The B&H Guide to Telephone Interviews

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Interviews conducted over a telephone are so deeply woven into the fabric of our everyday lives that it's difficult to imagine talk radio or the evening news without them. Telephone interviews are critical in the production of documentary films, audio and video podcasting, and they are almost as widely used in journalism as the pad and the pen.

But how does one get access to the audio of a telephone? The task itself seems like it should be straightforward, but the complexities and variables of telecommunication make it not so. That's why the B&H Pro Audio staff can help. By exercising a little know-how and using the proper equipment, you can make professional-sounding recordings from a telephone in no time.

Recording telephone interviews represents a challenge for everyone because the quality of telephone audio itself is really poor. Your first instinct may be to use a speakerphone and record your conversation with a microphone. The resultant quality of this crude technique is going to be low, and you'll likely miss many of the nuances of the conversation. Plus, interviewees usually don't let their guard down when they know they're on a speakerphone. In order to capture intelligible, presentable, and intimate dialog, the tool to have is a Telephone Audio Interface.

 Important Note:
Various laws regulate recording a conversation whether with or without the permission of all or some of the parties to the conversation. We recommend that you seek competent legal advice from an attorney to determine what, if any, legal requirements or restrictions apply to your activities.

In this guide we're going to show you how to interview from two different kinds of telephones:

1) Land-line telephones
2) Mobile phones

Different kinds of equipment are required for land-line and mobile telephones. You must first determine with which kind of telephone you intend working, and zero in on the appropriate telephone interface for your needs. This guide will show you step-by-step how to use the least expensive telephone interface in each category, and show you the benefits you gain by using a more robust model.

Land-line telephone

Your typical wired home or office telephone is now commonly referred to as a “land-line” phone. The least expensive device for interviewing over a land-line telephone is the QuickTap from JK Audio. In order to successfully use a QuickTap, there are a few guidelines that must be adhered to:

1) You cannot use a cordless phone;
2) You cannot use a wired telephone that has the keypad built into the handset;
3) You cannot use the speakerphone while interviewing.

Most wired home or office telephones should work fine. The majority of these telephone interfaces are passive devices that require no battery or AC power!

QuickTap

Step-by-step instructions

1) Make sure the phone operates properly while plugged in normally.

2) Unplug the handset's coiled wire from the body of the phone and plug it into the “Handset” input on the QuickTap:

3) With the supplied telephone cable, plug the “Phone” output of the QuickTap into the handset input on the base of the telephone:


4) Plug the supplied audio cable into the output labeled “Audio from phone:”


5) Then plug the other end of the audio cable into whatever device you're using to record the interview. You can now dial a phone number and place the call. The audio of both your voice and your subject's voice will be sent mixed together through the supplied audio cable. This output cable can be plugged into an audio recorder, a video camera with a mic input, or even powered speakers if you're giving a presentation and want a group of people to listen in on the call.

Please Note:

The QuickTap behaves differently with different land-line telephones. If you don't get satisfactory results (such as not being able to hear the other person on the line) then you should try the same procedure using a different phone.

We've created a chart below showing some of the other land-line telephone interfaces available at B&H, and the more powerful features they offer:

THAT-1 JK Audio also makes the THAT-1 which features a volume knob and allows you to send audio (such as a pre-recorded message) into the phone.
THAT-2 One step up from there is the THAT-2 which features professional-level XLR jacks and a switch that will adjust the unit to operate with different kinds of land-line telephone handsets, a solution for one of the areas you may struggle with using a QuickTap.
Inline Patch The Inline Patch gives you the option of using a land-line cordless phone or a regular phone with a wired handset. It features a stereo output where your voice and your subject's voice will be separated on the two separate channels.

The following telephone interfaces are called “digital hybrids.”

These devices digitally split the audio of the caller and the subject into two separate outputs.

This really gives you the control needed to make a professional-sounding production.

Broadcast Host The Broadcast Host really takes matters a step forward for achieving professional quality. It allows you to plug in a professional microphone for your voice, and it has a dedicated XLR output with only the subject's voice. This is how you achieve a true broadcast-quality production sound for podcasting, video production, radio, and beyond. When your voice sounds crystal-clear through a professional mic, and the interviewee's voice has a telephone sound, it's easy for the audience to determine who the interviewer and interviewee are. It's important to note that the Broadcast Host is designed to work specifically with normal home telephone lines. If you're going to use phones in an office that has a digital multi-line PBX telephone system, you need the Innkeeper PBX.
Innkeeper PBX The Innkeeper PBX is very similar to the Broadcast Host in operation, but it's specially designed to operate over PBX, ISDN, as well as analog telephone lines such as those you have at home. You can plug in a professional microphone to capture studio-quality audio of your own voice, and have your subject's voice digitally separated to its own output.
 

Mobile phones

Recording an interview on a mobile phone works in a similar way. The most inexpensive device for this function is JK Audio's CellTap.

CellTap

The CellTap gets the audio from the mobile phone through the phone's headset jack. You must provide your own headset for your mobile phone in order to use the CellTap, because a headset is not included in the box. When you're interviewing with the mobile phone, you'll be speaking to the interviewee through your headset, not through the mic on the body of the phone.

Step-by-step instructions

1) Make sure the mobile phone operates properly and is getting a signal.

2) Plug the supplied cable with the 2.5mm connector into the headset jack of your mobile phone:

3) Plug the 1/4" end of the same cable into the input on the CellTap labeled “Wireless phone headset jack:”

4) Plug your headset into the input on the CellTap labeled “Headset:”

5) Plug the supplied audio cable into the jack on the CellTap labeled “Audio from phone.”

6) The other end of the audio cable (which is visible at the top left side of the image above) can be plugged into an audio recorder, a video camera with a mic input, powered speakers, etc. The audio of both your voice and your subject's voice will be sent mixed together through the supplied audio cable.

Please Note:

It's possible that with some mobile phones you will not be able to hear yourself in the finished product, you'll just hear the interviewee. This is because some mobile phone manufacturers do not provide “side tone” through the headset jack. When you speak into a normal telephone, you can hear yourself in the speaker of the handset as you speak. “Side tone” is when you hear yourself through your handset as you speak. When side tone is omitted from a mobile phone's headset jack, your voice will not be sent through the CellTap. The solution is to just try using a different mobile phone. Most mobile phones have a 2.5mm headset jack. If your phone has a different sized headset jack (such as an iPhone or a Nokia phone) then you must try to find an appropriate adapter at a mobile phone store.

The CellTap is the least expensive device for mobile phone interviewing, but there are more capable products available with useful features and functionality. Below we've created a chart showing some of the other mobile phone interfaces that are available at B&H and the powerful features they offer: 

Daptor Three

If you prefer to use a wireless Bluetooth headset, then the Daptor Three is for you. It's compatible with other Bluetooth-enabled products, such as laptops, and it features professional XLR and consumer mini-plug inputs and outputs. This means you can send audio (such as a recorded message) into the phone. 

Daptor Two

If you don't need Bluetooth capability, but you still want the option to play a recorded message into the mobile phone, the Daptor Two is the answer.

ComPack


JK Audio also manufactures professional, fully-featured interfaces for both mobile and land-line phones:  The ComPack is capable of interfacing with any kind of land-line phone system, as well as interfacing through the 2.5mm headset jack of most mobile phones. You can connect an analog phone wire directly into its RJ-11 jack and dial out and receive calls straight from the ComPack. On a PBX system you can plug in any kind of handset you may encounter. It features a balanced XLR output for recording or connecting to another device. You can plug in a professional microphone and headphones to place calls and receive incoming calls over a regular analog line. 

RemoteMix Sport

The RemoteMix Sport is the combination of a portable audio mixer, a headphone amplifier, and a fully-featured hybrid telephone interface that's compatible with everything from mobile phones, regular analog land-lines, to digital PBX multi-line systems. It features three microphone inputs and three headphone outputs, the ability to operate with any kind of telephone handset, and 2.5mm mobile-phone headsets.

After you've recorded your telephone conversation and loaded it onto a computer, it's possible to sweeten the audio with specialized computer software. These products cannot clean up the sound to the point where you cannot tell that they were recorded from a telephone, but they can remove hum and unwanted noise, and generally make the files more presentable. SoundSoap is an application for both PC and Mac that has all of the easy to use controls in a single window. If you require more precise control and more powerful sweetening tools, opt for SoundSoap Pro.

SoundSoap 2

For video, film, podcasting, or general creative purposes, a product exists that enables you to further enhance your phone recording. It's a software plug-in called Speakerphone, made by Audio Ease. You can quickly alter your recording in myriad ways. Change the type of phone that was used, add ambient sounds like crowd or restaurant noise. You can make your recording sound like it took place in a giant stadium or a tiny phone booth.

 Speakerphone

It's a remarkable tool for post production that's definitely worth a closer look.Should you have any further questions about recording interviews on land-line or mobile telephones, we encourage you to contact us on the phone, online, or in person at our SuperStore in New York City. 1-800-947-9923

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Add new comment

Have you tested the CellTap with an iPhone and a 2.5 - 3.5 adapter? Our online reporters are all switching to iPhone and we desperately need recording features. I'm specifically interested in whether it picks up side tone.

Hi Eirik,

I have not tested out an iPhone with a 2.5 to 3.5 mm adapter. But, I just got off the phone with JK Audio tech support. The bad news is that iPhones do not supply side tone. Unfortunately, many of the new phones that come out also do not have side tone. It helps the phone conserve battery life when side tone is omitted.

With a special adapter you can tap an iPhone with the CellTap, but you can only record the other person's voice (because of the lack of side tone). The adapter is a 2.5 mm female headset adapter to a 3.5 mm male stereo headset jack. So far I haven't been able to find this adapter in B&H's inventory. If I find it I will certainly post the information here in the comments.

Thanks for reading B&H Insights and posting your question!

"The least expensive device for interviewing over a land-line telephone is the QuickTap from JK Audio."

Actually, the Rolls Phone Patch II is about $10 cheaper. I've had great results with it. It features left and right channel RCA jacks, as well as a 1/8-inch jack

Does this device work with telephones with digital lines?  We've tested other devices and there is a loud buzz we cannot figure out how to get rid of?

Thanks