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Exploring the possibilities of video production with smartphones

#29 Favorite field recorder apps on Android — 27. July 2020

#29 Favorite field recorder apps on Android

After starting to write a blog post about multi-track audio editing apps on Android, I figured it might be useful to do one on field recorder apps first as a precursor so to speak. I chose to use the term “field recorder” as opposed to “audio recorder” since there’s a whole bunch of multi-track audio editing apps that also record audio. And while I’m mostly concerned with mobile videography on this blog, I think it can’t hurt to take a look at audio for once, particularly since field recorder apps can also be used as independent audio recorders with a lavalier mic in a video production environment. I’ll have a look at six different apps of which each single one includes something interesting/useful. It will depend on your use case and personal taste which one qualifies as the best for you. Do note that most Android phones actually come with a native audio recording / voice memo app, some of which are quite good, but for the purpose of this article I will look at 3rd party apps only that are available for (almost) all Android devices. Well, with one exception…

RecForge II (Pro)

UI of “RecForge II” while recording.

One of the first more advanced 3rd party audio recording apps I stumbled upon after getting a smartphone was RecForge (Pro). The UI was visually pleasant (somewhat futuristic) but not the most intuitive, I found navigating around slightly confusing in the beginning. Its successor RecForge II (Pro) got a new look which is less fancy, more focused, but the developer failed to iron out some of the UX issues I had with the app. Two examples: When you press the “Record” button on the main screen, the app takes you to an all-new recording screen with lots of different buttons, timeline, big waveforms and is already recording. I think it would be less confusing if the same button that started the recording remained present and pushing it again would stop the recording. Well, as a matter of fact I just found out that you can change this in the settings but then you don’t get any kind of waveform or audio level meter which is always good to have. When you stop the recording, you need to push a button that looks like an “eject” symbol to get back to the main screen which I consider a bit odd. That being said, RecForge II might have the most complete feature set of all the recording apps listed here. It records in a wide variety of formats including wav, mp3, m4a etc., has options for sample rates and bit rate, basic clip editing (missing a fade tool though!), live audio monitoring, gain control (positive and negative) and live audio level meters (to check/adjust before recording, preview mode needs to be activated in the settings), support for external mics, mic source selection, scheduled recordings, homescreen widgets, a conversion tool and much more. The free version gives you unlimited wav recording but automatically pauses every three minutes when recording in any other format (like mp3). Pro version without limitations and ads is 3.89€.

Easy Voice Recorder (Pro)

One of the many useful homescreen widgets of “Easy Voice Recorder”.

EVR is far and away the best audio recording app on Android when it comes to homescreen widgets, it has a whole variety of them, some minimal, some more elaborate. Just in case you don’t know: Widgets are a special feature of Android (iOS is currently playing catch-up) that lets you add certain app functionality directly to your home screen without having to open the app first. So for instance you can add a button that starts a recording directly to the homescreen. EVR is also the only audio recorder among my list that has a WearOS companion app which means you can launch and control a recording from a smartwatch. It has a range of useful features and options but it’s also missing some more advanced stuff: There’s currently no way to check audio levels or control gain before starting a recording and it’s also lacking the ability to do live monitoring via headphones. I have reached out to the developers and they acknowledged my request, saying that they will look into it but that significant changes to the app’s core would have to be made to provide this. If you like EVR but miss these features I strongly encourage you to contact the devs and make your voice heard! EVR lets you record in wav, m4a and 3gp formats in the free version, plus mp3 and aac in the paid upgrade. The paid upgrade also has more useful goodies in the form of a basic editing tool for trimming/cropping, the option to convert to other formats and automatic upload to the cloud. The paid pro version is 3.99€.

Voice Record Pro

“Voice Record Pro” lets you create an mp4 video file from your audio-only recording. You can add a photo and some text.

This one’s a favorite of many on iOS and I’m glad that the developer decided to bring the app to Android as well. That being said, after launching it in 2018 and providing a few initial bug fixes, the developer hasn’t delivered a single update (be it bug fixes, let alone a feature drop) in over two years. It works reasonably well on most devices but certain (device-specific) glitches have not been addressed with the developer not being available for any kind of communication (I have tried on multiple occasions to no avail). It also lacks the transcription feature and the ability to adjust input gain of the iOS version if that’s important to you. VRP is unique among the apps mentioned here in that it allows you to create an mp4 video from a recorded audio file by adding an image and text to it. Useful for a quick share/teaser on social media platforms. The app has a great set of options for adjusting the quality of the recording, supports external mics and lets you check the input levels before and during a recording – no live monitoring via headphones though. A basic editing tool for trimming/cropping is included. VRP is free with ads. According to the GooglePlay store information, there’s supposed to be an in-app purchase but I have honestly not been able to locate it. I would be happy to pay a few bucks for this app and get rid of the ads but apparently it doesn’t seem possible (do let me know if you have found the IAP!). It’s a potentially great app but I wish the developer would make an effort to keep the Android version up to date.

ShurePlus Motiv

It’s super-easy to quickly apply a fade in/out with the handles in “ShurePlus Motiv”.

I have to admit this one has possibly become my personal favorite for its clean and focused design/functionality, great basic editing tools and solid feature set, notwithstanding its integration with a range of Shure microphones (naturally, this means that it supports external mics and not only Shure mics if you’re worried about that). It’s also completely free without any ads or feature cut backs. Something I absolutely love about the app is the way you can easily apply fades at the beginning and end of a clip, just drag the handles, you can even mirror the fades automatically! The app records in wav format with the option to convert to aac afterwards. You can adjust positive gain before/during a recording, reducing the input level is only possible if you are using some kind of external interface however. The biggest shortcoming at the moment is the lack of an option for live audio monitoring via headphones (which is available in the iOS version of the app). I have been in touch with Shure and they are looking into it. It would also be nice to have one or two homescreen widgets for people who often use it and want to launch a recording as fast as possible, but that’s a minor complaint. All in all, this is a beautiful and excellent audio recording app from a renowned microphone manufacturer – do check it out!

Field Recorder

“Field Recorder” lets you flip the UI so you can point the main internal mic of a phone (usually located at the bottom) towards a subject and still see the controls the right way.

If you are used to dedicated portable field recorders, you might find Field Recorder’s UI and functionality particularly appealing since it sort of mimics the appearance of such devices. Others however could be a bit intimidated by the somewhat busy upper half of the UI and the load of options in the settings menu. One very cool thing about FR is that it lets you rotate the UI which in the case of reverse portrait mode helps if you are using the (main) internal mic of the phone (instead of an external mic) which will usually be located at the bottom of the phone. If you are interviewing someone pointing this part towards the subject, the UI would be topsy-turvy for yourself unless you are able to rotate the UI independently from the device’s orientation. FR has you covered here. The app has an extensive range of options to customize the interface/recording process, includes live audio monitoring via headphones, supports the use of external mics and features an optional limiter. It’s missing the ability to edit/trim a recording though. FR records uncompressed wav files with the option to convert to mp3 after installing another app (‘Media Converter’) from the PlayStore to handle the conversion. There’s a homescreen widget but it’s a bit complicated to use. Field Recorder costs 4.99€, there’s no free version but I’d say it’s most definitely worth the price if you like its UI and feature set.

Google Recorder

“Google Recorder” automatically transcribes your recordings.

This one is probably the odd ball among the pack with very little to no control/settings options – but sporting a killer feature that by itself will let many folks crave it badly: It can auto-transcribe any recording offline (only English so far!) and search text within a recording completely for free! When sharing you have the option to only share the audio, only the text as a text file or both. You also have the ability to directly upload recordings to the cloud (GoogleDrive). Recordings are saved in m4a format with a sample rate of 32 kHz and a bitrate of 48Kbit/s. There’s currently no option for higher sample or bitrates or other recording formats like wav. But depending on what you are doing, this might not be a problem. There’s one relatively big catch to this: So far, it’s officially only available for Google’s Pixel devices (excluding the very first Pixel phone apparently). You can however sideload it (meaning installing it outside of the Google PlayStore via an apk file) to many other Android devices, XDA Developers has a great article on how to do that and which devices are currently supported. I sideloaded it to my LG V30 and it works really well. Note: You will need to allow app installs from external sources though first in the settings of your phone (it’s disabled by default for security reasons). Will it be officially available for non-Google Android devices in the future? There are arguments for both sides: Technically it shouldn’t be a problem since Google’s Live Transcribe app which basically taps into the same core functionality of transcribing audio is already available for many Android devices. Google might however want to keep this a special feature on Pixel devices, an incentive to pick a Pixel over other Android phones. We’ll see how that plays out over the next months. Some things Google Recorder is missing: While there’s a live waveform when recording (which is good), you don’t get an audio level meter, gain control, homescreen widgets or the ability to edit/trim a recording. As all the other apps listed here, it generally supports the use of external mics. 

So which one is the best field recorder app for Android? Well, as indicated in the introduction to this article, there’s no clear answer. There are many very good ones and which one specifically suits you best will depend on your use case, what features you absolutely need and which features you can live without, if you love a complex interface with loads of options or like to keep it simple. The good thing is: With the exception of Field Recorder (which doesn’t have a free version) and Google Recorder (which has only limited availability) you will be able to test most of the apps for free to decide which one’s your top pick. And also remember: These are just a couple of candidates that I happen to like, there are many many more in the Google PlayStore and it’s entirely possible that there’s a great one I haven’t discovered yet. If you have a favorite one not listed here, do let me know in the comments or on Twitter @smartfilming. And stay tuned for an upcoming article about multi-track audio editing apps for Android. Last thing: If you like this blog, consider signing up for my Telegram newsletter via t.me/smartfilming to get notified about new posts.

Download RecForge II Lite / RecForge II Pro on Google Play
Download Easy Voice Recorder / Easy Voice Recorder Pro on Google Play
Download Voice Record Pro on Google Play
Download ShurePlus Motiv on Google Play
Download Field Recorder on Google Play
Download Google Recorder on Google Play

#22 Visualizing audio on Android – finally a very good app? — 9. May 2020

#22 Visualizing audio on Android – finally a very good app?

While I’m personally not that much involved in the production of pure audio / radio content, I have noticed that there has been increasing demand for a way to make audio stand out more in social networks that primarily address the eye. There are some web tools like Headliner, Audiogram or Auphonic and the relatively popular iOS-only app Wizibel that basically take an audio file, generate a visual waveform animation based on it and create an mp4 video file as the end product which is easily shareable on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc. Usually you can also add a still image or text to spice it up. Some call this type of audio visualization an “audiogram” and I think it’s particularly useful for audio teasers (for a podcast for instance) or audio content that is only a couple of minutes long. There have been a few options on Android as well (ChkSnd, Audio Vision for Videomakers, Avee Music Player) but while they weren’t exactly bad, they all had some shortcomings. A couple of days ago however I stumbled upon a very promising app that’s relatively new (it was released November 2019): Visualization Video Maker.

After spending a couple of days with the app, I’m sure this one’s a keeper – it’s the best I have encountered on Android so far. It has a good, clean and easy to use UI but still a lot of options to customize the look of your audiogram. The basic workflow is very simple: You start with a given spectrum, then choose your audio file and optionally add a background photo/graphic/text. That’s about it. Of course you can dig a bit deeper and customize different aspects of your video, the app’s UI makes it very intuitive. You can choose from a set of animated spectrums/spectra (bar, circle, line, texture etc.) and define size, color, position and opacity among other things. There’s also a bunch of options to edit your text or photo. You are even able to change the layering of spectrum, text(s) and additional photos/graphics to decide which one is represented as the top layer. Everyone familiar with the layering of graphical elements like in Photoshop for instance should feel at home. You can also “mute” layers which basically disables them so they are hidden from the preview but still in your layer stack.

The app supports the import of different audio formats/codecs including wav/pcm, mp3 and m4a/aac. However I have found that there seems to be a bug affecting LG devices where you get an error message when trying to use wav files with pcm codec (mp3, m4a/aac on the other hand work just fine). I tested this on an LG V30 and LG Q6. I had no problems with wav files on a whole bunch of other Android devices.

Let’s take a quick look at things that could be improved: 1) The video aspect ratios are limited to 16:9 landscape, I couldn’t find any square or portrait format options. When considering that the app is a great tool to present or tease audio in social networks, more format options would be great to have, particularly a square 1:1. 2) From what I can see the app is lacking proper share integration with other apps via the Android share sheet. Yes, you can pick your audio file through the media browser / audio file system but depending on the recording app you used for recording your audio file, finding these files can be a bit annoying, especially if you have lots of audio files on your device. So it would be great to be able to share the recorded audio file from your recording app of choice directly into VVM. I have tried this with a couple of common Android audio recording apps but never was VVM listed as a target when opening the share sheet so I think the problem is on VVM’s side.

In the export panel you can choose between the following video resolutions for your mp4 file: 1920×1080, 1280×720, 854×480 and 640×360. You can also define a custom video bitrate while the frame rate is automatically 30fps. The audio bitrate of the exported video is 128Kbps (no matter the input), which is pretty ok for sharing on social networks but could still be raised a bit to please the more audiophile crowd. 

VVM is basically free without any kind of watermark but to export your project you have to watch a 30 sec advertisement if the export resolution is 720p or above or the length over 3 minutes. I suppose this is a pretty fair deal. Unfortunately, there are no in-app purchases whatsoever to avoid watching the ad. So even if you are willing to pay, there’s currently no way. It would have been nice to have the option for a one-off purchase of the app which will then let you always go straight to the export.

And here’s a bonus tip: If you use Visualization Video Maker in combination with the app AutoCap you can even get automatic captions for your clip! Just take the exported clip from VVM into AutoCap and let this app do its magic. While AutoCap is free to use as well, you will have to pay to get rid of the watermark here.

Last thing: I just noticed that there’s actually now an Android app version of Headliner (iOS version as well) but so far I wasn’t able to import/upload any audio files. Despite meeting all the requirements (mp3/wav file, under 500MB and under 2 hours length) I always get an error message “File problem. Please make sure your file is a MP3 or WAV, under 500 MB & shorter than 2 hours”. You also need to create an account for the app so VVM definitely looks like the better mobile option to me at this point.

Is this a useful app in your opinion? Do you think ‘audiograms’ are a good thing? Drop me a line in the comments or on Twitter @smartfilming.

Download “Visualization Video Maker” for Android on Google Play.