Holiday 2012: Portable Digital Recorder Roundup

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What does a portable digital recorder have in common with a farm-fresh egg? You can use an egg to glaze an apple pie, cook a Denver omelet or to make fresh gnocchi. Likewise, you can use a portable digital recorder to capture live music, record the sound in a video shoot or to create a podcast in the field. Just like eggs, portable digital recorders are used by all kinds of different people to do different things. Sadly, you cannot incubate a portable digital recorder and hatch a baby chicken.


Portable digital recorders have become widely popular, and there is a slew of different models on the market—some of which look almost identical to one another. It’s become really difficult to tell the difference between them. This article will help you understand the little details that differentiate the available options, so you can find the one that suits your needs perfectly. B&H InDepth also has a non-model-specific guide that explains various features, inputs, outputs and settings in the Portable Digital Recorders Buying Guide.  

There are several features that most of these recorders share. Most of them can record in different resolutions, from high-quality 24-bit/96kHz WAV files to compressed MP3s. All of them are compatible with both Windows and Mac computers and are small enough for handheld use. However, there are some features you may assume every recorder has, when in fact they do not.  

The recorders are presented in reverse alphabetical order, with dedicated feature charts for each of the manufacturers. You can use the charts to quickly find the features you need. For example, if you want to mount a recorder to the shoe of a camera with an adapter or a multi-function ball head, you can scan the tables for models that feature tripod mounts. Accessories are suggested for every model as well, including crucially important fluffy windscreens, which are required to create clean recordings outdoors. 

Zoom

The Zoom H1 is an ultra-compact, candy-bar-sized recorder. Even though it’s small in size, it comes with great sounding stereo microphones, and features a mini mic/line input for external sound sources. The H1 was designed to be easy to use, with a single Record button on its face, and hardware controls for every setting. It runs on a single AA battery, and includes a 2GB microSD card (it’s compatible with microSDHC cards up to 32GB). There are fluffy windscreens available for the H1 from K-Tek, WindTech and Rycote.

The Zoom H2n builds on the popularity of the original H2. It can record in surround, be used as a USB mic, and has a built-in tuner and metronome. The H2n ups the ante by adding an additional mic and the ability to record in Mid-Side mode (for complete info on this feature, check out this B&H InDepth review). The H2n also has a built-in speaker, a backlit display, ergonomic design and a dial to control input levels. The Zoom APH-2n accessory package is available separately and includes an AC adapter, remote, case, windscreen and more. K-Tek makes a fluffy windscreen specifically for the H2n.

The Zoom H4n is the first portable digital recorder in this article that features XLR inputs. The H4n is a popular choice for recording the sound in both HDSLR video shoots and for live music, thanks to its ability to record four channels simultaneously, two from the built-in stereo X/Y mics, and two from inputs. In addition to the combo XLR inputs, there is also a 3.5mm stereo mic input. The H4n can supply condenser mics with phantom power, has Hi-Z inputs for guitar and bass, built-in effects, variable-speed playback, and can act as a USB audio interface. Zoom also makes a remote control for extra flexibility.

The H4n has a wide variety of available accessories. Petrol and Porta Brace both make compatible Cordura utility cases for it. Fluffy windscreens are available from K-Tek and Rycote. For connection to HDSLR camera microphone inputs, Sescom and Whirlwind make 25dB attenuator cables with 1/8” stereo headphone taps; allowing you to monitor as you record.

Tascam

The Tascam DR-05 appeals to musicians on a budget. The built-in fixed omnidirectional stereo mics can handle recording loud sounds (the mics won’t overload in a loud rehearsal room), and the unit has a handy instrument tuner. DR-05 users often praise its extra long battery life and ease of use. An AC adapter and an external battery pack are both available separately.

The Tascam DR-07mkII is also known for being easy to use and having exceptionally long battery life. Its built-in stereo cardioid microphones can be adjusted to record in two positions: X/Y or A/B. The A/B position gives you a wider stereo field, which is beneficial for recording music. The X/Y position has a tighter stereo field, and is useful for general purpose recording. An AC adapter and an external battery pack are both available separately.

The Tascam DR-40 is a standout recorder with its two locking combo XLR inputs, phantom power and simultaneous four track recording. You can record with its two inputs and its adjustable stereo cardioid mics at the same time, or you can create a duplicate “safety” version of two tracks internally at a lower input level setting. This way, if you get a spike in volume and your main recording distorts, the second copy that you’re recording internally will still be viable. An AC adapter, external battery pack, and a wired remote are all available separately. The Petrol PS615 Cordura case can provide protection between recordings.

The Tascam DR-100mkII features four built-in microphones; two cardioid and two omnidirectional. Additionally, two locking XLR inputs with low-noise preamplifiers provide 3 levels of gain staging and 48V of switchable Phantom power. The DR-100mkII also features 3.5mm jacks for line input, line output, and an S/PDIF input. A switchable limiter protects your tracks from clipping. The Petrol PS615 Cordura case fits the DR-100mkII as well.

Sony

The Sony PCM M10 (available in both black and red) is a compact recorder with rugged build quality, high fidelity sound and impressive battery life. The intuitive interface packs a lot of perks into an ultra-compact form factor, including resolution up to 24-bit/96kHz and 4GB of internal memory. Sony makes a carrying case called the CKSM10 that has built-in speakers and a custom fluffy windscreen called the ADPCM2 for outdoor recording. 

Roland

The Roland R-05 is a well-made, compact recorder in a sturdy aluminum body with features that benefit musicians and new users. A reverb effect is built-in, which helps sweeten the sound for singers and instrumentalists. The R-05 has a “rehearsal” function, which automatically adjusts the recording levels for inexperienced users. There’s a bunch of accessories available for the R-05, such as the OP-R05S silicone case, the PSB6U AC adapter, a custom Rycote fluffy windscreen and the OP-MSA1 microphone stand adapter (which is a useful accessory for any portable digital recorder with a 1/4" tripod thread).

The Roland R-26 features two pairs of built-in stereo mics; one set is omnidirectional, the other set is X/Y. It has a pair of combo XLR and 1/4" TRS inputs that can accept line-level signals, connect external microphones and even supply Phantom power. There is a 3.5mm stereo mic input as well. The R-26 is capable of recording six channels of audio simultaneously, so you can utilize the dual combo XLR inputs and the four built-in mics at the same time. It can also be used as a USB audio interface on a computer for recording music and voice-overs. The OP-R26CW accessory kit is available separately and includes a case, shoulder strap and a fluffy windscreen. Porta Brace also makes a dedicated case for R-26.

Olympus

The Olympus LS-12 is a very compact PCM recorder, featuring 2GB of internal flash memory, a microSD slot and USB connectivity. It has fixed stereo microphones as well as 3.5mm stereo mic and line inputs. It also features convenient functions for musicians, including metronome, tuner, overdub and pre-recording.

The Olympus LS-14 shares all the LS-12’s features, but increases the internal flash memory to 4GB. The LS-14 also adds an omnidirectional microphone between the stereo pair. The extra mic improves the low-frequency response of your recordings. The LS-14 includes a clip stand and a carrying case.

The Olympus LS-100 is capable of more than you’d ever expect from a handheld recorder. It can create multi-track sessions with up to 999 tracks and edit up to 8 tracks simultaneously. The LS-100 can handle a maximum sound pressure level of 140dB, which is approximately that of a jet engine up close! The two integrated condenser mics have independent level controls. There are also 2 XLR combo jacks with Phantom power available to connect your own mics. The LS-100 has a 4GB of internal memory and an SD Card slot capable of adding up to 64GB more. Olympus makes a wireless remote control for starting, stopping or pausing your recordings.

Nagra

The Nagra SD looks a lot like a decibel meter, but it’s actually a very powerful recording machine. Tracking to separately available SD cards, it has no capacity limit. It can support the full line of Nagra clip-on mics, which range from omnidirectional in mono to cardioid in stereo, but none are included. The Nagra SD runs on two AA batteries and will last up to 10 hours. It has 3.5mm jacks for stereo mic in, stereo line in and stereo line out, and includes a 3.5mm to XLR cable for connecting an external dynamic microphone.

Marantz

The Marantz PMD620 MKII is a sturdy, compact portable digital recorder that’s surprisingly lightweight (about four ounces). It has large, tactile buttons and a bright OLED screen. More than anything, this updated version of the PMD620 provides data security, including a device passcode and password-protected file encryption. This is an ideal set of features for any professional who records sensitive or confidential audio, e.g. doctors, lawyers, court reporters, etc. It has some handy transcription features too. You can highlight a segment of a recording and copy it into a new, separate file with the press of a button. Accessories available for the PMD620 MKII include the MM-50 fluffy windscreen, the RC600 wired remote control and the Micro Recorder Pack zippered case.

The Marantz PMD661 MKII has also been updated from its inaugural model to include data security features. It’s a well-rounded digital recorder that’s small enough for handheld use, yet packs enough professional features to make it suitable for field recording. Its XLR inputs are switchable between mic and line level, and can provide mics with 48 volts of phantom power. A coaxial S/PDIF output enables you to patch recordings out digitally. A large OLED screen, its backlit Record button and a pair of 10-segment LED meters allow you to operate the recorder with ease. Rycote makes a fluffy windscreen for the PMD661 MKII, and Marantz makes a wired remote control and dedicated carrying case

Korg

The Korg MR 2 is the only handheld portable digital recorder that can record sound using 1-bit Direct Stream Digital (DSD) formats. It enables you to capture sound at 64 times the sampling rate of a standard compact disc. In addition to being able to create these audiophile-pleasing high-resolution recordings, the MR 2 can also record everything from 24-bit/96kHz WAV files to compressed MP3s. One of the benefits of recording 1-bit DSD files (aside from the fidelity) is that you can convert them into any other format with the included AudioGate software. The built-in X/Y stereo mic can be rotated 210 degrees (so you can point it at the sound source), and an instrument tuner is included to make life a little easier for musicians.

Thanks for checking out this B&H InDepth article. If you have any questions about portable digital recorders, we encourage you to submit a Comment, below.

Add new comment

I enyoyed the comparisons. Thank you for the information.

I agree.  It's also an excellent introduction to these recorders

Great article thanks! I am a violinist looking for a portable recorder to record myself practicing but also for recording auditions and pieces which would be sent away for competition. Therefore good quality of sound is my priority. I would like one with a remote control but its not a necessity. I would like one with a playback speaker. I don't need a lot of other features. I'm also a student so I don't want to spend a lot but will spend enough to get a good sound quality. Would you recommend Sony or otherwise?

Hello Fred -

The Tascam DR-40 recorder features built-in adjustable condenser microphones, allowing you to choose an X/Y or A/B recording pattern to meet the needs of your environment and application. A built-in limiter and switchable low cut filter reduce peaks and rumble for cleaner recordings. There are a pair of Neutrik combo inputs that accept XLR and 1/4" connections for terrific flexibility. Built-in mic preamps provide phantom power so you can use external condenser mics. A 3.5mm headphone/line output allows you to connect additional equipment such as headphones or small speakers. The high-speed USB 2.0 port allows you to transfer your recordings to a Mac or PC for editing or sharing.

A built-in speaker allows you to play back your recordings immediately for review. Other features include a dual recording mode, and overdub mode, and a peak reduction feature. There is a 2-second pre-recording buffer to ensure that you never miss a priceless moment due to pressing the record button too late. There is also a chromatic tuner and a stereo reverb effect. A threaded mounting hole lets you mount the recorder on a tripod for terrific stability. The DR-40 can operate for up to 15 hours from 3 standard AA batteries. It can also use USB bus power via the included cable. An optional AC adapter and external battery pack (sold separately) provide additional powering options.  An optional  RC-10 Wired Remote Control is also available.

Please contact us via e-mail if you have additional questions:  AskBH@BandH.com

Hi Mark,

I am a cinematographer and looking for a mid to high end portable handheld recorder that i can use to record audio during filming whether is music, dialog or a ambiance sound. I also would like to connect the audio recorder device directly (such as the zoom, tascam etc...) to my camera so that the audio that is being picked up by either the internal or external mics to be feed diredctly to the input jak (XLR/1/4 inch etc...) of my professional camera (eg. Sony EX3). So the idea is that i can choose to record with the aduio device such as zoom or use the audio device just for its microphone capabilities and or as a audio controler/enhancer as a pass thru to be recorded live on my camera so that the actualy recording of the audio takes place in the camera as well as the ability to record live by the portable recoder. So having said all that what you recommend to meet my need. Thanks!

Hello RF -

Your camera - the SONY PMW EX3 has excellent audio inputs and circuitry via XLR.  The route you are suggesting makes sense for the DSLR shooter where the camera's audio is generally subpar.These small recorders described above offer line out audio only and would need various conversions to adapt to the XLR inputs of the PMW EX3.  This seems counterproductive to me.  But here goes:

The SES-IPOD-XLRM03 from Sescom is a 3' long audio cable that allows you to connect a  portable audio recorder or other media player to  a camcorder, pro-quality rack or house audio gear. The cable has a 3.5mm stereo mini plug on one end, and a pair of XLR male mono plugs at the other. The cable uses premium Neutrik and Switchcraft connectors for lasting quality.

The recommended work flow would be to use a recorder like the Tascam DR100MKll with Singular Software Plural Eyes that allows syncing the audio with the camera footage in post production editing.

Please contact us via e-mail if you have additional questions:  AskBH@BandH.com

Thank you so much. Your recommendations are well received.

I want a digital voice recorder for recording lectures and e-learning training to be put with presentations and videos. Kindly suggest which one will be the best for it.

HI -

The DR-05 Portable Handheld Digital Audio Recorder from Tascam offers high-quality recording in a lightweight and compact design that anyone can use, perfect for musicians, teachers, journalists, and more. The DR-05 records WAV or MP3 files at rates up to 24-bit/96kHz to microSD or microSDHC cards for reliable, skip-free storage. A 2GB card is included so you can get started right away. Integrated microphones capture clear stereo audio, while a 3.5mm stereo mic/line input lets you connect external mics and sound sources. The jack even provides plug-in power for mics that require it.

An integrated speaker and a 3.5mm headphone jack make it easy to listen to your recordings to make sure everything was captured perfectly. The large display screen shows vital information during recording and playback, while the intuitive controls provide quick and easy single-handed operation. The Peak Reduction feature will automatically set your recording level by listening to the audio input and adjusting for the best level. When used alongside the built-in limiter, unwanted distortion becomes a thing of the past.

Please contact us via e-mail if you have additional questions: AskBH@BandH.com

I have the Tascam DR - 07mkII and it is the most interesting, powerful and impresive microphone I ever had. The recording quality on both patterns (A-B and X-Y) is of a nice depth and colorful in tones. The AA batteries last enough for the kind of films I make. Usually used for podcast, interviews  and as external mic for my digital camera this incredible unit does its work like a champ.

why did you all leave the Olympus products out of the discussion? I regularly use the LS-10 and have had most excellent success for it over the past 4 years. the LS-11 has also received rave reviews. I know there are even newer models now. Are Olympus recorders not comparable with those mentioned above because of their input/output quality or performance? are the deatures lacking or is the build not as durable?

Hi Jerome,

There's nothing lacking in the performance or build-quality of the Olympus PCM recorders. We simply couldn't include every manufacturer and model in this article. The content just becomes too wordy and unfocused at a certain point. It's good to hear that the LS-10 has served you so well! We no longer carry the LS-10 or LS-11, but we do have the LS-7 and their LS-20M (which is a portable digital recorder that features a built-in HD video camera).

I agree that it's important when a product receives rave reviews. The "Customer Reviews" tab on the B&H website is often one of the first things I read when I'm researching a product. Thanks for sharing your opinion!

Sam Mallery

From the article, which is otherwise an excellent roundup, it's not clear which recorders have time code, and if so, which type (SMPTE, etc.). That's helpful information for those of us who plan to use a recorder with single-camera video and mix in post-production.

Hi David,

Sorry about the confusion about time code capabilities. It's likely due to the fact that none of the recorders in this article have any time code functionality. Time code is a feature that's currently only found on larger, "bag-style" field recorders. This kind of recorder and some basic information about time code are covered in the B&H InDepth article entitled Portable Digital Recorders Designed for Bag Use. The information about time code is in the "Advanced Features" section of the article. For SMPTE time code, check out the Edirol R-4 Pro or the Sound Devices 702T, 744T or 788T.

Best,

Sam Mallery

This comparison is a good start.  I have the Zoom H4n, and would like to find something less bulky and heavy.  The most important spec to me is the bit rate and maximum quality for both WAV and MP3 formats, and it wasn't mentioned in the article.  I'll have to look at your catalog.

Hello -

Here are the specs for Zoom H4n:

Recording Bit RateWAV: 16 and 24-bit
MP3: 48 to 320kbps

Sampling Frequency

WAV: 44.1/48/96kHz
MP3 - 44.1/48kHz

Dimensions (WxDxH)2.75 x 6.1 x 1.4" (70 x 156 x 35mm)Weight9.9 oz (280g) (without batteries)

The Tascam DR-40 is about the same size as the Zoom H4n but it is a few ounces lighter. The specifications for recording and sampling are the same.

I had a Zoom H2 and was very unhappy with it. The in-built microphones had a very cheepish lo-fi sound, and if I tried to connect an external AKG dynamic microphone, the mic inputs were too insensitive so that I had to use highest possible sensitivity setting with the result that the recordings got a very loud amplifier noise. The display is very small and makes it difficult to get an idea if the recording level is appropriate. I was very happy when i got rid of that useless toy.

Hello Ingemar

With the excellent service of "DLX music" in Stockholm, I was given
the opportunity to Test the Zoom H2 for a month.

Being an audio technician, my expectations were modest, given the *very* modest price of the H2 .

Genuinely impressed with very good SQ. , is the short summary.
That is SoundQuality from the built-in mikes, compared with mikes three or even four times that of the Zoom H2.

Regarding build quality it was a different story altogether:  a bit frightning , to be frank.

Battery life was poor, really poor, and the display was absolutely not satifactory.
And external mikes sounded unbelievably dull ( why ?? )

But the SoundQualty from the built-in mikes was *great* in all conditions.

Honestly.

The Zoom H2 was, of course, quite cheap, and after it was sold I instead bought the much more expensive Marantz PMD 661. I am very happy with it even if it is a much larger and heavier gizmo than the Zoom. My only disappointment about the PMD is that the OVER indicator is always automaticly unlit after about a second (should have had a manual reset button instead). In all other aspects I think it has everything, and top quality audio and build.

The ZOOM H2 built-in microphones deliver excellent sound.
Period.
Combined with an affordable price, the sound quality is the simple explanation to
it's worldwide popularity - IN SPITE OF quite a few shortcomings.
Period.

The internal mics & preamps are a bit noisy. Careful about making blanket statements when you know not what people will be recording with it.

"The internal mics & preamps are a bit noisy"

Careful about blanket statesments ...

Compared to ... what ?

Your statement must be pitted against *something* .

Period.

Compared to professional dynamic omnidirectional mikes ( $ 500.+ ) , the H2 that I tested
stod up darn good, *noisewise*.

*Audio timbre* - which obviously is a different quality - was just a fraction on the
'presency' side , making details in hf. stand out a tad - acoustic guitar string sub-details,
analogue quartz clock in quiet room, voice treble clarity et.c.
You could live with that , since it OBVIOUSLY is't going to be used as a reference 
recording device in professional environment - and it's not a major minus to begin with, just a
character in audio quality.

IN CONTEXT , the Zoom H2 is an amateur recording gadget which delivers excellent sound
from the inbuilt mikes. 
All other shortcomings aside, that is.

LOOKING FOR THE BEST PORTABLE RECORDER TO USE LINE OUT DIRECTL INTO DSLR

Hi guys...I'm looking for a way to get good if not excellent sound into my Canon T3i while being able to monitor audio in some way...I cannot use Magic Lantern on a Canon T3i. So I have looked for other solutions.

First, let me clarify that I have a wireless Sennheiser G2-lavalier set and when I connect it directly to my Canon T3i the sound is perfectly acceptable for interviews etc and I set the volume manually of course as is possible on the T3i. But i can't monitor audio or even look at the levels once I start recording...

So, I tried the Zoom H1 with a special expensive cable with a -25db attenuator built in and a splitter so that one line can go into the mic in in the T3i and the other one go a set of heaphones. My objective is to get the best possible sound into the camera while avoiding having to use Plural Eyes to sync the audio from the H1 later.

So, i did some testing with the sennheiser connected to the Zoom H1 and then running the cable into the T3i. I watched a video on the internet that recommended setting the line out level of the H1 to 80db and the mic in to 50db. The idea being to get a hight input into the T3i and by pass as much as possible the internatl preamps in the Canon which are reportedly very noisy. I also recorded the sound going into the H1 for comparison later.

Finally, did  a separate test recording directly from the Sennheiser into the Canon T3i without the H1 in between.

Then I listened while having my imac connected to my Yamaha RXA1000 receiver and my 5.1 set up.

1- The sound recorded in to the T3i coming from the Line out in the Zoom H1 shows hiss for sure. The sound is not horrible. No, but it displays a hiss and the voice quality is not as good as i know the Sennheiser can provide.

2-The quality of the sound as recorded into the H1 internal card coming from the Sennheiser mic was excellent. I don't plan to use the H1 built in microphones to record interviews as I have the wireless sennheiser for that.

3- As I already knew, the quality of the Sennheiser mics plugged in directly into the Canon T3i was also very good. On par with the H1's internal recording. But unfortunately this set up doesn't let me monitor audio in any way.

So, the H1 is not my solution as the sound that comes out of its line out is hissy...I'm reading about the new and improved Tascam DR-100mkII which claims to have improved pre-amps (the DR-100 reportedly had noisy pre-amps too-similar to the H1 and H4n I suspect) and also features separate headphone out jack and mic/line out. Has anyone tried connecting it to a DSLR and testing the quality of the sound from the line/mic output?

This could be the answer to my prayers! I just wish to avoid syncing in post-I'm not making a feature film but I would like good sound for sure.

Thanks for you attention

Erick

To what extent are everybody else's microphones inferior to the Sonys?

Full frquency response?  S/N ratio?  Handling noise?  Transient response?  "Realistic" stereo image?  Succeptibility to overloading?

Hello -

There is no evidence that the products reviewed are inferior to Sony's PCM series recorders at all.  These products represent a nice cross section of audio tools for most every project and budget.  If you would like more information please feel free to e-mail us at:  askbh@band.com

 

just listen yourself..the circuit board build (S/N), preamp. etc ..your ears will tell the truth, compare specs and find out. i buoght mine for recod lightnings...and before i decided i compared all products in many reviews... i paid more of sony just from my own will to get the product i wanted...the built in mics anyway is not the thing if you want super quality then u always go for xlr connected into your device.

try what fits your use best, all r good recorders, but there can be those litlle differences what might matter to u.

  

Aside from the mic quality of the Sony D50 (which may not be noticeable to many listeners) is the build quality. Compared to any of the Zooms, the Sony is a tank, built to last.  I've had a Zoom H2 and H1, and I've broken plastic pieces off of both.  The company makes it difficult to procure replacement parts.  The Sony  D50 limits you to WAV recordings, but that also increases simplicity and practicality.  Just look at the side of the H1 with its 6-7 minuscule buttons.  Any advantages in "stealth" recording are neutralized by all the tiny controls to fumble around with in the dark.  Even the Zoom H2, with its tiny window and numerous sub-menus and editing functions, is not made for tired eyes and impatient fingers.

In terms of sound quality, some may prefer the H2 to the H1 or even the more expensive (considerably) Sony.  It "enhances" the sound, but the Sony is "true," with natural and very accurate and "present" reproduction of what the ear hears "in nature."  Having said that, I'll confess I frequently don't feel like taking the big boy along with me on assignments. So  I picked up the Tascam DR5, which is perhaps the biggest "value" in the whole bunch, priced between $60-$80 by some dealers at the current moment.  I'm not sure I buy into the XY mic theory--I don't hear more widely separated stereo sound when I squeeze the mics together. The Tascam has the mics set wide apart the way I like them; the controls are big, solid and accessible; you can operate the machine with one thumb with no problem.  And if you shake it, you won't hear any loose plastic parts rattling as is the case with the H1.

If you're on a budget and just want a good, solid, portable digital machine, the Tascam DR5 is practically an unbeatable value.  Of course, if you're sold on the XY pattern or if you want a mic to mount on a videocam, the H1 will likely satisfy you more (it's half the size of the Tascam DR5). In fact, the Tascam costs no more than Blue's obsolescent "Mikey," which is a waste of time and money--aimed at iPod users who won't stop at anything to prove their Apple product can do anything. (It can't.)

Hi!

I look for a device mainly to grab my inspirations when I am not at home. 90% I will do this with voice, beatbox, etc, so with a mic. But it is also nice if I can connect an instrument (for example a little portable synth I carry with me always).

I also would like to use it to record nice ambiental sounds/noises wherever I am, so that I can later use them as sample in my music.

I do not need a highly professional unit, I rather look for something no more expensive than a h4n.

So, the device should

1) be as more portable as possible

2) let me overdub something while I listen what I have recorded before. For example, I beatbox a bass line, then I listen to it while I record on it a drum pattern, then I add a voice, etc...

So, I see that the new Korg SOS is cheap and offer unlimited overdubs.

As for the H4n. It says multitrack, but can I record a track while I listen to another, and then merge them so that it is as an overdubbing? And what could be the "overdubbing differences" between the two units?

Could you compare the two?

Thanks!

Hello Sergio -

Although the Korg SOS is a great product for the price  - and it does allow "unlimited" overdubs - the functiionality and menu selection is a bit tedious.   You must delete tracks sequentially, in reverse order from which they were recorded. If you want to delete the first track laid down, you must delete all successive tracks recorded.  I like the Tascam DR40 for your stated use.  The menus and direct buttons are intuitive and easy to navigate.  The dual recording mode will capture a safety track at a lower volume level than your primary track to prevent peaking and distortion The mic preamps are topnotch and the overall build quality is pleasing as well.  Solid little unit. If you need more advice - feel free to e-mail us at:  AskBH@BandH.com

Hi,

Thanks for your review of portable digital recorders.  I'm wondering if you have a recommendation for a classical musician who's looking for a recorder to capture acapella voices and guitar and has the capability for mulit-tracking?

I've used Tascam's DR07 and DR08 and was quite pleased with the sound quality they produced, but the DR08 seemed to pick up more background noise than the DR07, yet the voices had a smoother, more rounded sound on the DR08.  I like to record at higher bit depths and sample rates than 16/44 as that seems to give more room to move if I have to edit the recordings later in a program like WavePad.  I'd also like to be able to do multi-tracking with the recorder rather than mixing tracks together later. 

So I guess I'm after a recorder that has good inbuilt mics (that translate to good, clean "true-to-life" recordings), that can record very soft sounds without too much background noise, and the ability to multi-track.  I don't need an instrument tuner or metronome, but the reverb and guitar effects that some recorders have would be nice but not essential.  A recorder with the option for AC or USB power would also be good as would one with the possibility for tripod mount (but again not essential).  Ideally my budget is under $200.

Thank you!

Hello  -

The Tascam DR-40 may be what you are looking for - which is one of the most feature packed devices under your $200 budget.  It is one of the few high quality recorders with an overdub capability.  The overdub mode will record over your previous take, but still keep a copy of the original.  True multi track recording is found in more advanced products like the Roland R-26.  If you have more questions, please contact us at :  AskBH@BandH.com

Hi,

I would really appreciate if you could help me with my situation and point me to the right direction.

I need a portable recording device, but my use for it will be quite different!

I want to carry a recorder with me all the time I am alone, except for when I'm taking a shower. It may be attached to my wrist, or clothing, even during sleep. I would like it to record everything I say, whenever I speak, automatically, 24 hours a day.

So...

A 24/7 recording device,
that is portable enough to be carried attached all the time,
can be set as voice activated (meaning it only records and records automatically when and only when it hears I speak),
doesn't catch the sounds of clothing it is attached to,
has a good battery solution, so I won't have to change batteries everyday,
has enough storage space, so that I won't have to transfer files so frequently (or, records remotely to a computer nearby via wifi).

Is there such a device, or a solution of using a set of devices for this purpose?

Hello Zdlo -

The closest product I could find that meets most of your requirements is the Bolide Technology Group 130 Hour BT-PSE256 Digital Voice Recorder.  It's an ultra-small, super-lightweight and high-performance digital voice recorder with a 16kHz sampling frequency. It features HQ, SP and LP recording modes. Each one of the three modes represents a different level of recording quality, which in-turn yields three different possible maximum recording times. When recording in the LP mode, the BT-PSE256 supports an amazing 130 hours of high-quality recording time.

To ensure clarity and crisp stereo sound, the recorder features an integrated stereo microphone. Plus, like other high-end digital voice recorders, the BT-PSE256 is equipped with voice activated recording (VOR). This function allows hands-free initiation of recordings. The recorder is also equipped with slow, fast, skip and repeat buttons that afford various playback speeds and flexible playback options. The BT-PSE256 offers a USB connection as well, which facilitates quick, simple file transfers. Bolide even includes useful and convenient DSS Player software for editing and archiving with ease. There's also a fast file search function, recording date/time display, recovery for erased files and a two-way power supply that supports either battery or USB power.

If you have additional question, please contact us via e-mail:  AskBH@BandH.com.

Thank you Mark!

This one looks great. Although I have one concern...

The battery life... It doesn't say anything about the battery life on the product page. Maybe it's the bottleneck, maybe it's 4 hours?.. Can it record for 130 hours without changing the batteries? How long will the batteries last if it records continuously?

Thanks.

Hello Zdio -

Although not documented -  Shawn at Bolide estimates: " 8 to 12 hrs". It has a built-in high capacity lithium-polymer battery.  I am not aware of any battery operated VOR recorder that will offer 130 hours of continuous power. if you have additonal questions please e-mail us at:  AskBH@BandH.com

Hi,

I'm interested in upgrading to a portable digital recorder for podcasting purposes.

I am recording 10-40 minute lectures with a Olympus DM-10 voice recorder currently but am looking to get better quality and clarity recordings and to use a good quality lavalier mic.

What would you recommend in terms of recorders and mics?

Thanks!

Kevin

Hello Kevin -

A logical step up for your consideration would be the Tascam DR-08. It is an extremely compact digital audio recorder, ideal for recording interviews, lectures, music practice sessions, and much more. The pocket-sized unit can record high-quality WAV or MP3 files at rates up to 24-bit/96kHz. The unit records to readily-available microSD flash memory cards, allowing you to record hours of material and share it easily. A 2GB card is included for convenience.
The recorder features a built-in stereo electret condenser microphone with an automatic level control and switchable low cut filter. The mic also features a unique mechanism that allows you to change the position of the elements to tailor the acoustic properties of the recording. A 3.5mm stereo mic/line input makes it easy to connect an external microphone or instrument, while the 3.5mm headphone/line output jack allows you to connect headphones, external speakers, a mixer, and more. The high-speed USB 2.0 port allows you to transfer your recordings to a Mac or PC for editing or sharing.

A basic lavalier that works well to move the mic discretely closer to the subject;  The Audio-Technica ATR3350 Omnidirectional Condenser Lavalier Microphone is an economical newscaster-style mic that  has accurate voice reproduction and an omni pickup pattern that provides full coverage. Useful accessories come included with the mic for use right out of the box. Accessories include: tie clip, LR44 battery and foam windscreen and a 20' cable.

Moving up to a pro grade lavalier:

The Audio-Technica AT803B is a miniature condenser microphone intended to be worn on the clothing of performers for excellent yet unobtrusive sound pickup. The wide range capability of the AT803B ensures clean, accurate reproduction with high intelligibility for lecturers, singers, stage and TV performers.

Designed for clip-on lavalier and musical instrument use
Small size is ideal for applications requiring minimum visibility
Operates on battery or phantom power
6' (1.8 m) cable permanently attached between microphone and power module

With this mic and other similar XLR types you will need an impedance matching adapter as well: 

The Pearstone LMT100 cable simply enables a microphone or mic-level device to be input into the 3.5mm mini input found on consumer recording devices. It is 1.5' long and has a 3-pin XLR female connector on one end and a standard 3.5mm mini plug on the other. It is designed for use with mono microphones.

Hello,

I'm looking at purchasing a potable recorder that will be used mostly outdoors, capturing solo acapellas on the fly. It will need to have a good battery life and be durable as it will be travelling extensively throughout East Africa. The audio quality should be fairly good too. Any recomendations would be greatly appreciated!

Thanks.
Andrew

Hello Andrew -

The Tascam DR-100mkII is a portable stereo digital audio recorder designed with high-end recording features aimed at musicians and engineers. Four built-in microphones, two cardioid and two omnidirectional, deliver great sound via the high-gain and low noise microphone preamps. A pair of XLR inputs can accommodate external microphones and provide switchable phantom power for use with condenser microphones.

The 24-bit/96kHz linear PCM recorder features dedicated stereo mini balanced line in and out connectors in addition to an S/PDIF digital input. Also available is the ability to connect balanced line inputs via the locking XLR connectors. An upgrade to the DR-100, an already versatile unit, the rugged DR-100mkII extends the functionality of a professional portable recorder while improving the overall sound.

Portable four-microphone, two-channel handheld audio recorder
Improved uni-directional and omni-directional microphones over original DR-100
High gain and low noise microphone preamp
Up to 24-bit/96kHz WAV recording
32 to 320kbps MP3 recording
Dual XLR inputs with locking latches
+4dBu line input available via XLR jacks
1/8" TRS line input and output
S/PDIF input from an external device via remote jack
Limiter and low-cut filter
Variable playback speed from -50% to +16%
Records to SD or SD-HC cards (includes 2GB card)
Large thumbwheel for individual gain control
Dedicated back-panel switches
Built-in speaker
Tripod mount
Rugged aluminum casing

Dear Mr. Sam Mallery,

First I would like to say thank you for your great and helpful article and efforts to make a comparison/review of all those devices.

I would be very grateful if you could help me choose the right recorder:

I play Irish whistle and my brother plays strings and drums.

We would like to have a portable recorder that could connect to a camcorder and record our music and share it with other people (including musicians) and put in the Internet.

We also would like to have that portable device always next to us for when the inspiration comes we could grab it and easily record the moment in group or solo.

We are not professionals, so is not our intention to have a professional device due to the expensive costs.

We want to have a great audio recorder to record our musics, check and correct our evolution, correct errors after listening the playback, share with other people including more professional musicians, playback slower to listening carefully all the notes and transcribe them to musical notation. We would like to have the possibility to record in stereo, like me playing the whistle at the right and my brother playing the guitar at the left; the possibility to record omni-directional is an advantage too if we go to a surround ambient like a big church. It is also is important to have a good efficiency regarding batteries consumption.

I have made a extensive research but it is difficult to choose the right one because some reviews tells that one is great but others tell the opposite; one says the sound is great but other say the sound could be better, etc, etc...

All the reviews are pointing to one direction, Sony PCM D50 and the Roland R-26, but they are too much expensive and seems relatively bulky and heavy, as I said, we are not professionals, we will not use the device all the time to compensate its price.

We would be very thankful if you could provide us some insight with your opinion.

Thank you very much for your patience.

Ricardo

Ricardo, At a lower price point than the Sony PCM D50, or the Roland R-26, is the Tascam DR-100mkII. This recorder will more than meet your needs. It has built in mic’s, and the ability to expand with XLR, including phantom power. It has a built in lithium battery for true portability, and the ability to add battery packs as well. You can slow down the playback to -50%, and listen with the built in speaker, or headphones of your choice.

Mr. Mallery, thank you very much for your suggestion. I have the following questions about the Tascam DR-100 MKII: 1. Is it possible to record at the same time using the inboard mics and the external XLR mics? 2. Is it possible to control individually the level inputs of the inboard mics and/or the external XLR mics? 3. Is there any multi-effects processor (like reverb)? 4. There is any tuner or metronome? 5. Is it possible to plug-in (probably with adapter) a electric guitar and record it and/or listening using headphones? 6. I am concerned about the internal mics. What is the difference comparing the uni-directional with the XY configuration that we can see in other portable recorders? For example the H4n has XY that can give an amplitude of 90 to 120 degrees angle. What amplitude the Tascam DR-100MKII cardioids could provide us? 7. I have read something about sync problems between video and audio. Can you provide me some insight about this issue? This sync problem is when we compare the audio length with the video length when both devices are recording separately or there is not any sync problem if we use the Tascam as an external dedicated microphone into my camera? Does the Tascam track/chages the video time/sync code of the camera? 8. Can I connect to a PC and use it like an external mic? I would be very thankful if you could answer those questions. Once again than you very much for you support. My Kind Regards Ricardo

1. Is it possible to record at the same time using the inboard mics and the external XLR mics?

                No, you can choose to record with the internal Mics, or with the external connections, but not both at the same time.

2. Is it possible to control individually the level inputs of the inboard mics and/or the external XLR mics?

                No, the levels cannot be individually controlled.

3. Is there any multi-effects processor (like reverb)?

                No

4. There is any tuner or metronome?

                No

5. Is it possible to plug-in (probably with adapter) a electric guitar and record it and/or listening using headphones?

                Yes, you can monitor what you are recording with the headphone jack.

6. I am concerned about the internal mics. What is the difference comparing the uni-directional with the XY configuration that we can see in other portable recorders? For example the H4n has XY that can give an amplitude of 90 to 120 degrees angle. What amplitude the Tascam DR-100MKII cardioids could provide us?

                The recorder actually has two uni-directional, and two omni directional mics. The second page of this PDF shows a very general pattern for the DR-100MKII.

7. I have read something about sync problems between video and audio. Can you provide me some insight about this issue? This sync problem is when we compare the audio length with the video length when both devices are recording separately or there is not any sync problem if we use the Tascam as an external dedicated microphone into my camera? Does the Tascam track/chages the video time/sync code of the camera?

                There is no embedded timecode offered on this recorder.

8. Can I connect to a PC and use it like an external mic?

                No.

If you have any further questions, please e-mail us at audio@bandh.com so we can follow up with you.

well sir, is there any portable/handheld recorder that can offer all that, that Ricardo is asking about?

Hello RF -

When the ability to sync time code is a necessary feature for your particular application or work flow, consider these recorders:

The Sound Devices702T features high-resolution 24-bit/192kHz recording, a built-in Time Code reader and writer with full frame rate support, MP3 file playback, a FireWire port, full AES3 digital recording and playback with dedicated digital metering, M/S Stereo monitoring and recording, aluminum and stainless-steel chassis for exceptional light weight durability, dedicated function LED indicators, and comprehensive transport and level control, expressed in a compact unit barely 8" in width. This recorder is 2.0 software/hardware ready.

The R-88 8-Channel Recorder and Mixer by Roland is an 8-channel field recorder that is designed for seamless integration of recording and mixing for professional field audio applications. In addition, it also provides USB audio interfacing for use with DAW software. For slaving to video cameras or VTRs, the R-88 can be run in slave mode and will accept SMPTE time code via the SMPTE in BNC connector. In addition, the R-88 can be the master, sending out time code to slave devices via the SMPTE out BNC connector. The D-88 also acts as an 8 channel mixer for doing on-board mixes and is equipped with 3-band EQ on each channel. It also has a USB port that enables it to function as an audio interface for recording using a computer running DAW software. In addition to having this USB port, there is an additional USB memory port for quickly copying files to a USB flash drive.

Please contact us via e-mail if you have additional questions:  AskBH@BandH.com

Hi,

Thanks so much for the informative article. I need help choosing a digital recorder for the following purposes:

-recording opera sessions with often loud vocals for several hours
-recording ambient vocals
-field recordings and capturing soundscapes and ambient noises (including rain, crickets, subway tracks, etc)
-use as a mic while connected to a software such as Logic Pro
-as portable as possible without compromising on sound quality
-user-friendly (especially with transferring files to computer and using Logic)

I've used the Zoom h4n in the past and was very impressed with the quality. My only qualms with purchasing it is that I felt it was a bit bulky and didn't have a super easy interface. I have no financial limitations for the purchase of a digital recorder. Also, size and easy interface aren't complete deal-breakers... I just want to make sure I'm getting the best product for a singer and computer music artist. If the h4n is truly the best out there for my use, I would buy it. I'm just looking for a second opinion.

Thanks so much.

E

I would recommend using the Tascam DR100 MK II. For ambient recording, you can use the internal stereo mics. All controls on the recorder are out in the open making it easy to use.

For an opera singer, i would recommend using a better mic along with the DR100 though.

For example:  Audio-Technica AT4050

Hello!

My use scenario is a bit different from the others here. I'm a bit of a theatrephile, and on occasion I like to sneakily record performances so that I can listen to them later. I don't know pretty much anything about recording; I've used a Zoom H1, but I got quite a bit of distortion. Maybe I was sitting too close to the sound boxes, and maybe the fact that the recorder was on the floor didn't help matters at all, but very high soprano singing, resonant low percussion and whatnot didn't turn out all that well in the recording.

Do you have any advice as to which of these is best suited for this kind of recording?

Thanks!

For your type of recording you will want a recorder with better quality mics more suited to handling higher volumes without distortion.

I would recommend: Sony PCM-D50

And as a side note, havign the recorder on the floor will not be recommended for this. You are likely picking up unwanted sounds, echos and vibration from the location. I know you are trying to be sneaky with it but you will have better results with the recorder in the open to properly capture the sound.

Mr. Mallery,

Thanks for the insightful article. You've definitely narrowed my choices for a portable recorder, but I would like your opinion on what to go with.

I'm in a southern rockish band. We play songs that are extremely loud (our drummer is deaf in one ear so he doesn't think so), but we also play very quiet songs and sometimes at a gig it will be just me and an acoustic guitar for a song.

We don't have any dreams or aspirations of making it big, so we don't want to spend the money to go to a studio or pay somebody to come record us. However, I'm extremely picky when it comes to sound quality.

So when we get down to brass tax I'm looking for a great quality recording, and machine that can handle really loud noises while not being too complicated to use.

What do you think? Am I SOL?

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