Audio Recording: Tips for Teachers (Using Smartphones and More)

Audio recording gear

Article and photography by Mike Simpson

Are you recording audio in your classes or at home? Do you wonder how to make your recordings sound their best? If the answer is yes, you’re in the right place. In this post we offer tips for recording audio, editing audio and figuring out the best tech and apps to use for your recording process.

The purpose of this blog post is to offer some tips for teachers who want to work with audio recording but may have little experience with digital audio.

In a previous article about using blogging and social media to improve your communication skills. I described how your English writing skills can improve via your blog or social posts. Here I shift to how teachers (and anyone else, including students), can up their media game by learning how to record and edit audio.

As a teacher I’ve recorded myself or my students multiple times. Recording my students was for assessment purposes but recording myself was for presentation purposes, which I intended to reuse, so I always tried to get a high quality recording, and give it a solid production.

As an education and media professional I won an award from TESL Canada for my work on Ancestry All the audio recordings were made with top quality audio gear including the Zoom recorder and a USB podcast mic. Using top equipment pays dividends and doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg.

Here is the basic outline for the topics in this article. I’ll explain more about each following the list.

  • Get the best recording tech you can afford
  • Smartphones can work (with caveats)
  • Use pro recording gear and pro settings
  • Learn recording techniques, and use editing software
  • Recommended gear and upgrades
  • Get Tech: Learn about tech and use it as much as you can


There is an expression that goes something like “get the best you can afford.” which is fairly widespread and widely followed. It means determine your budget and acquire what you need at the top range of your budget.

Now audio recording doesn’t have to be expensive to get good or even professional results. You may be surprised by this. With $100-200 budget there is some amazing equipment out there.

In contrast to video recording, audio recording is simpler and cheaper. But don’t cheap out – get the best tech that fits within your budget, even if it is just a mic and tripod for your smartphone.

Buying a flagship smartphone rather than a midrange or budget phone is an example of buying gear that make the difference when creating media yourself with everyday tech.


“Can you use a smartphone?” you may be asking. Well, absolutely, but I would encourage you to do some tests, and preferably use a newish device. Also be sure you understand the settings and choose the highest quality audio possible on your device.

Different devices and apps = different results

My Samsung S20 is two years old, and it records great audio. But my LG smartphone, which is 5 years old, isn’t up to the job. When I played back audio on the older device there was noticeable noise that was especially apparent in the quiet parts between the spoken words.

Like the differences mentioned above between two different phones, do not assume that your device is using the best settings or that all apps work equally well. On my Android, the Samsung voice recording software is superior to the 3rd party software I used to use. Though the 3rd party software uses WAV, the Samsung uses high quality M4A yet optimizes the audio with limiting and compression to produce a better sound file.

Are you using iOS? Use the Voice Memo app to start doing recordings. You can edit from inside the app but you can’t see quality settings so head over to the phone settings and locate the Voice Memos setting to adjust quality.

Ralph, one of our CCLCS staff, commented: “When I need to record something, I just use my iPhone’s mic from the voice memo app, and send it to my desktop to play around with Audacity (audio editing software). I have a format-converting app on my tablet, Audio Converter, as well as Audacity and MP3 Converter, because students send me all kinds of crazy formats, when I ask for recordings, reflections, monologues, etc.”

We appreciate those software tips. You might need to try a few audio recording, editing and even conversion apps to work with either your audio or your student’s audio.

The caveat in all of this is that while a very recent iPhone or Android phone can record good audio, it may not be acceptable for recordings which you intend to use for professional projects.

For general purposes a smartphone can do a great job, but it will not be the best tech for the job. It also depends on whether it’s a one-time recording, of if you want to reuse your content and potentially distribute to a larger audience. If you answer yes to those potentials you should record and process your audio with better tools than a smartphone.

However, to sum up, a flagship smartphone can work, if your room is quiet, your voice is recorded with good volume and the overall recording is clear and strong. Just play with different settings and apps to get the best recording possible.

Tip: Some people think high quality audio creates “big files.” It’s simply not true. A one minute lossless audio recording on an iPhone (high quality setting) is probably about 2 MB, which is about the same or less than a standard JPEG image file. A low quality recording is about 500 kb but will likely have noticeably less presence and range. Neither are very big so go with the higher resolution setting.

Smartphone Software and Audio Quality

Let’s compare the functionality of the native voice recording apps on iOS and Samsung. Both apps, on state of the art flagships from either company will allow you to record very good audio on your phone. However they differ quite a bit, mainly in that Apple’s app offers fewer options.

Apple’s Voice Memo software records in mono and allow you to choose between lower quality and higher quality (compressed vs lossless). A 1 min. compressed file is about 500 kb while a 1 min. lossless file is 2 MB. You can trim inside the app.

Samsung’s Voice Recorder records in stereo which is handy for multiple speakers. There are 3 quality settings from low to medium to high. You can edit your file and also do transcriptions right inside the app (iOS will do this in 3rd party software).

While Samsung packs in more features it is likely the quality of the audio is similar. Both smartphones will create good recordings but neither will capture pro-level recordings.

You can learn more about formats and quality in the next section.

Examples of Low and High Quality Formats and Resolutions

Generally speaking always choose the highest quality you can and often it is better to choose uncompressed over compressed audio or lossless over lossy.

A lot depends on your device and gear but generally speaking MP3 is often poorer than WAV and the higher the frequency the better the sound. However, within each standard there are variations in quality. The settings on the right (high quality) represent better sound.

Note: In addition to the common format MP3, a new format has emerged called M4A. It is similar but uses AAC compression which is considered better than the compression used in MP3.

  Low quality    High quality
  MP3:  64 kbps    MP3:  256 kbps – 320 kbps
  WAV:  8 bit 22 kHz    WAV:  16 bit 44.1 kHz – 24 bit 48.1 kHz

Other low quality compressed formats: OGG, Windows Media

Other high quality uncompressed formats: AIFF, PCM/WAV

Affordable Gear Upgrades

As mentioned earlier in the article, smartphones are a starting point, but they are far from ideal when wanting to create high quality recordings. There are some inexpensive ways to upgrade your kit. First of all, test your recording using your phone. Just be sure to play it back on high quality speakers or headphones which will reveal any noise, hum, hiss or crackle.

After testing the mics on your phone consider other recording devices you may already have. A laptop, headset with mic, and any external microphone at all, may represent an upgrade over your phone. Do some recording tests that compare two or more devices at once.

Why Would I Upgrade My Gear?

If things are worth doing they are worth doing right. The difference between media that is worth watching or listening and media you can do without often comes down to production value. Slickly produced content is sticky. People want to consume it. Media that is rough around the edges of low quality will lag in interest.

You may spend hundreds of dollars a year on training, conferences, professional organization fees, smartphones, computers and other tech – why not spend some money on professionalizing your content creation skills? All this tech can be used for decades and often has good resale value.

Smartphone Mic vs. Portable Recorder

The following are our picks for affordable recording tools. the basic elements of each group are within $100-$200.

Rode Vlogger kit with microphone, light and tripod

How about a kit that is a killer upgrade for your phone? this one includes a mic, light and tripod. This upgrade will really elevate your audio (and video) game. I love this because it takes your phone and converts it to an in-house media creation kit. You don’t need to vlog to use this gear. Any education professional could get some mileage out of it.

Rode Vlogger kit: $200 at Amazon, Vistek and other retailers

Rode VideoMic only: $110 (Me-L for iPhone, Me-C for Android, or 3.5 mm jack version)

Zoom H2N Handy Recorder

How about a portable audio recorder with pro audio ability? This little device records at much higher quality than any smartphone and any Rode mic. One benefit is that using a dedicated recorder means your phone is free for other purposes. The Zoom runs on batteries or AC power and uses an SD card for file storage.

Zoom H2N: $225 on Amazon.
Zoom H1N: $160 on Amazon

Which is better?

To be honest the portable audio recorder is my preference. The main benefit is that your phone is not tied up while you are recording, and the quality is better. If you are shooting video though, or want that option, a mic that attaches easily to your phone is a sweet convenience.

Whichever route you go please consider using a tripod. I love elevating my recording device and a mini tripod (or even a full size tripod partially extended) can get your recording device up to a comfortable level and keep the process hands-free.

Get Good Recordings and Learn to Edit

Now that we have discussed recording gear upgrades it is time to discuss software to assist you with your editing. Whether you use a smartphone or pro recorder it is nice to load up a proper editing tool on your Mac or PC, look at your audio on a bigger screen, and make sure your creation sounds as good as it can.

The basic principle of audio recording is “does it sound clean?” If you have a strong recording with a rich voice, and little or no background noise then you have something to work with.

Obviously using top quality gear will get you off to a good start, recording with little noise and strong input signals (if you have a meter you should ideally be hitting -12 db or -6 db without clipping or hitting 0). Ignore any advice that says you are safe under 0 as it is too easy to hit 0 as a level and ruin your digital audio recording.

If you are recording with a smartphone, headset or old mic and find there’s a bit of ambient noise that you want to reduce, try using “noise removal” tools. There’s often an automatic mode that will analyze your audio and magically reduce noise. If there’s an adjustment slider experiment with intensity. iOS has an enhancement function in the Voice Memo app that could help with this.

Noise removal often squashes or compresses the voice in a way that strips some frequency and results in a narrower, flatter voice. A little can go a long way, too much can ruin the recording.

Of course using the best gear at hand will ensure but it’s surprising how much we can improve recordings at the editing stage. You can’t fix a bad recording in editing – but you can make a good recording better and sometimes even great.

Editing and Editing Software

You can make basic edits inside your smartphone software. One basic starting point with audio is trimming “top and tail” which refers to beginning and end. When recording it is likely you have 5-10 seconds or more of dead air, noise from handling the device or background sound. You will likely want only 1-3 seconds of silence at the beginning of the file before your voice comes in.

There are two basic ways to do this:

  • Fade in / fade out
  • Cut (remove sound) or lengthen with “insert silence”

In either case, the goal is to have a gentle few seconds at the beginning or end of your file. Fading in and out is a very common and professional approach. Usually your audio software allows you to place markers or cue points on the “volume” adjustment and you can decrease and increase the height of the marker to get the effect just right.

You may also need to cut excess silence or some type of click or chair squeak or other room noise at the beginning of your file. Often you end up with the need to lengthen your file so you might insert silence at beginning or end. Silence is golden, and sometimes pure silence is better than fading in and out.

Experiment with these approaches to making the entrance of your audio smooth and having it exit just as smoothly.

Using Free or Inexpensive Desktop Software

One favorite software which is free is Audacity. It is available on all platforms. One small issue is it won’t open M4a files which are pretty common, so you may need to additionally install FFMPEG. It is otherwise a professional level software.

If you have a subscription to Adobe CC, try their “Audition” software. Last but not least, I recommend the free and incredibly capable DaVinci Resolve video editing software which has a mode called “Fairlight” which can work some magic on your recordings (their noise removal is quite good).

Don’t discount the software Mac or Windows may already have bundled into your OS. On a Mac you can download Garageband to do some recording and editing. Like Audacity, when you view an audio file in software like this you look at the file in a timeline view that starts on the left and ends on the right. Various tools allow you to shift the audio, trim it, or create volume edit points.

Screenshot image from Apple’s Garageband software.

Take a look at this page on recording an audio track. It shows that there are a few simple actions to getting a recording started. If you can connect a mic to your computer you are halfway there.

Is that simple or what? Absolutely. Of course it will take a bit of time to connect a mic to an audio interface or even a headset to your mic input on your laptop – and possibly make adjustments to your audio or sound setup in “settings” –  but probably within a few minutes you will have an audio signal coming through.

Tip: Ignore the temptation to think that Garageband or “music software” in general is not appropriate or too complicated for voice editing. It’s not true. If you have done any simple editing in image editing software it is not a huge leap to undertake editing audio this way.

Get Tech and Start Recording!

When I led workshops in computer assisted language learning (CALL) I came up with the concept to “get tech.” This means a) to start to understand or get comfortable with technology and b) acquire real skills or better technology.

In that spirit of “getting tech,” make sure you know what is possible and consider getting some quality gear, at the outset of your recording project. I’m a firm believer in diving in, but also of learning about the process beforehand.

For example you may compromise with recording by using a smartphone, yet find you can enhance the recording in post (post-production). You might consider upgrading equipment later on. Perfectly reasonable. Just keep steadily improving your process.

My advice is to get the stellar recording first and then you’ll have less need to fuss at the edit stage. Some combination of good gear, quiet recording environment and use of solid software should get you what you need.

Wrap your head around concepts, watch some tutorials, experiment AND get your hands on a few audio recording devices to compare results. You will get tech and make some amazing audio recordings!

Hope that was useful – go forth and record, edit and create amazing audio!

1 Comment

  1. Looking forward to hearing from teachers about their experiences recording audio. Audio is such an exciting way to get started with media production. On so many levels it’s easier than video.
    Please leave a comment and share your thoughts!

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