Why we should avoid recording EVP sessions in MP3 format

EVP is one of the staples of paranormal investigating. If you don't have any equipment, you are still able to record a session using a digital recorder or a mobile phone. While it is convenient, it may not be useful as we think it is if the audio is compressed into MP3 format.
Sarah Chumacero
15th August 2018.
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General, Paranormal Equipment, Stuff paranormal investigators need to know.
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Before streaming music came in, the in thing to do was to download as many MP3 files of a song you could find and burn them onto a cd for your car. Instead of the usual 15 or so songs that you could fit onto a CD, you could fit literally hundreds of music files. The magic of MP3 meant that you could get the same result, using less space. The only problem is that it wasn't exactly the same result. The sound quality was not the same. It is because MP3 is a compressed audio format. It is for this reason that you should try to avoid recording EVP sessions in MP3 format.

MP3 VS WAV files

When you record audio, there are different formats that you can use. The universal format is WAV. If we compare it to photography, think of it as the RAW image file. This is the unchanged high quality image you have taken . A WAV file is the audio version of this. The problem is that because it is high quality, the size of the file is large. For practicality, MP3 was created as a way to enjoy sound files, but at a fraction of the file size. Think of it like a JPEG image. When you want to send a photo file over the internet, do you want to send a 30mb photo or a 3mb photo. This is why a lot of online photos are in JPEG mode. Again a lot of people don’t even notice the difference. This is until you enlarge the photo. You start to notice that it gets blurry the more you start to zoom in. This is because the quality isn’t quite the same as what the RAW image would have been. Audio works in exactly the same way. While on the surface it seems like there is no difference, the quality is compromised.

Why shouldn’t I record EVP sessions in MP3

When you read above at how a MP3 compresses the audio, it is essentially flattening your audio file. I always say that I don’t like to edit my EVPS. The moment I make any changes to it, I am changing the audio file. This is what MP3 is doing. It is flattening the layers so instead of being a file size of 30mb, it is only 3mb. When you replay the audio, you might experience what sounds like a static hissing noise. This static hissing plays havoc with the brain. Remember audio pareidolia? Your brain loves to make static hissing sound like voices whispering. The playback quality is poorer. Even a small background noise doesn’t sound like a background noise and again can be interpreted. It is also important to note that some programs and recorders do have the function to compress WAV files. It is often referred to as long play where you can record for double the amount of time using the same space. In order to be able to do this, the recorder has to compress the audio. You are getting longer record times, but it is compressing your audio to do so.

Can I still capture an EVP in MP3 format?

You absolutely can record a session using a recorder that only saves files in MP3 BUT you need to be diligent in your review. My rule is basically unless it is Class A to throw it out anyway, but this should absolutely be the case if your files are in MP3 format. Unless it is a very clear Class A response, due to the compression factor – Class B or C are more likely to occur. They in the this case are more likely to be a form of audio pareidolia rather than a response. My suggestion would be if you only have access to devices that record MP3 is to run at least 2 recorders. It can't make the process of the review much easier to determine if what you are hearing is just your mind piecing together background hiss. If the other recorder picked it up as well at the same time, it is likely not due to the audio quality and is worth looking into further.

What kind of recorder should I get?

Some recorders have a very poor quality sound output – especially the older models. There is the static hissing and a lot of ‘noise’. Some people feel these recorders are give better results as they feel the spirits use this static and background to communicate with us (much like the reasons why we use white noise generators). Others feel they are prime examples of what audio pareidolia can do and the poor sound quality causes us to hear things that are not there. They also don't hook up to your computer so they are not saving files in MP3 format and are in a RAW format (a reason why a lot of people also love these older recorders). A lot of the newer expensive recorders have a much higher quality of sound. They allow you to record in WAV format and also let you choose sampling rates. These recorders are often used as microphones for voice overs and online recordings such as podcasts etc as the quality is that clear. The microphones record in stereo so you are recording as you would hear it with your ear, meaning you can tell when people from either end of the room are talking. The downfall can be that they are very sensitive. Sensitive to the point that you can hear a pin drop in the house next door. You can however adjust the sensitivity. It can be fiddly but once you get it right, it can be quite effective. Another problem can be is that some really expensive recorders are TOO smart. They are not designed for paranormal investigating. They are designed to be used as microphones. They want your voice to be as clear as possible, so what do they do? They clean up the background noise so all you can hear is the voice of the person talking. The mics are directional not so you can hear what part of a room someone is standing, it is so that the person talking into the mic is what is heard and not what could be happening over the other side of the room. In this way it is also not a true snapshot of what is happening in the room. So where does it leave you? Experiment. Find models of recorders that work well for you and the settings that you record in. It can be an expensive investment so do your research. Ask your fellow investigators what recorders they use and recommend.

There are some cheap recorders out there at places like Target and EBay that sell for around $30. This can be quite effective, but they only save files in MP3 format so you have to be diligent and aware that the quality has been compromised. A lot of people have had a lot of success capturing what they claim to be Class A quality EVPs. The more expensive recorders which have the directional mics, allow you to save in WAV format and are more reliable are upwards of a couple of hundred dollars. Realistically this isn’t an option for a lot of people. Not everyone can afford an expensive recorder. I know I can’t. I stole my brother’s Zoom H1 until one day he said ‘just keep it’. (I don’t endorse stealing lol).

Regardless of what kind of recorder you find yourself using in the field, when doing any sort of EVP work, there are a few things you need to familiarize yourself with so that you can able to properly interpret the things you are hearing.

EVP What does it mean and how do I capture one?

Audio pareidolia is a real thing

Analog VS digital recorders

EVP and frequency

So what do you think? What kind of recorder do you use or recommend? What recorder is on your wish list? My suggestion? I run two recorders. I have an old Sony ICD B-7 and a Zoom H1. I run them both and review both. The Zoom is definitely clearer and has a better range but can be super sensitive. The Sony sounds more static and the microphone doesn't reach as far but it does the job. So far I haven't had an amazing EVP on either device so I can't tell you which is better for capturing an EVP. When I do get one, you will be the first to know!

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