The B&H Handheld Digital Audio Recorders Buyer's Guide
By Sam Mallery
It was just a few years ago that practically every customer I spoke to longed for a handheld portable recorder that could easily and quickly transfer digital files into a computer. At the time there was nothing available on the market. It's amazing how quickly everything has changed! A slew of new handheld recorders are now available, and all of them are capable of capturing excellent-quality audio.
With such a huge selection of new devices that all have similar features, finding the model that best suits your needs can be really confusing. The focus of this guide is to illuminate painstakingly the differences between these recorders. The products in this article are listed in order of price, starting with the least expensive. A table of quick-stats is included with every model so you can quickly compare features. All of the digital recorders listed here are Mac- and PC-compatible.
It should be noted that there is a distinction between the products in this buyer's guide and what are considered "voice recorder" gadgets. All of the recorders in this article were designed to capture professional-quality audio. Great care has gone into the design of the built-in microphones and inputs. They are used in broadcasting, professional journalism, music production, podcasting, and by hobbyists. These are more than just Dictaphones— they are professional audio recorders with better signal to noise ratios, more file quality options, and file compression capabilities. Look for more articles in the near future where we'll discuss higher end field and location recorders with and without timecode, the benefits of using a field recorder with a video camera, why you may need a multi-track recorder and more.
For a demonstration of how to connect one of these devices and transfer the recorded file onto a computer, check out this B&H Educational Web Video!
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.
Designed with the musician in mind, the Micro BR from Boss is a powerful and portable palm-sized 4-track recording studio that also allows you to make field recordings. You can use the built-in microphone, or supply your own microphone and plug it into the stereo mini-plug microphone input. It has a dedicated guitar input, and it allows you to record full songs with over-dubbed tracks. When a song is complete you can mix it down to MP3 and export it through the USB port into a computer.
The Zoom H4 is a standout portable recorder in its price range. It offers XLR combo inputs as well as quality built-in stereo microphones. It allows you to record high-quality sound files or MP3. It can be used as a 4-track for overdubbing separate tracks, and used as a USB computer audio interface. 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. The H4 is great for musicians, journalists, podcasters, and anyone who wants a good portable recorder that can also accept professional external microphones.
The Microtrack II has been rebuilt to include even more professional features than the original model. It's now USB 2.0 for faster data transfer, has a limiter with bypass and extended gain range on the input, and more improvements. It still has the unique 1/4" mic/line inputs with 48 volts of phantom power, S/PDIF input and analog stereo RCA outputs, an internally rechargeable battery, a 1/8" input with 5 volts of power for electret mics, and it's ergonomically laid out for one-handed operation. The Microtrack II is great for anyone who wants the smallest possible portable recorder that can accept professional external microphones.
Tascam DR-1 Portable Stereo Audio Recorder B&H# TADR1
The DR-1 from Tascam is a full-featured handheld field recorder with many of the same features of the other devices in this guide, and some unique "rehearsal-" style capabilities as well. Its stereo mics can tilt at a 90° angle, and it can record high-quality .WAV and compressed MP3 files. What sets the DR-1 apart are its rehearsal-oriented features, that can help make you become a better musician. Utilize its built-in metronome, tuner, overdub function, looping capability, vocal or instrument cancellation, effects, and even change the tempo without affecting pitch.
Yamaha POCKETRAK 2G Pocket Stereo Recorder B&H# YAP2G
The Pocketrak 2G from Yamaha is a slender unit that packs everything you need into an ultra-portable package. "Built-in" is the operative phrase here, as this model boasts a built-in speaker, positional stereo mics, 2GB's of memory, a rechargeable battery with a 9-hour life, and a unique USB connector that slides out to connect the device directly into a computer. In case your internal battery dies in the field, you can attach an external AAA battery and keep working. Cubase AI computer audio software is included. The Pocketrak 2G is great for musicians, journalists, podcasters, and anyone who wants a recorder that's ultra-compact.
Sony MZ-M200 Hi-MD Recorder with Stereo Microphone B&H# SOMZM200
The MZ-M200 differs greatly from all of the other devices in this guide because it records audio onto Hi-MD mini-discs, as opposed to Compact Flash, SD cards, or internal hard drives. What's nice is that the discs are inexpensive, rewritable, and hold 1GB of data. The MZ-M200 comes with software for Mac and Windows for transferring files, earbud headphones, a stereo microphone, and a 1GB Hi-MD disc. You can choose to record CD-quality PCM files, or compressed file formats for more recording time.
Marantz PMD-620 Professional Handheld Digital Audio Recorder B&H# MAPMD6320
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 it has a handy built-in speaker. It continually saves as it records, so if the battery dies in the middle of a recording, the file won't be lost. Therefore it's a great machine for anyone making long recordings.
The R-09 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). The R-09 is also available in white and red.
Edirol R-09HR Portable 24-Bit WAV/MP3 Audio Recorder B&H# EDR09HR
The Edirol R-09HR is a redesign of the popular R-09. The new model will be able to record higher-resolution 24-bit 96k sound files (the original R-09 can do 24-bit 48k), it features a rubberized body, and it comes with a wireless remote control. You can change the speed of the digital file you are playing back, which can be handy if your writing down dialog from a recorded interview.
Olympus LS-10 Linear PCM Field Recorder B&H# OLLS10
While Olympus may be a relative newcomer to building pro audio recorders, it is well-versed at manufacturing ergonomic handheld gadgets, and this is evident when you hold the LS-10 in your hand. Its smooth tactile feel and compact form factor come across as more thoughtful design, compared to many of the other devices in this guide. The LS-10 records high-quality 24-bit 96kHz audio or compressed MP3 files, and it has 2GB of built-in flash memory and an additional SD card slot if you need more recording time.
Carefully constructed out of lightweight aluminum for heavy-duty field use, the PCM-D50 distinguishes itself from the pack by putting build quality, ease of use, and stunningly clear sound quality first and foremost. Its superior sound and low noise floor (93 dB or greater) are achieved by utilizing high-quality electret condenser microphones, in addition to optimizing four different circuit boards in its internal design. For the price, the sound quality of the PCM-D50 can't be beat. A custom tripod table stand, wind muff, and softie windscreen accessories are available.
The Marantz PMD 660 was among the very first compact devices to make it out of the factory and ignite the vibrant portable handheld digital recorder market. This is one of the few handheld pro audio recorders that features dual XLR microphone inputs with 48 volts of phantom power and a rugged field-ready housing. Its onboard mics feature automatic level control so you can record interviews and conference meetings without having to adjust the settings. It has advanced onboard editing features and the ability to automatically or manually create track markers on files. An AC adapter is included.
The MR-1 from Korg records audio differently from every other product in this guide. It utilizes 1-Bit recording technology that ensures future-proof recordings. It comes with Korg's AudioGate software that allows you to convert your recording to any bit and sampling rate you need. It has an internal battery that recharges with an included AC adapter.
The unique form factor of HHB's FlashMic just makes perfect sense. In an interviewing situation, instead of waving a square contraption between the interviewer and interviewee, the FlashMic will provide a more traditional instrument for the job. It operates out of the box with simplistic one-button recording, or you can utilize a supplied Mac/PC software interface to adjust and save settings. Its omnidirectional capsule is made by Sennheiser, and it's also available in cardioid, omnidirectional with line input, and cardioid with line input.
Sony PCM-D1 Portable 2-Channel Field Recorder B&H# SOPCMD1
Sony's PCM-D1 is what you get when you set out to build the finest portable handheld recording device possible, without cutting corners. Like its little brother, the PCM-D50, it has four separate circuit boards that execute the individual functions of the device. The separate circuitry is what keeps the noise floor low and the resultant audio quality so high. One of the main reasons it's more expensive than the D50 are its two higher-quality condenser microphones in an X-Y configuration for optimal stereo imaging. Sony got its start by making tape recorders, and the PCM-D1 continues this tradition in grand style. A custom tripod table stand and softie windscreen accessories are available.
Thanks for checking out this article. If you have any more questions about portable recorders, or need any help with audio, we encourage you to contact us on the phone, online, or in person at our SuperStore in New York City.1-800-947-9923
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