Record voice memos on the iPod, iPhone

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Sometimes you have one of those eureka! moments and need to jot down your great idea. If you don’t have a pen and paper handy, fear not- you can use most iPod models to record voice memos without breaking your train of thought.

Just dictate what you want to remember, and you can play it back on the iPod, or sync the voice memo to iTunes to store it or listen to on your Mac. Here’s how you can make audio notes to save your precious, fleeting thoughts.

Before you get started, it’s important to note that not all iPod models support voice memos. Current models of the iPhone, iPod classic, iPod nano, and iPod touch offer this feature, but the iPod shuffle and the iPad don’t. (There are some third-party apps that provide voice recording for the iPad, however.) Apple has a support document that specifies which models offer the feature. For most models, you’ll need an external mic, or you can use Apple’s earbuds that include a mic. But the 5th generation iPod nano includes a built-in mic, as does, of course, the iPhone.

Touch devices

Voice memos are available on all touch devices, with the exception of the first generation iPod touch and the iPad. You record them using the Voice Memos app, whose icon is a microphone. Make sure you have a mic connected (for the iPod touch) and launch this app. You’ll see an old-fashioned microphone, a VU (level) meter, and two buttons.

Recording a voice memo on an iPhone or iPod touch.
Tap the red record button at the bottom left of the window, and start talking. Make sure to keep the level meter needle out of the red section to prevent distortion. Tap the pause button (the record button turns into it, two vertical red stripes, when you’re recording) to pause, or the black stop button to finish. Unlike on the iPod nano and classic, there’s no timer. You can switch to other apps while recording voice memos; just press the Home button and launch another app. You can therefore record comments on e-mails, articles you read on the Web, and more.

After you’ve finished, tap the button at the bottom right of the app, with three horizontal lines. This takes you to the Voice Memos section of the iPod or iPhone, which displays the voice memos you’ve recorded with date, time, and length. You can play them back, delete them, and even trim them. You can also e-mail a voice memo (or send it via MMS if you’re using an iPhone), if the file’s not too large, by tapping the blue circle to the right of a voice memo then tapping Share.

[Note that if Voice Memos isn’t working properly on your iPod touch, you may need to reset your iPod by pressing and holding the home and power buttons until the device reboots; there seems to be a bug in iOS 4 with Voice Memos on the touch.]

Non-touch devices

For non-touch devices that require an external mic, just connect one and a Voice Memos item will display at the top level of the menus. (With the 5th generation nano, this will be Extras > Voice Memos.) Select this and press the center button, then choose Start Recording. (The iPod classic will let you choose from two levels of quality: High or Low.) You’ll see a screen showing a microphone with a timer and a level meter (for the iPod nano), or just a microphone and timer (for the classic). Try and keep the level in the green area, so your voice memo won’t be distorted. You can watch the time go by so you have an idea of how long you’ve been recording, and you can press the center button to create chapter marks to make it easy to find individual pearls of wisdom later.

When you’ve finished, press the Play/Pause button, then choose Stop And Save. You can pause by pressing this button then choosing Resume, or you can delete the voice memo from this menu as well if you decide you don’t want to keep it.

Voice memos will now show up under Voice Memos > Recordings, and you can listen to your memos or delete them. You can also label them, by choosing a voice memo then Label, and then Podcast, Interview, Lecture, Idea, Meeting, or Memo.

Syncing voice memos to iTunes

When your iPod or iPhone contains voice memos, it will automatically sync them to iTunes the next time you connect it to your Mac. These items will show up in a Voice Memos playlist in the iTunes sidebar, and will be marked with a date and time. After syncing, they no longer show up in the Voice Memos section of the iPod, but will be in the iPod’s Voice Memos playlist. You can listen to these voice memos with iTunes, share the files with others, or use audio editing software to trim them.

Voice memos are recorded in different formats according to the type of device you have. I found that my 4th generation iPod nano records in Apple Lossless format, even though Apple says that voice memos are recorded in WAV (an uncompressed format). My current generation iPod classic does record in WAV, but offers two quality levels, both in mono: the first at about half the size of a normal WAV file, and the second at one-quarter the size. In any case, voice memos can take up a lot of space. The Apple Lossless files are about 2.4MB per minute; the WAV files about 5.2MB and 2.7MB, respectively.

Voice Memo is a great way to use your iPod to record lectures or meetings—but just make sure you have enough free space, since at the largest file size, you’ll need about 300MB per hour.

[Senior contributor Kirk McElhearn writes about more than just Macs on his blog Kirkville.]

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