Saturday, April 12, 2008

"Ask Capt Force" No. 1 - How Do You Record Cockpit Audio?


This is a regular blog post. Please browse the other entries if you’re looking for show notes or links to show audio.

Here’s the first in a series of answers to frequently-asked questions (FAQs). This time: How do you capture cockpit audio?

I use the M-Audio MicroTrack 24/96 (the most recent model of which is available from Sweetwater Sound and other places). I select the 1/4" input with low sensitivity and the levels cranked almost all the day down (to avoid overdriving). An attenuating cable would also work, but I just haven’t gotten around to finding the right one (which would involve a lot of experimentation and, as long as this setup works and it’s not hurting the MicroTrack, I’m good to go). I plug a 1/4" guitar cable into the intercom in the back seat of the C-172s that I fly and plug the other end into the left side input of the MicroTrack. At the lowest setting (MP3 format, 44.1 KHz and 96 Mbps), I can get 4-5 hours of audio onto a 512MB CF card (well beyond the roughly 2.5-hour battery capacity of the unit if you don't use external power). The MicroTrack has a mini-USB port, so you can get auxiliary power using lots of devices available on the net or at your local electronics store or drug store.

Frankly, any recording device will work if you can get the 1/4" intercom to feed into the input of the device. But remember that there's enough juice there to drive a headset, so you'll need to turn the sensitivity way down or get an attenuating cable.

Charlie Thompson also has some good commentary in his February 14, 2008 blog post.

There's a picture above of the MicroTrack (it's at the lower right in the picture of the back seat of the airplane). There's video equipment in the shot, too. I put a bullet camera on the dash and had the actual camcorder in the back seat, too. Haven't done any video on the podcast and am unlikely to, but it was a cool experiment.

If you want to do video, check out The Student Pilot Journal and contact Greg Summers. He's the best podcaster out there at recording his own cockpit experiences on video. And the audio quality is excellent. Probably better than my audio-only recordings. Will Hawkins of The Pilot's Flight Podlog is an excellent videographer and editor and would be a great resource, but he doesn't currently post video of himself in the cockpit.

The MicroTrack is also very useful outside the cockpit. Here, I’m interviewing USN LtCdr Craig Olson, the Opposing Solo of the USN Blue Angels on the ramp at Battle Creek.


And here I’m interviewing Viper East commander and F-16 demo pilot USAF Maj Jason Koltes at the same event.

Here’s a shot of my remote production setup. The MicroTrack plugs directly into the USB port of my laptop and acts just like any other outboard storage device, so I can bring the audio into Audacity and edit it right there at Starbucks. I had the interview with Maj Koltes posted within an hour of sitting down at Starbucks.

Hope all of this is helpful. Enjoy!

2 comments:

Mark Zinkel said...

Thanks, thanks, and thanks again. I'll have to record all of my training flights as well. Heck...I might as well make another student pilot podcast.

Anyways, I'll have to get myself an audio recorder of some sort. I'll add it to the Christmas list!

Cy the guy said...

You can also do this with an iPhone or iPod touch. Get the 1/4" iPhone line adapter from here :

http://www.petersontuners.com/index.cfm?category=135&action=itemView&itemID=39

Then find a 1/4" to 1/4" jack cable. Plug it in and find any recording app on the appstore (iRecorderPro?) that lets you set audio levels.

You've just saved alot of $$$!