Portable Digital Recorders

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Portable digital recorders are the hottest products in the pro audio world right now, and they make an ideal gift for anyone interested in location sound or live music recording. These handheld recorders are designed to capture professional-quality audio for applications such as music production, podcasting, and professional journalism. In the not-too-distant past these digital recorders were quite expensive (compared to today's prices) and one's choices were rather limited. Today, every major pro audio manufacturer has an affordable, feature-packed model to consider.

So … where do you begin when considering the purchase of a portable digital recorder?

  • First- Determine what you want to do with a portable digital recorder- Recording band practice, interviews, podcasts?
  • Second- What's your budget? - How much do you want to spend? We have included options in the $179-$499 price range.
  • Third- What features are most important to you? – Built-in memory, track *****, external microphone inputs?

In order to help you navigate the many options available, we prepared this handy holiday gift-giving guide. We selected ten of our best-selling, best-performing models, took them for a test run, and pinpointed the cool features and functions we liked in each one.

Zoom H2
Around $179
B&H# ZOH2

The H2 from Zoom is a remarkable little device. Visually, it resembles a studio condenser microphone, but in practice it's a palm-sized portable recorder with four built-in microphones and USB 2.0 connectivity. You can record in stereo using broadcast .WAV or MP3 formats, or record in 360° using all four onboard microphones, and decode it into 5.1 surround. The H2 can even be set up for use as a computer audio interface or a USB microphone for recording voice-overs and podcasts. It's an ideal recorder for musicians, podcasters, journalists, and anyone on a budget.

Included accessories: 512MB SD card, windscreen, AC power supply, soft case, pistol grip, USB cable, stereo mini/2-RCA cable, earbuds.

What we like about the H2

  • Compact and lightweight
  • Low price
  • 4-channel surround sound
  • Includes 512MB SD card
  • Built-in tuner and metronome
  • It can be used as a USB mic
  • Onboard normalization and file splitting
  • Powered by two AA batteries

Tascam DR-1
Around $224
B&H#TADR1

The DR-1 from Tascam is a handheld field recorder with features designed to help you become a better musician or song writer. Like many of the recorders in this guide, it's very easy to use, records both high-quality .WAV and compressed MP3's, and is equipped with built-in stereo mics. But what really sets the DR-1 apart from the other recorders in this price range are its rehearsal-oriented features. These musician-friendly features include: a built-in metronome, tuner, overdub function, looping capability, vocal or instrument cancellation, effects, and the ability to change the tempo without affecting pitch.

Included accessories: 1GB SD memory card, rechargeable Lithium-Ion battery, soft case, USB cable.

What we like about the DR-1

  • Great for musicians
  • Low price
  • Built-in auto gain control and analog limiting
  • Overdub feature to record over an existing recording
  • Switchable low-cut filter
  • Built-in tuner and vocal cancellation
  • Powered by two AA batteries

M-Audio MicroTrack II
Around $224
B&H#MAMT2496II

The MicroTrack II is a compact recorder ergonomically mapped for one-handed operation. This updated version of the original model is equipped with two unique 1/4" mic/line inputs (with 48 volts of phantom power), a limiter, S/PDIF input, and analog stereo RCA outputs. It's powered by an internal rechargeable battery, and includes an additional 1/8" input with 5 volts of power for electret mics. The MicroTrack II utilizes USB 2.0 for ultra-fast data transfer to your editing software and is great for anyone who wants the smallest possible portable recorder that can accept professional external microphones.

Included accessories: Plug-in microphone, AC power supply, soft case, earbuds with extension cable, Audacity editing software.

What we like about the MicroTrack II

  • One-hand operation
  • Balanced mic inputs
  • Low price
  • 48V phantom power
  • S/PDIF coaxial digital input
  • RCA stereo line outputs
  • Includes editing and file conversion software

Edirol R-09HR
Around $399
B&H#EDR09HR

The R-09HR from Edirol/Roland is an ultra-compact portable recorder that captures outstanding-sounding audio. The owners of this device usually give praise to its simple-to-navigate operation (via the cool-looking display), and to the sound quality of its built-in stereo condenser mics. It features a reverb effect to sweeten the sound, a switch to use a mono or stereo external mic, a low cut filter, and an auto gain switch to use for "evening sound levels" (live voices at a meeting).

Included accessories: Wireless remote control, AC power supply, table stand, USB cable, Pyro Audio Creator software.

What we like about the R-09HR

  • Compact design
  • Built-in reverb processor and speed adjustment
  • Easy to grip with rubber-like body
  • User-friendly controls
  • Built-in limiter and preview speaker
  • Wireless remote control
  • Powered by two AA batteries

Olympus LS-10
Around $399
B&H#OLLS10

While Olympus may be a relative newcomer to building pro audio recorders, they are well-versed at manufacturing ergonomic handheld gadgets. This is evident when you hold the LS-10 in your hand. It has a compact form factor with a smooth, tactile feel and the control panel is well thought out (with dedicated buttons for all of the most important functions). The LS-10 records high-quality 24-bit/96kHz audio or MP3's, and is equipped with 2GB of built-in flash memory, with an additional SD card slot, if you need more recording time.

Included accessories: Windscreen, soft case, wrist strap, USB cable, stereo mini cable, (2) AA batteries, Cubase LE 4 software.

What we like about the LS-10

  • Lightweight aluminum body
  • 2GB internal memory
  • Ultra-sensitive stereo microphone
  • Dedicated button for deleting files
  • Onboard digital reverb
  • Integrated stereo speakers
  • Powered by two AA batteries
  • Includes multi-track recording/editing software

Yamaha Pocketrak CX
Around $399
B&H#YAPTCX

The PockeTrak CX is a powerful SD recorder, compact enough to fit in your shirt pocket. It features a built-in rechargeable battery that provides up to 40 hours of continuous recording and playback. A 2GB micro SD card is included, allowing you to record up to 3 hours of top-quality audio in 44.1 kHz linear PCM format, or up to 35 hours of stereo MP3 audio at 128kbps. The PockeTrak CX's voice-activated "VARS" function automatically starts recording when a specified input signal level is detected. Additional pro features include: auto level control, peak limiter, high-pass filter, 5-band equalizer, One-touch Phrase Play, and variable MP3 playback speed without changing pitch (70%, 100%, and 150%).

Included accessories: 2GB micro SD Memory Card, rechargeable AA Eneloop Battery, Windscreen, Carrying Pouch, Microphone Stand Adaptor, USB Cable, earphones.

What we like about the PockeTrak CX

  • Compact and lightweight
  • Long-lasting rechargeable battery
  • 2GB SD card included
  • Playback speed adjustment
  • USB direct (slide connector)
  • Built-in speaker
  • Voice-activated recording
  • Includes multi-track editing software

Marantz PMD-620
Around $399
B&H#MAPMD620

The Marantz PMD-620 is a USB 2.0 recorder that captures audio in broadcast .WAV files or MP3 compression formats. In addition to having pro features, such as a dedicated line input, mic pads, and a low frequency filter, it also acts as a digital voice recorder with "Silent Skip" (a feature that will pause the recording when sound isn't present). It comes with an adapter that allows you to attach it to a tripod or your belt, and is equipped with a handy built-in speaker. The PMD-620 continually saves as it records, so if the battery dies in the middle of a recording, the file won't be lost. This handy feature makes it a great machine for anyone making long recordings.

Included accessories: Belt clip, wrist strap, AC power supply, USB cable, stereo mini/2-RCA cable.

What we like about the PMD-620

  • Compact design
  • Designed for one-handed operation
  • Programmable "skip back" feature
  • Seamless USB docking
  • Onboard non-destructive editing
  • Built-in speaker
  • Powered by two AA batteries

Sony PCM-D50
Around $499
B&H# SOPCMD50

Carefully constructed out of lightweight aluminum, the PCM-D50 distinguishes itself from the pack by putting build quality, ease of use, and stunningly clear sound quality first and foremost. This versatile recorder is designed for the rigorous demands of professional applications, and offers long battery life using four conventional AA alkaline batteries. Additional pro features include: high-quality electret condenser microphones, digital pitch control, a dual digital limiter, low-cut filter, Super Bitmapping, and MP3 playback capability. For the price, the sound quality and sturdy construction of the PCM-D50 can't be beat. A custom tripod table stand, wind ****, and softie windscreen are available as optional accessories.

Included accessories: AC power supply, USB cable, (4) AA batteries, Sony Sound Forge Audio software.

What we like about the PCMD50

  • Great sound quality
  • 4GB built-in flash memory
  • Sturdy construction
  • Large, backlit display
  • Dedicated switches for many functions
  • Large input gain ****
  • Adjustable built-in mics
  • Powered by four AA batteries

Zoom H4
Around $239
B&H#ZOH4

The Zoom H4 is a standout portable recorder in the $499 price range. It has a 4-track mode that allows you to overdub separate tracks, and will also act as a USB audio interface for your computer. Equipped with two XLR/1/4" combo inputs and built-in stereo microphones, the H4 is great for musicians, journalists, and podcasters. The H4 also has great built-in effects including: compression, limiting, mic modeling, and guitar amp modeling. B&H has created custom-bundled kits for mobile podcast recording that include a Zoom H4 recorder and a handheld interview mic. It's available in two kits, one for Mac and the other for PC.

Included accessories: 512MB SD card, Windscreen, AC power supply, soft case, stand mount, USB cable, Cubase LE software.

What we like about the H4

  • Dual XLR inputs
  • Phantom power
  • 4-track recording
  • Can be used as a USB interface
  • Built-in effects
  • Easy to use
  • Includes multi-track recording/editing software

Marantz PMD-660
Around $499
B&H#MAPMD660

The Marantz PMD-660 is a feature-packed handheld digital recorder designed for location sound applications. It is equipped with dual XLR microphone inputs, 48 volts of phantom power, 1/8" mini I/O, and a built-in stereo mic with automatic level control (so you can record interviews and conference meetings without having to adjust the settings). This powerful recorder provides advanced onboard editing features and the ability to automatically or manually create track markers on files. Its "Virtual Track" mode allows you to create up to 99 virtual tracks/internal play lists of audio segments.

Included accessories: 64MB compact flash card, AC power supply, USB cable, carry strap, stereo mini/2-RCA cable.

What we like about the PMD-660

  • Dual XLR inputs with 48V phantom power
  • Full onboard cut-copy-paste digital editing
  • EDL-style play-listing
  • "Virtual Track" mode
  • Manual track incrementing while recording
  • Built-in speaker
  • Powered by four AA batteries

If you have any more questions about Portable Digital Recorders, we encourage you to contact us on the phone, online, or in person at our SuperStore in New York City.

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 I have been thinking of buying a Marantz PMD 661 Digital Field Recorder and am very close to doing so, but I have been reading some stuff on vanishing wav. files when downloading to a Mac and some type of incompatibility to Macs in general, plus a lot of talk about complicated ways of getting around this, I just want to do some field recording and be able to drag and drop into Final Cut Pro on a MacBook Pro, is this conflict info correct or will I have nothing to worry about ? .......