Capture recordings anywhere and everywhere
Following on from our article “Introduction to Field Recording”, we decided to cover Portable Audio Recorders in greater depth.
What is a portable audio recorder?
The humble portable audio recorder is a pocket-friendly device that allows you to capture high-quality audio recordings whenever and wherever the moment takes you. Portable audio recorders enable you to lay down lyric ideas when inspiration strikes, capture notes in a lecture, surreptitiously record ambient noise whilst out and about, figuratively bottling sounds for editing later on. Unlike Dictaphones of yesteryear, modern day recorders boast high-fidelity audio capture with a plethora of accessories to enhance your ability to capture sounds in all their glory.
Why would you need one?
Truth be told, most of us nowadays carry around a voice recorder in our pocket – our smartphone. With apps aplenty that enable multiple audio recordings to be captured with a fair degree of quality, aren’t portable audio recorders therefore overkill? Not exactly. The phone in your pocket is great at capturing your voice and roughing down some ideas when you’ve got your instrument to hand. However, if you want to take those tracks and use them in a professional setting, you’re going to notice a stark difference in quality between tracks recorded via smartphone and better equipped audio recorders.
Things to consider when choosing a portable audio recorder
First of all, what are you going to be using the recorder for? Are you looking to capture ambient sound or get up close and personal to sound sources? Do you need multiple channel recording facilities, or will one suffice? There are recorders for any and every purpose so sitting back and thinking about what you want to one for is key. You could easily record lecture notes using any and every audio recorder with a high degree of success, but not all can readily capture band practise session as capably.
Secondly, will you be capturing the odd recording and then transferring to a hard drive or your computer asap, or do you require a considerable amount of memory for many hours’ worth of recording? Thankfully, pretty much all recorders accommodate MicroSD cards, which provide a cost-effective means of storing countless hours’ worth of recordings. However, this depends upon your sampling bit rate and how many channels you record at a time as uncompressed files will take up considerably more space than compressed files, as will an increased number of channels.
Thirdly, this crosses over somewhat with the ability to utilise SD cards, but connectivity options need to be considered too. USB or Mini USB connections are a common feature across portable audio recorders, as is the ability to transfer your recordings using high-speed file transfer protocol. Trust us, when you’re shifting over many gigabytes of audio, you’ll be grateful for those higher speeds.
Alongside “what are you using it for?” and “connectivity options” is the question: will the internal mics be sufficient, or do you want the option to connect an external mic as you wish? Alternatively, do you want the ability to connect a pair of headphones to either directly monitor recordings/playback audio to ensure it is to your liking.
Fourthly, are there any additional features that you want built-in such as filters and effects? LCD screens are another common feature and provide you with real-time visual guides relating to signal levels, track length, bit rate, recording mode on/off, etc.
Our top five
1. Tascam DR-05 V2
Tascam offer an extensive range of recording options (as you’ll see further down the list) and their DR-05 V2 Portable Handheld Recorder may be the most affordable on our list but that doesn’t mean that it’s lacking in features.
Clarity is at the core of the DR-05 V2 with digital and analogue circuitry built and powered via separate supplies to prevent unwanted consistency. Straight away you’ll find it very easy to use with automatic or manual level setting options for rapid and intuitive control. Playing host to features such as Limiter and low-cut filter any muddiness is removed from recordings to uphold pristine audio quality. A pair of built-in stereo condenser omni-directional microphones capture up to 96kHz/24-bit high-resolution audio in either MP3 or WAV formats. Not only that but that can handle up to 125dB SPL so you can point them quite close to a high energy sound source and still come out winning. Thanks to an ingenious Peak Reduction feature, the recorder intelligently sets your recording input to a safe level to prevent accidental distortion for immaculate recordings ever time.
A built-in speaker allows you to playback recordings. Alternatively, you can utilise the headphone output for a little privacy. The Tascam DR-05 V2 can run on a pair of AA batteries up to 17 hours, can also run of USB bus power and accommodates an AC100 to 240V AC adapter. You can connect easily to either Mac or Windows devices, and Tascam include a nice selection of accessories with each one such as a 4GB microSD, USB connection cable, 2 AA batteries, Owner’s manual and Warranty card.
For those who are looking for an affordable option to get into the world of field recording then the Tascam DR-05 V2 is the way forward.
2. Zoom H1N
Another sterling affordable option is the Zoom H1n Portable Digital Handy Recorder. Along with Tascam, Zoom are masters when it comes to building affordable hardware that punches well above its price tag.
The microphone arrangement of the H1n differs from the DR-05 V2 with a pair of mics in an X/Y pattern, which boasts exceptional stereo imaging. As both mics are on the same axis, they are equidistant from the sound source, which ensures zero phase shifting and immaculate localization. If it’s great stereo imaging that you’re after, then the H1n is right up your straight.
A host of features and functions are all at your fingertips such as track marker, auto record, low-cut filter, level and volume controls at the touch of a button. Switchable recording formats allow you to dictate what bit rate and sampling frequency range you wish to use, as well as the option to incorporate microSD cards or microSDHC for up to 50 hours’ worth of recording time at 16-bit/44.1kHz. If you’re on the road and need to make the most of your recording time, then this is just the ticket.
As with the DR-05 you can connect via USB to Mac or Windows devices. The Zoom H1n runs on (and includes) a pair of AAA batteries, and also comes with copies of Steinberg Cubase LE and WaveLab LE. If you’re also seeking a microphone that will do that job of broadcast mic for podcasting, then this is the one for you
3. Tascam DR-22WL
The Tascam DR-22WL bears the unique distinction of being the first of its kind to include Wi-Fi connectivity for transport control, transferring files, and audio streaming to a smartphone or computer. Adopting a true XY stereo condenser microphone pairing, the DR-22WL boasts exceptional stereo imaging. The mics are mounted in acoustically tuned housings, which gives them the extraordinary ability to withstand up to 120dB SPL without distorting. If you are close miking sound sources, then the higher the SPL the better – and to put it bluntly 120dB is enough to cause considerable discomfort.
The internal mic preamp offers outstanding analogue to digital conversion, whilst the premium-quality CIRRUS-LOGIC CS42L52 codec backs it up to guarantee superior sound quality. To make life easier, Tascam include an 8-position rotating Scene Dial with presets to accommodate a range of applications such as EZ, Loud, Music, Instrument, Interview, Manual, DUB and Play. Simply turn the dial to the desired setting and you’re good to go. Instantaneous setup for high quality results in rapid fashion!
A generous 128 x 128 LCD display enables access to a wealth of real-time information from level metering to deep-level functions without having to trawl through menus to find what you want. Thanks to the inclusion of Wi-Fi connectivity you can sync the DR-22WL to your iOS or Android device using a free app called DR Control, which allows you to remotely control the recorder. Even if you lose connection, the recorder will continue to record so that you don’t lose any information. You can even transmit up to a massive 65 feet range!
Tascam include a 4GB microSD card, USB cable, pair of AA batteries, Owner’s manual and Tascam Warranty with every recorder to get you out and recording in no time.
4. Tascam DR-40
For those who require greater flexibility, welcome to the Tascam DR-40. This portable four-track recorder is home to high-quality uni-directional stereo condenser microphones that can be adjusted between A-B and X-Y positions. Therefore, you can adjust for a tight and focused XY image or switch to AB for a wider ambient image. As well as being able to record up to four tracks simultaneously, you can even add two additional sound sources via a pair of Neutrik XLR/TRS combo jacks. With built-in phantom power you can happily connect condenser mics or line inputs and record up to 96kHz/24-bit resolution!
As you might have guessed, the DR-40 boasts all the same features as the previous models with tactile control via front panel buttons and a generous LCD display. There’s a built-in speaker, chromatic tuner, variable speed playback, etc. Tascam even include a 2GB SD card and mini USB cable to get you up and running. For those who need more than your average recorder, then the Tascam DR-40 is an absolute must have.
5. Roland R-07
Last but by no means least is the remarkable Roland R-07, which is the kind of premium piece of kit you’d expect from the team at Roland. The R-07 is super stylish, delightfully intuitive, highly reliable and captures high-resolution audio perfectly. What’s not to like?
The sleek design of the R-07 allows it to sit comfortably in your hand with controls set out intuitively. Thanks to the single-button Scene control, the unit automatically applies the best settings to suit the task at hand from on-location interviews, recording lectures, field recording, recording instruments, etc. Everything from sample rate, record mode, limiter, low-cut filter, and input level adjust to optimal settings. You can manually attenuate any setting and save for later, recalling them at will when you next need them.
Bluetooth connectivity via the powerful Qualcomm aptX ensures that you can stream recordings with ease. Not only that but Roland’s remote app software means that you can control the R-07’s functions via smartphone or supported smartwatches. The Roland R-07 is a true 21st century recorder that draws on past experience whilst paving the way forward for others to follow.
As you can see there are many considerations to take into account when buying a portable audio recorder, and we appreciate that budget ranks high with everyone. However, you can see that you need not shell out a small fortune to get a piece of kit that will not only do the job but do it well. Work out what you want to do first and then everything else will fall into place.
As ever, if you need any help or advice then our Customer Service Team are more than happy to help over the phone on 01925 582420. Our in-store specialists will guide you through the wonderful world of Computer Music and Studio Equipment, just pop into your nearest Dawsons store.
Jon is a multi-instrumentalist with a passion for inspiring others to get involved in making music. After spending many years playing venues here, there and – pretty much – everywhere, he joined the Dawsons’ Music Web Team before progressing into his current role managing the Dawsons Blog.