While the world seems to be moving towards more virtual interviews, the face-to-face chat is still one of the best ways to really get to know someone. When you carry out an interview in person you can really tease out individual stories and personal experience.
And, that’s not to mention the fact that you’re not relying on Voice over IP connections, and so you can really guarantee a great audio quality. I say guarantee, but, actually, audio quality is far from easy to maintain in a public setting.
In this article I’m going to cover one of the easiest ways to record an interview in the field, really concentrating on a balance of ease of use and quality. This means I wont be talking about complicated iPad, USB mic, mixer setups, but just the most simple, reliable, cost effective method I know of, and one that I use all the time.
If, on the other hand, you are looking for the best quality interview kit you can get, you might like my series of articles on the subject. Check out my Gold Standard Podcast Interview Equipment series here.
What Type of Interviewing is This For?
First off, a quick qualification of what we’re talking about here. There are three main places where you might record an interview: 1. online, 2. in your standard studio or 3. out in the field.
I’ve covered 1 elsewhere – just check out my Skype Interviewing article for more information. Number 2 should be pretty straight forward – if you’re a regular podcaster then you’ll know your standard kit. Just add an extra microphone to the mixer, the PC or whatever you’re recording into, and go. You’ll have access to mic stands, etc, so you can use your normal kit.
Number 3, though, is a little more complicated. This only really became apparent to me after all the questions I was asked at UKPOD14 on that very subject. Recording on the move requires a few particular things.
- Light and portable – you need to be able to carry this kit around, so out go bulky mixers, heavy microphones and inwieldy stands.
- Noise isolation – you might well be recording in a noisy environment so you need to be able to get the mic up close to the speakers’ mouths.
- Simplicity – this needs to be point and shoot. You wont have the space or the time to spend 10 minutes setting everything up and testing it works.
- Quality – just because we’re on the run doesn’t mean we’ll put up with bad quality audio. It needs to work!
Luckily, there’s a great setup that meets all of these criteria, and it’s not even very expensive!
The Best Equipment Setup for In Person Interviews
Let’s get straight into it – here’s what you need to record a great in-person interview.
- 2 Lavalier or lapel microphones
- A decent, lightweight digital recorder or dictaphone
- A Headphone Splitter
- (optional) A 3.5mm jack extension cable.
Let’s look at these in turn – the why and the what.
The Microphones – Lavalier or Lapel Mics
The most important part is the mic – this is what captures your voice and turns it digital after all. No doubt, if you’re already Podcasting, you’ll have a decent microphone at home. Or, if you’re early in your career, you might still be using a decent headset mic as I normally recommend. Either way, neither will be ideal for out on the road. The normal mic will be big, bulky, sometimes fragile and always in need of a stand (unless it’s like the Blue Yeti, but that’s doesn’t suit this context either). The headset mic might be portable, but you’re going to feel a bit of an eejit sitting with one on in the coffee shop.
Lavalier microphones are the ones you see clipped to a speaker’s shirt buttons or collar. They’re tiny little microphones that sit about 6 inches below your mouth and do surprisingly well at isolating your voice.
Lapel microphones definitely fit our needs for being light and portable. They tend to be not more bulky than a little set of earbud headphones – just a wire with a 1 or 2cm bulb on the end really.
They’re also good for our 2nd requirement: noise isolation. Because they sit so close to your mouth, you’ll be a lot louder than the background noise. You’ll get a nice bit of the background for atmosphere, but you’ll be nice and clear to the listener.
Lastly, lavalier microphones can be great quality. If you get the right one there’s no reason it has to be much worse than your big pro mic at home. In fact, spend enough and it can easily be better.
What Lavalier Microphone Should I Buy?
I’m going to keep this simple and only recommend one lav mic – the Audio Technica ATR-3350.
The ATR 3350 is a great little mic and it’s very affordable, so I tend to think that it’s not worth spending any more. There are higher priced microphones out there, and they might have an incremental increase in quality, but for most uses the ATR 3350 is just great. We’ve got a full review of the mic here, along with Matthew’s recording setup, if you’re interested.
So, we’ve got out microphones, what next?
The Digital Recorder
The digital recorder is your recording device, of course. It’s what captures the audio file for later use. It’s actually a bit of a shame that we need this since most of us carry around a brilliant digital recorder as standard in the form of a smartphone. The problem is that smartphones can only take one microphone. Great lavalier microphones do exist for smartphones, but you can only record one of you with any great quality.
Have no fear, though, good digital recorders don’t cost the earth and they make up a pretty useful part of a larger Podcasting kit setup anyway, so it’s often worth having one for other reasons too. The main requirement you’ll have in a digital recorder is basic quality and the ability to plug in an external microphone. The former is just a requirement to at least get a good brand so that the recording quality is good, and the latter lets you plug in your fancy new lavalier microphone rather than using the internal microphone.
On that question, why not use the internal microphone on your digital recorder? Well, because that defys the law of noise isolation. A digital recorder sitting on the table between you is miles away from the course of both of your speaking and so you’ll be quiet, drowned out and bad quality. You need those lavs.
Here’s a sound sample of us running two ATR3350s through a Belkin five way splitter into the Zoom H1. The sample has been amplified a bit, but you can see by the screenshot of the original audio below that it picks up a good signal during recording.
I’ve written about digital recorders extensively elsewhere on this site, so I wont labour it, but my recommendations are either the Zoom H1 at a bargainous £60/$90 or the Zoom H2n at around double that. The latter is worth it only if you think you’ll be using the great quality internal microphone on a regular basis (it does record pretty good quality group interviews in a quiet environment).
Ok, we now have some lavalier microphones and a digital recorder – how do we connect them together?
The Microphone Splitter
The big barrier to great quality 1 on 1 interviews is that, most of the time, you can only get a mic close to one person at a time, or you have to pass the microphone or recorder between the speakers. Well, that’s where a simple little splitter comes in.
As shown in the image opposite, a splitter is nothing more than something that lets two 3.5mm jacks go into one 3.5mm input. It just ‘splits’ the input, allowing use by 2 devices. These cost next to nothing and there a range of them on Amazon or the like. You can even find some, like the Belkin, that can take 5 inputs, so if you have enough lavalier microphones and enough guests, you can have a huge round-robin and include a range of people.
The optional extension cable mentioned above comes in at this stage too because sometimes the cables on your lavalier microphones wont be quite long enough to allow you to sit at a comfortable distance from your interviewee. Just use an extension cable and you can sit as far away as you like and still achieve great audio quality.
An Example Final Setup
The picture opposite shows an example setup using an old Sony Recorder that I still break out from time to time (one of the smallest and lightest I’ve ever found that still does good audio) plugged into two lavalier microphones.
If you connect everything up like this, sit the recorder on the table and the lavalier microphones on each person’s shirt, you’ll be recording amazing quality interviews in no time.
On that note, I’d love to hear from examples of you putting this setup into action. If you record something using this type of setup, please do let me know in the comments below. I’d love to include some example clips from around the web to demonstrate different setups and the quality you can achieve. I look forward to hearing from you.
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