Portable Digital Recorders Decoded
Portable digital recorders are designed to be compact, easily transportable, and rugged so that audio recordists and videographers can reliably capture sound no matter where they are. Since cameras aren’t designed for optimal audio performance and computers present too much complexity and bulk for on-set applications, portable digital recorders are widely preferred for location sound recording. Whether shooting indie/feature films, developing content for TV or web videos, producing documentaries, or recording demos, rehearsals, and full musical compositions, portable digital recorders offer a convenient solution for realizing high-quality dialogue, sound effects, and live performances.
The smallest portable digital recorders are handheld recorders; most offer mic/line inputs, user-friendly controls, and headphone/camera outputs in a durable and space-saving housing that can fit in your hand or sit atop a tripod or camera. Handheld recorders frequently feature onboard microphone arrays and XLR-1/4” inputs, allowing you to record a variety of sources or capture stereo sound with nothing more than the recorder itself.
Another type of portable digital recorder designed to be the centerpiece of an audio recordist’s rig is the field recorder. Larger than handheld recorders and designed for life in sound bags, field recorders generally offer more extensive mixing features, more mic preamps and inputs, tactile controls, and higher audio fidelity. Models with timecode functions are even more desirable because they enable synchronization of the recorder and a camera, which can circumvent having to align audio and video files in post-production.
Portable Recorder Accessories
There are a host of ways to accessorize a portable digital recorder for enhanced performance and convenience. The inevitability of transporting your recorder and exposing it to the elements makes protective pouches, waterproof cases, and sound bags strongly recommended add-ons. Portable digital recorders with onboard microphones benefit from the addition of foam windscreens or furry windbusters, which reduce problematic sounds stemming from wind noise. Expand your recorder’s sonic flexibility with optional microphones such as interchangeable capsules, lapel mics, or miniature plug-on mics. Miscellaneous cables and adapters simplify the task of interconnecting components such as microphones, transmitters, receivers, cameras, and recorders.
Portable digital recorders require power and unsurprisingly, batteries are the most widely used source of power for portable components. Whether it’s replaceable alkaline batteries, rechargeable lithium or NiMH types, internal rechargeable batteries, or pre-configured battery packs, reliable and long-lasting power is vital. Other options may include USB power, AC adapters, and DC battery packs. Look for a device that offers multiple powering methods if you want the most flexibility.