All things Sound

Compact Disc celebrates 25th birthday

First discs rolled off presses August 17, 1982. So, if digital lasts forever.. or 5 years, whichever comes first, CDs may (may!) last forever.

The news story follows the way that CDs changed the music industry.. the rise.. and, with other digital formats, the fall. But the part that interests me the most are the techno-geeky deets about how the CD came to be, well, the CD:

Yet it had been a risky technical endeavor to attempt to bring digital audio to the masses, said Pieter Kramer, the head of the optical research group at Philips’ labs in the Netherlands in the 1970s.

“When we started there was nothing in place,” he told The Associated Press at Philips’ corporate museum in Eindhoven.

The proposed semiconductor chips needed for CD players were to be the most advanced ever used in a consumer product. And the lasers were ...Read More

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on August 16, 2007 in • AudioAudio: HardwareDigitality
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Making a recording self-explanatory

I’ve been finalizing an Audio CD of a 1980-era recording that my Mom gave to me. (For her birthday). I’m making copies for her and for a brothers and a coupla cousins that will be at a family gathering. The “think long term” mindset has dug in and changed the way I mark CDs and my other “metadata” (data about the data) that I’m including with the CD. The recording came to me with some gaps in info, a generation and family branch removed, so I’m learning by doing and trying to create as dense a nugget of info to pass on to others with the CD as I can.

I was amused by a little in-situ metadata that was part of the recording itself, identifying who the main speakers are. The original recording was made by my grandfather’s cousin, Bud or George (I hafta ask my Mom again. I wasn’t there, I don’t know. Have never met either.) It opens with my grandpa telling a story. At the end, the narrator’s voice comes on and says, “That was Bruce B[ family name].” My great uncle, his brother, also told a story. The narrator identified him, too. It’s obvious he made this recording for his side of the family, and identified the speakers on the other side—that would be my side. I, of course recognize the voices that he identified, and am frustrated by ...Read More

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on July 18, 2007 in • AfterwardsAudioAudio: SoftwareDo it: YourselfLongevity
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New Digital Audio Recorder: Samson’s Handy H2

imageNow shipping! Coming out Real Soon Now, The Samson Handy H2 audio recorder looks oh so sweet. Smaller, less expensive version of Zoom Handy H4, the Handy H2 looks to be an improvement on the H4. Details from manufacturer. Street Price, when it goes on sale is $198.

Built in microphones designed to pick up a good stereo image (designed for musicians, but hey, interviews will do just fine that way). The combinations of mics allow for different pick-up patterns. Or plug in your own mic to the mini-jack microphone port.

Record Audio CD-quality stereo WAV files. Either to flash memory card, ro use the recorder like a USB mic and record directly to your computer.

If I were in the market for a recorder and I didn’t have any interviews to conduct over the summer, I’d seriously consider waiting to get this. Lots of bang for the buck for just under $200. (SoundProfessioanls says “August” others say “coming soon”)

...Read More
Flash MemorySD, up to 4GB

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on June 20, 2007 in • AudioAudio: Hardware
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Hard at work on Equipment Guide

I’m working night and day to create an audio equipment guide for this site. Don’t take this site-silence for lack of activity or thought.

Invitation for the comments: What burning questions do you have about audio equipment? (I’ll save the video questions for later….one thing at a time, one thing at a time)

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on June 03, 2007 in • AudioAudio: HardwareHousekeeping
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A MiniDisc early adopter reflects on portable digital music trends

[Updated] David Ing at Coevolving writes a post about where portable audio media is going. His perspective is primarily as a listener to music, but he also uses MiniDisc to record.

I’ve been researching audio hardware lately (equipment guide coming soon!) and the footnote of David Ing’s post has a jaw-dropper that needs further research: SonicStage (the software to transfer recordings from Minidisc to computer) has been updated for Windows Vista, but not all capabilities will be provided under the version that works on the new Operating System—the WAV Conversion Tool:

It is also important to note that MD Simple Burner along with CONNECT Player, WAV Conversion Tool and MP3 File Manager will not be supported under Windows Vista [emphasis mine, sorta]

I don’t use SonicStage (have a too-early version of SonicStage for my generation of MiniDisc player), so I’m ...Read More

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on May 24, 2007 in • AudioAudio: Hardware
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End of the Reel for Cassette Tapes

Telegraph, UK: Curry’s, biggest retailer, announces that it’ll stop selling cassette tapes. News story is a sad lovesong to the format used by many a man to woo his woman. [via Practical Archivist] Having just digitized a 1980s-era cassette tape myself, I’ve a fondness for the format.

The High Street chain also predicts that this Christmas will be the last time it sells any hi-fi system with a tape deck included.

[...]The portability of the format moved out of the living room and on to the street. In 1989, helped by falling prices of hi-fi systems, 83 million music cassettes were sold in the UK. This fell to 53 million in 2000, and just half a million in 2005, according to Understanding & Solutions, a market research firm.

Last year only about 100,000 of the items were sold. However, this figure excludes audio books and blank tapes, which still attract a small, loyal fan base, with four million blank tapes sold last year and 1.5 million audio books.

I’ll have ...Read More

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on May 09, 2007 in • AudioAudio: HardwareLongevity
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Audio Equipment: USB audio interface

A small USB audio device – sometimes referred to as an external sound card or USB Audio Interface – is a good way to get audio into your computer… and out of it, too. Usually, getting audio in is the greater challenge, so I’ll concentrate on that. The USB devices tend to be versatile, too– accepting a microphone, a line-in, and maybe an optical connection, and providing a line out (or headphone) connector to export sound.

In the last week, I used two different USB devices to get audio into the computer. Yesterday I used my boyfriend Doc M’s M-Audio Transit USB connector to import and digitize a cassette tape (the tape deserves its own post). A few days before that I used my Griffin iMic to connect a microphone to my computer in order to talk to a friend using Gizmo Project – a Voice over IP (VoIP) application. I could have used that same setup to record directly into the computer– what I was doing was getting sound from the microphone IN to the computer in order to send that signal over the internet to my friend so we could chat.

These are devices that convert the signal from analog to digital. Sound enters the device through an analog connection (an audio miniplug). The device converts the sound to digital audio and delivers the digital information to the computer through the USB port.

First, an introduction to the devices themselves, and then how I used each one. Though I used these with Macs, they work on Windows, too. Doubtful that they work on Linux.

The devices:

Griffin iMic.

It’s a lower-cost, low-frills basic USB audio interface. Street price is just under 50 bucks. Plug one end into your USB port, and the other end will accept a couple of mini-plugs. For sound IN, either a line-in or ...Read More

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on May 06, 2007 in • AudioAudio: Hardware
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Have a video iPod? Get a Belkin TuneTalk

Belkin TuneTalk with iPod video I got to try out the Belkin TuneTalk stereo microphone for the iPod video (and 2nd generation iPod Nano) at BarcampLA3 this last weekend. If you have an iPod video, then seriously consider getting this $70 microphone for recording interviews.

Older iPods (starting from 3rd Generation) include the ability to record Voice Memos, with a separate microphone attachment. The recording quality, though, was crappy—the same as what you hear on the phone. With the Video iPod, the Voice Memo recording ability got highly revamped from crappy to good. (Crappy = 8 kHz mono—phone call; good = Stereo CD quality: 16 bit 44.1kHz).

Voice memos are pretty easy to record, so you get portability and ease of use with high quality audio. The audio files are stored in WAV (uncompressed audio) files. Perfect.

The mics are omnidirectional, so they’ll pick up everything in the room with you, so a quiet recording location is important. I managed ...Read More

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on March 26, 2007 in • AudioAudio: HardwareInterviewing
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Whither Audio or Video

Recording family stories: Which is better, audio or video? This question came up last week at the L.A. Podcasters meetup while talking to a podcaster (Karen “KFC” Blanchette, aka Podchick) about this site’s topic–recording and preserving family memories.

She asked me, “Why not video?”

I’ve been asked that before.

I talked about the barrier that video imposes—how things need to look good. The interviewee has to make him or herself presentable, and the environment also has to look good. I said, “The last couple of family members I interviewed, it would have been much harder to do on video. One was in a room that wasn’t photogenic at all, and when I interviewed my great aunt, she wore her robe and sat on the couch. I don’t think that she’d have let me videotape her wearing a robe. My boyfriend’s mother, who’d had cancer and lost hair from chemotherapy, always said, ‘Don’t take my picture!’ so there’s no way she would have talked on ...Read More

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on March 19, 2007 in • AudioDo it: YourselfInterviewingVideo
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Evoca- Record to this site from your phone

They’ve got a page devoted to oral history; Donald Ritchie is an advisor. Gotta check it out. It has that Web 2.0 shiny hype headline of “Evoca will change the way oral history is done.” (Thank goodness it does not say that “it will take your oral histories to the next level!” – can you tell I used to work in the software biz?) Anyway, there’s a nice quick guide on that page. I gotta check out the site some more. [via Place Based Education]

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on February 14, 2007 in • AudioAudio: SoftwareDo it: YourselfLinks
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CES and Macworld are nigh

The Consumer Electronics Show (CES) and Macworld are this next week. Various news websites are all a-twitter about what news and annoucements will be coming out of each show. Who’s going to introduce what? I’ll be following along, on the lookout for whatever news comes out of each show, especially as it affects tools for recording and preserving family memories.

On the Macworld front, there’ll be software and hardware announcements and new releases. Same thing with CES, only it’ll be more hardware than software.

I wish I were there to speak face to face to the vendors to ask how the new new new stuff they’ve been working on is supposed to last for decades, yea, even for generations. This is a whole part of industry that thrives on innovation, leaving behind yesterday’s woo-woo cool thing in order to focus on the next new hot thing. I mean, really.. they just have to make their quarterly numbers.

I’m not attending either show, but feel a bit nostalgic about both: My first trade show ever was working at Comdex in Las Vegas (alas no more; it ...Read More

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on January 06, 2007 in • AudioAudio: HardwareDigitalityLongevityVideoVideo: Hardware
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Holiday Gadgets I’d want if I were just beginning

The fun of watching the portable audio gadget market is that there’s always something new. So the decisions on what to get if you’re starting from zero are different today than if you were deciding 6 months or a year ago. It’s also different to decide when starting out fresh than when you’ve got other gear that you want this item to work with. If I were starting out today with a few hundred bucks burning a hole in my pocket and a desire to interview my relatives about their lives, what would I buy?

I’d try to get a recorder that had the essentials: Ability to record directly to WAV file format (uncompressed CD-quality audio or better; MP3 is compressed and lossy), quick transfer to computer, easy to setup and start recording, and, if possible, a decent microphone. Oh, and all for a price that won’t kill me.

The price of your main gadget is not the final “when the smoke clears, how much will I spend?” price. You have two (maybe three) items to add to it: The price of media (if it’s flash memory), and the price of microphone. And batteries. When I bought my portable recording kit, I went for a small disk-drive based player and recorder (20GB capacity). The money I saved not having to buy flash memory cards I turned around and plunked into a higher-quality microphone. No matter what gadget you look at, you’ll always spend a little extra.

Portable Recorder

But if I were starting from scratch, right here, today, I know what I would buy: The Zoom H4 Handy recorder (of course, I say this ...Read More

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on December 16, 2006 in • AudioAudio: Hardware
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Holiday Shopping at Library of Congress

Here are some way-too-cool items that you can buy from the Library of Congress gift store. You can spend a good amount of time browsing through all the offerings (I have!). Recordings, maps, photos, clothing, books, posters, and much more.


image A Treasury of Library of Congress Field Recordings

Since 1928, Library of Congress fieldworkers have gathered thousands of American folksongs in farmhouses, prison barracks, and schoolrooms across the nation. Researchers traveled the back roads of the Delta, the Appalachians, and the Great Plains using battery-powered disc-cutting machines as they ventured beyond the grid of rural electricity. Here are 30 of the greatest performances from the legendary Library of Congress recording series.

Here’s a list of all the other folk recordings available... What a tremendous array of recordings from various places and sub-cultures. See anything that matches where your family ...Read More

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on December 10, 2006 in • AudioGeneralPersonal HistoryPhotographs
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New digital recorder: Zoom H4 Handy Recorder


Seen at the Podcast Expo; Shipping soon! $299 street. Samson’s new offering will cost $100 less than the flash memory recorders I just mentioned. People, we have a new contender in the digital recording market! H4: I’ll try to puzzle out what means what: H stands for handy recorder, and as you can see, it does fit nicely into my hand. 4, I guess, stands for the 4-track recording you can do.

image I checked it out at the Samson booth at the Podcast expo, and got to see how it works.

Memory and Power
The Zoom H4 uses an SD flash memory card—secure digital (see Steve’s Flash memory primer to understand what’s what). The current maximum size card is 2GB. Buttons along the left let you select which record format—MP3 format, or WAV Audio CD quality, 16bit 44.1kHz, and two higher quality settings that range up to 24 bit, 96 kHz. I’m told that it will record in mono, to stretch that 2 GB card longer—using CD-quality mono, you can record 6 hours of conversation on a single 2GB memory card. The two AA batteries last around 4+ hours for playback and/or recording.

How fast does it ...Read More

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on October 04, 2006 in • AudioAudio: Hardware
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NYTimes discusses three flash memory audio recorders )

{L to R: Edirol R-09, Microtrack 24/96, PMD 660]
The NY Times looks at digital audio recorders, highlighting three flash-memory recorders: the Marantz PMD660. the M-Audio Microtrack 24/96, and the newest of the pack, the Edirol R-09. The article speaks in terms of podcasting, but the same equipment can be used for recording family interviews.

All three use compact flash memory for storage, and all of them can record in both MP3 (compressed audio) and WAV uncompressed audio. For oral history recordings, go with WAV uncompressed audio. (which means you need a good-sized flash memory card, at least 1GB, ideally 2GB or more). The Edirol and the Marantz can record in mono, which’ll stretch out the space you’ve got on the flash memory card. If you must record in MP3, go with the highest quality setting.

If you want to check them out, SoundProfessionals has both the the Edirol and the M-Audio Microtrack 24/96 in stock. And Amazon has the Marantz PMD660, M-Audio MicroTrack 24/96 and Edirol R-09 in stock.

Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on September 29, 2006 in • AudioAudio: Hardware
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