Any suggestions for a voice recorder that can produce a clear rendition of the conversation of several people sitting at a table? I tried one a few years ago that sold for $100 but wasn't worth a penny. Hopefully there are better ones available now.
You mean, several people all having 1-1 conversations sitting at a table?
That is surprisingly difficult! The "just use your smartphone" solution will probably work just as bad as your $100 solution.
Even when you record in stereo (as your ears do), it will not work as well as you expect because the effect of turning your head trying to zoom-in on one of the speakers, and viewing the speaker for extra cues are absent.
See what happens in a roundtable talkshow on TV. When 2 of the guests start discussing while the talkshow host is interviewing another guest, everything becomes unintelligble.
I bought one of the little hand-held recorders (a Zoom H1) a few years ago... seems to work pretty well for the intended purpose.
One consideration with any of these recorders: miking. They usually have a cross-axis pair of condenser mikes built in, and these are pretty good for making live music and event recordings in an open space. They may not be idea for doing a recording of a conversation of several people around a table, though, for two reasons:
- They'll be somewhat directional
- They may be prone to pick up echoes from the table itself (and the room walls) which can give the voices an echo-y or hollow sound.
The recorder itself can only do as good a job as the quality of the sound which hits its mic(s).
A better choice for recording table conversations is a PZM (pressure zone microphone). These are omnidirectional microphone capsules, mounted flush with (or immediately adjacent to) a hard surface such as the table itself. Because the mic pickup is so close to the surface, there's no distinction between the "direct" soundwave from the speaker, and the "reflected" sound wave from the surface... they hit the mic in-phase and reinforce. Put one of these in the center of the table, equally distant from the various speakers, and you'd be good to go.
Most of the little hand-held digital recorders (in the $100-and-up range at least) will accept an external microphone. You could buy a commercial PZM (Crown is probably the best-known maker), or build one yourself using an electret microphone capsule and some simple materials... there are plenty of Internet resources on DIY designs for PZM / boundary microphones.
If you're only dealing with two participants, give each an individual lapel mic, run the two signals into the recorder's two channels, and get what amounts to a dual-mono recording. If you don't care for the ping-pong stereo effect when playing it back, mix the two mono signals down to one, or to a slightly-left-and-slightly-right sterep pair.
This is primary a topic for the right microphone. Few weeks ago i read about dictation software using a mobile. There was an article describing a solution, that can switch between the two mics in a mobile. using the back-mic had the effect of having more quality from the people staying few meters away while using the front-mic is prefereably used for dictation. Unfortunately I don't remember what program this was. But it is an Android SW.