Intro from Jeff Towne: The devices we commonly think of as mobile phones may be more frequently used to browse the web, or to take pictures, or to give directions, than to make actual phone calls. A smartphone running the right app can be a pretty decent audio recorder, too. Although the constraints of battery life and available memory can limit a smartphone’s practicality in the field, there’s still a lot to like about being able to make good recordings on a device that you always have with you. Rob Rosenthal, lead instructor of the Transom Story Workshop, likes the free Tascam PCM Recorder app for the iPhone, and gives us an overview of how it works.
TASCAM PCM Recorder is a free stereo recorder for iOS devices. It supports up to 12 hours of recording, using the built-in microphone or connected USB devices like the TASCAM iM2X stereo microphone. EQ, limiting, Soundcloud support and more make this a full-featured professional recorder.
Here’s how to use the App to make recordings on an iPhone…
Make sure your iPhone has enough recording space
- Before you leave for your interview, plug your phone into your computer.
- Launch iTunes.
- Click on your phone’s name in the left Sidebar.
A screen displays your phone’s info. At the bottom is a rainbow-colored bar showing how much memory you are using, and for what kind of files (Audio, Photos, etc.). On the right it shows how much free, unused space is left on your iPhone/iPad. Make sure you have enough free space for at least a one-hour interview. Your device’s Settings app also displays available disk-space (General> About).
Audio-files require 10MB for every minute recorded in stereo (half that for mono: 5MB/min.). This app always records 44.1K 16 Bit WAV files, so for stereo recordings you’ll need:
- 10MB a minute.
- 500MB for 50 minutes
- 1GB (1000MB) for 100 minutes.
- Go to Settings on your iPhone and set Airplane mode to on. (This is good practice for all iPhone recording. It stops calls from coming in and disrupting your recording.)
- Connect headphones to the recorder. Always wear headphones!
- Launch the app — you’re now in the Main Window (pictured to the right).
To change Stereo/Mono or Limiter On/Off tap the gear icon (lower left button) to switch to the Settings Window (pictured above). Make settings adjustments then return (again, gear icon) to the Main Window.
Press the red record button on the right just under the meter screen. This puts the app in Record Pause. You should now hear sound in your headphones.
Adjust the recording level
- Turn the microphone at the bottom of the phone (the opposite end from where you connect headphones) toward the source of the sound. If it’s an interviewee, you’ll be turning the phone upside down and toward them. Note that the App flips and is right side up.
- Place your mic/phone close to the person speaking — 3–5 inches below their chin, and just to the side at a 30–45 degree angle.
- Use the slider that runs across the top of the App’s screen (to the left of the mic symbol) to change the record volume. Just press a finger and move back and forth to adjust levels.
- Watch the VU meter on the screen. It should be bouncing, on average, around the black triangle — about 3/4s of the way up the meter, to around -12dB or -10dB, like the picture to the right.
- You can also adjust levels by moving the mic/phone closer or further away.
- Adjust your headphone volume with the slider on the bottom of the screen (the buttons on the side of the phone also control headphone volume). Adjusting the headphone level does not adjust the record level.
Begin recording: Press the record or play button (the button with the green triangle).
Stop recording: Press the stop button, the one with the square.
Listen to Files
- Press the Files button in the bottom right corner to switch to the Files Window.
- From the menu, press once on the file you wish to listen to.
- Press the Load button at the bottom left corner. This will return you to the recorder screen.
- Press play.
- To skip to the next file without having to go back to the file menu, press the track reverse or forward button (looks like: >>| and |<<).
- Connect your phone to your computer.
- Open iTunes.
- Select the name of your phone in the Sidebar.
- Across the top of the iTunes window, click Apps.
- Scroll down until you see the window labeled “File Sharing.” In that window, you should see a list of apps that share files from the phone to the computer. Look for PCMRecorder.
- Click the icon. A list of the files you’ve made in PCMRecorder will display on the right hand side.
- Highlight the files you want to download. To download only one, click once on the name of that file. To download more than one at a time, click on one, then hold down the Command key and click on any of the other files, one at a time.
- In the bottom right of the file window, click “Save to…”.
- In the window that pops up, select the location where you’d like to save the files.
- Once you’ve downloaded the file, rename it with a meaningful filename, for instance using the name of the interview and date of interview “Lastname-Firstname-YYYY-MM-DD.wav”.
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Sharing Files via Soundcloud
- Press Sharing.
- Press Log In and enter your Soundcloud account information (you must have an existing Soundcloud account).
- Select a file from the list, then press Upload.
For details about the many other things this app does, be sure to refer to the Tascam’s PCM Recorder User Guide.
The Transom Online Workshop, with support from the Knight Prototype Fund, helped publish this article.