Hardware Recommendations - Technical Considerations

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When choosing recording equipment for linguistic fieldwork, one must seek out hardware that records data in portable formats that ensure long-term intelligibility. However, the equipment must also be practical for use in the field. This page outlines the strengths and weaknesses of various types of recording equipment.

Analog versus digital

Analog recorders are inexpensive, and are capable of capturing high quality data. However, they add their own noise to the recording and lack time-coding. Most importantly, the recordings produced by analog recorders are short-lived and the data captured by them is not accessible to any computational analysis. The materials that analog recorders produce, therefore, lack portability and long-term intelligibility.

Digital recorders, on the other hand, come with a variety of options, many of which produce recordings in formats that are quite portable and enduring. When reviewing digital recording devices, it is important to consider whether the data is compressed and which format the data is recorded in.

Audio recording

Recording Equipment: When choosing equipment for field work, look for the following features:

Digital audio recorders

Solid state

Solid state recorders produce 16-bit uncompressed pulse code modulation format (PCM) recordings. Because solid state recorders record data in standard formats (such as wav), it is easy to transfer the data to a computer.


DAT recorders can record up to 120 minutes of uncompressed, high-quality mono audio onto magnetic tape. Migration of data from this recording to a personal hard drive is lossless when good transfer software is used. Unfortunately, portable DAT recorders have become difficult to find, but they are still good choices for field work.


MiniDisc recorders produce lower quality recordings that are inadequate for detailed acoustic analysis. With the recent exception of the HiMD recorder, MiniDisc recorders compress data. Even the HiMD recorder currently requires expensive special equipment in order to upload the uncompressed file to a computer. Despite their ubiquity and ease of use, MiniDisc recorders are NOT recommended for the recording of endangered languages, because the resulting audio files are unsuitable for long-term preservation.

Hard disk

Hard disk recording devices have recently become available as small USB devices that produce very good recordings. Manufacturers such as USBPre, Digidesign, and M-Audio have developed equipment that record directly to the hard disk of a laptop. Though new, these devices are likely to become more common for field work in the future.

More on audio recording equipment

More on digitizing audio

Video recording

When selecting and using video equipment for field work, keep the following points in mind:

More on digitizing video

The content of this page was developed following the recommendations from the Working Groups at the E-Meld Conference 2003 and 2005, and from Bartek Plichta.

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Hardware Recommendations - Technical Considerations
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