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

#21 User is offline   sysdev 

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Posted 16 November 2008 - 09:06 PM

Thanks for these reviews - they have been very helpful. I would look forward to seeing a "top 10" list if Mark would care to create one someday.

I haven't purchased a recorder yet, although I have been looking on and off for some time. I already have a basic project studio that fulfills most of my needs, although acquiring a good quality handheld recorder would be a handy addition.

I've noticed a huge price drop recently with the Korg MR-1 - which is now selling for $399 at many notable retailers. Mark's glowing review of the unit has piqued my interest, and I have been looking into the prospect of recording in DSD format vs. PCM audio.

There have been criticisms of the DSD format though that have caused me to be cautious about purchasing the Korg unit over, say, the Sony PCM D-50, or the Olympus LS-10 - both of which seem to have good to excellent reviews as well, here and at other places on the web. One such concern is that the noise floor in a DSD recording increases sharply after 22 KHz. This noise response is illustrated fairly well at the following link: http://www-1.unipv.it/cibra/res_techtest_uk.html. Not that I have ultrasonic hearing, but from what I've read, this has potential to impact some analog audio equipment in a negative way.

Still, the Korg unit can record in a variety of PCM and MP3 formats, plus DSD - while the Sony unit only records uncompressed PCM formats (which is kind of ironic since Sony, in conjunction with Philips, developed the SACD format in the first place). There also is the 20 GB internal hard drive - offering more internal storage in default configuration than any unit reviewed here. Those are handy features that factor well in the mix - especially considering the (now) $399 price tag.

Thanks again for the reviews!

This post has been edited by sysdev: 16 November 2008 - 10:07 PM

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#22 User is offline   DavidBattino 

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Posted 16 November 2008 - 10:41 PM

QUOTE (sysdev @ Nov 16 2008, 09:06 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
I would look forward to seeing a "top 10" list

One of the themes that's emerged in our 11 reviews so far (#12 on should be up in the next week or two) is that each of these recorders has a special niche. So a Top 10 list would have to cover a specific aspect like mic quality, or ergonomics, or preamp noise, etc. Or is that not what you meant?

QUOTE
I've noticed a huge price drop recently with the Korg MR-1 - which is now selling for $399 at many notable retailers. Mark's glowing review of the unit has piqued my interest.... One concern is that the noise floor in a DSD recording increases sharply after 22 KHz. This noise response is illustrated fairly well at the following link: http://www-1.unipv.it/cibra/res_techtest_uk.html.


Thanks for the link. I wonder what the audible or emotional effect of that ultrasonic noise is? Perhaps it's one of those things that shows up on a chart but has negligible musical impact. Interesting.

Korg makes some good gear, but occasionally they overspec and build it too well, and thus come out with a price that's way too high. Eventually, they have to slash prices to clear out the inventory, and that's when you can get some great deals. I have an OASYS PCI card I bought at blowout for $500, for example; it originally sold for $2,200.

To me, the main drawback of the MR-1 (besides price) was its short-lived internal battery. If you don't mind strapping on an external battery pack, that shouldn't be a problem, and Korg is currently giving out battery packs for free on the MR-1 page.
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#23 User is offline   Nicolaj Nielsen 

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Posted 24 November 2008 - 09:35 AM

Very happy that I've found this forum, and thank you for the reviews - very helpful! Can we expect a review of the Yamaha pocketrak CX anytime soon?
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#24 User is offline   pdxotica 

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Posted 30 November 2008 - 12:25 PM

QUOTE (Nicolaj Nielsen @ Nov 24 2008, 05:35 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
Very happy that I've found this forum, and thank you for the reviews - very helpful! Can we expect a review of the Yamaha pocketrak CX anytime soon?


I do high quality (not Pro) field recording for podcasting, and coming from Minidisc, the new products coming out are finally competing with the great selling points of that now defunct format.

Here are my criteria for this niche market:

Mac compatibility
Small unit dimensions and weight
High Quality sound
Great battery life
Long recording times
Replaceable non-proprietary media and batteries
Mic and Line inputs
Low noise mic preamp
Quality stereo mics (if built in)


For my style of field recording, the units that seem most desirable in meeting these criteria in a fully solid state device are the following:

Olympus LS-10
Yamaha Pocketrak CX
Sony PCM-D50
Edirol R-09HR
Zoom H2

Especially because of their similar specs, and their diminutive size, I agree completely in the desirability for a comparative review of the little Yamaha CX!

Thanks for all your great work, sure helps to narrow down the multitude of choices out there!

This post has been edited by pdxotica: 30 November 2008 - 12:26 PM

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#25 User is offline   Dan56 

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Posted 30 November 2008 - 07:46 PM

Hello,

I would like to hear from anyone who has used one of these recorders to record a rock music oriented band. I would like a recorder like these that I can set in the middle of the room to record our practices. It becomes a training tool. Not interested in making CD's. We're just playing locally and only for fun.

Specifically, were playing late 60's, early 70's. I'm actually use my old V4 Ampeg through a V2 bottom (4 – 12's tuned) to give you some idea of the volume (sound pressures). No, I don't even have it turned up half way. Those days are gone thanks to pedals. laugh.gif But with 5 members plus singing in a 28 by 18 room, I would like to know if these recorders can give a decent enough recording against such volumes.

Thanks,
Dan
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#26 User is offline   pdxotica 

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Posted 01 December 2008 - 09:25 PM

QUOTE (Dan56 @ Dec 1 2008, 03:46 AM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
Hello,

I would like to hear from anyone who has used one of these recorders to record a rock music oriented band. I would like a recorder like these that I can set in the middle of the room to record our practices. It becomes a training tool. Not interested in making CD's. We're just playing locally and only for fun.

Specifically, were playing late 60's, early 70's. I'm actually use my old V4 Ampeg through a V2 bottom (4 – 12's tuned) to give you some idea of the volume (sound pressures). No, I don't even have it turned up half way. Those days are gone thanks to pedals. laugh.gif But with 5 members plus singing in a 28 by 18 room, I would like to know if these recorders can give a decent enough recording against such volumes.

Thanks,
Dan



Just read a user review online somewhere, that mentioned severe distortion with the onboard mics above levels near 110db.

I would suggest monitoring recording levels to avoid saturation, and collateral damage.
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#27 User is offline   brandobean 

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Posted 04 December 2008 - 01:08 AM

I'm glad someone asked about recording louder sources such as rock bands. The posted reviews have been great but they've not touched on doing what I'd personally want a recorder for, recording rock band practices. Quite acoustic jams? All the models seem to do fine.

What I want: I'm looking for the model that combines the best of...
MUST HAVE:
1. Built in stereo mics. High quality. Wind resistance not essential, I'm recording indoors.
2. Ability to use external mic. I've got an ATM-822 stereo mic. No phantom power needed. 1/4" or 1/8" jacks fine.
3. Palm size or smaller (Tascam is fine. Zoom H4 is getting too big)
4. Less than $400
5. Records to Mp3 and WAV (16bit 44.1 is fine)
6. At least 5-6hrs of battery life. way more would be nice.

NICE TO HAVE:
1. AC adaptor charging or use. Needing to plug into a USB port to charge is annoying.
2. Built in useful compression setting (I find I always end up squishing my rehearsal recordings anyway, and having something like a 3:1 compressor built in (w/ a fast attack, soft-knee at -12dB) would be ideal! Voice recorder style AGC isn't it.
3. Ability to overdub. Not essential, but being able to doodle a second guitar part for quick songwriting is cool.
4. USB interface to PC. I need one anyway... would be cool to get it for free.

What I've tried: Allow me to share what I already know.
I auditioned the Yamaha CX in comparison to the $100 less expensive Yamaha 2G which is similar but smaller, w/ lower quality mics built in. I found the sound quality for spoken word to be great, and for acoustic jamming, also quite fine. For recording a live rock band (my intended use) I found the cheaper 2G to be compressed and "washed out" sounding with a not very extended high end. The CX sounded clearer but with a slightly harsh high end and poor bass response. Both models sounded FAR better when using a plug-in external stereo mic like a ATM-822. Lastly, the 2G can plug directly into your USB port without a cord. Convenient, but the design makes the USB port support the device, and it feels like it is putting strain on the port floating out of the side of your laptop 6". The CX uses a micro-USB cable to plug-in.

At $400, I'm not sure the CX is a great deal. I'd expect the mics to be better for the money, and I can just use the cheaper 2G model with a external mic and get better sound than the CX.

Next I'm going to audition the Edirol and Tascam. The Tascam in particular sounds like fun and is WAY cheaper than even the Yamaha 2G.

THOUGHTS?

Brandon M

This post has been edited by brandobean: 04 December 2008 - 01:11 AM

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#28 User is offline   synergy543 

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Posted 04 December 2008 - 11:39 AM

Great information Brandon, thanks.

FWIW, I just read an article in the MIX Dec 2008 issue, p.68. where they discuss recording the FX for the latest Bond movie. They recorded the sounds of the Aston Martin DBS revved up on a stationary platform with several portable recorders including Sound Devices 744T, Nagra ARES-BB, and Sony PCM D-50. The sounds of the the Aston Martin must be quite loud. In all cases, they used external mics - mostly Sanken CMS 7s and two DPA 6042s for the quieter internal sounds. Needless to say, this is some pretty expensive and heavy duty gear but its interesting to note that in all cases they're using external mics. Possibly, this is simply to facilitate placement in ideal locations? But also, they are working with some very good mics which will give them the best possible results with any decent recorder.

They also go on to discuss post-processing with Tube-Tech and Crane Song compresors and Pultec EQ and then recorded to 2-inch tape for "analog feel". (Strange to me that they used compressors for post-processing?)

Thats some impressive gear and clearly requires a big budget. But aside from name-dropping, I think the production crew realized the GIGO (garbage-in, garbage-out) rule and simply selected the best possible gear for the best results.

Most of us don't have these resources. However, the GIGO rule still applies and we learn a few tips we might apply to our own productions. For example, if you have a higher quality external mic, it might also give you the ability to easily place your mic in the ideal location. And if you don't have an external mic, ideal mic location is still equally important. So make every effort to get your recorder in the ideal spot. And if the big guys are using big guns to process even with the best gear, then we can also benefit from post-processing with the great number of affordable effect plugins we can use with our sequencers. In the end, it really boils down to observing, experimenting, and using the best resources available to get the best sound whether recording an Aston Martin or a rock band.

One thing I might do differently recording a rock band is using an external compressor on the front end. This would give you control to tailor the signal before sending it to the portable recorders A/D which might help achieve a cleaner sound. Although, recording a rock band in a practice location, I would mostly be concerned about vibrations from items in the room (light fixtures, furniture, tables, wall resonances, etc.) because very loud sounds could easily stimulate a lot of unwanted sounds in an untreated room.
Gregory D. Moore
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#29 User is offline   brandobean 

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Posted 04 December 2008 - 12:15 PM

QUOTE (Gregory D. Moore @ Dec 4 2008, 07:39 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
One thing I might do differently recording a rock band is using an external compressor on the front end...


I've had good luck using the AT-822 as my external mic. (battery powered, about $230 online, has a little XLR to stereo mini-plug cable). It's fairly wide angle so it's great for rehearsals (though perhaps less than ideal for live venue recording where you might not be close to the sound source). I just give myself 12-20dB headroom when setting levels and then compress the tracks in Soundforge. It's slightly tedious though so having this built in would be sweet. A couple of the recorders reviewed on this site had some sort of compression built in. I think the Zoom?


BTW, For recording in a live venue, I continue to be stumped as to why no one hasn't made a portable recorder that has a built in stereo mic, and stereo line in that it can blend for a quick matrix tape. Seems like every single guy-with-a-band would use these to record their shows.



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#30 User is offline   DavidBattino 

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Posted 04 December 2008 - 01:20 PM

QUOTE (brandobean @ Dec 4 2008, 12:15 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
A couple of the recorders reviewed on this site had some sort of compression built in. I think the Zoom?


The Zoom H2's compressor operates after the signal has been digitized, so it won't prevent distortion. The TASCAM GT-R1's limiter, on the other hand, is analog, as is the MicroTrack II's. Possibly the Edirol R-09HR's as well, though I haven't confirmed that. The standout limiter in our tests was the one on the Sony D-50.

QUOTE
I continue to be stumped as to why no one has made a portable recorder that has a built in stereo mic, and stereo line in that it can blend for a quick matrix tape.


There's a cool hack to switch Zoom H2 mics to line inputs. You could then record in four-channel mode and set the balance later.
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#31 User is offline   edgedude 

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Posted 07 December 2008 - 09:21 AM

Can anyone
compare the Line 6 BT w/ mic with the Zoom H2 and the Tasman DR-1? I intend to buy one of these for my son for Christmas. He plays mostly electric guitar. He wants to lay down rhythm guitar and play lead against it. Do any of these devices overdub recordings? Thanks!
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#32 User is offline   DavidBattino 

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Posted 07 December 2008 - 02:41 PM

QUOTE (edgedude @ Dec 7 2008, 09:21 AM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
Can anyone compare the Line 6 BT w/ mic with the Zoom H2 and the Tasman DR-1? I intend to buy one of these for my son for Christmas. He plays mostly electric guitar. He wants to lay down rhythm guitar and play lead against it. Do any of these devices overdub recordings?


The Line 6 BackTrack does look slick, but it has several limitations. A better choice for overdubbing guitar would be the new TASCAM GT-R1, which we reviewed here: Review: TASCAM GT-R1 Digital Guitar Recorder. The GT-R1 includes overdubbing and effects, and even a basic drum machine.
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#33 User is offline   JawnyB 

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Posted 07 December 2008 - 03:24 PM

QUOTE (edgedude @ Dec 7 2008, 05:21 PM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
Can anyone
compare the Line 6 BT w/ mic with the Zoom H2 and the Tasman DR-1? I intend to buy one of these for my son for Christmas. He plays mostly electric guitar. He wants to lay down rhythm guitar and play lead against it. Do any of these devices overdub recordings? Thanks!



I just purchased the Tascam GT-R1 and it will overdub on tracks.
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#34 User is offline   brandobean 

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Posted 08 December 2008 - 09:35 AM

Not satisfied with this otherwise excellent site's coverage of these recorders as recorders of rock music and band-practice-level SPLs, I decided to buy a bunch of these recorders and will test them tomorrow at rehearsal.

I will post mp3s of some music recorded with the following recorders all in the same location at once. Then you can A/B (C, D!) them:

* Yamaha 2G
* Yamaha CX
* Olympus LS-10
* Tascam GT-1
* (one of the above) with external Audio Technica AT-822 stereo mic ($230)
* Edirol R-09 (not the HR, I'll be borrowing this from a friend. By all accounts, the mics are very very similar)


I'll post the Mp3s here (I think you can add attachments up to 1MB?)

This post has been edited by brandobean: 08 December 2008 - 09:36 AM

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#35 User is offline   brandobean 

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Posted 11 December 2008 - 01:09 AM

I just posted a head to head comparison of these recorders, including sound samples, using rock and acoustic performances on it's own thread here. Enjoy!
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#36 User is offline   pdxotica 

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Posted 11 December 2008 - 10:38 PM

Just checked out your report, nicely done!


A new kid on the block:

Kenwood Digital audio recorder MGR-A7-R RED 2GB

Any sightings yet?

This post has been edited by pdxotica: 11 December 2008 - 10:44 PM

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#37 User is offline   brandobean 

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Posted 12 December 2008 - 12:25 AM

QUOTE (pdxotica @ Dec 12 2008, 06:38 AM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
A new kid on the block:
Kenwood Digital audio recorder MGR-A7-R RED 2GB
Any sightings yet?


Appears to be Japanese-only for now. Saw it on Ebay for $350. Seems very Edirol-like by its appearance. Poorly translated docs imply it has 3 mics (!?). Maybe for doing Mid-side or other polar patters? No idea. Seems to tout its high audio-quality (S/N spec of 93dB etc.)

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#38 User is offline   Kjetil - Location recordist 

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Posted 25 January 2009 - 06:39 AM

Thank you for a great resource and forum!

As most of all others here I'm also looking into buying a fieldrecorder and struggle to find a unit that is siutable for my needs.

I've read through all the reviews and threads about most of the devices of my interrest, but I have yet to read a review of the Zoom H4n
Has anyone seen a review of this particular field recorder?

I have these recorders on my short list: Sony PCM-D50, Korg Mr-1, Korg Mr-1000 and maybe Zoom H4n. I will mostly use it for field recording, but it would be nice to be able to hook up my DPA 4003/Millennia Media HV3-B combo from time to time. I know that the Mr-1000 would be the best choice for this, but I mostly need a recorder to carry with me in my backpack or in my pocket for field recording purpose.

I did a lot of productions and field recording with my trusted old HHB Portadat earlier, but I sold it six years ago beacause the obsolete DAT format. Back then I did a lot of work for films and TV documentaries, but now I mostly record classical music and for that purpose I use Pyramix on a laptop.

Sometimes I get a job that don't require a full blown rig and it would have been nice to just bring my DPAs, the HV3-B and a field recorder for live recording or quick demos.

And by the way, I'm not into DSD or DXD recording yet as this would require a significant upgrade of my current rig.

Thanks

Kjetil

This post has been edited by Kjetil - Location recordist: 25 January 2009 - 07:14 AM

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#39 User is offline   Kjetil - Location recordist 

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Posted 27 January 2009 - 09:56 AM

And now the MR-1 is priced at $299 at B&H
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#40 User is offline   DavidBattino 

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Posted 30 January 2009 - 10:21 AM

I played with several new portable recorders at NAMM earlier this month, including the H4n. Impressions, photos, and links here:

Digital Music Discoveries at NAMM 2009
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