Phone Recording: Essential Knowledge

(click thumbnail)CellTapIn the course of one’s daily work, basic skills are acquired. Once learned, it’s easy to forget that this essential knowledge may not be widely known by others. Thus, a new generation struggles to reinvent the wheel.

One of those basics is recording telephone conversations. It’s bread and butter stuff for journalists, whether the recording is needed for interviews, live news reports, or even podcasts. Almost anyone in the media business is faced with the task at one time or another.


Those of us older than 50 may remember that the task of phone recording was not always so easy. Even today, I wince when I see a struggling novice with a suction cup on a phone receiver or one of those little cheap plastic adapters from Radio Shack.

Perhaps the unsung hero of phone recording is Joe Klinger, an audio engineer who spent quite a few years working in a telecom research lab. In 1992, Klinger started a small company called JK Audio. Soon after that, telephone recording got much, much easier.

Today, JK Audio ( makes some very sophisticated audio products for radio, TV, film and Webcasting applications. But for nontechnical users who simply need to acquire clean telephone recordings, two of JK’s workhorse products are essential, low-cost professional tools that never become obsolete.

(click thumbnail)QuickTap IFBThe first is QuickTap IFB ($125), a device I have used almost daily for more than a decade. It has one essential function: To make high-quality audio recordings of two-way telephone conversations.

The QuickTap IFB is an ultra-reliable, passive interface tap that easily slips between a telephone and its handset. It delivers a nice, clean balanced mix of all sides of the phone conversation.

Weighing only 5 ounces with dimensions of 3.7-by-1.6-by-1.3 inches, the QuickTap IFB works with just about any wired phone system, including analog, digital, PBX and ISDN.

The user unplugs the coily handset cord from the base of the telephone and plugs it directly into the QuickTap IFB. Then, using the supplied cable, connects the device to the base of the phone. That’s it.

There are two outputs. One is a fixed-level 600-ohm male XLR (100 mV RMS, –16 dBm nominally) that can feed phone audio to a mixer, amplifier or recorder. The second is a 600 ohm 1/8-inch jack with attenuator to adjust output level. I use it with a portable Sony Minidisc recorder. It can also be used with compatible IFB earpieces.

I have recorded hundreds of phone interviews using this little box. With a good telco connection, its performance rivals that of expensive digital telephone hybrids costing significantly more.


A related JK product comes in handy when I need to record or amplify a conversation over a mobile phone. (The value of this scenario became apparent here in New York City after 9/11.) It’s called CellTap ($79), a simple mobile telephone tap.

Every journalist who works with sound needs this tiny portable interface in their gear bag. It allows the recording of mobile phone audio with an automatic mix of both sides of the conversation. When landlines are down or a reporter is working in isolated field conditions, the CellTap allows interviews to go on in a completely mobile newsroom.

A 2-by-2-by-1.3-inch die-cast aluminum cube weighing only 3.5 ounces, CellTap links together a mobile phone, recorder, and earpiece. It comes with two cables. Plug one into the 2.5 mm earpiece jack of the phone and the other into the recording device. Then plug your earpiece into the CellTap. That’s it. No levels to set. Just hit record. It’s passive, no AC or battery power is needed.

I’ve also used a CellTap with a portable Sony Minidisc recorder and it performs flawlessly. The audio is clean and the conversation mix is perfect. As a secondary use, the little box also enables a group to listen to a conversation.

Connect a powered speaker to the audio output jack, and presto, you have conferencing capability. Everyone in the room can hear the mobile phone conversation, but only the person wearing the earpiece can talk to the distant party. While it’s not a substitute for a speakerphone, in many cases the setup is more suitable because it limits the number of talkers.

For more sophisticated use, JK Audio also offers Daptor Two ($179), a device that adds the capability of sending and receiving audio from a mixer or tape recorder through the mobile phone. As with the CellTap, your mobile phone will recognize the device as a headset which will disable the phone’s internal mouthpiece and receiver.

Since Daptor Two replaces the headset, the user must provide a microphone and preamplifier, and a headphone and amplifier to allow a cellular conversation.

Available this August from JK is the new Daptor Three, a wireless audio interface using Bluetooth technology. Like the Daptor Two, it allows balanced and unbalanced connections to your mobile phone. But in this case it works like a Bluetooth headset, allowing a cordless hookup.

As with a handful of companies we depend upon in our professional lives, JK Audio has filled an important niche in the working journalist’s continuing struggle to conquer the slings and arrows of our nation’s telephone system.

There’s no need to reinvent the wheel when it comes to recording telephone audio. Joe Klinger has already figured it out. Take advantage of his fine tools.

Frank Beacham

Frank Beacham is an independent writer based in New York.