Transcription Services » Tips for Recording

Tips for Recording


At SmartDocs Transcription Services we aim to accurately transcribe all audio files that come to us- but a quality transcript starts with quality audio. We receive hundreds of audio files every week ranging from crystal clear to very poor quality.

We don’t like charging our clients more for poor quality audio, and neither do we like advising them that we can’t transcribe an inaudible file because it has been wrongly recorded. So here are our tips on the best ways to record your files, buying new recording devices and how to improve audio quality.


1. Using a dictation recorder
  •  Read the instructions carefully, making sure the recorder’s settings are correct for your type of recording.

Dictate mode is suitable for ONE speaker only and the device must be held close to the mouth for clarity. It won’t pick up a second speaker clearly.

Conference mode or Stereo High Quality (SHQ) should be used for two or more speakers, such as meetings or focus groups.

  • Don’t use Long Play mode as this will compress the file, resulting in distortion, muffle and hissing. You must use Short Play (SP) or Stereo High Quality (SHQ). SHQ will produce the largest file size, but is still the best choice for high quality audio. The file can be converted using free downloadable software (see below) to allow trouble-free uploading via the internet.
  • We accept most file formats (.mp3, .wma, .wav, .dct, .dss, .ds2, .dvf, .iaf, msv, .ogg, .aif), and most can be very clear if properly recorded. But MP3, WMA or WAV files nearly always provide the best quality audio. They are also more forgiving if the recording is not perfect, and can be slightly tweaked using our transcription software.

WAV files can be very large, so if your recording is long (say, over 2 hours) you may need to convert it prior to uploading.  DSS and DS2 files are often of poor quality when used for transcription purposes because the files are compressed. (This is a bit like squeezing a sleeping bag into a tiny cover, then finding it full of creases when you pull it back out). If using an Olympus brand recorder, please set the audio file option to MP3 or WMA.

  • Do a test run. Don’t simply speak a few words into the recorder at close range, then rewind and listen through the device. Test the recorder under your recording conditions and preferably in the same environment.
  • Use an external microphone/s. Even the best equipment may fall short when there are multiple voices, such as focus groups or multi-speaker interviews. External microphones can make a huge difference in audio quality.
  • Record in a smaller room rather than a large, empty one. If you must have a window open, remember that outdoor noise may interfere with the audio. Any noise near the microphone will be picked up and heightened, so don’t shuffle paper around the mike or move the mike while you are recording. Turn off any nearby radios and televisions, and don’t record in noisy cafes or restaurants.
  • If speakers have strong accents, ask them to speak slowly and as clearly as possible and repeat any answers that the typist may find hard to understand.
  • If you are new to recording and digital transcription, we strongly recommend sending your first audio file to us before you record more. We’ve sometimes had new clients who have uploaded 20 or more files only to be told there’s an audio problem and we can’t transcribe the file. There’s no charge for sending us an audio file and asking our opinion on the audio quality. And don’t despair – we will always try to transcribe files, no matter how poor the quality.
2. Which recording devices are best?

There really is no need nowadays to purchase an expensive dictation recorder if you have a smart phone in your back pocket. With good recording conditions as described above, Voice Memo or other dictation recording apps offer great results (and you can upload the files directly from your phone to our site from your phone’s browser). Just be sure to test out any app you are planning to use beforehand to ensure the quality is clear.

If you are keen to purchase a dedicated professional recorder, always check out online reviews and talk to the experts, as your specific requirements will indicate the right type of recorder to buy. Savings on a cheap recorder may be quickly wiped out by higher transcription costs. Olympus, Philips and Sony brand recorders are a good choice.

Some of the earlier model recorders, cheaper recorders and note-takers may compress audio by default.  When the file is played back it may be distorted and make transcription difficult.


3. How do I avoid poor quality audio?

Poor quality audio is usually a result of how the file has been recorded. Firstly, what you hear through your recording device isn’t always what we hear when it is uploaded. Some older recording devices, note takers or voice recorders compress the audio, resulting in distorted files. These are going to take longer to type, and if you add in a strong accent or a poor telephone line, the audio quality deteriorates further.

Poor quality audio can also be caused by your recorder’s microphone picking up other sounds including:

  • Voices in the background
  • Wind noise
  • Humming (often from air conditioners)
  • Paper shuffling
  • Scribbling with a pen close to the microphone.
  • Room acoustics, eg a large empty room may produce echoes.

Please try to avoid recording in cafes or other public places, because of noise from coffee grinders, scraping chairs, background music and traffic. Speakers raise their voices to be heard above the noise, and if they have accents or are softly spoken, the transcription difficulty is increased.

If you think your audio quality is poor, you can make it easier by providing notes such as speaker names, complex industry terms, or simply where you want the typist to start and finish your transcript. Many clients upload audio without realising the tape has been left on well after the interview has finished (don’t worry, you’ll never be charged for those minutes!)



4. What about strong accents?

Sometimes it’s not even the accent that’s the problem, as many Australian speakers mumble and don’t enunciate words clearly. If the audio is clear, and the speaker speaks clearly and slowly, it will help. We have select typists who specialise in transcribing accents, but these jobs may take longer than clear Australian speech.

We transcribe many files with ESL speakers, and we know how difficult the English language can be. The typist’s role is to “type what is heard”, but sometimes the words and phrases, particularly for ESL speakers won’t make sense or be grammatically correct when transcribed. In a “clean” transcript, we will correct grammar or incorrectly spoken words, but also recognise the fine line between doing a clean transcript for ESL speakers and transcribing exactly what was said. We will type as spoken for broken English to avoid changing the meaning of the words or distorting the intention of the speaker.

5. Tips for recording interviews

Use an external microphone, speak slowly and clearly. Allow the interviewees to finish their sentences and keep interruptions to a minimum. Sit still, don’t shuffle paper and don’t walk around the room. If your interviewees have strong accents ask them to speak slowly and repeat their responses if necessary.

Telephone interviews

Badly recorded telephone interviews can be difficult to transcribe, because what the interviewer hears on the telephone is not always what is recorded. Telephone microphones pick up so much more than the ear can hear, so background noise and distortion can compete with the speakers.

Follow these tips for better quality phone interviews:

  • Ask your interviewees to choose a quiet location. If you can hear the TV or radio in the background, please ask them to switch it off.
  • A small, quiet room away from background noise is best for both of you. Make sure any noisy appliances, such as air conditioners, are turned off.
  • A landline will produce better results than a mobile phone or Skype.
  • Don’t use your mobile phone on speakerphone. The microphone will pick up every sound within a short distance and may produce an inaudible recording.
  • Use a telephone pick-up microphone. These little gems, which are available online from about $20, simply plug into the MIC jack of your recorder and the earphone sits in the interviewer’s ear. The earphone microphone will pick up the interviewee’s voice, and the recorder will pick up yours.
  • A good quality microphone is best, especially if you are doing a large number of interviews.
  • Smartdocs recommends Record Retrieve (formerly 1300RECORD) to record your telephone interviews, including those on mobile phones. To find out how easy it is, click on this link


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