Audio / Buying Guide

Portable Digital Recorders Buying Guide


One of the easiest ways to improve your production, be it podcast, radio, film, or music, is to take a look at the type of device into which you are recording your audio. Most pros know—and will tell you—not all audio is captured equally. Integrating a portable digital recorder into your rig may seem like an obvious solution, but it is often overlooked, and is an excellent way to improve your audio quality.

As the audio needs of professionals and hobbyists alike run a gamut of complexity, from simple to intricate, a generous array of portable digital recorders has been spawned. These numerous recorders have vastly differing feature sets, and some will make more sense for certain applications than others. There are recorders with built-in microphones, some that can record directly to internal flash memory, and others that track to external SD cards. So, which ones will work for your audio needs?

Camera Mountable and Multi-Input

A good place to start dividing up the pack is to examine your audio needs. What are you recording? Do you require built-in mics, inputs for external mics, or both? If you shoot DSLR video, you will likely want something that is camera mountable with a built-in mic (or two) that can incorporate an external mic, such as a shotgun or lavalier.

Let’s take a look at some of the larger portable recorders available. These selections tend to feature multiple inputs and built-in mics, and can be used for mounting on cameras, or recording speakers or musicians.

For years now, the Zoom H4n Handy has become a go-to solution in this sort of application (among others). Its built-in XY stereo mics can be set to 90 or 120 degrees, depending on how wide a field you want to pick up. The H4n also has two XLR/TRS mic pres that allow you to hook up additional mics for close miking or shotgun applications. It will record your audio to external SD cards up to 32GB.

The Tascam DR-40, like the H4n, is capable of recording up to four tracks simultaneously via its built-in stereo mics and two XLR/TRS combo inputs. The DR-40’s internal stereo mics, however, can be switched between XY and AB recording patterns. Also from Tascam, the DR-100mkII has dual cardioid and dual omnidirectional mics built in, and supports external mics via its two XLR inputs. It is geared toward musicians, podcasters, and broadcast applications and includes a wired remote control.

When Zoom released the H6 Handy, the company really upped the ante for feature-dense portable recorders, delivering a unit that can easily be used for both DSLR audio, as well as tracking musicians and bands. Capable of tracking up to six channels of audio at a time, the H6 features four combination XLR/TRS inputs for external mics and a stereo mic capsule. The real standout feature of the H6 is its modular mic system. You can swap its “built-in” stereo mic between the included XY and Mid-Side capsules as you would lenses on a camera. Zoom also has an optional shotgun capsule and a dual XLR/TRS capsule that allows you to connect up to 6 external mics to the system.

More recently, Zoom has brought us the H5 Handy, a little brother to the H6 that is capable of four-track recording as opposed to six, but still features the same interchangeable, modular microphone system. The recorder ships with an XY microphone capsule and is fully compatible with the existing line of H6 modules, including the optional shotgun mic and XLR/TRS input modules.

Like the H6, the Roland R-26 boasts a total of six channels of simultaneous recording, as well, and marks itself as another solid option for musicians and sound designers. Its I/O is provided through its two built-in stereo mics and dual XLR/TRS inputs. Its omnidirectional stereo mic and directional stereo mic can be used together to capture a broad field of audio, making the R-26 shine at capturing field sounds and ambience. Its menu system can be navigated through its front-panel touchscreen LCD.

The Olympus LS-100 Multi-Track PCM Recorder features 96kHz / 24-bit recording, dual 90° directional stereo condenser microphones, and maximum sound pressure level (SPL) of up to 140dB. Plus, the LS-100's integrated stereo condenser microphones have independent left and right recording level dials, so you'll be able to maintain optimal balance, as well as make adjustments on the fly.

Tascam’s DR-60DmkII is geared toward someone with their own mic collection and is looking for a reliable solution that will offer improved sound quality over their camera’s built-in audio recording. It has no built-in mics, but features two combo XLR/TRS inputs, a stereo 3.5mm mic input, and a stereo 3.5mm camera input. It also has a 3.5mm headphone output, as well as a 3.5mm camera output. Its I/O routing allows to you switch your monitoring between playback from your camera and the live feed from your mics. The DR-60DmkII can be mounted on the bottom of your DSLR, on a tripod, or worn with an optional harness.

Designed specifically as an audio recording solution for DSLR video applications, the DR-701D Field Recorder from Tascam features dual built-in omnidirectional microphones and four XLR/TRS inputs with phantom power. The recorder has an HDMI input that can be connected to your camera's HDMI output, allowing you to start and stop recording remotely via the camera's record button if your camera supports HDMI signal triggering. If your camera sends timecode via HDMI, the DR-701D will follow it and write it to the recorded file. Your NLE software will then read that embedded timecode to lock sound and picture together in post.

Nagra has a hard-fought reputation for producing high-quality equipment, and the Nagra SD is a testament to that. Catering to those who demand versatility and portability, it has an aluminum body, can track linear PCM files, MP3s, or MP2s, and you can swap its mics out. But, unlike the H6, the SD does not come with a mic module.

Grab-and-Go Portables

Not every application and user requires multiple input options and menus upon menus of options from which to select. Sometimes, you need something that is a bit smaller and good to go quickly. These “grab-and-go” portables play to those strengths.

Broadcast radio professionals, podcasters, musicians, and field recorders may find that their desired feature sets differ slightly. The Zoom H1 is a little straightforward feature-wise, but is ideal for interviews, recording band rehearsals, or quickly getting down new musical ideas. It has a built-in stereo XY mic, as well as a stereo 3.5mm selectable mic or line input. It tracks to microSD cards and has a straightforward, single-button record feature.

The Tascam DR-05 also boasts built-in stereo mics, but with an omnidirectional polar pattern. Like the H1, it is a smaller sized recorder, and will record your audio to microSD cards. Providing Wi-Fi enabled transport control and file sharing, the DR-22WL features a built-in XY stereo microphone and is capable of recording in up to 24-bit/96kHz resolution. The Wi-Fi, which requires no external network, allows for control of all transport functions via a free iOS and Android app. You can also stream playback, as well as transfer files directly to your smart device or computer, for quick upload to social media.

Zoom’s H2n is amply equipped with five built-in mics that can be switched between two-channel surround, four-channel surround, XY, and Mid-Side tracking modes, making it a solid choice for sound designers and musicians alike. It also has a cool data-recovery function that is designed to restore your files in case of an accidental power-down. This touch of added security is reassuring, especially when you only have one chance to capture your audio.

The Sony PCM-M10 is a bit more streamlined, featuring 3.5mm mic and line-level inputs (no XLR) and 2 built-in condenser mics. It has 4GB of internal flash memory and supports external SD cards, as well, making it a high-quality, go-to recorder for students looking to record lectures, and for interviewers or musicians.

Though it is by no means a uni-tasker, the Roland R-05 is definitely geared toward musicians, such as singer/songwriters. It has an internal stereo mic, as well as built-in effects, such as four types of reverb. The R-05 can change the playback speed of your tracks without changing their pitch, to help you learn new songs. You can even do some basic editing, trimming, dividing, or combining tracks on this unit.

The LS-14, from Olympus, is designed as an all-in-one portable recording solution, featuring built-in stereo directional microphones and an omni-pattern center microphone. Its three-microphone array is designed for accurate audio capture for high-fidelity recordings. In addition to the internal mics, there are 3.5mm stereo mini-jack mic and line inputs for connecting external audio equipment, such as microphones or CD players. There is also a USB port for interfacing with your computer.

If the security of your files is a concern, check out the Marantz PMD661 mkII. Its setup is similar to many of the other digital recorders, featuring dual built-in mics and two XLR inputs. However, it sets itself apart from the pack by offering pass-code protection for the device and providing the ability to encrypt your files with a four-digit code. This is a great feature for reporters and interviewers who need to keep their stories safe, prior to airing.

For the audiophiles (or just everyday users) who demand higher-fidelity audio, the Sony PCM-D100 can record up to 192kHz/24-bit quality, but also supports 1-bit DSD @ 2.8224MHz. This makes the PCM-D100 a great choice for anyone looking for a portable DSD playback device.

For more information, stop by the B&H SuperStore in New York, speak with a sales professional on the telephone at 1-800-606-6969 or contact us online via Live Chat.


I am looking for something simple and portable to make professional level voice over audition recordings. My new laptop's sound recording is awful and our PC has some kind of fan that comes on which makes it nearly impossible to use for this purpose. If I had something portable, I would like to be able to easily download the file to my computer, or something, that I can easily send to agents in a normal file format, MP3, is most often requested. Nice quality, simple, easy, that's what I'm looking for.

Hi Jennifer - 

     The black DR-40 4-Track Handheld Digital Audio Recorder from Tascam provides professional-level features and flexibility in a compact and durable design that's ideal for use in the field. The unit can record high-quality WAV/BWF or MP3 files to readily-available SD or SDHC flash memory cards, allowing you to record hours of material and share it easily. A 2GB card is included so you can get started recording right away.

The 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.

Are there any hand-held digital recorders that have a mini-USB input that accepts an external mike?  I have an Apogee MiC 96K.  The 96K comes with USB A and Lightning output cables.  I don't want to push the MiC output to a laptop or tablet.  I would like to output the MiC to a digital hand-held in the TASCAM or ZOOM or similar range of portable recorders. (I don't need the external mics physically mounted on almost all of the handheld digital recorders these days, but will take a recorder that has them if I have to.)  Thanks in advance.

Hi John - 

As a rule, recorders will not accept a USB microphone. USB microphones require a USB host connection like a PC or a few select iOS or Android mobile devices.

I have a HVX200 camcorder.  With the optional harness would the Tascam D60 Mark 2 work as a field recorder?  Also is it a mixer too or is a separate mixer needed? New to this stuff so easily confused.

Hi Mark - 

The optional harness/strap or bag and extra batteries are the way to go if you plan to take the recorder out in the field.

The Tascam DR-60DmkII can record up to 4-tracks simultaneously, allowing multiple microphones to be used while filming. Inputs 1/L and 2/R can be selected for mono or stereo link operation.

3 sets of stereo outputs are provided. A Camera Out sends a reference track recording to the camera. The Line Out can feed a mixer or recorder. Finally, a Headphone Out is available for direct monitoring. Each of these outputs has its own level control, and the Camera Out can be attenuated to microphone level without the need for an attenuating cable

The DR-60DmkII has an internal digital mixer for all 4 tracks. Adjust pan and level, add a limiter or hi-pass filter (40/80/120 Hz), and set individual channel delay from the user setup. The DR-60DmkII is ready to use right out of the box with its external, non-menu-intensive controls                         

Can anyone tell me the problems of the Tascam’s DR-60D first version? is it lacking in sound quality? are the pots noisy, floor noisey... 

what were the improvements - I have DR -60D - have never used it - - would like to know what I shuld watch out for?

Hi Dave -

 The new DR-60DmkII is based around a new microphone preamp, which is capable of up to +64dB of gain.  The new version uses two Tascam HDDA mic preamps for the XLR inputs, and analogue to digital converter circuits, similar to the version used in the DR-40 portable recorder.

Please contact us via e-mail if you have additional questions:

which model is the 5.1 channel surround sound recorder ?

Hi -

We do not offer portable recorders designed or 5.1 surround recording.

Please contact us via e-mail if you have additional questions:

I want to record acoustic guitar music. Several of the acoustic models I wish to use are not electrified with pickups. I want to take this recording to studio for digital touch up etc. Is one of the models better for acoustic recording when no pickups are in the instrument?

Most recorders will serve to record acoustic instument sounds. However the best placement of the recorder's microphones is very important, and will vary from instrument to instrument as well as the recoding envionment (like level and direction of background noise) - there are plenty of resources online on how best to position microphones to capture an instruments sound and set the input levels on a audio recorder.

Is there a recorder with wireless remote control?

Tascam have the new DR44WL that has wifi and an app that runs on your ios or android device/phone that can be used as aremote control as well as audio streaming.

I use several recorders in this class to record audio at preset times. Unfortunately, very few of these recorders include timer recording capabilities. Searching for timer recording capability usually means downloading the full manual (if available). The ones I own with timer recording are the Olympus LS-7, Tascam DR-08, and the Olympus DM-620. The first two appear to be out of production. I would like to see timer recording capability mentioned for any of the recorders which might have it.