10 Hot Portable Audio Recorders and Mixers

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When producing audio for video, television, or online content, it’s expected that you’ll have to record sound far away from the comfort of a fancy studio. In a house, on a boat, out of state, or at a show; any place including the middle of nowhere is possible for the next shoot. Whether capturing on-set dialog, interviews, sound effects, or music, you’ll need an audio recorder/mixer that is equally portable and powerful. With an assortment of products available from manufacturers such as Lectrosonics, Sound Devices, Tascam, and Zoom, your options are far from limited. Let’s look at ten portable audio recorders rightfully sitting at the top of many wish lists.

Two Tracks and Tiny

These first two units offer diminutive size and two-track recording, plus some unexpected perks such as… well, read on.

The Zoom F1 Field Recorder with Shotgun Microphone features the battery-powered F1 recorder and a lightweight supercardioid shotgun microphone, which attaches to the F1 via the Zoom mic capsule input. The F1 also has a 3.5mm stereo mini-jack input with plug-in power to accommodate mics from other manufacturers. It can record to microSD cards, and has micro-USB connectivity for operation as an audio interface or a mass storage device. Mount the F1 on your camera with the supplied shockmount, then connect the F1’s stereo output to your camera’s input via the included 3.5mm cable—ready in a flash!

Zoom F1 Field Recorder with Shotgun Microphone

Even smaller than the F1, the Lectrosonics PDR can be hidden directly on your subject via attachment to a belt or article of clothing. With a 5-pin LEMO timecode input and jam syncing capability, it’ll lock to timecode and remain synchronized even after you disconnect the sync cable. Record either a single mono audio track or two audio tracks—one normal and one at -18 dB to avoid accidental overload distortion—to microSDHC cards. Its TA5M input feeds a servo bias preamp that provides power for many common microphones. Hook up a mic, pop in a AAA battery, and start recording. Oh, you can even download an app to control the PDR!

Lectrosonics Portable Digital Recorder

More Tracks and More Mics

The next three models sit in the handheld category, though they do have built-in threaded holes for easy mounting on tripods and more. When you need onboard mics and more than two channels of recording, these recorders answer the call.

The Tascam DR-40 boasts dual XLR-1/4" combo inputs and two top-mounted unidirectional condenser mics, which are adjustable for X/Y or A/B positioning. Record to SD/SDHC cards in one of three record modes—dual mode records your two-channel input with a safety copy attenuated by up to 12 dB to avoid clipping; four-channel mode is ideal for recording built-in and external mics; while overdubbing mode allows a second stereo source to be recorded while monitoring a previously recorded stereo track. Additional luxuries include adjustable playback speed, auto leveling, and integrated stereo reverb!

Tascam DR-40 4-Track Handheld Digital Audio Recorder

Like the F1, Zoom’s H6 Handy Recorder provides flexible recording formats, USB audio interface and mass storage functionality, and a Zoom mic capsule input. However, with swappable X/Y and MS (Mid-Side) mic capsules, four XLR-1/4" combo inputs, and six tracks of simultaneous recording, it’s designed to play in a different league. It supports overdubbing, auto-record, pre-record, and backup-record modes, and hosts playback options such as pitch/speed adjustment, built-in compression, limiting, low-cut filters, and looping via a color LCD and intuitive controls. Top it off with a built-in speaker, headphone and line outputs, an integrated tuner, and a metronome; you’ve got a great system for recording speech, sound effects, or music!

Zoom H6 Handy Recorder with Interchangeable Microphone System

For anyone interested in creating audio for VR, AR, 5.1 surround sound, or Dolby Atmos, the Zoom H3-VR Handy Recorder will surely intrigue. Merging a four-capsule Ambisonics mic array, a four-track Ambisonics recorder and decoder, and real-time binaural monitoring, the H3-VR is a potent force for production of immersive sound. Utilize the four matched unidirectional condenser capsules to record in one of five modes—Ambisonics B FuMa, Ambisonics AmbiX, Ambisonics A, stereo, or binaural—in uncompressed WAV format compliant with BWF and iXML standards. An internal 6-axis motion sensor enables easy device leveling and automatic selection of the H3-VR’s orientation. Single-knob gain control, built-in limiting and low-cut filtering, and a slate tone generator make this portable recorder friendly for achieving high-quality audio in a high-tech, yet user-friendly way.

Zoom H3-VR Handy Audio Recorder with Built-In Ambisonics Mic Array

Mount ’Em Up

The following five audio recorders were manufactured to be mounted on a tripod, attached directly to a DSLR, or dropped into a mixer bag. So, grab your trusty mics and go!

Tascam’s DR-701D is a six-track field recorder ready for synchronization with your camera. Record up to four separate tracks sourced from two built-in omnidirectional mics, a 3.5mm stereo input, or four XLR-1/4" combo inputs. The output of the internal mixer, which features level, pan, and delay compensation adjustments, is recorded to its own stereo track. HDMI I/O is provided for video clock sync and unified record-start triggering, and a BNC timecode input allows locking or jam-syncing to incoming SMPTE. Multiband limiting, five-stage filtering of low frequencies, and dedicated 3.5mm jacks for to- and from-camera audio, as well as line and headphone outputs, are just some of the fancy features offered on the DR-701D!

Tascam DR-701D 6-Track Field Recorder for DSLR with SMPTE Timecode

The Zoom F4 sports eight-track recording—six from external sources (four XLR-1/4" sockets, a 3.5mm jack, and a Zoom mic capsule input) and two from the internal stereo mix—to one or two SD cards. Yes, you can record a real-time safety copy! Speaking of safety, the F4 utilizes frequent file saving during recording, safety recording for the first two inputs, adjustable onboard limiters, and three powering options. A Temperature Compensated Crystal Oscillator and timecode I/O via BNC ensure tight sync with your rig. Signal blending is made easy with the internal mixer; adjust level, pan, limiter, high-pass filter, polarity, and delay!

Zoom F4 Multitrack Field Recorder with Timecode - 6 Inputs / 8 Tracks

An expanded F4, the Zoom F8n multi-track field recorder increases the track count to ten and the XLR-1/4" inputs to eight. Look-ahead limiters, AutoMix automatic level adjustment software, and simultaneous SD card recording and USB audio streaming add to its workflow enhancements. Operate the F8n from its front-panel controls, via an iPad or iPhone, or with the Zoom F-Control USB control surface (available separately).

Zoom F8n Multi-Track Field Recorder

Lastly, two recorders/mixers from Sound Devices: the MixPre-10M for musicians, and the MixPre-10T for audio engineers working in the world of video production. Shared claims to greatness include 10-input/12-track recording, eight Class-A Kashmir mic preamps, auto backup, simultaneous recording to SD card while streaming through USB, multiple powering options, and a color touchscreen. The MixPre-10T incorporates wireless control via Bluetooth, word clock I/O, and precision timecode integration via BNC, aux, and HDMI connections, making it quite welcome for demanding location recording. The MixPre-10M opts for cue markers, overdub, and punch recording, internal bouncing, built-in reverb and AIR effects, and a metronome with configurable tempo, meter, volume, and count-in bars; it’s a powerhouse for music sessions in or out of the studio.

Sound Devices MixPre-10M Recorder & USB Audio Interface for Musicians

Conclusion

It’s well worth allocating some time to thoroughly research these recorders/mixers and how they can improve your setup. Also, don’t be shy about sharing stories of your successes with these portable recorders and others in the Comments section here.

3 Comments

I have a question about these audio recorders. I won't be shooting video; but I will be shooting photographs and I want to record notes of the photograph. Is there an audio recorder that timestamps when the recording is taken?

We were at The Masters for a practice round and I saw a CBS photographer that had a headset/microphone recording that was probably to take notes of the photograph. But timestamping the notes would be helpful for going back through the photographs. Syncing the time of the camera and recorder is essential.

Many recorders will auto-name the files using the time of day. If there is a recorder you like, download the manual and see if it has a time of day file naming option. I have a Fostex 8 track, 2 track and a Tascam 8 track recorder that all have this function.

Hi Ralph - 

Here's what I recommend:   

Like its predecessor, the gray H1n Handy Recorder from Zoom ( B&H # ZOH1NG) is an easy-to-use, versatile stereo digital audio recorder that fits into the palm of your hand. However, in this iteration, Zoom has incorporated several features to make operation even simpler.

Whereas the Zoom H1 featured a single record button on the front of the recorder and a whole array of buttons along the side designed for play/pause, rewind/fast forward, and diving into menus, the H1n features buttons where you can easily see them, on the front of the recorder. Now you can go from recording to pausing, and from stopping to navigating between tracks, all with your thumb. Also provided are four buttons above the record function that let you change the sample rate and resolution, apply a low-cut filter for mitigating rumble, turn the built-in limiter on and off, and enact auto-level, which automatically sets the gain for you.

The H1n is geared for musicians, journalists, podcasters, and more, recording WAV and MP3 files to meet your professional needs. The H1n has a stereo X/Y microphone configuration that captures a realistic stereo image. The unit records audio to microSD or microSDHC flash memory cards, supporting capacities up to 32GB. The H1n records WAV audio at rates up to 24-bit / 96 kHz, and MP3 audio at rates up to 320 kbps. The pocket-sized device runs on two AAA batteries, providing up to 10 hours of continuous operation.

The following file name formats can be used:

 Setting value Explanation ZOOM**** Files are named with consecutive numbers from "ZOOM0001.WAV/MP3" to "ZOOM9999.WAV/.MP3". YYMMDD-HHMMSS Files are named with the date and time, using a "YYMMDD-HHMMSS.WAV/MP3" format. NOTE • If set to "YYMMDD-HHMMSS", files will be named with the date and time when recording started. • When set to "YYMMDD-HHMMSS", the "Date Format" setting will be used (→ "Setting the date format"). 

Manual: Page 55:   https://static.bhphotovideo.com/lit_files/416146.pdf

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