Recording Equipment

Columbia University Libraries offers equipment borrowing from our library of headphones, microphones, and Zoom recorders to approved community members and publishing partners.

Photo of a Zoom five audio recorder

The Libraries lend Zoom 5 recorders, which can provide professional quality audio. It has both a built in microphone and can also be connected to handheld or tabletop mics. The Zoom saves audio files to an SD Card. Be sure to make sure there is an SD card in your recorder when you borrow from the library and to transfer your files to your own computer or cloud storage before you return equipment to us. 

It’s easy to get started with this Zoom 5 Recording Tutorial. 

If you can’t borrow from our equipment library, members of the Columbia and Barnard community can check out recorders and other tech from Barnard’s Instructional Media and Technology Services (IMATS)

What about the folks at home?

If you have a little money to invest in purchasing audio recording equipment, there are many affordable options for recorders, or microphones that can connect to your phone or computer. The kind of microphone you choose will be influenced by price and also what kind of sound your podcast will require; for instance whether you plan to record single voices speaking directly to the microphone, need to capture sound from far away, or want to be able to collect multiple people talking at once or record environmental sounds. For additional information on selecting microphones and getting clean audio at home check out:

“Recording Audio” from the Google/PRX Podcasting 101 series

Audio Recorders from the Berkeley Advanced Media Institute

Tips and tricks for recording at home

Regardless of what equipment you are using, there are some simple tricks that you can keep in mind to improve the quality of your audio. 

1. Choose your recording location wisely

  • Find a space that is quiet
  • Smaller spaces will produce fewer echoes and incidental noises than larger ones 
  • If your are recording by yourself your closet may be the perfect small recording studio
  • Electrical panels and overhead vents and lighting can generate sounds that may be captured on your recording even though your naked ear might be ignoring them. 

2. Use sound absorbing materials to get clean audio

  • Textiles and other textured surfaces will absorb extra sounds that might echo back and muddle your spoken audio
  • Surround your recording space with pillows and blankets and draw the curtains at home
  • The closet can also be a great recording space for this reason as well – all of your winter coats can be put to good use even in the off season!
  • In a pinch, pulling a blanket over your body and the microphone or recorder can help to insulate the sound. 

3. Test your recording environment

  • Practice recording in your chosen space and listen back to the recording.
  • This can help you to hear any issues like appliances or street noise that you might otherwise be accustomed to
  • Capture a few seconds of “silence” at the beginning of your recording. This can be used as a baseline for noise reducing tools to filter and clean the audio on your recordings when you are editing and mixing sound.

Remote Audio and Interview Recording

Even with a great recording location and your ideal equipment, it’s likely that you’ll one day face the challenge of capturing good quality audio from someone who can’t be in the room or using the same tools as you. However, there are several good practices to follow and tools that you can use to get the best possible recording. 

Using a microphone plugged into you and your interview subject’s computers (a pair of headphones with a microphone plugged into your computer will even give you better, more focused audio than the computer’s built in microphone) you can record simultaneously using applications like Zoom. One of the things that you will want to ensure when using a web conferencing solution like this is to record each side of the conversation separately, so that if you need to make adjustments to the tracks – such as to edit out background noise or to match the volume level of the participants – you are able to do so. Here are some simple instructions for recording separate tracks while using Zoom.

There are a variety of other web applications designed for podcasting with teams or interviewing remotely, although many do come with a price tag. Zencastr is an industry favorite that has a free basic level and reasonable rate, should you choose to go that route. 

In a pinch the microphone in a smartphone is actually a pretty good vocal recorder, particularly when you hold the phone up to your face (the way you would when making a phone call!) If you have a microphone on your end, and want your interviewee’s sound quality to be similar in quality, you can conduct your interview using a service like Skype or Zoom, and have them record themselves using the voice memo app on their phone, then send the file to you.

For more on remote recording, I recommend the following resources:

Interview your Podcast Guests Remotely and Tips for Recording Professional Audio Remotely from the Berkeley Advanced Media Institute