Oral History NSW
Giving Voice to the Past
Giving Voice to the Past

Suggestions for digital equipment suitable
for oral historians


A good guide to selecting equipment is to buy the best you can afford, rather than the cheapest, for quality recordings of lasting integrity.

Oral History NSW Disclaimer
In regard to any product included on this website Oral History NSW does not accept liability for spelling and grammatical inaccuracies, factual errors (including prices) or incorrect manufacturers specifications or changes. 

Be sure to contact suppliers for current specials and discounts.

Oral History NSW recommends:  

  • Portable high resolution solid state WAV digital recorders
  • Alternative suitable recorders
  • SD cards
  • Microphones
  • Headphones
  • Software Programs for sound editing
  • Software to assist transcription and logging of audio recordings
  • Archival quality discs


Help is as close as the internet

 YouTube is a wonderful resource where you can find demonstrations of many aspects of digital recording.

Examples of useful search queries in the You Tube search box are: 

  • ZOOM H4N Quick Start Guide
  • Audacity tutorial
  • Microphone placement for an interview

Plus many many more.  No matter what your question there is likely to be help available.

Another useful website is eHow  (how to do just about everything). Type in your recorder’s name and you'll find hundreds of videos submitted from different sources (not just the manufacturers) talking about the pros and cons of each.

Portable High Resolution Solid State WAV Digital Recorders

Quoted prices are included as an indication only and will vary from store to store.


ZOOM H5 Handy Recorder   $395 or $449 with accessory pack (8th June 2016)

The Zoom H5 is the more recent version of the Zoom H4n. New features include rotary dials for adjustment of recording levels, and interchangable microphone modules. All the other specifications that led us to recommend the Zoom H4n remain in the Zoom H5, such as as the robust pair of XLR sockets for external microphones, phantom powering of external condensor microphones, and sampling at and beyond the recommended sampling rate of 48 kilohertz, 24 bit.

ZOOM H4n Handy Recorder $345 or $389 with accessory pack (8th June 2016)

Oral History NSW reviews of digital field recorders (Feb 2011, Feb 2013) ranked the Zoom H4n as an excellent choice for oral historians looking for appropriate sound quality levels, ease of use and value for money. One of its best features is the robust pair of XLR sockets for external microphones. These same sockets can also be used with 6.25 microphone plugs.


TASCAM DR-40 $289 (8th June 2016) 

The Tascam DR-40 has all the features of the Zoom H4n with an additional feature of being able to simultaneously record the same sound file twice – once at the original recording volume, and the other at a lower volume. This can get you out of trouble if there is a sudden peak of recording level that might distort the sound recording.


ZOOM H2n  Handy Recorder $249 or $279 with accessory pack (8th June 2016) 

If the budget doesn’t allow for external microphones, then the Zoom H2n is a good alternative to the H4n as the recording device can be placed between the interviewer and the interviewee and the built-in microphones can pick up sound equally from opposing sides of the recorder.


ZOOM H1 Handy Recorder      $149 or $169 with accessory pack (8th June 2016) 

For those with a very limited budget the Zoom H1 offers simplicity of use and value for money. However, although it has a pair of built-in microphones, it has only one socket for external microphones and therefore use of external microphones requires a split cable adapter.

Note: for both the Zoom H1 and H2n it is important to also purchase the Accessory Pack for the essential tripod.  Pack also includes windshield, AC adaptor (USB type), Soft Case, USB cable and microphone clip adaptor.


ZOOM iQ6      $149 (8th June 2016) 

A stereo recording module for iPhones and iPads with a Lightning connector. If you are using an iPhone or an iPad to record, a microphone module such as the Zoom iQ6 will give a better result than using the microphone built into the device.


Alternative suitable recorders 

Fostex FR-2LE: CF Field Recorder 
Marantz PDM 661   
Marantz PDM 671  



Oral History - NSW Update on Equipment (pdf)
Trish Levido Feb 2012
Listing the changes in equipment reviewed in the Comparative Review of Field Recorders in Feb 2011.

Oral History - NSW Technology Update (pdf) 
Tascam DR-40 Hand held 4-track Recorder 
Trish Levido Dec 2012
This report compares the Tascam DR-40 recorder with the Zoom H4n, the digital recorder currently recommended by Oral History NSW.  The Tascam DR-40 appears to be modelled on the Zoom H4n and has some additional worthwhile features.

Oral History NSW - Comparative Review: Digital Field Recorders (pdf)
Trish Levido Feb 2011
This review concentrated on digital field recorders most suitable for people at an introductory level as oral historians.  The testing looked at functions important for the recording of oral histories at quality sound levels, ease of use and value for money. 


SD Cards 
On most digital recorders, audio is stored on SD cards or Micro-SD cards, similar to that found in most digital cameras and some mobile phones. SD cards are not all created equal.  Some poor quality cards may work in cameras but a quality card is required for audio and video recording.

The amount of data that can be stored per second varies from card to card and is defined by a Class number, written on the card with an almost complete circle.  Class 1 is the slowest with Class 10 being the fastest. Class 4 is considered the minimum required for sustained audio recording.  If no class is indicated on the card, then it is probably unsuitable for audio recording. 

Use only quality brands such as Sandisk and Verbatim.



RODE M3  $148 (8th June 2016) 

An extremely versatile microphone that opens up possibilities for anyone who records audio – from oral historians, journalists and students, to business people adding files to websites and multimedia presentations.   
Note: Stand and microphone cable must be purchased separately.


Oral History NSW Technology Report on Microphones (pdf)  
Trish Levido Feb 2013
One basic rule of recording is that the recording cannot possibly produce better sound quality than the microphone is capable of delivering.  Recording quality begins with the microphone.

Oral History NSW recommends the Rode M3 microphone. After considerable research this microphone is still considered to be excellent quality for the price.



A pair of good quality headphones that cover your ears are recommended because they allow you to hear if the recording is distorted or clear and whether there are unwanted background noises that may not be discernible with your ears alone.

Even if you do not intend to wear the headphones during the entire interview, they should be used, at least briefly and perhaps at intervals to check sound levels and possible background noise or interference.

There is a huge variation in the prices of headphones and rarely is anything below $100 of sufficient quality. An exception is the Sennheiser HD201 which is available from VideoGuys  and Turramurra Music for around $50. These give good quality sound and are comfortable enough to wear for long periods of time.

Recommended brands include Sennheiser, Sony, Bose, Audio Technica and Beyer. It is preferable to find a shop that will allow you to preview the  headphones before purchasing because although quality is important, comfort is also a consideration.


Software Programs for Sound Editing

AUDACITY - very useful free downloadable software for audio editing

The website also lists several books about Audacity.

Audacity is the editing program discussed in the Oral History NSW Introduction to Oral History workshops. 

For professional use:

Pro Tools Audio Editing Software by Avid Designs

Pro Tools M Box 2 Micro  

Versions available for both Apple and Windows Platforms

Call Adrian Mitchell, Ph (02) 9449 8487

Turramurra Music Centre 


Software to assist transcription and logging of audio recordings

Express Scribe  Digital Transcription Audio Playback Software

Audio playback control software for PC, MAC or Linux designed to assist the transcription of audio recordings.  Installed on the typist's computer it is controlled using the keyboard (using Hot Keys) or foot pedal, sold separately.

The software is free for personal use, $24.99 for professional use.

Express Scribe can be used to play and transcribe ordinary WAV or MP3 recordings and includes its own Dock feature to transfer recordings directly from portable recorders. Type using any Windows word processor. Offers valuable features for typists including variable speed playback, multi-channel control, playing video, file management, and more. 

Foot controls for digital audio transcription on PC and Mac available.
More details 

Archival Quality Discs 

PRODISC – the preferred choice of used of Libraries and Archival Oral History Collections around Australia.

All discs carry the Gold Plated Data Protection certification label and are printable using inkjet.

PRODISC are the sole suppliers of these highly commended quality products. Selecting the correct type of discs for your needs is important.  If in doubt check with PRODISC’s specialist staff.

PRODISC CD-R 74 Audio Master Gold

For accurate low – medium speed recording – real time 650 megabytes (74 minutes uncompressed).

PRODISC CD-R 74 Reference Archive Gold (650 mb)

For critical archiving, preservation, audio/video mastering, photography and oral history.

PRODISC  DVD-R (G) Data Seal Archival Gold

For audio, photographic files and video masters

Scratch proof coated. Large 4.7 gigabytes capacity

Note: these discs cannot be played in a CD Player.

PRODISC Archival Packaging Black Archive Flexi cases

High quality, archive specifications, 9mm thick unbreakable, flexible, single CD mailer with clear plastic overlay wrap for external slick and provision of booklet inside.

Only available from ProDisc Systems Australia, order online.   
Ph (02) 9016 4415 
Email info@prodisc.com.au  
Speedy delivery to your door

We recommend the informative article on PRODISC’s website “Save your music and photo collection from Disc Rot”