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Recording to Go

By Terry Wilhite

Mobile Recording has never been easy, simpler or more affordable. The options are numerous. The end result? Simply stunning sound.

The need to record audio “on the go” is the common denominator of churches and ministries of all sizes. The recording opportunities are vast and the places where the audio can be enjoyed have never been more abundant.

For this short article we want to focus on two options: recording with a small digital recorder and with a laptop computer.

Computer Recording

What’s involved with laptop audio recording? First, obviously, you need a laptop computer. Second, you need an analog to digital (A/D) converter (interface) and thirdly, you need a microphone or microphones. Finally, you must have recording software.

For starters, most any laptop computer sold within the past few years has what you need to record amazing audio. Those components include a multi-core processor, three gigabytes or more of RAM, USB or Firewire inputs and plenty of contiguous hard drive space. (Before recording audio on a Windows machine, it is a must that you defragment your hard drive which can be done using the defrag tool usually found in the system applications folder. Macs don’t have to be defragmented.)

Next, finding an analog to digital recording device is no big deal either.

These can range in size from my tiny favorite, the pocket Transit Hi-Resolution Mobile Audio Interface from M-Audio that connects via USB, orThe Mackie Onyx 1640i, a traditional analog mixer with a Firewire capabilities (See our review on Page 24).

In using a traditional mixer with A/D abilities, one of the biggest benefits is having front-of-house capabilities and at the same time capturing independent tracks that can be later remixed into a nice recording.

Some A/D interfaces offer phantom power, some don’t. If that’s important to you, you’d better closely check the equipment specifications.

Choosing an A/D device isn’t complicated, and generally they range in price from $50 to $500 for great, portable recording work. Yes, you can spend thousands on A/D devices but for our purposes here, we’re concentrating on standardbudget recordings.

Most all recording devices sold today have great microphone preamps and conversion technology and my experience in using A/D devices both big and small is that there is usually no detectable audio quality difference in one more than another I’m sure some engineer somewhere (possibly you) could detect some nuance of quality difference, but as picky as I am, I usually cannot discern a difference and neither can most audiences.

Interfaces manufactured in the past two or three years by namebrand makers are excellent. The choice for an A/D device quickly becomes how many inputs it offers and whether it includes equalization or other sound coloring ability which, whether it provides such at all is a personal preference because sound can be manipulated, via software, after it is recorded.

New devices are released all the time, including just recently, Shure’s new X2U, an XLR to USB converter that allows you to use any microphone to record directly into your computer via USB. (We’ll have a review on this new product in a future TFWM).

Audio recording software is as abundant as any of the other components we’ve mentioned and they all accomplish the same end result, in the case of Windows a WAV file or in the Mac world, an AIFF file.

(These can later be compressed to an Mp3, ACC or the popular configuration of your choice.) To emphasize, the choice in an A/D device isn’t one of great quality versus poor quality but rather user preferences regarding ease-of-use, number and type of inputs and functionality.

As for software, after all these years of reviewing software, I’ve not seen any better recording or cleanup application than Adobe Audition (titled Cool Edit Pro in the early days). I only wish Adobe Audition was available in a native Mac version.

My personal recording favorites also include Logic Audio for the Mac and Ableton Live for Mac or PC. Sound Forge’s Audacity is still available for free and can provide you excellent sound recording capabilities, although on a limited number of tracks. Most audio software makers offer try-before-you-buy downloads, which is always a great strategy before you invest in a solution.

Digital Recorders

There is no shortage of handheld digital recorders. I’ve used several and they all render incredible sound, so like A/D interfaces we mentioned earlier, the choice quickly becomes one of user-feature preferences, such as knobs, controls and displays.

Even though they differ, the built-in microphones I’ve used with these small recorders have all yielded great results. (Reviewing the mic specs is always a good idea before you buy.) My personal favorite digital recorder is the Sony PCM-D-50, which we reviewed in the September 2009 issue. I’ve also used the Marantz PMD620 a great deal in recording in-field interviews that have become podcasts.

Keeping interviews within a five minute time-constraint is important to me and the large display is key because I have over-40 year-old eyes!

One of the preferences include what recording medium (SD card, flashDrive, etc.) the recorder uses, and whether the device has a built-in hard drive. Most digital recorders allow you to record native Mp3 files, which means you can record for a very long time on just a one gigabyte card. Since memory is now cheap and abundant, these aren’t huge issues at all anymore.

If line-in recording ability is important to you, you need to check to see if it’s available.

In the case of my Sony PCMD- 50, there is line-in (and phantom power) capabilities but no ability to adjust the left and right channels independently.

You can get really creative with these little powerhouses. Nobody says you can’t use multiple handheld recorders placed in various spots And then bring the tracks together in post production, using your favorite recording software. You can also run your left and right recording send from your front-of-house mix straight into a handheld recorder, and when done, pop the SD card out and hand it to the guy that’s responsible for posting the podcast.

To wrap it up, portable recording devices aren’t anything new to our world but now the big difference is that the new digital recording technology can be transparent in the end result.

Whether you use a laptop or a handheld digital recorder, obviously, microphone placement is vital, not overdriving the audio is still essential, and good headphones are as important as ever, not to mention, a close set of eyeballs on the meters.

With a little creativity and a good choice of equipment, you can achieve world-class sound with very little effort or budget.