Knight Digital Media Center Multimedia Training

Tutorial: Compact Flash Audio Recorders

By Paul Grabowicz

For updates and discussion on this tutorial, visit:
http://kdmc.berkeley.edu/tutorials/audioflash/

Introduction

A compact flash audio recorder is a digital audio recording device that saves audio onto a compact flash card - the same kind of card used with a digital photo camera.

The amount of audio that can be recorded on a compact flash audio recorder thus depends on the size of the compact flash card used.

For the Marantz PMD660 recorder a 2 GB compact flash card can hold up to about 6 hours of audio, if recording in mono. When you turn the recorder on, the amount of recording time left on the card will be shown in the display window on the top of the recorder.

The audio on the compact flash card can be downloaded onto a computer via a USB cable.

You can also transfer the audio to a computer using an inexpensive "card reader" that attaches to the computer via a USB cable.

You remove the compact flash card from the audio recorder, and insert it into the card reader. A folder will appear on your computer desktop containing the audio files you recorded, which you then can drag onto the desktop, onto some other folder on the computer or onto a portable storage device such as a firewire drive.

Setting up the Compact Flash Recorder

Batteries

First insert batteries into the recorder. These usually are AA batteries that you slide into a battery compartment on a side or the bottom of the recorder.

On the Marantz PMD660 recorder, the battery compartment is on the bottom of the recorder. It takes 4 AA batteries, and the batteries are good for up to three hours of recording in mono.

You can check the life of your batteries by looking at the battery icon in the display window on the top of the recorder when it's on. A half full icon means 90 minutes or less of battery life is left, an empty icon means 20 minutes or less of battery life is left.

When the batteries die completely, the icon will blink and the recorder will beep. If the batteries die, you won't lose any audio you've already recorded. You'll just need to replace the batteries to do any more recording.

Note: If you're near a power outlet when recording, you also can use an AC adapter instead of the batteries to power the recorder. The AC adapter plugs into the right side of the recorder in the DV IN 5V jack.

Compact Flash Card

Next, insert a compact flash card into the recorder, usually into a slot or compartment on the side of the recorder. Insert the compact flash card facing up and with the arrow pointing in.

On the Marantz PMD660 recorder, the compartment with the compact flash card slot is on the front side of the recorder. Flip open the door to the compartment (be careful not to push the door too far down when opening). Make sure the tiny square eject button to the right is pushed in.

Insert the compact flash card into the slot, with the card facing up and the arrow pointing in. The card will snap into place. Close the door (if it won't close, check to make sure the eject button is pushed in).

To remove the compact flash card, turn off the recorder using the power switch, open the door to the compact flash card compartment and push the tiny eject button to the right of the card slot and the button should pop out. Then push in the eject button again, grab the card, slide it out of the slot and close the compartment door (if it won't close, check to make sure the eject button is pushed in).

Microphone

Next, you need to plug a microphone into the recorder.

If you're using a professional grade microphone with an XLR connector, you'll need a male-to-female XLR cable to connect the microphone to an XLR jack on the recorder.

On the Marantz PMD660 recorder, the XLR jacks are on the back of the camera.

If recording with a single microphone in mono, connect the XLR cable to the left jack, which is labeled Mono.

If you have a microphone that requires power, such as a condenser microphone, move the tiny microphone power switch to the on position, which is located to the right of the XLR jacks. This will provide 48V of power to the microphone. This is not needed with self-powered microphones, such as the Sennheiser dynamic handheld microphone or the Sony lavalier microphones. If using a self-powered microphone, leave the mic power switch off.

Headphones

Finally, you should plug headphones into the headphone jack in the recorder (which usually is labeled "headphones" or has an icon for a set of headphones). Using headphones is very important to verify that you're actually recording audio.

On the Marantz PMD660 recorder, the headphones jack is on the front side of the recorder and is labeled PHONES. Be sure to plug the headphones in or you might get feedback from the built-in speakers during recording.

You can adjust the volume level of the headphones by turning the small dial labeled HP/SPK VOL on the right side of the recorder.

Note: The headphones jack is sensitive on this recorder. If it doesn't work for some reason, plug the headphones into the LINE OUT jack on the back of the recorder. You can still use the HP/SPK VOL dial to adjust the volume level of the headphones.

Power Switch

Turn on the recorder using the power switch.

On the Marantz PMD660 recorder, the power switch is on the left side of the recorder and is labeled POWER.

Note: Unless you're recording audio, after 15 minutes of inactivity the recorder will automatically turn off. You'll have to turn the POWER switch off and then on again to re-activate the recorder.

Recording Settings

Now you should select the various modes or parameters for your recording session. These are selections like:

On the Marantz PMD660 recorder, you use three presets to do this. Each preset has some combination of the selections above for different recording situations, such as using an external microphone, using the recorder's internal microphone or getting a line feed from an audio mixer.

Here are the presets we use:

Preset 1 - for recording an interview or ambient sound with an external microphone

We set the parameters on this preset to MIC (for external microphone), PCM-48K for wav format and a 48 kHz sampling rate, mono recording, manual sound level adjustment so you can adjust the volume, and with new tracks set automatically at 5-minute intervals. The remaining parameters in the Preset follow the factory defaults (see the recorder manual for details)

Preset 2 - for recording an interview with the recorder's built-in microphone

We set this Preset to INT MIC (for the built-in microphone), PCM-48K for wav format and a 48 kHz sampling rate, mono recording, manual sound level adjustment so you can adjust the volume, and with new tracks set automatically at 5-minute intervals. The remaining parameters in the Preset follow the factory defaults (see the recorder manual for details)

Preset 3 - for line feeds from an audio mixer

We set this Preset to LINE (for a line feed from an audio mixer or console), PCM-48K for wav format and a 48 kHz sampling rate, mono recording, manual sound level adjustment so you can adjust the volume, and with new tracks set automatically at 5-minute intervals. The remaining parameters in the Preset follow the factory defaults (see the recorder manual for details). Note: the recorder does not come with an XLR to mini cable needed to connect the recorder's LINE - IN jack to a mixer.

If you're sharing the recorder with other people, you should not change any of the settings for any of the three Presets so they're always easily accessible to anyone using the recorder.

Selecting a Preset

To select one of the Presets, on the top of the recorder press the MENU/STORE EDIT button.

Press the double arrow buttons just below to scroll through the three Presets and select either Preset 1 (external microphone) Preset 2 (built-in microphone) or Preset 3 (line).

Once you've selected a Preset, press the MENU/STORE EDIT button again to save that Preset and its settings for use in your recording.

For more information on the Presets and the different settings, as well as how to customize the settings, see the Default and Customized Settings section of this tutorial.

Note: if you accidentally press the wrong button and find yourself in a menu other than the Presets described above, simply press the STOP/CANCEL button. That will return you to the recorder's standard stop mode, without changing any of the recorder settings.

Adjusting the Audio Recording Levels

Microphone Recording Level

You need to adjust the recording sound level for the microphone, to make sure it's high enough to get a good recording, but not so high that the audio becomes distorted when it peaks.

The recorder will usually have a sound level meter and a dial or some buttons you can use to adjust the input sound level.

Be sure to use the meter, rather than just the volume level you hear in your headphones, to adjust the sound.

That's because the volume level of the headphones can be adjusted separately on the recorder without affecting the actual audio input level to the recorder. Thus you might be hearing very low audio levels in your headphones because the headphone volume level is way down, but the audio input level for the recorder is actually very high and thus could be distorted.

On the Marantz PMD660 recorder, first make sure the recorder is on and you have headphones plugged in.

Now press the red REC button on the top of the recorder to begin recording, and then press the REC/PAUSE button to pause the recording. This will allow you to adjust the audio to its proper level, without actually recording as you adjust the levels.

To adjust the microphone sound level, look on the front of the recorder for the recording level control meter and the dials just to the right that you use to adjust the levels.

Speak into the microphone or have the subject of your interview speak into the microphone. The microphone should be about 6 inches from the subject's mouth, and if possible pointing in at a slight angle rather than right in front of the person (this will reduce recording popping noises from a person's lips when the microphone is positioned directly in front of the person).

Check the audio level control meter. When the audio peaks, it should only be lighting up the green lights or at most the first of the orange lights on the level meter (which is between 12db and 6db). If peak audio is lighting up several orange lights, the volume is too high and could be distorted. It definitely should not peak to 0db, which will cause the red OVER light to light up.

You can adjust the audio level with the dials to the right of the level meter.

The inside dial controls the right channel of audio input, and the outside dial controls the left channel of audio input (the left channel and outer dial are what you'll be using for a single microphone recording in mono).

If you turn the dials, they'll move together. So you can just use the handle on the inside dial to adjust the audio level for a mono recording on the left channel.

If you want to adjust the audio levels of the channels separately (for stereo recording or if you have two microphones plugged into the recorder) you need to hold the dial for one channel steady with your finger, while you turn the other dial with another finger to adjust the audio level of that channel. It's a bit tricky, so if you're going to be adjusting audio levels separately you'll need to practice this.

After setting the microphone audio volume with the level control meter, you can adjust the volume of the headphones so it is comfortable for your ears (adjusting the headphones volume will not affect the recording audio level).

Recording Audio

Now you can begin recording by pressing a record button on the recorder.

The recorder will record to a track on the compact flash card.

The track number will be shown in the recorder's display window.

With a new compact flash card, this will be track no. 1. With a card on which you're already recorded some audio, the recorder should skip to a new track, numbered one higher than your last recorded track.

On the Marantz PMD660 recorder, you begin recording by pressing the REC button on the top of the recorder.

You can tell you're recording because a small circle and arrow will appear in the display window on the top of the recorder, and a counter will start registering the time of the recording in the display.

Pausing Recording

You can pause the recording at any point.

On the Marantz PMD660 recorder, you do this by pressing the REC PAUSE button on the top of the recorder. Two small vertical bars will appear in the display window on the top of the recorder and the circle will start blinking, indicating that the recording has been paused. The time duration of the recording also will stop.

Resuming Recording

You then can resume recording, and the new audio will automatically be placed on the compact flash card after the audio recorded before you paused the recorder (it thus will not overwrite any previous audio you have recorded).

Closely monitor the recorder to make sure you are recording. It's a common mistake to get confused when switching from record to pause and back again, and wind up in pause when you think you're in record. So check to make sure the counter is registering the recording time in the display window when you want to record audio.

On the Marantz PMD660 recorder, to resume recording you press the REC button again on the top of the recorder. The new audio will automatically be placed on the compact flash card at the end of the same track as the audio recorded before you paused (if you want to start a new track for the new audio, you'll need to press the REC button a second time - see Creating Tracks below).

if you accidentally press the wrong button and find yourself unable to record, simply press the STOP/CANCEL button. That will return you to the recorder's standard stop mode, without changing any of the recorder settings.

Creating Tracks

You can periodically create new tracks for the audio you're recording, rather than recording an entire session as a single track. This will separate the audio into individual files when you download the audio onto your computer, making it easier to find audio segments you want.

For example, if you're recording an interview you might want to create separate tracks for the answer to each question you ask, so those will be in separate audio files. You also should write down a quick note about the contents of each track, which will make it easier later on to identify the audio you want to use during editing.

On the Marantz PMD660 recorder, to create new tracks while you're recording audio simply press the REC button again. This won't interrupt the recording, but instead will just create a new track for the remainder of the recording. You can repeat this process as many times as you want, to separate your audio into different tracks during a recording session.

On the Marantz PMD660 recorder, you also can set it so that after 5 minutes of continuous recording a new track automatically will be created (this is one of the default presets for the recorder).

Note: if you are using the built-in microphone on the recorder and use the REC button to create a new track while recording, a discernable clicking sound will be recorded when you press the REC button. So if you're using the built-in mic and want to record a continuous segment of audio, don't use the REC button to create new tracks.

This is not a problem if you're using an external mic or a line feed, as those will not pick up the sound of the click when you press the REC button.

Recording on a Compact Flash Card

That Has Existing Audio

When you record on a compact flash card that you previously used to record audio, the recorder will automatically go to the end of the existing tracks and create a new track for your new recording. Thus it will not overwrite any previous audio you have recorded.

Stopping Recording and

Removing the Compact Flash Card

When you're done recording, you need to press the stop recording button, turn off the recorder and remove the compact flash card.

On the Marantz PMD660 recorder, you stop recording by pressing the STOP button on the top of the recorder.

Then turn off the recorder using the power switch that's on the right side of the recorder.

To remove the compact flash card, open the door to the compact flash card compartment on the front of the recorder (be sure not to open the door too far). Push the tiny eject button to the right of the card slot and the button should pop out. Then push in the eject button again, grab the card, slide it out of the slot and close the compartment door (if it won't close, check to make sure the eject button is pushed in).

Playback

First make sure there are batteries is in the recorder, a compact flash card with your recorded audio is inserted into the recorder, headphones are plugged into the recorder and the recorder is turned on (see the set-up instructions).

During playback if you're near a power outlet, you also might use an AC adapter to conserve battery power.

On the Marantz PMD660 recorder, the AC adapter plugs into the right side of the recorder in the DV IN 5V jack.

Then press the play button and the recorder will begin playing the recorded audio. The number of the track the recorder plays will be shown in a display window. When a track has been played to the end, the recorder then will start playing the next track you recorded.

You also will be able to use arrow keys to move from one track to another or to fast forward or fast reverse within a particular track.

On the Marantz PMD660 recorder, to start playback press the Play/Pause button on the top of the recorder. You'll know you're in playback because an arrow will appear in the display window.

When you first press playback, by default it will begin playing the last track you recorded.

To select a different track, press and release one of the double arrow buttons during playback. Repeat the process until you've selected the desired track. That track then will begin playing.

To fast forward or fast reverse within a track, press and hold down one of the double arrow buttons during playback.

To pause the playback, press the Play/Pause button. Two small vertical bars will appear in the display window while you're pausing the playback.

While in pause, you also can use the double arrow buttons to move to other tracks or to fast forward or fast reverse within a track (forward/reverse will be much faster when you've pause the playback, that when you're in playback).

To stop the playback, press the STOP button.

While stopped, you can still use the double arrow buttons to move to other tracks or to fast forward or fast reverse within a track.

Note: If you accidentally press the wrong button and find yourself unable to playback audio, simply press the STOP/CANCEL button. That will return you to the recorder's standard stop mode, without changing any of the recorder settings.

Adjusting Volume During Playback

During playback you can adjust the volume level of the headphones.

On the Marantz PMD660 recorder, you adjust the headphones volume level with the dial on the left side of the recorder labeled HP/SPK VOL. This dial adjusts the volume of the internal speakers if no headphones are plugged into the recorder.

Turning Off the Recorder and

Removing the Compact Flash Card

When you've stopped playback, turn off the recorder and remove the compact flash card.

On the Marantz PMD660 recorder, you turn off the recorder with the POWER switch that's on the right side of the recorder.

To remove the compact flash card, open the door to the compact flash card compartment on the front of the recorder (be sure not to open the door too far). Push the tiny eject button to the right of the card slot and the button should pop out. Then push in the eject button again, grab the card, slide it out of the slot and close the compartment door (if it won't close, check to make sure the eject button is pushed in).

Downloading Audio to a Computer

The audio on the compact flash card can be downloaded onto a computer in several ways.

You can use a USB cable to connect the recorder to a computer and then use the recorder to select and download audio files. For assistance with this, check the manual for your recorder.

Or you can transfer the audio to a computer using an inexpensive "card reader" that attaches to the computer via a USB cable.

With a card reader, you remove the compact flash card from the audio recorder and insert it into the card reader.

A folder then will appear on your computer desktop for the compact flash card, and inside that folder are your audio files (on a Macintosh computer, the card also will appear as a "volume" icon in the upper portion of the Finder window). You then can move the audio files from this folder onto the computer or a portable storage device like a CD or a firewire drive.

Note: Before moving audio files onto the computer, you first should playback your audio on the recorder and make note of the track numbers you may want to use.

Then you can more easily identify those same numbered files in the desktop folder for your card, and only move those over to the computer or firewire drive.

With the Marantz PMD660 recorder, after you insert the compact flash card into the card reader and open the folder on the desktop, inside it you'll see another folder and two files:

Your audio files are inside the MPGLANG1 folder, so open that folder.

Each track will appear as a separate file in the folder. Each file name will have a number at the end that corresponds with the track number for the audio segment when it was recorded.

On a Mac computer, with the Finder in List view, you can select one of the audio files in the folder to preview it. Click on the play arrow in the Preview window to play the audio file you've selected.

You then can drag the files you want onto the computer desktop, onto some other folder on the computer or onto a portable storage device such as a CD or firewire drive.

After transferring the audio files, you should rename the files you've moved to the computer or firewire drive, giving them names more descriptive of the audio segment in each file.

Just be sure to keep the .wav extension at the end of any file you rename. And don't rename the files on the CF card.

When done, eject the card reader from the computer before removing the card (select the card icon on the desktop and simultaneously press the Apple + e keys).

Deleting Audio Tracks and Reformatting a Card

You can delete audio tracks on a compact flash card using the recorder or using your computer. You also can use the recorder to reformat the card, erasing all of its contents.

Deleting Audio Tracks on a Computer

If you're using a Macintosh computer with a card reader, insert the compact flash card into the card reader.

A folder will appear on your computer desktop for the compact flash card, and inside that folder are your audio files. On a Macintosh computer, the card also will appear as a "volume" icon in the upper portion of the Finder window.

With the Marantz PMD660 recorder, open the folder on the desktop and inside it you'll see another folder and two files:

Your audio files are inside the MPGLANG1 folder, so open that folder.

Each audio track will appear as a separate file in the folder. Each file name will have a number at the end that corresponds with the track number for the audio segment when it was recorded.

To delete a particular audio file for a track, simply select it and drag it to the trash. You then should empty the trash on your computer.

When done, eject the card reader from the computer before removing the card (on a Mac computer, select the card icon on the desktop and simultaneously press the Apple + e keys).

If you then insert the card back into the compact flash audio recorder, the recorder display will show a list of all the un-deleted remaining tracks. If you record a new track, it will begin after whatever tracks you retained, and the new track will be labeled one number higher than the highest number of your remaining tracks.

If you deleted all the tracks, the recorder display will not show any tracks and will begin recording with track 1.

Deleting Audio Tracks on the Compact Flash Recorder

You also can delete audio tracks on a compact flash recorder.

On the Marantz PMD660 recorder, to erase an individual track on the recorder insert a compact flash card into the recorder and turn on the recorder. Make sure the recorder is in the standard stop mode by pushing the STOP button on top of the recorder.

Press and hold down the SHIFT button and then press the MENU/STORE EDIT button on top of the recorder.

The words Trk Erase will appear in the display.

Press the ENTER button.

Now use the double arrow buttons to select the track you want to delete (the track number will flash when selected).

To delete the selected track, press the ENTER button again.

The word Executing will be displayed, followed by Completed when the track is erased.

The display then will return to the previous step, and you can again use the double arrow keys to select a new track and delete it using the same procedure.

When done, press the STOP/CANCEL button to return to the standard stop mode for the recorder (p__rior to deleting a track, you also can press the STOP/CANCEL button to exit the track delete menu and return to the standard stop mode).

If you then insert the card back into a card reader attached to your computer, the folder for the card will display a list of all the un-deleted remaining tracks.

Reformatting a Compact Flash Card on the Recorder

You also can use your recorder to reformat a compact flash card, thus deleting all of the audio files and other content on the card.

On the Marantz PMD660 recorder, insert a compact flash card into the recorder and turn on the recorder. Make sure the recorder is in the standard stop mode by pushing the STOP button on top of the recorder.

Press and hold down the SHIFT button and then press the MENU/STORE EDIT button on top of the recorder.

The words Trk Erase will appear in the display.

Now use the double arrow buttons to move through the menu until the word Format is displayed.

Press the ENTER button.

The flashing word OK? will appear on the display.

To reformat the card and delete all the files, press the ENTER button again.

The word Executing will be displayed, followed by Completed when the card has been reformatted.

The display then will return to the standard stop mode for the recorder.

If, prior to re-formatting the card, you want to leave this menu, press the STOP/CANCEL button.

Default and Customized Settings

There are many parameters and other settings on a recorder that you can change to adjust how audio is recorded. These are selections like:

Consult the manual for your recorder on how to select and change these settings.

On the Marantz PMD660 recorder, you use three presets to do this. Each preset has some combination of the selections above for different recording situations, such as using an external microphone, using the recorder's internal microphone or getting a line feed from an audio mixer.

Here are the presets we use:

Preset 1 - for recording an interview or ambient sound with an external microphone

We set the parameters on this preset to MIC (for external microphone), PCM-48K for wav format and a 48 kHz sampling rate, mono recording, manual sound level adjustment so you can adjust the volume, and with new tracks set automatically at 5-minute intervals. The remaining parameters in the Preset follow the factory defaults (see the recorder manual for details)

Preset 2 - for recording an interview with the recorder's built-in microphone

We set this Preset to INT MIC (for the built-in microphone), PCM-48K for wav format and a 48 kHz sampling rate, mono recording, manual sound level adjustment so you can adjust the volume, and with new tracks set automatically at 5-minute intervals. The remaining parameters in the Preset follow the factory defaults (see the recorder manual for details)

Preset 3 - for line feeds from an audio mixer

We set this Preset to LINE (for a line feed from an audio mixer or console), PCM-48K for wav format and a 48 kHz sampling rate, mono recording, manual sound level adjustment so you can adjust the volume, and with new tracks set automatically at 5-minute intervals. The remaining parameters in the Preset follow the factory defaults (see the recorder manual for details)

If you're sharing the recorder with other people, you should not change any of the settings for any of the three Presets, so these settings are easily accessible to anyone using the recorder.

Selecting a Preset

To select one of the Presets, on the top of the recorder press the MENU/STORE EDIT button.

Press the double arrow buttons just below to scroll through the three Presets and select either Preset 1 (external microphone) Preset 2 (built-in microphone) or Preset 3 (line).

Once you've selected a Preset, press the MENU/STORE EDIT button again to save that Preset and its settings for use in your recording.

If you're sharing the recorder with other people, you should not change any of the settings for any of the three Presets so they're always easily accessible to anyone using the recorder.

Other Settings for the Three Presets

For each of the three Presets described above, we also selected a number of other settings, almost all of which are the factory defaults for the recorder. The complete list of settings we used for each of the three Presets is:

Display Parameter Setting
Input INT MIC or MIC or LINE
Output SP/HP+LINE
Date/Time -
Rec Format PCM-48K
RecChannel Mono
PreRecord On
Manual Trk On
Auto Trk 5min
Auto Mark Off
Silent Skip Off
LevelCont. Manual
Meter Mode Normal
Mic Atten. 0dB
AutoPowoff On
Battery Alkaline
Beep On
Machine ID MZ000
Default -
Version -

Customizing a Preset

If you must customize one of the Presets because you face a different audio recording situation, such as needing to record music in stereo, we recommend choosing and changing Preset 3.(the LINE setting, which is probably the one you'll use the least). But if you share the recorder, please remember to return Preset 3 to the original settings described above after your recording session.

To customize the settings for a Preset, on the top of the recorder press the MENU/STORE EDIT button.

Press the double arrow buttons just below to scroll through the three Presets and select one (such as Preset 3).

To customize the settings within the selected Preset, press the Enter button to the right.

Now press the double arrow buttons to scroll through the different kinds of parameters you can change. When you've found a parameter you want to change, press the Enter button again.

Then use the double arrow buttons to scroll through the alternatives for that parameter until you find the one you want. Press the Enter button again to select that setting.

You'll be returned to the parameters menu for this Preset.

Now you can again use the double arrow buttons to locate another parameter to change. Press the Enter button to select that parameter, the double arrow buttons to locate the setting you want for that parameter, and the Enter button again to select that setting.

Repeat this process for other parameters and their various settings.

When you're finished selecting all the settings you want for this Preset, press the MENU/STORE EDIT button again to save the settings.

And if you share the recorder, please remember to return Preset 3 to the original settings described above after you're done with your recording session.

Note: if you accidentally press the wrong button and find yourself in some menu other than the ones described above, simply press the STOP/CANCEL button. That will return you to the recorder's standard stop mode, without changing any of the recorder settings.

About this Tutorial

This tutorial was written by Paul Grabowicz and based in part on lectures Robin Wise gave in multimedia skills classes at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism.

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