Anyone like me, who has a fascination with the paranormal, can't help but become frustrated, perplexed and downright annoyed at the use of poor pseudo-scientific equipment, methods and egotistical videos that pervade throughout the paranormal world. But, on the other hand, there are some fantastic pieces of equipment out there that are able to enhance the ability of a paranormal investigator to debunk supposed paranormal activity as being faked or nothing more than natural or environmental occurrences. Of course, as my Dad used to say: "It's not what you've got, it's how you use it," so I'll finish by explaining my preferred methods for using the equipment too.
My focus for this post is the humble voice recorder.
Voice recorders seem to be the one piece of equipment that I've bought most of since starting this little hobby of mine. I started out with a fairly standard voice recorder (Olympus VN-732PC), which had features I regarded as essential for investigating the paranormal: an omni-directional microphone to record sound from all directions, USB connectivity, capable of recording low-noise, a decent internal memory etc. The plan of course was to try to capture on recorder those knocks, raps or those elusive EVPs (electronic voice phenomenon); those discarnate spirit voices that might intentionally or unintentionally tell you of their existence.
But let's get one thing straight. Although my fascination and interest in the paranormal started from a very early age, I had always confined my interest to reading endless books and journals about hauntings or research. I only started investigating a couple of years ago. One of the first things I noticed starting out was the sheer quantity of equipment, supposedly there to assist in communicating or capturing evidence of our ghostly friends. As time has gone on, I have become progressively more cynical of certain claims, to the point where I have abandoned certain equipment, like spirit boxes, altogether.
What is this leading to? Well, like any investigator, I always had my eye on other pieces of equipment that might, just might, offer better quality evidence of the paranormal. It was then that I spotted a different voice recorder that was seemingly able to churn out EVP's every time you turned it on. What was this machine of wonder? Direct communication to the dead? Could it be? The voice recorder I speak of is none other than the Panasonic RR-DR60 - a cheap, low-end voice recorder.
Except it isn't cheap anymore! Due to its seemingly legendary status for capturing EVPs, this little device can now be found on ebay for over $1000! Buying this device was seemingly out of the question then but, stupidly, I decided to buy a similar Panasonic model, hoping that it would work the same magic as the RR-DR60. I was wrong. What I ended up with was a cheap voice recorder of very poor quality that was as much use as a chocolate tea pot. Looking into how the RR-DR60 was able to capture so many EVP's, it soon became clear that the source of these anomalous 'voices' was in fact, the internal workings of the recorder itself. Creating recordings of such poor quality, it was no wonder that the brain interpreted the hissing static accordingly.
For me, a voice recorder must be able to record with as much clarity as possible. For that reason, I have decided to purchase and use the Tascam voice recorders for my investigations from now on. The Tascam provides external omni-directional condenser microphones which are able to record sound in front of the microphones and the ambient sound from any direction and a recording format greater than CD quality. It is, as we say in the UK, the dog's bollocks.
Whichever voice recorder an investigator decides to use it is important to do your homework. It is worth spending a little bit more on a recorder which provides crystal clear recordings using external microphones rather than being sucked into buying a recorder simply because you've seen it in use on the TV. With poorly built recorders, even without EVP's, your ability to correctly identify and thereby dismiss noises as anything paranormal, will be made much harder. A quick example for you. A friend of mine once recorded a noise which he interpreted as an EVP voice using a cheap recorder. On listening back with my own recorder, it quickly became clear that he had in fact recorded the sound of my own voice talking quietly. An easy mistake to make made easier by poor quality equipment.
Okay so how do I use voice recorders on an investigation?
The best thing to do is to set up your voice recorder on a stable surface or attached to a tripod, set it to record and LEAVE IT ALONE! Let it do it's job without being held or carried around with you. By doing this, it will be difficult to know the exact location of the recorder if a noise does occur and it also prevents the noise of scrunching feet and clothing, etc. as you walk around the location. By all means, record yourself asking questions and allowing a period of time for the spirits to respond, but try to avoid handling the recorder in order to listen to anything you might have mid-investigation.
Next, if something perfectly natural happens, such as somebody walking into the room or the sound of cows mooing in the distance, its worth explaining this into the recorder at the time. Again, it just helps in correctly identifying and debunking noises when you listen back to the recordings a week or so later.
Talk during an investigation. Don't whisper.
Finally, if you can afford it, I'd set up and record a number of voice recorders (at least three) throughout a location, logging the exact position of each one. That way, if a paranormal noise does occur, by listening back to each recorder in turn, you will be able to work out which recorder was closest to the sound due to the volume of the noise recorded. Again, this may be crucial when trying to debunk those noises as natural rather than anything paranormal.
At the end of the day, our first priority is to debunk noises rather than jumping to paranormal conclusions. Choosing the right voice recorder can go some way to achieving that.