The Quest for the Perfect (Inexpensive) Recording Gear

Yesterday I wrote about Fran’s and my experiencing recording stories for StoryCorps. We both enjoyed it so much that we’ve been talking all weekend about getting some decent recording equipment and doing more. I’d love to sit down with some of the monks in Conyers and get them to share some of their stories; although my father is pretty ravaged with dementia, on his good days he still can spin a yarn or two, and meanwhile my brother and uncle (both named Don) are pretty good at telling tales. And then there’s Fran’s side of the family…

All of this dovetails with a longstanding interest that I have had, to incorporate more media into this blog. I don’t see myself ever doing a podcast with any sense of regularity (see my musings on Discipline from earlier this month: I’m doing good enough just keeping the written part of this blog going), but I would like to create a few MP3s on select topics: maybe an introduction to Julian of Norwich, or to Benedictine Spirituality, or to lectio divina, all of which could be archived at this website and available for free download. And of course, every MP3 would begin and end with “Hi, this is Carl; visit my blog at” — so in addition to the joy of talking about my favorite things, I could do a little bit of bloggish promotion as well.

Okay, while we’re at it: ever since Patton Dodd, formerly of Beliefnet, put the bug in my ear, I’ve also thought a lot about video. I don’t know if anyone really wants to look of my grey-bearded, avuncular face; but I guess I won’t know until I try. It would be easy enough (and pretty enough) to shoot some footage by the lake at the monastery, or at the austere summit of Stone Mountain, or even in a book-cluttered corner of my own home. Again, my only commitment will be to rattle on about topics near and dear to my heart.

So, what’s stopping me? Mainly a lack of gear. I used to have a minidisc recorder and a mini-DV camcorder; both of those were taken from me when my house was burglarized the April before last. While I replaced most of the other stuff that was stolen (two computers, an ipod and sound dock, two digital camers, etc.), we never bothered to replace the recording equipment. They were both old technology, even in early 2008; and we were like many families in that we spent a tone of money on the camcorder only to use it just once or twice a year; likewise I hadn’t used hte MD recorder since my days as a Neopagan speaker/teacher had come to an end.

But now, thanks to StoryCorps and that long-simmering conversation with Patton, I’m interested in doing more recording. So: does anybody out there in blogland have any suggestions for gear I should get? Here are my parameters:

  1. I want easy. No minidiscs or video cassettes (or, for that matter, DVDs). I want to record straight to a memory card, for ease of exporting into my computer.
  2. The video recording is strictly for online use, so it doesn’t need to be super-high-quality. But the audio recording could conceivably find its way onto a CD at some point, so there I’ll be fussier for the perfect sound. The minidisc recorder was awesome in its clarity and lack of ambient hiss or hum — I used to teach classes in a bookstore where, just outside the classroom door, several fountains and windchimes hung. The recordings were crystal clear, not only of my voice, but of the soothing chimes and running water in the distance. So I want my new audio recorder to have at least that level of fidelity.
  3. Mac compatibility: I know that most equipment is, but I still need to say it.
  4. Cheap. Remember, I work for a monastery. I live simply.
  5. Portable. Obviously that’s true with the camcorder, but I need the audio equipment to be easy to carry around as well.

If you’ve had experience with recording equipment, please let me know. Comment here or email me at mccolman at anamchara dot com… and of course, I’ll also be in the market for at least two microphones: a lapel mike for the video work, and a bigger mike for the audio recording.


What Has Not Yet Been Revealed
Life is a Pilgrimage — So Embrace the Journey
Sanctity and Struggle, or, Why Saints Have Chaotic Inner Lives (Hint: It's Because We All Do)
In Memoriam: Kenneth Leech
  • Julia Bolton Holloway

    Use the IPod with their microphone, not the Belkin one. I’ve had good results. Listen
    to,, etc.

  • Carl McColman

    I have a first generation iPod Touch, which to the best of my knowledge doesn’t have recording capability, and doesn’t run a 3rd party app (you need the 2nd generation for that). So if I want to use the iPod, I’ll have to buy a new one. At that rate, I may as well just buy a recorder.
    But if I’m missing something, will somebody please enlighten me? :-)

  • Regina

    Carl, may I recommend touching base with the good folks at Fr. Roderick, Paul Camerata and others that produce those podcasts would surely be able to offer some advice to you regarding equipment.

  • MaryD

    I just wandered into your website and thought I might share my own experiences, from when I produced a video webcast for my employer–and had to do it on the cheap.

    For audio, you might want to look into the Zoom H2. It’s a decent quality recorder (with built-in mic) that can be bought fairly inexpensively.

    As for cameras–I wouldn’t sneer too fast at older stuff, even though they may have the inconvenience of conversion. The lower priced models don’t have audio inputs–which makes it virtually impossible to get an acceptable audio input. Remember–on the net, high video resolution isn’t as critical as good audio. I get good results with our old early-model JVC digital video cam–and just bear with converting the mini-tapes. If you trawl Craigslist, good older models can be found. I also use video in a flip–the sound isn’t great, so I generally don’t use it for sound.

    When you can afford it, get a good condenser mic. They are costly–but will make a huge quality difference. Lastly, if you are going to film indoors, consider getting some lighting and a backdrop. A couple of yards of remnant decorator fabric (nothing too busy, remember) tacked to the wall can give the impression of a real set–and you can improvise a lighting setup with clamp lamps from the hardware store (you can get basics by searching the web for tutorials).

    Best of luck!