The Null Device

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The street finds its own uses for audio recording hardware, it seems. Miniaturised audio recorders and hidden microphones designed for naturalists and anthropologists are being adopted by music fans to surreptitiously record live gigs. (via TechDirt)

The equipment has legitimate purposes too, being used by naturalists to tape the sounds of tree frogs or researchers to record indigenous rituals without calling attention to themselves, but it has been embraced by tapers who see a band's "no taping" policy as a challenge.

"The fan community sees no-taping policies as damage and routes around it", to paraphrase a Grateful Dead lyricist. Meanwhile, some tapers are devising their own tricks of the trade.

Some who secretly tape frequently have special "taping clothes." One taper in the upholstery business "made himself a fancy-looking vest," said Oade. He sewed the cables and the microphone into it, and put the DAT recorder in a fanny pack.

Surreptitiously taping a gig isn't hard; doing so and getting decent sound is the tricky thing. (I've got a rather dodgy-sounding minidisc of last year's Morrissey gig to vouch for that.)

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Tips for recording live music gigs with the Archos Jukebox Recorder:

  1. Don't bother with the internal microphone, unless you like having the sound of hard-disk noise over the top of the recording every few minutes (perhaps if you're doing lo-fi glitch electronica or some form of sound-art it could add to the overall ambience). Yes, it's convenient, but it's also useless for anything other than voice notes and the like.
  2. As the Archos doesn't have a pre-amped microphone socket, you'll need an external preamp. The only pocket-sized battery-operated one I've seen that doesn't cost an arm and a leg comes with the Archos stereo microphone, so get that.
  3. Once you've got the Archos stereo microphone, throw out the cheap dynamic microphone that comes with it and, in its stead, plug a decent-quality condenser microphone into the preamp. Otherwise, no matter how you adjust the gain, anything recorded in a band venue will be distorted horribly.

I recently got the Archos microphone/preamp combo in the mail, and decided to test it this weekend. I tried recording last night's Ninetynine gig with the dynamic tie-clip microphone that came with the preamp, and ended up with a horribly distorted, and ultimately unlistenable, 60Mb MP3 file. This evening, I went to the Bidston Moss gig with the Sony stereo microphone I bought some years ago for my old MiniDisc and the recording came out sounding surprisingly good.

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