If you have a Mac at your conference or event and need a quick recording solution, consider QuickTime. To ensure that the recording is the best quality possible, there are a few extra steps you should take before hitting ‘record’. First we’ll review what you need to get started. Next we’ll look as setting levels, and finally we investigate export options.

What you need:

  • QuickTime 7
    Snow Leopard OSX 10.6 comes with QuickTime X, but you may also have QT7. It’s buried in your /Applications/Utilities folder. If it isn’t, go get it from Apple.
  • a license for QuickTime 7 Pro.
    To unlock the editing and recording powers of QT7 you need a CA$37.99 license from Apple. Buy it online and unlock QT7 immediately.
  • an audio input and output
    macbook audio in/out jack

    The tie-fighter icon is the line in, the headphones are out.

    All Mac towers, iMacs, Mac Minis and most MacBooks and MacBook Pros:

    • These machines have both an input and an output 1/8″ mini stereo jack. This allows you to get audio into the computer while simultaneously monitoring your record with headphones.

    2010 Macbook Air, MacBook and MacBook Pro 12″:

    • These computers come with a single jack, marked for headphones, that can serve as either an input or an output, but not both. In this configuration you can’t simultaneously monitor the recording, which is not really a wise idea. If this is something you plan to do regularly, consider buying a Griffin iMic or similar to expand your I/O options.
  • Audio adapters to get into 1/8″ mini-jack. 3.5mm (~1/8If you’re coming out of a professional console, you will encounter 1/4″ phone jacks, XLR jacks, and maybe even an RCA phono tape out. To avoid most issues of impedance, balanced/unbalanced signal, phantom power and the rest, stick to the 1/4″ plugs wherever possible.
  • A set of headphones. Nothing fancy required here, but they should be better than chintzy earbuds if you want to be able to detect 60-cycle ground hum other recording artifacts.

Setting it up

  1. License your Quicktime. In Snow Leopard, open Quicktime 7, select ‘QuickTime Player 7' (the application menu) --> 'Registration…‘ and type in the info Apple emailed you when you paid for it.
  2. Plug in the audio. This is a line-level input, so set the output level of the audio source to whatever seems close to unity to start.
  3. Open your Sound preference panel.Open System Preferences [Apple Menu --> System Preferences…, then click Sound]. There are 3 menu bar options along the top: select Input.

    Never let the blue dots get all the way to the right!

  4. Select your input source. Select 'Line In', or you might end up recording your own conversation through the internal mic of your MacBook!
  5. Set your input level. Move the (admittedly rather arbitrary) ‘input volume' slider, while watching the ‘input level‘ meter below. This is digital recording, so never let the level reach the right side of the meter. In fact, professional recordings aim for -20dB (with a peak no higher then -6dB) which is (I’m guessing since I haven’t formally tested it) likely about halfway in.
  6. Open Quicktime Player 7.
  7. Set your recording preferences. Open QuickTime Player 7 --> Preferences… [command-comma on the keyboard get you there fast], and open the Recording pane.
    QuickTime Player Preferences
    Ensure that Microphone: is set to Built-in Input: Line In. Also, choose your audio quality: either Good/Better/Best (which all record the audio to  AAC 128 Kbps CBR 48KHz sampling), or Device Native (which will record audio as PCM 2117 Kbps CBR 44.1KHz sampling). Close the Preferences window.
  8. Create a new recording. Select File --> New Audio Recording.
    QT7 New Audio Window
    The window is simple and easy to monitor your recording. On the left is the elapsed time, on the right is the file size, and in between the two is another entirely subjective audio VU-ish meter. It might seem obvious, but make sure you see signal here.

    PLEASE NOTE: The audio level in the QuickTime window will appear quieter than it did in the Sound Preference Panel. Is seems that the QT meter has a much wider average than the Preference panel, and if you turn up the volume too loud you will clip. The lesson? Set your levels using the Sound Preference Pane, and then leave it alone. Mark where it sits in the QT recorder, and keep it there.

    The QT level (left) shows lower than the Sound preference panel (right). Also the sound panel shows both peak and averaged levels.

    The other two bits in the record window are the record button (big red circle), and the audio monitor volume. This slider has no effect on your recording levels, but instead sets the listen volume for your headphones. It’s turned all the way down by default. Here’s why:

  9. Listen to your input. By default, QuickTime has disabled your audio monitor. This is to prevent your microphone from picking up its own sound and creating a feedback loop. But it’s pretty important to actually hear what you’re recording, and not rely on watching a crappy VU. The solution is simple: first plug in your headphones, then turn up the volume using the sound level on the bottom left. Listen for clipping, distortion and any hum or buzzing that might ruin the recording.
  10. Hit record. Press the big red button and you’re off to the races.

Post-production

Your recording is rolling, you’ve seen the levels on the VU meter, and taken a listen to make sure it’s clean. Now what? When the event is finished, press the ‘stop’ button to create the audio file you’ve been making. The record window will automatically convert into a playback window of an MOV file saved to your Desktop.

Wait. An MOV isn’t an audio file, right? Even worse, QuickTime by default can’t export to MP3 either. However, there are solutions at hand.

  1. Export as AIFF or WAV, then transcode to MP3 from iTunes (This solution is a bit of a hack job, but doesn’t require any extra downloads.)
  2. Download a LAME MP3 encoder (This takes a little bit of setup, but then you will be able to export directly out of QuickTime.)

Option 1:

  1. Configure iTunes:
    • Launch iTunes, and open ‘Preferences’ (command-comma).
    • In the ‘General‘ tab, click ‘Import Settings…
    • Import Using: MP3 Encoder‘.
    • Settings: Custom. Now pick an MP3 standard you’re happy with based on file size versus bit rate. For multi-day conferences, I record 96 kbps monaural. Click ‘OK‘ to get back to the Preferences panel.
    • If you don’t want to copies of your work cluttering up your iTunes Library, click the ‘Advanced‘ tab, and uncheck the ‘Copy files to iTunes Media folder when adding to library‘.
  2. Open the MOV file you recorded. Drag the file onto iTunes and it will appear in your playlist.
  3. Convert it. With the file selected, select ‘Advanced --> Create MP3 Version‘. When finished, you’ll hear Apple’s ‘I’m done‘ chime and see a duplicate of the file you just encoded in your iTunes window.
  4. Find it. Right-click the new file, and select ‘Show in Finder‘. A Finder window will open showing your newly minted MP3 file. Drag it onto a memory stick, or email it or whatever you need to do.
  5. Delete the iTunes shadow files. Now that you’re finished in iTunes, it’s safe to delete the files from the Library.

Option 2:

  1. This website keeps a Mac OSX version of the LAME MP3 encoder, and will install it as a QuickTime component. Here is the direct download link.
  2. Install it. You will need your Administrator password.
  3. Restart QuickTime 7.
  4. When you choose ‘File –> Export’ (command-comma), you now have the choice of ‘Sound to LAME MP3’
  5. That’s it!