02 February 2011
Sound recording beyond the smartphone
The UK Soundmap currently displays over 1,300 recordings from all over the country. Of these, some 80% have been made with smartphones. The rest have been produced using a wide range of purpose-built sound recording equipment.
This post outlines some ways in which you can make the transition from mono smartphone sound to high-quality stereo, with reference to what UK Soundmap contributors themselves have been doing.
Between smartphones and pocket-sized digital sound recorders lies the half-way house of the stereo mic which can be attached directly to an iPhone or iPod. They range in price from around £30 to £70 depending on their make and model. It's worth checking first to see if they're compatible with your phone. A small number of recordings on the UK Soundmap have been made this way, and they sound pretty good.
A digital sound recorder, however, offers greater versatility and quality. With one you'll be able to make recordings and then transfer them to your computer for editing. Intense competition among manufacturers in recent years has produced a slew of reasonably-priced and capable machines starting from as low as £120. The majority of the UK Soundmap's non-smartphone recordings have been made with such machines.
As the prices rise, so too does the quality of the machine's construction, on-board microphones, and internal electronics. More expensive recorders produce less hissy and more full-sounding results, and this becomes noticeable with recordings made in quiet settings.
The recorder's specifications should include the ability to record in WAV and MP3 formats, and an external mic socket which can supply plug-in power of 5-9 volts for driving small external condenser microphones, should you wish to follow that route.
Many digital recorders are also supplied with open-cell foam windshields to fit over the on-board mics. These are fine for dealing with indoor draughts or preventing ugly wind noise that may arise from you waving the recorder around, but they aren't much use outdoors except on fairly still days. A windjammer can be fashioned from fake fur if you're a dab hand with the sewing machine, or you can buy ready-made ones to fit your particular make of recorder at around £25. Either way, it's worth having one.
Sound-editing programs, also known as 'wave editors', begin with freeware that offers basic feature sets. These are worth trying out since all wave editors work in fundamentally similar ways. What you learn with the freeware can be transferred to a £50 program offering more functions and a slick user interface.
Making good-quality stereo recordings is an easy hobby to begin, and it can start at a cost comparable to that of a digital compact camera.
Editor, UK Soundmap