Our recorders are professional-grade, but this isn’t much use if you don’t have a good recording technique i.e. if you can’t use them well.

The golden rules

There are a number golden rules you should always follow when recording audio:

1.  Levels

One of the principle properties of sound is it’s volume. 


We can’t easily change the volume of many of the sounds around us, but we can control how the recorder listens to sound.

We can do this in two ways:

  1. alter the input level
  2. change the position of the recorder

Setting the input level changes recorder’s sensitivity.

In general, we just need to make sure that input level is neither too low or too high.

If we record when the level is too low, the recording is quiet and we usually need to boost it while editing: this can add lots of unwanted nasty noise.

If the level is too high it will most likely distort, and that is nasty!

What level is right?

You only usually need to set the recording level once per session, e.g. at the beginning of an interview (but it’s good practice to keep an eye on it).

If you’re unsure of which buttons to press, refer to these videos.

To set the level it’s always best to use your interviewee’s or your voice: this is because voice is the predominant sound in any audio piece.

  1. set the recorder into record (or record ready)
  2. hold the recorder 20-30cm from the sound source (pointing at the speaker’s mouth)
  3. adjust the record level until the level meter bounces around the notch (see below)

The volume may go above and below the notch, as volumes vary, but not consistently above or below.


The arrow shows the optimum notch. The level meter for normal voice should be around here.

This level is now the optimum level for the recorder.

If you go on to record something else that’s quieter e.g. some background sound, just leave the level: the meter won’t peak as loud as for speech because background sound is naturally quieter!

Where do I place the recorder?

Being able to change position of the recorder is really useful. Think of the recorder as a pair of mechanical ears:

  • if the sound is too loud (someone is shouting in your ear), you move away
  • if the sound is quiet (someone is whispering to you), you get closer
  • if you’re talking to someone in a noisy place, e.g. a cafe or bar, get closer

So, if your interviewee gets louder e.g. they become animated or excited, just pull the recorder away from them slightly until they calm down.

2. Protection

The microphones are sensitive to wind. Wind can ruin a good interview.

When you’re outside, always use a windjammer!

If it’s really windy and the windjammer isn’t enough, use other means of physical protection e.g.  move to a less windy place or use your body as a wind-breaker (by turning around).

3. Listen

Would you take a photo without looking through the viewfinder? No?

Then you should wear headphones as much as possible when recording. Any headphones will do, just as long as you can hear what’s being recorded.

Some interviewees may find it rude for you to wear headphones while interviewing.  You could take a few approaches to this:

  • explain that you can actually hear them better and concentrate more on what they’re saying with headphones on
  • if that doesn’t work, just use headphones for the initial sound-check then take them off.

4. Watch

The last golden rule is to always keep an eye on your recorder. It is extremely common for students to have done an interview and either not recorded at all or recorded silence! Don’t let this happen to you!

The recorder has many visual aids that help you use it effectively and it’s your job to look and make sure:

  • the recorder is on (this one is obvious)
  • has plenty of battery left (look at the battery level indicator)
  • the recording level is ok (are the level meters bouncing around the right place?)
  • it is actually recording (the record light is on and the record time is progressing)

All you need to do is quickly glance at the recorder every so often just to check the above.


So to recap:

  1. set the optimum recording level (and keep it there)
  2. adjust the distance between the sound source and recorder (depending on how loud the source is)
  3. listen through the recorder (use any headphones)
  4. keep an eye on the recorder to make sure it’s recording at a good level and rolling!