How to Record Interviews Anywhere

In this era of mobile podcasting, reporters often have to record interviews anywhere — in noisy coffee shops, on trains or on campaign buses. Getting clean audio for two or more people quickly on the go can be a challenge if the interviewer is not prepared for it.

With iPhones and small portable audio recorders now readily available, it is very convenient to always carry a pair of tiny lavalier microphones for use when needing to do interviews on the go. When you get a recording system that meets your needs, these tools become trusted friends — ones you can count on time after time to deliver the high quality on a consistent and reliable basis.

As a reporter who has long done podcasts at a variety of noisy locations, I favor small, portable field equipment for spoken word interviews. Until recently, I carried a small portable audio recorder, but these days I also use an iPhone as well. Wherever I go, I am always equipped and ready to do an interview without carrying extra weight.

Of course, many recorders are now available with XLR connectors and any professional lavalier microphone can be used. But these models are larger in size. The bulk and weight of the entire package precludes my carrying the system everywhere I go. I tend to only use larger recorders when I know I will be recording more than two people in the field.

When recording, I prefer routing the audio of the person I am interviewing to one channel and putting my own voice on the other. This way I can adjust the different levels during the editing of the interview. There are, however, systems that route both mics to a single channel. It’s personal preference which way the interviewer wants to go.

Polsen OLM-20 dual mic system

Polsen OLM-20 dual mic system

For those who just want to be prepared, there are some inexpensive options. One is the Polsen OLM-20 dual omnidirectional lavalier microphone(s) ($44.95), which sends each of two microphones to a different channel using a ⅛-inch (3.5mm) stereo mic jack. The mics run on a 1.5 volt button cell battery for about 40 hours and don’t require power from the recorder.

For very low-cost lavs, the Polsen system works well. But, at only $45, it is not fully professional quality and I would not trust it in areas with high background noise in critical situations. Also, the battery solution is a bit old fashioned and funky for my taste.

For a more professional solution, the Rode SC6 ($19.95) is a small adapter for iPhones that allows two professional low-voltage lavs to be combined onto a single channel and powered with the phone’s plug-in-power.

Rode SC6 with mic and headphones

Rode SC6 with mic and headphones

Basically, the SC6 is a tiny input/output breakout box and the inputs must use TRSS mic plugs. Mics with standard TRS connectors must be converted to TRSS using a connector like the Rode SC4 ($15).

With two TRRS inputs and one stereo headphone output, the SC6 connects to any TRRS device and allows the use of one or two lav microphones as well as headphones for monitoring and playback. With the SC6, users can monitor audio from the lav mic, as well as input two lavs into the one mono channel.

The only downside is that the two microphone inputs are recorded to the same channel. So they cannot be split during editing. The SC6 can be used with Rode’s Lavalier ($233.29), SmartLav ($79) or other mics that can use plug-in-power.

Years ago, I had a custom configuration made long before the cheaper solutions emerged. It still works well today. I used a pair of MilliMics ($299.25 each) from Professional Sound Corporation. These tiny omnidirectional electret lavs offer natural sound in noisy conditions, high output and a wide range of mounting accessories that make masking clothing noise easy.

PSC Millimic

PSC Millimic

Today’s Millimics have a lithium power supply that lasts five years, but I had mine modified to take advantage of the .9 to 20 volt operating range that these tiny mics use. Such low power consumption allows me to tap into the plug-in-power feature found on most phones and audio recorders.

The spec is not widely publicized, but plug-in-power delivers 2.71 volts on the 3.5mm mic connectors. Though originally designed for consumer microphones, the voltage can now adequately power many newer generation professional mics. MilliMics were one of the first low power mics.

With the help of Location Sound Corp. in N. Hollywood, CA, I outfitted two MilliMics with mini connectors that allowed them to be powered off any recorder with plug-in-power. Then, I had a special Y-cable adapter with a 3.5mm jack made so I could use a mic on each channel with full recorder powering.

The male mic cable connectors were also wired so that if I choose to use only one mic, it can be plugged directly into the recorder and will deliver sound to both channels. If I want to use a smart phone, I simply go through a Rode SC4.

The MilliMics — coupled with a portable recorder or iphone — make an elegant and convenient configuration for a personal recording system. And because these mics are high-quality professional units, they cut through the background noise on location and offer superior audio quality.

I’m certain today there are many more options for portable recording of more than one voice on location. But having different voices on individual channels can save hours of editing, especially if one voice is lower than the others and requires special processing.

It also makes a critical difference when one uses professional equipment for such interviews. Sometimes it’s difficult to tell the difference when not comparing cheap mics with high-quality ones on a location. But the difference is apparent when they are compared. The sound quality will jump out to listeners in less than desirable conditions.

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