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Need help purchasing gear for interview project

Postby Bruece » Sun Jul 12, 2020 6:24 pm

Cross-posted on reddit but no replies yet.

I'm looking to purchase some sound recording equipment for a series of interviews I'll be conducting as part of my doctoral thesis. I'll describe my needs and let you k ow what options I'm considering (and why). I haven't purchased anything yet so it's a blank slate. Budget is between $500-$1000.

I will be flying from Canada to England to interview 16 people at 4 different locations.

The interviews will be one-on-one. I will not control the room and the location may vary from a posh office to a broom closet. I generally expect to sit opposite the person I'm interviewing. I fear there may be times when I have to interview in a coffee shop or car.

Each interview will last an hour or so. I plan on doing 4 interviews per day.

The audio will need to be sufficiently clear for accurate transcription. My thesis will be based on these words.

I need to create a backup copy of the interview during the recording. This is a "one and done" deal (research parameters prohibit re-recording interviews).

Some of the subjects are busy important people so I don't want to impose on them more than necessary.

I've kicked around three basic setups:

1. Zoom H5 with a pair of Samson QU2 mics
2. Sony PCM-A10 with a pair of TBD mics
3. MixPre-3 II with a pair of Shure SM58 mics

I like the H5 because it has XLR inputs and independent level dials. I imagine it would be easier to get clear sound from both parties using this set up. I don't love the AA batteries but like that it has the option of an AC adaptor. I use Eneloops with my camera gear so I have a bunch of batteries but I would hate for the recorder to die during a session. Does the H5 have a low battery warning?

I like the A10 because it's almost the opposite of the H5. It's small, has an internal battery, and a built-in USB adapter for quick file transfer. I don't like that it doesn't have an AC adapter and I don't think it can be used while charging. I do like how portable it is but it only has one mic input so I would need to use some sort of splitter. I also like that it comes with 16GB of internal memory and can be controlled/monitored via Bluetooth. I also think the A10 can record to two locations (internal storage and SD card) at the same time (though I may be wrong on that).

I really want to like the MixPre-3 and believe it would delivery the best audio performance. I like the various power options and possibility for a backup track. It doesn't have integrated microphones so that may limit "spur of the moment" recording but that's not really what my setup is designed for.

My first thought was to use lav mics but I don't want to be handing the talent. I could ask them to clip the mic on themselves but they would still be handling the same mic used by the person before them. Giving the Covid-19 protocols, I would prefer to maintain social distance. Additionally, the subject may need to dart out quickly (or send me away quickly) so I don't want them tethered.

I like the QU2 because of the XLR/USB connector (I could see that being helpful when recording at home).

I'm open to suggestions. I was thinking about getting 16 smaller SD cards (one for each interview) but I'm afraid that increases my odds of getting a bad card by 16. Would I be better to get two really good large capacity cards (32GB) or 16 alright cards (2GB each)? How big of a file is a one hour interview? What format should I record it in to get the best audio clarity?

Sorry for the novel. I've got one chance to get it right and don't want to mess it up.

Thanks!
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Re: Need help purchasing gear for interview project

Postby Sam Spoons » Sun Jul 12, 2020 8:43 pm

Hi Bruece and welcome to the forum.

First off, this is not my area of expertise, I am a retired live sound guy, but a couple of things spring out. The security of the recordings is paramount so, record them simultaneously on two different devices.

Second none of the ,mics suggested would be my first choice (in the past I've done PA/live feed sessions for press conferences with 20+ 'talking heads' using similar). I won't suggest specific mics but something designed for voice recording or ENG would be better. The SM58s will work but are a compromise.

Third, a question, are you looking to use the audio recordings for anything other than a record to provide a text transcription? If not then the Sound Devices is overkill, it is a truly professional bit of kit designed for top quality audio recording which if you are not using the audio is not required (but I'd still love one).

Finally, if my assumption that you are only using the recordings as a source to transcribe the content of the interview and not for it's audio content my inclination would be to buy two Tascam DR-40s and stand them upright in the table next to each other with the mics in the 'spaced cardioid' position so each captures one speaker (pic one on the attached 'zon listing). Then put your mobile phone, with a voice recording app running, on the table next to them and start the recording on all three before starting the interview.

edit to add :- recording quality should be 24/44.1, a one hour stereo recording will then use about 1GB on the SD card.

HTH
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Re: Need help purchasing gear for interview project

Postby The Elf » Sun Jul 12, 2020 9:11 pm

Sam has hit the nail on the head. Unless you will have use for an audio device beyond the bounds of this project I would go for a higher count of humbler devices over a smaller count of more esoteric devices.

Three devices, one of them a phone, seems, to me, adequately suited to the requirement.
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Re: Need help purchasing gear for interview project

Postby Sam Spoons » Sun Jul 12, 2020 9:40 pm

:thumbup: I'd add that even if you do have use for a recording device later the DR-40 is a perfectly decent digital recorder* with two reasons;e mic preamps. Sure it's not in the same class as the Sound Devices but the recording space will probably negate much of the quality difference. Even if the call of the SD is too much to resist (and consider the Zoom F range as an alternative) I'd still buy two devices, the SD and a cheap pocketable recorder.

* A week ago I advised my son, after some discussion, to buy the DR-40. We had been considering the Zoom H4n but chose the DR-40 mainly based on price as the facilities he needed were much the same on both devices. He is using it in lockdown to record his french horn ensemble arrangements alone (youtube channel link available on request).

https://www.soundonsound.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=15&t=72638
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Re: Need help purchasing gear for interview project

Postby shufflebeat » Sun Jul 12, 2020 9:41 pm

One benefit of using a phone is there are several apps which lend themselves to transcription and the file is already in the right place and format.
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Re: Need help purchasing gear for interview project

Postby Tim Gillett » Sun Jul 12, 2020 10:14 pm

I agree with the advice given so far. Some years ago I digitised some lengthy taped interviews (1959) of a famous person which were used as the basis for a book about him. Like your interviews they were never intended for public listening. The recording equipment was definitely not hifi but the mic must have been carefully placed, the recording level about right, and interviewer and subject were both quite intelligible. The main distraction was when the phone rang! These days the gear is better in almost every way and most of the problems are due to user error and I include myself in that. Whatever gear you use, familiarise yourself with it very well beforehand. All the best with the project. Tim.
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Re: Need help purchasing gear for interview project

Postby innerchord » Mon Jul 13, 2020 1:47 am

Redundancy seems to be the key.
Buy two identical recorders, be they Zoom or Tascam.
Buy a stack of SD cards from a genuine, reputable manufacturer (SanDisk, Samsung, Lexar etc.), and do daily backups to an SSD drive, assuming you are carrying a laptop.

I would advise against lav mics or visible microphones, or an abundance of tech. Since you are transcribing only, clear audio is all you need. A couple of small black boxes on a table near to the talent would be my choice. Put them on a foam mat, or make sure the table is free of vibration.
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Re: Need help purchasing gear for interview project

Postby shufflebeat » Mon Jul 13, 2020 4:47 am

If you do choose to use a phone or tablet to record an extended interview , don't use one you are also tap-tap-tapping notes onto. The noise will drive you bananas later.

Don't ask.
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Re: Need help purchasing gear for interview project

Postby ef37a » Mon Jul 13, 2020 7:43 am

Personally I would go for the Mix Pre because I want one and when you are done you can sell it cheaply!

Ok, couple of points on 'table top' recording. Have a roll of 25mm foam to cover tables. This will stop reflections and incidental noises.

Do NOT let the subject touch any devices.
Do NOT give them or allow them paper notes. Your questions can be on a phone or laptop. If desperate, 'Idiot Cards'.

Do not go 'cold' into the interview, warm them up with some informal, off the record chat. Footy, weather, their kids?

Dave.
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Re: Need help purchasing gear for interview project

Postby Trevor Johnson » Mon Jul 13, 2020 9:55 am

From your description it appears that you are undertaking qualitative research having been granted ethical approval: is that the case?

At the moment, face to face interviews are not a good thing and four in a day, unless at the same location, will be difficult to do.

Like so many others, I have used Zoom and Teams for remote conference calls, interviewing and making webinars. So unless you need to be in the UK anyways, this would avoid transatlantic travel, face to face interviews and reduce your, and interviewees risk to Covid-19. If you go down this route, Zoom is much better than Teams!
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Re: Need help purchasing gear for interview project

Postby Bruece » Mon Jul 13, 2020 6:34 pm

Thank you one and all for the quick replies. I'll try to provide a bit more detail on my project and audio needs.

I am doing a series of qualitative research interviews across a number of locations in England. I will embed in each location for about week and interview a number of subjects over the course of the week. This will be part of my fieldwork component of my PhD and my advisors expect me to be present.

The general idea is to spend no more than an hour with each person (give or take). Start slow then expand into two or three meaningful questions (with followup probes). The plan is to setup for 60 minutes (test levels, setup power, laptop, notepad, water, etc), interview for 60 minutes, reflect/make notes/prep for next interview for 60 minutes, interview for 60 minutes, and repeat. Each interview will be a two hour block but the subject will only be present for 60 minutes (max).

I hope to have a room reserved for the interviews but much of the logistics have yet to be determined. The interviews have not been officially cleared by an ethics board yet but my research is part of a larger collaborative effort that has. When I'm not interviewing I'll be wandering about, staying out of the way, and making myself available so the subjects know who I am and why I'm there.

I failed to account for mechanical redundancy (only file redundancy) in my initial post and couldn't imagine my horror if I arrived on location and promptly dropped (smashed) my recorder. Some of the locations are a bit remote and acquiring a replacement device would be time consuming. I will have to factor in two recorders for sure.

I also failed to account for subject comfort in my initial proposal. I knew they wouldn't be comfortable with me running a bunch of wires all over them but didn't realize how unsettling it may be talking into a bank of microphones. While they are subjects, they aren't "test subjects" whose every breath needs to be micro-analyzed by the best microphones available. My quest for the clearest audio is worthless if the talent refuses to talk.

The primary goal of the equipment is audio transcription. I will be doing the bulk of the transcription with the help of AI software. The recordings will need to be archived for quality assurance purposes and review by oversight members.

The secondary goal of the equipment is to improve my telework (work from home) setup. I have daily conference calls and look like a nerd with my Bluetooth headset/microphone on. I will also start teaching remotely in the fall and need something that can interface well with a PC. I'm also a bit deaf (occupational injury) so wearing my headset has been a blessing. I can hear the people I'm talking to clearly (the volume is up on the headset) and they can hear me without me yelling at them (I do that a lot face-to-face because I'm somewhat deaf). I like the idea of setting up my recording equipment in the field, testing the levels with a headset, then starting the interview knowing that the end result with sound acceptable (interviewing with the headset off). I would like to have similar conversations in my home setup where I don't have to wear a headset (project my voice clearly while still being able to hear my audience from a set of speakers without feedback).

I'm also a bit OCD (actually a lot, it's a diagnosed condition) and I obsess high impact/low frequency events (so much so that I may miss obvious low impact/high frequency events). I think I went down the rabbit hole with the MixPre-3 because it calmed my anxieties. It seemed like the best of both worlds - small, portable, professional, dependable, expandable, and somewhat future-proof. I might not need it all now but I'm sure I could put it to good use maximizing my audio performance at home. Is the Zoom F4 a good alternative to the MixPre (I like the idea of staying in the Zoom family)? It looks like it was discontinued at most retailers but it's still on the Zoom website (and available at Amazon). I like the small form factor and dual-SD option (triple redundancy!). I can pick up a refurbished unit on Amazon for $450 or new for $550...seems like a solid value but am I going down the rabbit hole again?

But...I'm never recording music (live or otherwise), large events, film productions, weddings, or anything else that demands audio fidelity. I'm only ever recording myself and another person (or two). I have a Behringer X-Touch Compact that I use with Lightroom that I could probably re-purpose to make my home audio sound better.

So now I'm reconsidering my approach. Is the DR-40 (or DR-40X) preferable to the Zoom H5? I read that the pre-amps are noisier on the DR-40 but maybe I'm obsessing over minor details that won't really matter (especially considering my remote recording environment). I think I would like the knobs on the H5 better for adjusting levels but maybe I'm being nit-picky. I also like the idea that the H5 has interchangeable heads but again don't know if I'll ever use them.

My plan is now (maybe) a pair of H5s powered by a battery bank (I plan on bringing a couple of external batteries). Sam suggests pointing one device at each person while Innerchord suggests pointing both at the talent. While the talent is the most important person on the recording, I will still need to hear myself for transcription purposes. What about facing both devices toward the talent and running a wireless lav on myself hooked up to one of the H5s? Would a good wireless lav last 8 hours? Would it be better to just run a wired mic towards me? Or maybe an H5 (facing the talent) and a Mixpre-3 (under the table) and a pair of mics (one facing the talent and one towards me). Either case would address mechanical and file redundancy (I'm not sure that's the best terminology but would cover me if I dropped a device or lost an SD card). I like the idea of a matched pair of devices but I also like the idea of a primary recorder (Mixpre) and backup recorder (H5)

About mics...I should be looking for a cardioid condenser mic, right? What about a pair of
Samson C02 Pencil Condenser Microphones? The Audio-Technica AT4053B gets incredible reviews but comes with an incredible price. Would a pair of AT2020s be a good compromise? how about two of them (plus the H5s) pointed at the talent and one of those pointed at me? Is that really overkill? I'm wandering down the rabbit hole again.

Oh, one last thing about the talent. They're used to speaking into microphones professionally. They're used to giving statements and having conversations recorded (though they are usually the ones controlling the recorder). I can't imaging speaking into a microphone will cause duress but I don't want to go completely overboard.

Thanks for the push in the right direction - it's much appreciated.
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Re: Need help purchasing gear for interview project

Postby Trevor Johnson » Mon Jul 13, 2020 7:23 pm

The interviews have not been officially cleared by an ethics board yet

Something to discuss with your supervisor(s), but going through ethics is usually straightforward.

An hour is quite a long time for an interview, so are you going to use a semi-structured approach? Whichever approach, you need to pilot it first whilst you are in Canada and you can also pilot the recording equipment at the same time.

The other forum members know much more about audio recording than me, but if it was me I would stick to a pair of the same portable recorders with built in microphones, less stuff to forget and go wrong. Olympus still make some that would be suitable. Keep it simple, the KISS rule.

Finally, I would not interview anyone in a coffee shop or similar! You and your subject are the key elements and distractions, interferences will impact on your work. At the end of the process it is the text that matters, for you to use, probably for thematic analysis using a grounded-theory approach, or another methodology.
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Re: Need help purchasing gear for interview project

Postby The Elf » Mon Jul 13, 2020 7:27 pm

I'd use the built-in mic's - less cabling, less to carry and less to go wrong.
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Re: Need help purchasing gear for interview project

Postby Vox Gnus » Mon Jul 13, 2020 8:55 pm

Lots of great advice above, so here's my two cents...

I record interviews such as this regularly (well, during non-CoVID times), and have developed a cheap and reliable system that works for most situations. I use my phone as backup #2, sitting on something soft on the table (an old mousepad is great).

Beside it is an ancient Yamaha Pocketrak C24 2-channel recorder, set to 24/44.1 (Zoom, Tascam, Olympus make modern devices that are fantastic - don't overthink it!). It has a pair of basic mics, runs off a single AAA battery (Eneloop), and can take basic external mics. I occasionally use it with some Roland CS-10EM in-ear binaural mics (with wind screens). I can monitor the Yamaha, or record to it while plugging the headphone portion into the main mic. Yes, there's mild hiss, but it's a reliable setup, and discreet. Most importantly, it doesn't intimidate the subject.

The main recorder is a Tascam DR-10X plugged directly to the bottom of an Audio-Technica BP4001 cardioid ENG/broadcast mic (with foamy cover). The recorder has an XLR plug on one end, so no cables to get caught. Runs on a single AAA, and takes a micro SD (like the Yamaha). I also have the option of a BP4002 omni, where appropriate, but the 4001 is fantastic in noisy environments. It's very resistant to handling noise, which can be a big deal.

Occasionally I'll use it with a tabletop tripod, but I've found that a handheld mic allows you to truly "conduct" a conversation. Point at the subject, and they know it's time to speak. Point at yourself, and they know to stay quiet. Practice this during the warmup questions, and they will know the routine for the main part of the interview.

For interviews, if you miss your cue with the main mic, you always have two backups. The whole kit only requires your phone charger, a AAA battery charger (and a few spares), 2 microSD cards, and the devices. It'll fit in the smallest of bags, and you won't get mugged for it (unlike wearing big over-the-ear headphones and carrying a MixPre, while in the wrong part of town...).

I'm in Southern Ontario, and have worked with lots of grad students. Send me a message if you'd like to talk over the phone. And good luck!
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Re: Need help purchasing gear for interview project

Postby Sam Spoons » Mon Jul 13, 2020 10:25 pm

As Trevor J and Vox Gnu have said the actual equipment is probably not critical, TBH, a couple of spare iPhones would probably get the job done. My son and I chose the DR-40 for his needs over the zoom on price, the basic functions and audio quality were sufficiently close the neither could be considered conclusively better, and both are capable of excellent quality recordings if used correctly.
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