Digital Recording Devices

Gathering field data can be nerve-racking. Suddenly, you are no longer in a safe place with books and journals, you are exposed to the real world, need to explain yourself to complete strangers and record data essential to further success in your PhD. At least, that is how I felt when faced with the prospect of recording interviews with museum staff and visitors at my case study locations. I knew that I needed a reliable recording device but was not sure where to go for advice.

A digital recorder from the department helped me test sound quality and ease of use with Jim Roberts' advice but I knew I had to buy my own. But which one? An office manager of a well-funded legal company said Olympus was the brand to trust, in fact, the only brand in town. The Olympus site provided specific information and I finally purchased an Olympus Digital Voice Recorder DS-30 at about 100 pounds including postage from Dabs. The post office lost it for a few days but they found it just in time.

The DS-30 is the lowest spec in this quality of sound recording (DS-40 and DS-50 offer greater memory size). I have found that the memory for the DS-30 which is 17 hours for medium quality sound is very suitable for person to person interviews.

The stereo microphone can be detatched from the device with a separate accessory for placing in the centre of a table, but I have not found this necessary. When I first unpacked it, I was disappointed with its small size and light weight (Is that all I get for 100 pounds?) but its size means people forget that it is there and it is light to carry.

It comes with its own software that allows you to download and store the recordings on a PC (and back them up) and this is very easy to install and use.

But most importantly, it does an excellent job of recording voices which is what you want it to do. My first interview took place over a cup of tea in a room with a stone floor and a loud airconditioning system. It was with some concern that I played back the interview. No problem. The interviewees voice (and mine... did I really sound like that?) came over loud and clear. The device came through a greater test in the next interview at Pret a Manger against a background of baristas, expresso machines and boho musak. It seems museum staff like to mix interviews with coffee breaks and the Olympus DS-30 is up to the challenge.


Mary said…
Hi Sally,
Sounds like you made a good purchase! I own a Sony IC recorder which I bought in a bit of a hurry after less research but for a similar price. It has survived similar tests, including muzak and cafe noises (French museum professionals are no different from your target group in terms of the environments they choose for interviews!), but the annoying thing is that it creates DVF files on my computer. I have had to purchase software in order to enable me to convert these to MP3/WAV format as most of my informants were unable to read the DVFs and several wanted copies of the recordings. So I just thought I'd add that the recorder/computer interface is another thing to think about when purchasing equipment of this sort.

Amy said…
I recently bought a reconditioned Olympus VN120 digital recorder from Ebay (thanks for the tip Ceri!), for just £19 (not inc. p&p, which was around another £5 if I remember correctly). It's great value. Not the best sound quality, or memory, but serves its purpose. The best bit of kit I've purchased 'though, is a telephone pickup, which plugs into the recorder (and your ear) so you can record telephone conversations. Cost as much as the recorder though! ;)

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