Recording with Phones - 2015

I have always been of the mindset that the quality of the photo you get with a camera or the quality of the recording you get with a recorder is partially attributable to the quality of your equipment and partially attributable to the skills of the photographer/recorder. 

That said, I have long been a doubter with regard for the ability to get good frog call recordings with a cell phone. I see these posted all the time on websites such as inaturalist and they are generally pretty poor recordings.


My own attempts in the past have shown my phones to be noisy and not very good at picking up the subtleties of some species. However, a few days back, I was out recording frogs in Atascosa County, Texas after some heavy rains and I thought I would revisit this test with my new cell phone (an LG G3). 


So I pulled up along a quiet road where some Texas Toads (Anaxyrus speciosus) and a Rio Grande Leopard Frog (Lithobates berlandieri) were calling. 


I simultaneously held my phone and my microphone out the window and recorded with both. The microphone was a Sennheiser K6/ME66 using phantom power being recorded by a Tascam DR680 recorder. This recording combo has proven to produce a very nice, high quality recordings in the past. 


The phone recording was made by holding my phone next to the microphone and recording using the Tascam PCM recorder app for Android.  I feel this is the best app I have tried for getting quality recordings with an Android device.**


What I ended up with was two recordings. They were both treated the same way in Audacity. I cut out the exact same section (time) of each recording and then reduced the low frequency noise with the equalizer and adjusted the gain to bring the peaks up to -6db. 


I then pasted the two recordings together one right after the other. Can you tell which one is which?




Here's the spectrogram of the recordings:


And the answer is..........




the phone is the first part, the Sennheiser/Tascam is the second.  I'm amazed at how good the phone recording is.  The Sennheiser/Tascam does have a better signal:noise ratio, but the phone holds its own pretty well.  You can see how the Sennheiser/Tascam picked up more detail in the trill of the Texas Toads.


Does that mean you can get good recordings with a phone?  Sure, if you use good technique.  

  1. Have a good phone and a good app.
  2. Get as close as you can to the calling frog or chorus.
  3. Block the wind from making noise on your phone.
  4. Hold the phone very still/carefully.  Better yet, set it down on a surface so your movements don't get picked up as noise.
I was pretty pleased with the results of my informal test.  I will certainly feel confident using my phone to grab a recording in the future when I don't have better gear with me.

**I have recently begun using a new app on my smartphone for recordings called RecForgeII.  It is also free and seems to give you a bit more control than the (very good) Tascam PCM Recorder.

There is a very good, up-to-date discussion about using smart phones for recording wildlife (birds) on the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's Macaulay Library page. It is a great resource to read about how to use your phone to make quality recordings. 
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© Chris Harrison 2016

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