Psychology

Field recording

A quick guide

Location

To get a good field recording, background noise must be kept to a minimum. Make sure there are no extraneous noises such as ticking clocks, computer fans, or strong winds. Even a fidgety subject can come across as surprisingly loud. If in doubt, simply make a quick recording of the space and see how it sounds played back.

Media and recording devices

All of our devices record to Compact Flash or SD memory cards, the same as in smartphones and digital cameras and mp3 players. These are solid state media, so called because they have no moving parts. Solid state recorders are the most commonly used recording devices today; they can be discreet and lightweight, with space on a card for several hours’ recording. Recordings can be quickly transferred to a computer via a USB cable or card readers built into many modern laptops. Different situations require different devices:

Unidirectional/Cardioid microphone

Our Shure SM10A and Audio Technica ATM73a headset microphones are headband-mounted, sit close to the subject's mouth and reject sound from other directions. Normally paired with a Marantz PMD 661recorder, they yield clear and detailed mono recordings; indeed the highest quality voice recording of our field equipment. Use these if you will be performing any waveform analysis.

X/Y Unidirectional microphone

Recorders such the Zoom H1, Zoom H2 and Zoom H4n are devices that feature two unidirectional microphones at 90 degrees to each other, resulting in a recording that is clearer and more focussed than with a boundary microphone. They can be placed in front of 1-3 subjects for high quality stereo recordings. Some room noise and echo will still be present, so use these where you are interested in the content of the discussion only.

Boundary microphone

These are small, flat, unobtrusive omnidirectional mono microphones for recording conferences and large group discussions. Placed on a table or desk between the subjects, they will record all people from each direction, but also room noise and echo. Use these where you are interested in the content of the discussion only.

Dictaphone / Voice recorder

These are very small, light and simple Olympus recorders for recording 1-2 people. Sound quality is passable, making these best suited when you are interested in transcribing the content of the discussion only and want to keep equipment and setup time to a minimum. Most modern mobile phones feature a recording app that will sound just as good, if not better, than a dictaphone.

Omnidirectional lavalier microphone

These are generally used for interviews between two people. Lavalier or “tieclip” microphones clip onto each of the subjects’ clothes, usually their on collar, lapel or the front of their shirt. Being relatively close to the subjects, they pick up relatively little background noise but are still better suited to studies where you are interested in the content of the discussion only.

These instructions are meant to be used as a quick guide. Jamie Bathgate is available to discuss any technical issues regarding all field recording projects. He can be contacted at ppls.studio@ed.ac.uk.