Recording audio footage may at first appear straight forward, but we have found this is not necessarily the case. We hope the following tips will help you avoid the disappointment you could face otherwise.
- Set Up – Try to place your recorder/s out of plain sight in a location unknown to any others and fairly high, preferably above head height, the last thing you need is someone to sit down right next to it and start eating their crisps! A very good tip, especially if your recorder is powerful, is to place it first, then start recording as opposed to hitting record then fumbling around for ten minutes while you position it. Reviewing the recording requires a bit of volume to pick out almost inaudible sounds and there’s nothing worse than ten minutes of very loud scratching, rustling, tapping and banging etc. Finally, don’t place it next to anything that could produce a magnetic or electrical field. And obviously, don’t place it anywhere near anything making a constant or intermittent sounds which could disguise EVP such as fridges, ventilation, PC’s, mobile phones, discothèques etc. In some cases you can record a lot of extraneous sound picked up through vibration in the surface you’ve placed the recorder upon. A bit of carpet doubled over or a bunch of cotton wool will minimise this, or you could suspend it on a string. If you’re clever with your hands you might want to try constructing a rubber band cage to suspend the recorder/mic.
- Digital/Analogue Dictaphones – Both have their pro’s and con’s. We recommend using both, and if available, a laptop PC, but primarily a fairly decent digital, such as Olympus. That said, Aldi recently put out a very nice little number for only £30 that gave surprising performance for the money. I primarily digital for two reasons. 1) You don’t suffering from ‘ghosting’ or ‘bleedthrough’ of previous recordings. 2) You have many hours of recording time available without swapping tapes every 30 minutes or so, in other words you can set it up at the beginning of the nights investigation and forget about it till home time.
- Mics – It’s your choice and depends very much on how much you want to spend and how important clarity and sensitivity are to you. The modern digital dictaphones have pretty good built in condenser mics and this obviously cuts down the need for aditional equipment and limits messy wires hanging all over the place. Electret mics are a cheapish alternative, but if you’re looking to record sound from the neighbouring village then you’re talking big bucks and recording standard mic starting at around £100 which will require an almost as expensive pre-amp. There’s not much point in going to this expense unless you’re determined to capture a frequency range beyond that of your digital dictaphones. If this is that case then you had better do some research into whether a more expensive digital dictaphone will do the job, which it most likely will considering the hearing range of the human ear (12Hz-20KHz) which varies depending on the age of the subject and your source of information. A point to note before you hike off to buy something that fits neatly in the human hearing spectrum, while you may not be able to hear sound outside of the human range, you may still ‘see’ it depending upon the software you use to review it.
- Software – There’s a wealth of it available and what works for me may not, and generally doesn’t, work for you. Again, what you opt for depends on what results you want. If you just want to hear it and save it, then any one of a multitude of free audio players will do just fine. If you want to analyse it fully, cut, crop, amplify, filter or vary speed, then you’re looking for something that’s going to cost you a few bob most likely. There are a plethora of freebies on Sourcefourge.com such as players, recorders, editors and analysis software and I can vouch for some but not all. Other than that you might get lucky and find a relatively cheap piece of software that will suffice, or perhaps it’s time to sell that ugly old vase in the loft. My best advice is do a bit of research, download a few freebie, get to know what you’re dealing with then make an educated decision.
- Recording conduct – One of the biggest nightmares I have is reviewing the audio through headphones with the volume way up high then having my ears blown off by the guy who suddenly stomps into the room, belching, coughing and sighing with his keys rattling like a jailer as he walks. Ok, I admit, that guy is me! But this is one area you may find frustrating after a while and it’s difficult to strike a fine balance between no extraneous noise and the team being able to communicate at a level audible on the recordings and being able to ‘do their thing’. You’ll most likely have to learn to watch for it coming and get ready to knock the volume down before your ear drums go south for the winter. This is where it is handy to use an audio editing suite that renders the recording as a real-time waveform. This is also useful to spot little blips during quiet spots in the recording that you may not necessarily notice with the ear alone.
- Long or Short play? – Again there are arguments for both. If you want clarity with analogue, then keep it on short play. This means that more tape rolls over the recording head per second and thus you record more signal. Digital long play will minimise the quality a shade, but not much and hardly worth writing home about.
Buy extra batteries and always make sure your cells are fully charged prior to investigation. It has been our common experience to find many fully charged batteries suddenly drained for no apparent reason during investigations. You have been warned!
Article written by Colin Nunn