The skinny on recording apps, devices for journalists

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Recording apps

Finding the right recording app can be a challenge for journalists.

Recording phone interviews got a whole lot trickier when journalists stepped out of the office and started using cells as primary contact numbers. As a freelance journalist, I fought my husband for years on giving up our home office landline because I didn’t want the poor-quality recordings that clunky suction mics produced.

That was 10 years ago. You would think that, given the leaps and bounds we’ve made in communications technology, we would have come further. Yet most cell recording options for roving journalists are still a bit “meh.” Bottom line: Almost none of the recording apps are free (no matter what they advertise), most recordings they produce are a somewhat muffled and many are cumbersome to operate.

Some options, though, are better than others. Here are a few that Kip Program — and journalists we know — have luck using.

We rated the features on a scale of 1-5, 1 = worst, 5 = best.

Google Voice

For: iPhone and Android users

Like most Google products, Google Voice is free unless you opt for more advanced functions, such as having it transcribe your recorded calls. Setting it up is a bit of a headache because you have to obtain a Google Voice number (almost none of which are available in major area codes — mine is from the Toledo area); load the app onto your phone; then log into your Google Voice account on the web to set up the recording option under the Settings “gear” (easiest done on a computer).

The biggest detraction is that you can record only incoming calls, which means asking your sources to phone you. Once they call, however, you can start the recording at any time by launching the app and simply pressing “4” on your phone keypad. That triggers a message saying the call is being recorded — a bit awkward because you have to explain what’s happening. Recorded calls are automatically sent to your Gmail inbox.

The recording quality is fine for note-taking, but not good enough for broadcast purposes, our sources say. And the transcriptions — should you choose to buy them — are just plain “laughable.”

Setup: 1
Recording quality: 2
Ease of use: 4
Cost: 5


Call Recorder by Component Studios

For: iPhone users

This app claims to be free, but that’s only the case if you record just the first minute of your conversation. Otherwise, you must purchase credits: 30 minutes for 99 cents, 2 ½ hours for $4.99, etc.

Setting the app up is a simple download and establishing payment for credits. Call Recorder works by merging its access number with your existing phone call. It can be used in either incoming or outgoing calls. To avoid making your caller wait while you set it up, we found it’s best to launch the app before the call. (This does eat up some of the recording credits, however.) Once launched, you can go to your contacts/dial pad and start another call. Then you hit “Merge Call” and the recording begins.

When this app is clunky: If your source calls you first, you must ask them to wait while you launch the app and dial the access number. There’s an annoying lag before both calls register and allow you to merge them. The whole process takes about 30 seconds.

One plus: Call Recorder stores your calls within the app for easy access.

Setup: 4
Recording quality: 2
Ease of use: 2
Cost: 2


Call Recording by

For: iPhone and Android users

This app is easy to set up and very user friendly. It allows you to test its features by providing your first 20 minutes of record-time free. The catch: After the trial, you must pay per use (at a pricey 25 cents per minute) or lock into a monthly plan ($8 for unlimited recording).

A benefit of this app is it can record both incoming and outgoing calls. When making a call through the app, it allows you to access your contact numbers or dial the call directly in the app, so you don’t have to wait while the calls merge.

Once you’ve recorded the call, you can listen to it in the app, email yourself an audio link or pay to have it transcribed (one hour costs $40).

The audio is suitable for taking notes, but isn’t broadcast quality.

Setup: 5
Recording quality: 3
Ease of use: 4
Cost: 1


TapeACall Pro

For: iPhone users

Our broadcast fellows agree, TapeACall Pro is one of the best apps for broadcast-quality recordings. It is available in 35 languages and is used widely internationally.

Like other recording apps, it works by merging its access number with your call, which can mean lag time while you’re setting up the merge. However, it does record both incoming and outgoing calls, so you can set up the recording before dialing your source.

It has some pluses over other apps: It allows you to label recordings, upload them to Google Drive, EverNote and Dropbox and share them via Facebook, Twitter or texts. The app doesn’t limit the length of the recordings or the number you make.

Its one downfall: It’s pricey out of the box, $9.99 to download the app. However, TapeACall doesn’t charge monthly or per-minute fees, so if you’re recording a lot, you’ll probably come out ahead by making the initial purchase.

Setup: 4
Recording quality: 5
Ease of use: 3
Cost: 3


Olympus TP-8 Telephone Pick-up Microphone

v4571310w000_1Works for both iPhone and Android users

If you don’t want to mess with apps and have a good digital recorder already, this microphone might be the best and most cost-effective ways to tape your calls. It lists at $19.99, but is available on Amazon for around $12.

The mic’s jack plugs into your voice recorder and the ultrasensitive mic slips into your ear, receiver facing out. Hold the cell phone to the same ear and the mic captures both your voice and that of your interviewee. It produces clear, crisp recordings but does pick up background noise, so be sure to use it in a quiet spot.

A plus: It works on landlines as well. But who uses those?

Setup: 4
Recording quality: 4
Ease of use: 4
Cost: 3

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