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How to choose Oral History recording equipment

A checklist for choosing a digital recorder and accessories for recording Oral History.

Sound Techniques provides equipment and support for people recording Oral History in New Zealand. Recently Stephen presented this checklist to Oral Historians interested in recording equipment.

Think about your intended end result. What's your goal? Is it your hobby or profession or somewhere in between? Develop your skills listening to the "oral" qualities of the "history".


Is it "a thing well made"? - (thanks, Don McGlashan for your take on metalwork)
What is the sound quality?
Does it have XLR inputs, phantom power for professional microphones
What is the quality of the microphone preamps and A/D (analogue to digital) conversion
Are the controls and menu simple to use?
Does it record at the sampling rates/bit length (48 KHz / 24 bit current recommendation)
What media does it record to? Hard disc, compact Flash, SD cards, external drives? Is the media freely available?
WARNING Make sure you insert cards the correct way around. Incorrect insertion will void the warranty.
Is it easy to name, store, play, transfer files?
How does the metering work?
Is it portable?
What is required to power it?
Can you monitor the sound in mono or stereo?
Does it have a limiter or hi pass filter? Are they set as appropriate for oral history recording?


Why not use internal mics if available? The quality is suitable for meetings and transcription only.
Cardioid or omni, lavalier or desktop?
Better quality microphones generally sound better but are more expensive. They are usually terminated with an XLR 3-pin connector and require phantom power.

Key to monitoring the quality of your recording.
Often a personal choice for comfort.
Can be open ear or closed ear or in ear.
Does the connector on the end match your recorder?
Better quality = more expense.


Often overlooked when purchasing but important in owning a working kit. Suppliers may bundle accessories with initial purchase to your advantage.
You should have a soft or hard case to store and protect your kit.
Do you need extra cables e.g. With a custom cable you can connect an older recorder to your new digital recorder and make digital copies.
External card reader to read flash cards directly from your computer.
Spare cards (what capacity?)
A cable to connect to your computer
Spare batteries single use or rechargeable. Battery charger.
Spare mics and cables in case of breakdown
Extension power leads, power supply, junction box
Windsocks, mic stands
and probably a new computer.

Total cost of ownership

It costs more than just the purchase price.
How long will the equipment last?
What's the warranty?
Is the equipment reliable and what happens if it breaks?
Where is it serviced? What maintenance is necessary?
What is the local level of support?
Does the supplier understand how the kit will be used?
Is there any training or follow up? What tips can the supplier provide regarding best practice?
What is the manufacturer's support? e.g. What features have been incorporated to make your recording easier?
What other support can you get? e.g. from peers, The National Library, NOHANZ, internet forums. Often safety in numbers. What are others using?
Can a vendor provide finance?

For more information contact Sound Techniques. We would like to support you.

This article is a work in progress. It's for you to use but please attribute or link to www.soundtq.co.nz as its source. It's based on a presentation made prior to the NOHANZ Annual Conference in Wellington, October 2009.


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