Equipment Resources

The usage, creation, and history of oral history materials.

Equipment to record an oral history interview can range from a basic tape recorder and microphone to sophisticated digital equipment. Below is a list of different types and brands of equipment and possible locations to purchase or rent equipment.

Tape Recorders

Vermont Folklife Center Digital Audio Field Recording Equipment Guide
Archivist Andy Kolovos of the Vermont Folklife center maintains an excellent resource page that lists in great detail the formats and models of high quality professional audio equipment favored by professional folklorists and oral historians.

If your budget does not allow for the purchase of expensive equipment and your school does not have audio visual equipment available for use, consumer grade electronics (brands such as Panasonic and Sony) may be an option, though keep in mind that you get what you pay for as far as the quality of the recording is concerned. Minimally, a device such as an analog audio cassette recorder equipped with headphones and an external microphone will be sufficient for most classroom projects.

If you would like to rent professional quality equipment, the following companies (located in Seattle) have equipment available:

Audio Tapes

Audio cassettes can be found in the electronics department at retailers such as Fred Meyer and Target. Consumer electronics stores like Radio Shack, Fry's Electronics, and Best Buy carry a variety of media (recordable CDs, mini-discs, flash cards, DAT tapes).

Microphones

We recommend that you use an external microphone, rather than just the microphone that may be built-in to the recording device (this will ensure any noise generated by the recording device will not be picked up on the recording). Be sure the connections on the microphone will work with the in-puts for your recording device—i.e. most professional equipment requires an XLR input whereas consumer audio connectors are generally 1/8" mini plugs or 1/4" plugs.

We recommend use of a Lavalier (clip on) microphone or handheld microphone (which can be used with a desk stand microphone holder for long interviews). Quality manufacturers include Bescor, Shure, and Sony.

Headphones

Headphones should be used to monitor the audio recording of the oral history interviews. DJ style or around the ear models (circumaural) are preferable to in-the-ear or earbud styles.

Among the manufacturers of quality headphones are Bose, Fostex, JBL, Philips, Sony, and Yamaha; these and other brands are available from most electronics retailers.

Digital Audio Recording Software

To record directly to the hard drive of a laptop computer or PC you will need a soundcard, software and a microphone.

There are a variety of software programs available for recording audio that can be found at computer and electronics stores.

Audacity is a good free program for recording and editing audio.

Digital Audio Editing Software

Digital Video Recording

Best results will come from a camcorder style video camera, as opposed to a web cam. In addition to a camera, your school may have equipment such as a tripod, microphones, and lights that will enhance the quality of the recording.

A consumer level digital video camcorder (Canon, JVC, Panasonic, Samsung, Sony, etc.) will work well for recording a classroom project. Tape stock (Canon, Fujifilm, Maxell, Sony, TDK, etc.) can be purchased from most consumer electronics or retail camera stores.

Digital Video Editing Software

Audio and Video Recording Services

  • Jack Straw Productions, School Programs
    Seattle area teachers can contact Jack Straw Productions to arrange for a team of educators, oral historians, sound artists and engineers to work with students on a variety of projects including Radio Theater based on oral history interviews.

Oral History Equipment Rental

  • StoryCorps
    A project developed by Sound Portraits Productions in collaboration with the Library of Congress and public radio stations nationwide to record personal histories across the country, rents interviewing kits that include equipment and guidelines. A seven-day rental costs $150.

Transcribing Software

Among various digital transcription programs available, two free ones are:

Note: Most programs work via keyboard controls, however it may be easier to use with a USB transcription foot pedal, which can be purchased separately (for around $50-$75).

Other Useful Sites with Advice on Equipment for Recording Oral Histories