris Vallance for the loan of a minidisc recorder (remember those?) and microphone. More often then not I’ve ended up with his personal kit.
A few weeks ago I decided, based on a recommendation from someone who should know what is and isn’t capable of recording broadcast quality audio, to buy my own recording device.
Those who know me frequently laugh at the weight of my hard-shell rucksack (that’s a backpack in American). It’s heavy before I even put anything into it but almost unliftable once my 15 inch macbook, mobile, reading material for train, digital camera, numerous leads, breakfast bar, iPaq, business cards, keys, umbrella, ipod and other bits and pieces are all piled in each morning. So my second requirement, after the device being capable of recording broadcastable quality audio, was that it was either small or turned one of my existing devices into a recorder.
Enter the micromemo, a recording device that can be connected to a 5th generation video iPod. In the UK, it’s available for £39 + postage from Apple’s online store or £37.99 with free postage direct from extreme mac, the manufacturer. The micromemo comes in either black or white so, as long as you order the right one for your ipod, you won’t end up with something resembling a zebra.
As I was buying online, I didn’t have the opportunity to try each of the three devices and chose the micromemo based on the recommendation I mentioned above as well as the fact that the small, built in microphone comes on a stalk that gets it away from the whiring of the iPod’s hard drive. This wouldn’t be such a problem for Nano users since it’s a solid state device but, regardless, the micromemo for Nano uses the same design and is the only recording device I could find for the Nano.
The micromemo is really easy to operate: just plug it into the bottom of your iPod and, when you do, it triggers the iPod’s recording software. You’re presented with two options when it starts up: record and quality. I’ve tried both and there is a significant drop of in quality between the high (16-bit at 44kHz) and low quality (16-bit at 22kHz) settings. Go for the high quality setting unless your iPod is bursting at the seems and unlikely to store the more memory hungry files.
I’ve recorded for as long as 45 minutes as a single track without any problems at all but, be warned, some of the reviews I’ve seen talk about what happens if your iPod runs out of juice whilst recording – you lose the entire recording. And because the micromemo uses the port at the bottom of the iPod, you can’t recharge it as you make a recording.
The micromemo is really light and easily fits in a spare pocket of my bag. I’ve used the small microphone that comes with it as well as a professional quality ElectroVoice 635AB microphone plugged into the line in (3.5mm) jack, and in several different environments.
*Reading a short quote [large, original .wav format file] directly into the micromemo microphone, in a quiet enviroment, gave reasonable enough results but with some backgroudn hiss.
* Public meeting recorded with micromemo microphone in high quality mode [duration 20 minutes: AAC format] (It was a church hall with the speaker moving around quite a lot. I sat in the front row, so was between 2 – 4 meters from the man speaking.)
If you listen, you’ll notice that the loudness varies greatly as the speaker moves. Also, there is a quite noticeable hiss. So too in the first of the following:
* Test recording micromemo microphone [high quality: 8 seconds AAC]
* Test recording micromemo w/ ElectroVoice 635AB mic [high quality: 8 seconds AAC]
My verdict? If you’ve got a 5th generation iPod or 2nd generation iPod Nano and don’t want to add yet another heavy gadget to your bag, then micromemo may very well be for you. Out of the box, with the microphone it comes with, it makes listenable quality recordings. It’s probably perfect for journalists wanting to record interviews for note taking purposes, solicitors/lawyers doing interviews with clients and students recording lectures for their own use. It’s also possible you could use this for podcasting although I reckon you’re listeners would be put off by the audible hiss that becomes increasingly nagging as soon as people become conscious of it.
If you want broadcastable, or podcastable, quality then you’ll want to ditch the micromemo’s mic in favour of a proper mic like the ElectroVoice 635AB “the hammer” used here. Instantly the sound quality has more depth and richness, while hiss is almost eliminated entirely. On the downside, recordings are a tad less loud with the EV 635 than they are with the built in microphone although the pros certainly outweigh this. And let’s face it, with a proper microphone you’re going to look a lot more the part than you will with the little microphone it comes with and, in some situations, that might make all the difference.
Once you’ve made your recording, getting it onto the internet is as simple as synching with iTunes and exporting it out (recordings are made in .wav) in the format you want, whether that’s AAC(m4a) or mp3. Then you just upload it to your blog or audio sharing website. If you do the former and are using feedburner to create and manage the RSS feeds from your blog, you might want to change the settings on feedburner so that it knows you’re podcasting. Then, whenever you add a new file, feedburner can alert iTunes which is where most people listening to podcasts are likely to find and subscribe to new ones.
As I said at the beginning, I haven’t tried either the Belkin or Griffin iPod recording devices but if trying and listening to all three isn’t an option, I wouldn’t hesitate to buy the micromemo. Add the EV or a similar high quality microphone for around £60 ($120) and you’ve got kit you can use to make very good recordings indeed.