For everyday portable recording: Tascam and Roland (and many other viable brands) offer all-in-one microphone, digital recording, and sound card compatibility. As long as we have memory storage, and access to a reliable PC or laptop device, recording cost begins at about 350-500 dollars.
I cannot recommend iPhone recordings, antiquated storage devices nor unreliable recording born-digital file formats. To make new sound recordings and to capture conversations between a few people can be fun. My hesitance stems from how difficult it may be to preserve these first recordings for the long-term.
Keep in mind that starting small, getting reliable advice from sound professionals, and increasing technical engagement with chosen tools helps to facilitate archival-quality content.
It is especially important to focus on realistic project management, technical need, and suitable best practice of recording equipment use. Computer hardware knowledge with companion software requires diligence and continuous practical application by the interviewer, sound editor, and digital-citizen archivist.
To create beneficial, long-lasting community reports, oral history projects recognize equipment and production needs with keen guidance measures, properly timed and dispersed funding accompanied with cross-disciplinary support liaisons. These professionals may include librarians, archivists, and journalists–– anyone who shows a genuine interest with project production.
For a rough estimate of your projects’ technical needs, check out Doug Boyd’s Digital Recorder Cost & Quality Questionnaire.
Truly successful projects provide adequate digital recording equipment, and paid interviewers, sound recordists, metadata and transcription managers, and especially knowledgeable sound editors. This potential group works closely with creative attention toward both digital and analog labors. Together, we can create task-built workflows for teams. We can create useful information and thereby generate open access content.
Volunteer labor in post-production may result in poor sound quality. Consider the high costs of volunteer or temporary labor practices, and pay for good work.
For an example of production and post-production reality —in this case a project at The T. Harry Williams Center for Oral History— read Jenifer Cramer and Erin Hess’s OHDA paper What Endures: Producing and Publishing and Oral History Podcast.
A short list of potential gear used for digital sound recordings
- Rode Microphones
- Shure Microphones
- Blue Microphones
- TASCAM DR-100MKII Linear PCM Recorder
- Digital Camera –– useful for narrator photos should the project call for it; however, my own work no longer seeks to document via image or photograph. That said, a good digital camera remains indispensable when documenting the archival trails we make.
- Accessory cords, USB drives, and portable sound card storage
- Equipment storage bag to include safe, dry, and temperature controlled storage for recording equipment.
For your enjoyment of the professional craft of storytelling via sound, voice, and memory –– as with any microphones and digital-sound equipment ––practice personal techniques by recording regularly with variable level settings and sound environments.