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Portable Digital Recorders Questions, answers, and tips on high-quality field recorders

#1 User is offline   DavidBattino 

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Posted 19 December 2007 - 01:59 PM

We've published quite a few reviews and articles on portable digital recorders. These battery-powered devices capture uncompressed stereo (or even multichannel) audio to flash RAM or hard disk. Here's a list for convenience. Please leave your questions and tips below and let us know which new models you'd like us to check out.

Comparison Chart

Reviews
Podcasts

Tutorials & Ideas

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#2 User is offline   animuselanvital 

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Posted 13 February 2008 - 10:14 PM

Hey everyone. Just started on this thing and am interested in buying a recorder. My decision has come down to 2: Korg mr-1000 and Sound devices 702. I know the 702 has the reputation of being a solid well built piece of equipment and is supposed to have some decent pre's in them. The korg however is almost half the price and records in 1 bit audio. I could get two of these! I am worried though about how reliable it is and am not sure how the sound quality stacks up between the two when it is just the box alone w/o external pre's. My plan is to use one of these devices alot in some adverse conditions (hot, cold, dry and moist air, and some rugged terrain). I need it to be able to hang at my side from a bag and it must have the ability to be mobile with me. I wont be dropping the damn thing if I can help it (and I can do a good job when it comes to protecting my baby:) But its got to be able to handle some bumps here and there. Last but not least, it has to sound excellent on its own (with the exception of the Korg because of the price I could afford a pre that costs about as much as the korg unit itself if need be . . . not so for the SD 702) I've heard good and bad things about the pre's on the Korg and have not heard anything on the SD's except that they are very good. I have also heard something about clipping problems on the Korg . . and I think that was from sound devices themselves. I'm gonna go crazy here if I don't make a decision soon!

PS - I will be using it to record everything from ambient environmental and nature noises to bangs whooshes etc. I also will be using it on small film projects. Any advice is welcome! thanx smile.gif
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#3 User is offline   DavidBattino 

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Posted 15 February 2008 - 10:50 PM

QUOTE (animuselanvital @ Feb 13 2008, 10:14 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
My decision has come down to 2: Korg mr-1000 and Sound devices 702.


Thanks for posting. I'm curious: Why not consider the Sony PCM-D50 as well? Or, because you're doing video, a timecode-capable model such as the TASCAM HD-P2 or Edirol R-4 Pro? (Admittedly, those two are bigger.)
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#4 User is offline   the guitarman 

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Posted 13 March 2008 - 05:43 PM

Any info or anything coming up about the new Tascam DR-1 recorder? The new digital recorder looks pretty cool.
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#5 User is offline   DavidBattino 

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Posted 13 March 2008 - 10:36 PM

QUOTE (the guitarman @ Mar 13 2008, 06:43 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
Any info or anything coming up about the new Tascam DR-1 recorder? The new digital recorder looks pretty cool.


Agreed! I ordered a review unit as soon as I saw it at NAMM. TASCAM promised to send one our way as soon as it's available. Let us know what features you'd especially like us to scrutinize.
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#6 User is offline   JTG 

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  Posted 19 March 2008 - 05:41 PM

I'm busy looking for a digital recorder also.
I want one that I can take to church group rehearsal and record and bring it back home and practice the guitar part.
2nd I would like to be able to plug it into the church sound board on Sunday and record the pastors sermon so it could be put on the church web site or make a cd to take to shut ins. I think it would be to hard to record the whole service as I don't play the guitar thru the house sound and the piano wouldn't get recorded and doubt that one of these small units picks up that good of quality to set it up and record. But maybe I'm wrong?
Be able to record my guitar at home and do some mini playing around with recording. Low priority
Be able to down load songs off the computer and plug into a sound board and play them.
Any thoughts I would love to hear them.
Thanks
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#7 User is offline   synergy543 

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Posted 20 March 2008 - 06:31 PM

JTG,

I think you might be surprised by the abilities of these little digital audio recorders. I just purchased the Olympus LS-10 and it certainly seems that it could handle most if not all of your needs. I don't have any other recorders to compare it to and there are several to choose from so I suggest you read the review links at the top of this thread. Also here is a link with audio comparisions of several different recorders which you might find useful.

TIP
One thing to keep in mind with these little recorders is that you must treat them as you would a mic in order to achieve good sound. For example, if the recorder is sitting just a few inches above a table where you're likely to get phase cancellations, you'll have the same problems as if you placed a mic there. You're much more likely to get quality results if you put it on a tripod away from reflective surfaces.
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#8 User is offline   DavidBattino 

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Posted 20 March 2008 - 08:04 PM

QUOTE (Gregory D. Moore @ Mar 20 2008, 07:31 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
One thing to keep in mind with these little recorders is that you must treat them as you would a mic in order to achieve good sound. For example, if the recorder is sitting just a few inches above a table where you're likely to get phase cancellations, you'll have the same problems as if you placed a mic there.


That was the reasoning behind the flip-up mics on the upcoming Yamaha PockeTrak, though I wonder how much effect the half-inch of elevation will have. We'll find out when our review unit arrives.

Also, most of these recorders have tripod sockets (either built in or integrated into the carrying case), so you can set them up without the messy power and mic cables you'd need for a mic-less recorder.

Most of these recorders should be able to handle all the tasks you propose. The Zoom H4 and Boss Micro BR also offer overdubbing, though the Boss has a mono mic.
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#9 User is offline   synergy543 

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Posted 21 March 2008 - 09:58 AM

QUOTE (David Battino @ Mar 21 2008, 04:04 AM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
That was the reasoning behind the flip-up mics on the upcoming Yamaha PockeTrak, though I wonder how much effect the half-inch of elevation will have. We'll find out when our review unit arrives.

Also, most of these recorders have tripod sockets (either built in or integrated into the carrying case), so you can set them up without the messy power and mic cables you'd need for a mic-less recorder.

Actually, from the photos I saw, it looks like the Yamaha PocketTrak doesn't have a tripod socket which is rather unfortunate. Also, I can't imagine plugging that entire unit into the USB port on my computer - its just begging to be snapped off! I wonder if you have the option to use a USB cable instead?

btw, you can purchase very small tripods on eBay for about $0.99 to flip up any digital recorder. I purchased one of these and they make excellent table top stands for digital recorders. Preferably though, you might place it on the edge of a table (or raise it with a few books) to minimize surface reflections. For conferences, podcasts, or casual recordings recordings though, this tripod mount works beautifully. Very well made, comes with rubber feet and flattens out for travel - possibly the best $0.99 you'll spend.
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#10 User is offline   DavidBattino 

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Posted 22 March 2008 - 06:32 PM

QUOTE (Gregory D. Moore @ Mar 21 2008, 10:58 AM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
it looks like the Yamaha PocketTrak doesn't have a tripod socket, which is rather unfortunate.


The tripod socket is on the vinyl carrying case.

QUOTE
Also, I can't imagine plugging that entire unit into the USB port on my computer - its just begging to be snapped off! I wonder if you have the option to use a USB cable instead?


I don't think there's a USB jack, but it's easy enough to find short cable extenders or hubs. The built-in USB plug on my Olympus voice recorder has saved me many times, though you're right, the PockeTrak is rather hefty to hang off a fixed USB jack.

At a garage sale last year, I picked up a bag of USB adapters — essentially the world's shortest cables. They have the big flat plug on one end and a variety of mini USB plugs on the other.
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#11 User is offline   matt 

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Posted 06 April 2008 - 03:20 PM

QUOTE (David Battino @ Mar 14 2008, 02:36 AM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
Agreed! I ordered a review unit as soon as I saw it at NAMM. TASCAM promised to send one our way as soon as it's available. Let us know what features you'd especially like us to scrutinize.


I'm very interested in your review of the DR-1. Personally, I'm most interested in how it compares to the Zoom H2, Olympus LS-10, Yamaha Pocketrak, and perhaps the Sony PCM-D50 on the upper end. I know that the H4 is more similar in terms of features but I find the H2 a lot more compelling for its size, price, and ease of use, so that's the comparison I'm most interested in seeing. A lot of people that are getting the H2, from what I gather, don't really need surround-sound recording, but are more attracted to a compact, cheap high-quality recorder.

I've heard some convincing reports that the Tascam's mics are better than the Zoom's, but it'd be nice to have that quantified by some comparable samples.

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#12 User is offline   ChasCreek 

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Posted 02 May 2008 - 05:44 AM

I use two Zoom H4's (one was purchased as a backup unit) and I find that they work well. They also work very well with a Rode NT4 stereo Mic through the XLRs. I also devised a better windshield from a Rode deadcat as they standard foam ball is totally useless outside in anything more than a slight breeze.

The Fostex FR2-LE is a nice bit of kit which I use with both the Rode NT4 and Beyerdynamic shotgun mics. Much more tactile to use and the Mic pre amps are very good. Although obviously a little larger than the hand units they produce a usefull canvas bag/cover with see through sections that clips to your belt.

The Fostex also works well plugged in with studio condensor mics like the Rode NT1a as well as a kind of little studio setup which makes it a versatile kit of kit and sounds very good without using an external tube preamp and compressor in this situation.
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#13 User is offline   Pete68 

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Posted 01 June 2008 - 07:50 PM

An issue for those more experienced than me:

I'm looking at getting either a Zoom H4 or an Olympus LS-10, to be used mainly for voice recording and some live music that will later be used in podcasting. The appeal of the H4 is the XLR connection & phantom power, which would allow me to use my condenser mic externally if necessary. The LS-10 only has plug-in power, so here's my question: what's the best condenser mic to use with this connection, and would it break the bank? I'm currently looking at the Sony ECM-MS907 and the Audio-Technica PRO24, both highly affordable. OR I could try to find a battery-powered condenser mic and shut off the plug-in power.

I'll admit to being concerned about poor preamps in the H4, but at least it's got dedicated XLRs. On the other hand, I'm concerned about lower quality on the LS-10 due to only a 1/8" connector.

Anyone have feedback on this?
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#14 User is offline   synergy543 

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Posted 01 June 2008 - 10:07 PM

QUOTE (Pete68 @ Jun 2 2008, 03:50 AM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
so here's my question: what's the best condenser mic to use with this connection, and would it break the bank? I'm currently looking at the Sony ECM-MS907 and the Audio-Technica PRO24, both highly affordable.

Caveat: I don't have any experience with any of these mics however...

You might also take a look at the Sony ECM-MS957 or the Sony ECM-MS957 Pro although I couldn't tell you the difference between these mics other than the $150 street price difference and the color as the specs and features look suspiciously similar to me. If you shop around, you can find both of these for about $100 less than the list price. And both have better specs in general than the Sony ECM-MS907 or the Audio Technica Pro24, both of which are a lot cheaper but possibly not a significant improvement over the built-in mics. For example, the low-end response on both cheaper mics is not as good as compared to either of the Sony ECM-957s.

Also there are the more expensive Audio Technica AT-822 and the Audio Technica AT825. Note though, that both of these mics use XLR connectors whereas the Sony mics use 1/8 inch stereo connectors.
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#15 User is offline   Sam 

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Posted 03 June 2008 - 06:41 PM

QUOTE (Pete68 @ Jun 1 2008, 11:50 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
An issue for those more experienced than me:

I'm looking at getting either a Zoom H4 or an Olympus LS-10, to be used mainly for voice recording and some live music that will later be used in podcasting. The appeal of the H4 is the XLR connection & phantom power, which would allow me to use my condenser mic externally if necessary. The LS-10 only has plug-in power, so here's my question: what's the best condenser mic to use with this connection, and would it break the bank? I'm currently looking at the Sony ECM-MS907 and the Audio-Technica PRO24, both highly affordable. OR I could try to find a battery-powered condenser mic and shut off the plug-in power.

I'll admit to being concerned about poor preamps in the H4, but at least it's got dedicated XLRs. On the other hand, I'm concerned about lower quality on the LS-10 due to only a 1/8" connector.

Anyone have feedback on this?


I have an H4 and it does have some interesting features (like the 4-track mode) that none of the others have but I have read that it does not work well in the area of phantom power. Either that or the preamps are just too weak to give you a decent signal without a lot of hiss. I think there was one guy who did use one type of mike (forget which one it was) who was able to get an okay output from it when using the XLR inputs. If you want to know more about the zoom products, try going to the zoom forum. I was just, if not more, interested in field recording so I ended up getting a Sony PCM-D50 and am very happy with it. It definitely has a much nicer preamp section than the Zooms do. But if you plan on using condensers, then you'd still have to buy a good preamp with phantom power.

Hope this helps,

Sam
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#16 User is offline   blouis79 

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Posted 29 August 2008 - 04:14 PM

QUOTE (David Battino @ Dec 19 2007, 09:59 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
[...] Please leave your questions and tips below and let us know which new models you'd like us to check out.[...]


Yamaha Pocketrak 2G review please.
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#17 User is offline   DavidBattino 

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Posted 01 September 2008 - 05:25 PM

QUOTE (blouis79 @ Aug 29 2008, 05:14 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
Yamaha Pocketrak 2G review please.


Underway! Yamaha finally got some in stock and sent one out to Mark Nelson a couple of weeks ago. Stay tuned.

Update: Here's the review.
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#18 User is offline   DavidBattino 

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Posted 28 October 2008 - 04:56 PM

Which would you take on safari? Ten plastic recorders or one expensive metal one? This photographer has a great tale:

AES Moments: A Tasty Field Recorder
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#19 User is offline   synergy543 

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Posted 31 October 2008 - 01:13 PM

QUOTE (David Battino @ Oct 29 2008, 12:56 AM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
Which would you take on safari? Ten plastic recorders or one expensive metal one? This photographer has a great tale:

AES Moments: A Tasty Field Recorder

laugh.gif

Reminds me of the time I visited the Sequential Circuits service center and there was a Prophet 5 charred in a fire beyond recognition. The tech guy, smiled, plugged it in, and to our amazement, it actually turned on and the melted plastic keys still played!

So plastic isn't always as bad as you think. wink.gif
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#20 User is offline   DavidBattino 

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Posted 01 November 2008 - 09:11 PM

QUOTE (Gregory D. Moore @ Oct 31 2008, 02:13 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
Reminds me of the time I visited the Sequential Circuits service center and there was a Prophet 5 charred in a fire beyond recognition. The tech guy, smiled, plugged it in, and to our amazement, it actually turned on and the melted plastic keys still played!


...which reminds me of visiting the Mackie factory and seeing its museum of mangled mixers. The tour guide assured us that the burned and truck-squashed units before us still passed audio.

Of course, there is a point of diminishing returns. Is the 100-meter-waterproof wristwatch really that much better than the 50-meter one? Most buyers probably won't go deeper than a swimming pool. And to bring this back on topic, I've recorded some memorable (and useful) sounds with my $100 voice recorders.
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