Oral History Recording "Cheat Sheet" (using Zoom H2 Handy Recorder)

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this was submitted to the Summersell Center at UA for an oral history interview project they plan to begin in Februrary of 2009. This "cheat sheet" follows on their purchase of equipment recommend to them by Digital Services.

Recording Cheat Sheet: Face-to-Face Oral History Interview

Equipment List

a. Zoom H2 recorder and all included accessories, most especially the A/C power adapter.
b. two Audio-Technica ATR-35S Lavalier Microphones:


c. 1/8" Dual Mono Jack to 1/8" Stereo Plug Y-Adapter. aka "splitter":


d. pair of headphones

if purchase needed, I recommend: Sony MDR-V150, widely available in stores and online: http://www.sonystyle.com/webapp/wcs/stores/servlet/ProductDisplay?catalogId=10551&storeId=10151&langId=-1&productId=11035219

e. two or three SD cards of 4 gigabyte capacity.

for a list of compatible SD cards: http://www.zoom.co.jp/english/products/h2/SDlist.html

f. AA batteries for Zoom H2 (Item A). you may use either alkaline or rechargeable NIHM batteries.
  • note that in face-to-face interviews you'll probably want to use the A/C power adapter, but batteries should be on hand for emergencies, etc.
g. spare batteries for microphones (Item B). please refer to respective manual for type of battery needed.
h. printed copy of Zoom H2 Manual: http://www.samsontech.com/products/relatedDocs/H2_user_manual.pdf

Equipment Setup

Setup procedures will make use of section #1 (Equipment List) as well as the following figures:

Zoom h2 a.PNG
  • Figure 1 (above)
Zoom h2 b.PNG
  • Figure 2 (above)

a. Insert SD card slot into Zoom H2 (see Zoom H2 manual, pg 11).
b. Connect A/C power adapter to "AC Power" input (figure 2) and connect to power outlet. Do not turn anything ON.
c. Attach Zoom H2 to "Desktop Stand" and place recorder on suitable platform/table.
d. Insert the male end of the splitter (Item C) into "External Mic In" (figure 2).
e. Connect one microphone (Item B) into one empty female input of splitter. Repeat for other microphone.
f. Turn both microphones ON via their respective on/off switches.
g. Connect headphones to "Phones/Line Out" (figure 2).
h. Turn On Zoom H2 recorder (see Zoom H2 manual, pg 13).
i. Ensure SD card is empty by formatting it (see Zoom H2 manual, pg 61).

Recording Setup and Procedure

a. Set the record mode to "WAV44.1kHz/16bit" (see Zoom H2 manual, pg 35). This is the default mode, but it is important to verify this setting.
b. Set the AGC/COMP setting to "AGC2 (SPEECH)" (see Zoom H2 manual, pg 37). This is VERY important. If this setting is omitted, your recording level could end up tragically too low or disastrously too high.
c. Turn the "Lo Cut" setting to ON (see Zoom H2 manual, pg 38).
d. Set the Zoom H2 to record in standby mode (see Zoom H2 manual, pg 17, step #1). At this point the microphones are activated even though sound is not being recorded.
e. Begin speaking at a normal conversational level. This might be a good opportunity to get your interviewee loosened up. Watch the LED display and observe the Level Meter (see figure below). Aim for having the meter fluctuate up and down between roughly the -24 and -12 levels, preferably toward the middle of that range.
Zoom h2 c.PNG
  • If the levels are too high, turn the record level down. If they are too low, turn them up. (see Zoom H2 manual, pg 30, #4).
f. Start recording (see Zoom H2 manual, pg 17, step #2). Remember if the counter is not moving, you ARE NOT recording.
  • Consider using the recording itself to embed information about the interview: i.e. announce the date and other information (name of project, interviewee name, etc.) prior to the first question. This can help prevent mix-ups in the future. It also adds “metadata” into the audio track itself.
  • Please keep a ledger of the file name and to what interview it corresponds. This will assist you when you are ready to move the files to your computer and rename them.
g. When the interview is over, Stop recording (see Zoom H2 manual, pg 17, step #3). You may also stop recording for a lengthy break, etc. Just know that when you start recording again, you will be recording to a new file name.
  • Files can be joined easily, so an interview spread across a few files can seamlessly be combined. Therefore, do not hesitate to stop and restart recording for extended breaks, etc. Just keep track of it in your ledger so that the situation is documented.
h. When the recorder has stopped saving the file, turn the power OFF for the ZOOM H2 (see Zoom H2 manual, pg 17).
i. Turn OFF the microphones, detach them and the splitter from the Zoom H2, and remove the A/C power adapter.

Recording Environment

Microphones are equal opportunity devices. They will pick up whatever is in the environment that they hear whether you want them to or not.

- Try to record in a quiet room without echo (carpeted rooms are often good at absorbing unwanted reverberations).
- Avoid being near noise-making devices such as computers, fans, a/c and heating units, refrigerators, and other noisy equipment such as certain ceiling lights that "buzz".
  • We will be able to eliminate a certain amount of background noise in post-production, but it is always best to try and get the best recording possible in the first place. The better the recording is in the first place, the less post-production work is needed and the better the recording will sound overall.

File Transfer

Files should be copied to a computer hard drive as soon as possible after the recordings have been made. You can retrieve files from the Zoom H2 in two ways:

a. Attached the Zoom H2 to a computer via USB and drag/drop the files onto your local hard drive (see Zoom H2 manual, pg 71, 72 - particularly pg 72, #5).
b. Remove the SD card from the Zoom H2 and insert it into an empty SD card slot on your computer or monitor (depending on your hardware configuration) and drag/drop the files onto your local hard drive.
  • After the files are on your local drive, please rename the files per the file naming convention and update the metadata spreadsheet so that filename corresponds with information about the recording :(date/time, interviewee name, etc.) You may then begin the process of documenting large sections of extraneous sounds you want removed.
  • Note that this" cheat sheet" does not cover issues of file backup and burning files to DVD disc, etc.

Additional Information

a. On the following website, there are 2 videos that might be useful to watch (requires Quicktime). The videos are entitled “Click here to watch the Zoom H2 Basic Recording Video! “ and “Click here to watch the Zoom H2 Setting Recording Levels Video!
b. Of course, the best way to learn is to practice by doing several "mock" interview recordings prior to the real thing.

All product images taken from product website and/or official product manual.