Before we begin, you should know that taping phones without permission is obviously very illegal. Recording a phone call, even your own, is possibly illegal too. This site does not condone breaking and state or federal laws when taping and/or recording a phone call. There are state laws and federal laws that you should check before you start recording phone calls. A good source for checking this is Can We Tape? which is a great guide to state and federal laws.
The federal Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968, 18 U.S.C. Sec. 2510 et seq., prohibits the willful interception of telephone communication by means of any electronic, mechanical, or other device without an applicable exemption. In the absence of more restrictive state law, it is permissible to intercept and record a telephone conversation if one or both of the parties to the call consents. Consent means authorization by only one participant in the call; single-party consent is provided for by specific statutory exemption under federal law. 18 U.S.C. Sec. 2511(2)(d).
That's just federal law. Your own state law might have stricter laws on taping. And if you're calling someone in another state, THEIR state might have even stricter laws on it. In the end, if you get into some kind of trouble over recording a phone call, they can use whatever federal or state law they want against you. Even if it's a state law from the state of the person you called and not your own state.
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Different types of recording devices:
Speakerphone: If you don't want to spend any money, this is probably the cheapest possible way you can record phone calls. Use a speakerphone and set a tape recorder or your PC's microphone right next to it. It works and you might get some good quality recordings out of it. But as you know, speakerphones are annoying to the people you call and you have to take turns talking, as opposed to being able to talk at the same time with any other method. Instead of using a speakerphone, you should at least spend $5.49 on a suction cup microphone...
Induction Coil Mic: This method of recording is nice because it's portable and can be quickly hooked up to almost any telephone, even a pay phone. You don't have to have access to the wiring of the phone, you just stick the suction cup on the back of your phone's handset and plug the other end into a tape recorder, stereo or your computer. If you have a phone handset that has electronics in the handset (i.e. the dialing keypad is IN the handset) then you might end up with interference in your recording.
It's best to use the suction cup on a phone where the handset is separate from the rest of the phone. But if you don't have a choice, try positioning the suction cup in different places, like on the side of the handset or on the top. You can even stick it on the opposite side, where your ear normally goes, as long as you can still hear the conversation okay. If you do this, you'll probably need to wrap some tape around the suction cup and phone to hold it on.
You can buy the suction cup phone recorder at Radio Shack for $5.49. The part number is 44-533.
In-line Recorders: This device has always been my favorite method of recording phone calls and has almost always produced the best quality recordings. An in-line recorder plugs into any phone jack in your house and will record phone calls from any phone on that same line. These are great for tapping lines - you could hide one of these in a closet with a tape recorder and nobody would ever know that their phone calls were being recorded. If your tape recorder has a "remote" jack on it, this device will automatically start your tape recorder each time a phone in the house is picked up. Then it will stop recording when the caller hangs up.
Radio Shack carries 2 different models and I've never been able to understand what the difference is between them. I own both of them and they both appear to do the exact same thing even though one is more expensive than the other.
The expensive model is $27.49 and claims to be "smart." The part number is 43-2208. The cheaper model is $24.19 and it's part number is 43-228. Go with the cheap one.
In-line Phone Cassette Recorder: This device works just like a regular in-line recorder but it has the added convenience of having a tape recorder built into it. You can either hook it directly into the phone line so it will record every phone in the house, or you can hook it to your phone's handset so that it only records from your phone.
It can be activated by voice or it can just start rolling tape whenever a phone is picked up. I had a problem with the voice activation, though, because the first word would always be half cut off. It wasn't quite sensitive enough. These can also be picked up at Radio Shack for $79.99. The part number is 43-473.
Police Scanner & Cordless Phone: If you happen to own an older cordless phone (900 MHz or 10 channel or 25 channel), you might be able to record phone calls directly from your police scanner. Simply figure out the frequency that your phone is on by scanning the 900 MHz range while you're on a call. You can also get the frequencies for the 10 & 25 channel cordless phones on this page. One you've got your conversations playing through your scanner, you can hook the earphone outputs directly to your tape recorder or computer. Or you can just set your scanner next to the tape recorder or the computer's microphone and hope for the best. If you own a 2.4 GHz phone don't even bother trying.
Modems & Software: If you have a voice-capable modem in your computer, you might be able to record phone calls directly from the phone line that's hooked to your computer. One program I know of that does this is Call Corder. I've never tried recording phone calls like this so I'm not sure how well it works. There's lots of other software packages for doing this but I'm not going to list them all since I don't know much about any of them.
JK Audio QuickTap: This device connects between your telephone and it's handset. It won't work in a telephone that has the dialing keypad in the handset. The dialing keypad must be on the phone. Once connected, you plug it into your audio recording equipment. This device is supposed to contain a nice mix of both sides of the conversation.
You can buy it for $59.00 from jkaudio.com but you may find it cheaper if you look on Google and Ebay.
THAT-1: Connect THAT-1 between your telephone and handset for quick access to audio in and out of the telephone. Simply unplug the handset coily cord form the base of your telephone and plug it directly into the THAT-1. Then, using the supplied cable, connect the THAT-1 back to the telephone. Now connect your audio equipment or powered speaker using the RCA jacks. The grey pushbutton selects which audio will be sent into the telephone (OUT = talking on the handset, IN = sending audio in through the RCA jack).
The output RCA jack contains a nice mix of the audio from both sides of the conversation, as well as the tones being pressed on the keypad. The volume control adjusts the volume of the signal going to your powered speaker or tape recorder. The THAT-1 will work with many different types of analog and digital PBX and ISDN telephones. The receive side of the THAT-1 (audio From Phone), will work on any telephone. To send audio into the telephone (To Phone), the telephone must have an electret type microphone in the handset. If your telephone has a round mouthpiece or if you intend to use theis product on many telephones, you should consider our model THAT-2, which is compatible with more telephone systems. You can buy it for $150.00 from jkaudio.com.
THAT-2: Connect THAT-2 between your telephone and handset for quick access to audio in and out of the telephone. The THAT-2 is the big brother of the THAT-1, which is very popular with news reporters for its small yet rugged design. Over the years we?ve heard from many of our customers that they liked the THAT-1 but would prefer professional XLR jacks and compatibility with more telephone systems. Here is the answer... The THAT-2, a passive handset interface with professional and consumer jacks, separate input and output volume control, a selector switch for the different types of telephone systems, and still no batteries or AC needed. Simply unplug the handset coily cord form the base of your telephone and plug it directly into the THAT-2. Then, using the supplied cable, connect the THAT-2 back to the telephone. Now connect your audio equipment or powered speaker to the RCA or XLR jacks. The grey pushbutton selects which audio will be sent into the telephone (OUT = talking on the handset, IN = sending audio in through the RCA jack). The output jacks contains a nice mix of the audio from both sides of the conversation, as well as the tones being pressed on the keypad. The THAT-2 has a three-position switch which accommodates electret, dynamic and carbon telephone handset microphone types.
The THAT-2 will emulate the type of microphone that is in the handset and allow you to send audio into many different types of analog and digital PBX sets, as well as ISDN telephones. You can buy it for $225.00 from jkaudio.com.
JK Audio Inlinepatch: (what we use on The DV Show) This unique hybrid works with your telephone to give you more control over interview recording and playback. The Inline Patch is a little box that connects between the base of an analog or cordless telephone and the wall jack. You can continue to talk on the phone and get access to audio on both sides of the call. The unit?s two back-to-back hybrids give you complete control of audio from both sides of the call. Audio input jacks let you mix sound bites or music into your conversation. One stereo output jack provides your voice on one channel and the caller's voice on the other channel. A second output jack contains a mix of both voices. The Inline Patch can also be used as a simple phone-line hybrid coupler. The Off Hook/Norm switch lets you seize a phone line without using a telephone. This switch can be remote-controlled with a simple contact closure.
Works with analog or cordless telephones, or with PBX systems through a data/modem jack (if available) and a second, analog phone.
You can buy it for $270.00 from jkaudio.com but if you search around on Google or Ebay you may find it cheaper.
- Balanced XLR input and output jacks.
- 1/8"/3.5 mm mini stereo output jack, caller on left channel, local voice on right channel.
- 2nd mini output jack with caller and local voice combined on both channels.
- Mini input jack sends signal to phone line.
- Mini jack input for remote on-hook/off-hook selection with simple contact closure.
- Front panel separation control fine tunes voice separation.
- 20 dB nominal separation of phone line transmit/receive audio.
- Size: 6" x 4.75" x 1.65" (15.3 x 12.1 x 4.2 cm)
Recording cell phone conversations:
Wireless Phone Recording Controller: Using this device is probably the best way that you can record your cellular phone calls. The only requirement is that you have a 2.5mm jack on the phone and a hands-free headset. This device plugs in between the 2.5mm jack and your handsfree headset. You plug the other end into your tape recorder, stereo or PC. It works great and makes perfect quality recordings. As good as the quality normally is on your cellular phone, anyway.
You can buy this at Radio Shack for $21.99. The part number is 17-855.
ScanRec: ScanRec is a FREE program designed for recording activity on your police scanner. The thing that makes this such a good program is that it only records when it hears something. So you can hook your recording device to your computer and leave this program running all day, unattended. You won't end up with an mp3 full of hours of silence since it only records what it hears. And unlike some VOX recorders, this program won't cut off the beginning of your sentences. You can download this program here.
Cool Edit: Cool Edit is the software I use to do almost everything related to sound, including recording phone calls from my in-line recorder. Unfortunately this program is not free but it's well worth the money. If you end up making a crappy quality phone recording, Cool Edit can even clean up the audio for you by removing hiss, background noises, etc. It will convert your phone recording into mp3 files small enough for use on a website. I always encode my mp3s at 20kbps which is perfect for phone calls. Anything higher will be too large of a file size. Anything lower will start to make your phone calls sound bad. Always stick to 20kbps!
Last update: 09:30 PM Friday, August 4, 2006