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Here is a technological update to my previous posting on recording conversation.
I consider myself very privileged to be able to visit the Department of Linguistics at UCSB, where I have been lucky enough to audit a number of courses, including Jack Du Bois’ course on discourse transcription. Today we were introduced to a very nice piece of equipment, the Edirol R-09 ultra-portable flash ram recorder. This piece of equipment is about the same dimensions as an i-pod, although a bit fatter.

So it is small enough to fit in your pocket as you go traipsing around the bush. I've been on the hunt for something like this for a while. How many times have you thought "I should be recording this but it's too much of a hastle to get out all the gear"? Alternatively if you do get out all the gear, the moment has been lost so you think, "Why did I bother?" Well now it's no bother at all, in fact there are no more excuses.

This piece of equipment records .wav files at 44.1 or 48kHz, 16 or 24 bit. The screen is not too hard to see, for something so small. The display counts down the time remaining on the card, or at least it did on the settings we had. It has a 2 GB flash card which was good for over three hours with 16 Bit /44.1 kHz recordings. I’m not sure of the figures for 48 and 24.

The part that Tom will like immensely is that it only uses two AA batteries, so for PNG where miserly power consumption is a bonus, this thing rocks. But the thing that I like, is that it’s so small, that it’s about as obtrusive as an ipod. As Jack said, it looks like a toy. It’s not the kind of thing that people get frightened of. It has a 3.5 mm mike-input for an external mike, and also has built-in stereo mikes that seem quite reasonable. Obviously with no moving parts, there is no problem with in-built mikes recording the sound of the equipment itself. Being so small means it is also possible to get the equipment in very close, so as to pick up the sound well, and still be ignorable. In fact it’s barely noticeable, just the thing for reducing the effect of the observer’s paradox.

I haven’t yet tested the sound files, but on playback they seemed quite adequate. There are separate up and down buttons (not dials) for both headphone volume and recording input (that is two for volume and two for recording input). Unfortunately the record button needs to be pressed twice, as the first time you press it, you are merely getting audio sufficient for getting levels etc, you are not actually recording. You need to be careful of this. However the visual cues indicating when you are actually recording are reasonably clear. There is an automatic recording level switch that can be turned off. However it was quite good whilst walking around campus, where there are all sorts of extraneous noises like cars, and leaves and clothing etc. So whilst a piece of equipment like this will not be a substitute for the top-end gear which is also wonderful in differing fieldwork situations, it does significantly increase the amount of opportunities to record, and the range of possible settings for recording. I think (don't quote me on this) it is also cheap enough, to have as a back-up field recorder, should another more sophisticated piece of equipment fail.

NB. Although this thing calls itself an mp3 recorder, just don't go there. This is a totally inadequate recording medium for for both archiving and for transcription. It has .wav, use it.

Comments

Yeah, they are very cool! My department has recently bought a few. They are about US$400. We use AudioTechnica lapel mics with them.

Thanks for the report Joe. Could you comment on the levels meter and the ease of connection to your laptop?

If you want to post us a CD back to PARADISEC we could get Frank to give his professional opinion on the recording quailty.

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The Transient Building, symbolising the impermanence of language, houses both the Linguistics Department at Sydney University and PARADISEC, a digital archive for endangered Pacific languages and music.
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