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A $500 recording device that crashes

In my old-style 'chalk and talk' sound engineering classes, I often find students wanting to record the class. This might be because they are dyslexic, or perhaps they just like hearing my voice over again. Well, perhaps...

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In my old-style 'chalk and talk' sound engineering classes, I often find students wanting to record the class. This might be because they are dyslexic, or perhaps they just like hearing my voice over again. Well, perhaps...

So the first question in any sound engineering task is to select the right equipment for the job. In this case, an SSL mixing console, 48 track recorder and full outboard effects rack would be overkill, just a little. All that is necessary is a simple dictation machine, with an internal microphone. A recording walkman using the standard cassette format would be ideal.

I rule out micro-cassette recorders because they work reasonably well when new, but the format is simply not robust enough to provide the necessary reliability. Minidisc would give better quality audio, but they are too fiddly. No, the cassette format is ideal.

Once the equipment is selected, then how it is deployed is the next priority. Since clarity is the main requirement here, the recorder should be placed close to the sound source, and allow for any change in position of the sound source. Yes, I do tend to pace about a bit.

This is all very simple and straightforward. However, at the start of the first class of this academic year, a woman in the front row was busying herself setting up a piece of equipment that didn't look too familiar. I looked closer and realized it was an Apple iPod, festooned with accessories.

I commented that the iPod seemed a little excessive for the task, and its user replied that it was very good for recording lectures - except when it crashes!

So let me see, a recording walkman costs around $40. An iPod costs $300, plus $60 for the external battery pack she had, plus $40 dollars for the recording adaptor. A total of $400 - ten times as much as the recording walkman - and it crashes!

Plainly this is ludicrous. But there is a more important point emerging...

The computer industry is in the process of taking over the sound engineering industry, at least the manufacturing side of it. But they don't work to the same standards. Sound engineers work to the standard of perfection - not one click or glitch in a master recording, not one member of a theater audience disappointed by the sound, TV viewers always being able to hear what the presenter is saying.

But the computer industry has conditioned us to expect equipment that doesn't work properly. We are promised that it will at the next upgrade. But then it doesn't.

As sound engineers we have to reject this, and take the computer industry to task every time an item of hardware or software fails to fulfill our reasonable expectations.

Otherwise it's only going to get worse.

By David Mellor Thursday January 1, 2004
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