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Which Sound Recorder to buy? A guide to various indie priced sound recorders in 2017

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Are any of those others as small as the Zoom H1?

Personally, I am very happy with the little H1 mounted on the camera as a mic into the camera (sometimes recording in the H1 as well) but I just use it when recording live music and it is fine for that I think.      Are any of those below around $500 going to be noticeably (by the average regular person) better as a mic that can record for live music than the H1?

The prices of some of those is way beyond what many here are paying for a camera.

I have tried a couple of older cheap recorders (EG Zoom H2) but that was ages ago with limited use and I like the smaller size of the H1.

 

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Zoom H6 is what I am using but will probably upgrade to SD mixpre 3 or 6.  

 

Really depends on your clientele but much of the time I just use a juicedlink direct in unless it's a sit-down interview.  The people I work for usually do the audio and they are still using the original zoom h4!!! (And a cheapo no name wired lav!). They seem to be doing great with their clients too!

 

The moment you start using a backing track the subtle nuances that cost $$$$ to record go out the window and completely unnoticed to most clients on the low to mid end.  

 

If you are doing corporate interviews it's amazing how low on the totem pole you can go with your gear before anyone notices.  

 

I am not advocating for cheap or expensive gear, just saying the requirements are vastly different depending on what you are doing.  From what I've read the old dr-680 does great as well, although the SD stuff will really make life easier with the actually decent headphone and camera returns.  The lineouts on the zoom and tascsm stuff aren't as good.  Can't wait to get the mixpre! 

 

 

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47 minutes ago, noone said:

Are any of those others as small as the Zoom H1?

Yeah..... if you're using a Zoom H1, then you're not a production sound recordist. Which is the perspective I'm writing this from. (and from that perspective, *any* of those which I mentioned will make up a very small sized kit indeed! Size truly isn't a concern here, even the biggest and heaviest, the Zoom F8, is still a shockingly tiny sound recorder! Arguably it is too small)

If you have a Zoom H1 then you're probably a solo videographer grabbing some ambiance (or using it as a "poor man's wireless lav" in the groom's coat pocket, as I often used my Zoom H1 with a cheap lav mic), or a musician, or a busy executive using it as a note taker, or a journalist, or any of a bunch of other uses than a production sound recordist (still, not a terrible thing to keep around in your bag for in a pinch. I often have a DR22WL or H1 tucked away in my bag). 

53 minutes ago, noone said:

Are any of those below around $500 going to be noticeably (by the average regular person) better as a mic that can record for live music than the H1?

Sorry, again this is totally irrelevant just like the size question. 
As I'm not discussing microphones, but recorders.

54 minutes ago, noone said:

The prices of some of those is way beyond what many here are paying for a camera.

Tonnes of indie filmmakers (yes, even amateurs who have no intention about ever making a dime from this) might spend five thousand dollars on their camera kit (heck, just a 5D mk4 plus 2x f2.8 zooms will eat all that up & more! And that is before you count tripods/gimbals/lights/batteries/media/etc).

So thus I'll be totally unapologetic in suggesting that just perhaps a person could spend half that on a super ultra basic sound kit?


Although yes, if you're someone who has gone ultra low budget and is shooting with a secondhand Panasonic GH2 with some adapted old Nikon lenses, then sure I reckon have your boom op use a Tascam DR60D with Sennheiser ME66/K6 (with Rode WS6) and a Samson C02. That could be an appropriate matching budget level (well... sort of! You're likely still spend way less on sound than on the DoP's kit!), and is why I did mention the Tascam DR60D mk2 as an appropriate starting point for the very budget constrained. 

28 minutes ago, scotchtape said:

If you are doing corporate interviews it's amazing how low on the totem pole you can go with your gear before anyone notices.  

For sure, just like how there are still people out there doing little corporate videos with a Canon T2i. 

Doesn't mean we should be recommending that is a level to aspire to! 

No, I'm trying to showcase some of the better options (just like why in the camera side of things people talk about say the Panasonic G80 or the URSA Mini Pro, or any of the zillions of others out there!). 

Bringing a bit more balance back to the discussions :-) Rather than only the focus on cameras. As sound is half the film!

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30 minutes ago, IronFilm said:

Sorry, again this is totally irrelevant just like the size question. 
As I'm not discussing microphones, but recorders.

 

 

But I am not JUST after a microphone but a small recorder that can do double duty and act as a mic mounted on a camera.      Sometimes doing dual use.

Size does matter often enough.        Very occasionally I will take the H1 along and record a gig or the odd song without using the camera (with permission).   

No matter. 

Perhaps edit the title to indicate this is not for those who want to record sound into a camera?     Great article none the less.

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3 minutes ago, noone said:

But I am not JUST after a microphone but a small recorder that can do double duty and act as a mic mounted on a camera.      Sometimes doing dual use.

And I think you missed my point.... as this isn't what I'm discussing. 
This is exactly like complaining that the URSA Mini Pro doesn't come with a waterproof housing. 
Well yeah, no surprise!! As what you really want here is a GoPro.

Totally different use case. And is a product aimed at a totally different market niche. 

 

3 minutes ago, noone said:

Size does matter often enough. 

That is what she said ;-) 

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5 minutes ago, noone said:

Perhaps edit the title to indicate this is not for those who want to record sound into a camera?  

I can't edit it now :-/ Plus I think the subject title is more than long enough already!! :-o 

But I had written "location sound recordist" over and over again throughout my post, thus I thought that made it more than clear enough the purpose of this?! :-/ 

Hmmm... I guess not! Ah well. 

6 minutes ago, noone said:

Great article none the less.

Thanks! :-) 

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No I don't think I did miss the point but thanks anyway.      I am after quality and small size to mount to the hotshoe but the quality would need to be noticeably better (to the average listener) to make it worthwhile for me.

I get that proper filmmakers and sound recordists will want the highest end gear they can afford.      This is one area that might make sense to rent?

Yes, you did say that in the body after a bit but it came across to me like.       "Here are some recorders, IF you are a location sound person, I would use X as a minimum". 

Again, thanks.

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2 hours ago, noone said:

  I am after quality and small size to mount to the hotshoe but the quality would need to be noticeably better (to the average listener) to make it worthwhile for me.

There is your problem unfortunately, you're putting it on the hotshoe! You are always going to be very hampered by that factor. 

It is like asking if a $10,000 Master Prime lens is going to give a noticeably better performance than a nifty fifty?
Well yes, of course the better lens, is going to be better
**BUT** if you always smear your lens with butter all across it before you start shooting, then what is the point?? Might as well stick with the nifty fifty, as no one will really tell the difference between one butter smeared lens and the other one. 

Putting your microphone on the hotshoe is kinda like that butter smearing....  except less destructive to your gear! Just to the resulting recorded product. 

So yeah, in this case I'd suggest just buy yourself the typical Rode VideoMic Pro that every man and his dog has for this situation and go for it. That at least is designed specifically for that purpose. And spending heaps more won't really make a massive difference if you're keeping the microphone on the camera hotshoe.

 

2 hours ago, noone said:

I get that proper filmmakers and sound recordists will want the highest end gear they can afford.      This is one area that might make sense to rent?

 

Actually no, as audio gear has one of the lowest depreciation rates (relative to other filmmaking gear.... I'm looking at you camera bodies!), I'd suggest it makes very good sense to buy a small kit if you feel you'll be using it over and over across the years. I'm sometimes using audio gear that is DECADES old! Ha. Try that anywhere else in filmmaking?? (except for of course... lenses!)

 

2 hours ago, noone said:

Yes, you did say that in the body after a bit but it came across to me like.       "Here are some recorders, IF you are a location sound person, I would use X as a minimum". 

 

Ummm.... ok, but are you not making exactly my point then?!
 

"...IF you are a location sound person..."

That quite clearly shows who I am aiming this article at.

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I will always throw the Marantz PMD661 into threads like this. No question Zoom's has got the market cornered with their name and features. And I will say their pre-amps have gotten consistently better over time (I was down with Zoom for a minute. Had the original H4 and then the H4N), but they still don't have sh*t on the 661. 

Basically if audio quality is your priority then imho the Marantz PMD661 (Version 1 or 2) is a hugely slept on option (unless you need more than 2 XLR mics). I think it's mostly because it came out before the indie/DSLR revolution, but the PMD661 is still kind of the standard in the public radio broadcast world where audio quality is really all that matters (it's the standard recorder at the CBC in Canada, and I know This American Life and other PR shows swear by it).

Anyways, just my 2 cents but the PMD661 (for what you get in pre-amp quality, IN/OUT options and overall sound quality) is hugely slept on in the indie video world, and available used nowadays for $300 easy (just sold one of my units for that price). AND if you're lucky enough to get one of the OADE Mod'ed units, you're taking that thing to a whole other level.

https://www.oade.com/digital_recorders/hard_disc_recorders/PMD-661MODS.html

It's also bigger than a lot of the newer recorders out there, but realistically I don't see how it's size is really an issue beyond the optics of it being `bigger than' as opposed to it actually being big.

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Yeah, unfortunately and probably stupidly, I will go for smaller and discrete every day of the week over large and cumbersome, but I am shooting literal no budget films, where I don't have a sound guy. It needs to be simple and small, something I can attach to an L-Bracket with a small shotgun but can also do double duty as a pocket recorder for a lav.

I started with an H1, but found it to be poorly built and not really that small, so I ended up with 2 Olympus LS7 field recorders. I'm sure they aren't the best but for what I need they work pretty well and the onboard mic is actually pretty good for foley and ambient sound... probably because they are marketed towards nature recordings.

I am interested in the Tascam 10L recorders... they seems to be a great size with decent specs... how are they rated on the Ironfilm scale?

But this is a great article and something to think about as I grow equipment... thanks for posting it. 

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Not sure why people are so confused by this article... Maybe it's just a reflection on EOSHD's demographic. Clearly more videographers, hobbyists, and people that shoot MOS material/b-roll.

Incredibly useful suggestions, IronFilm. Been meaning to pick your brain on audio for a while, so this saves me some effort. Would love to see another topic/post on what mics to pair with these sexy recorders, and maybe even some pointers on boom/lav technique. Keep up the good work!

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I rank the Sound Devices MixPre 3/6 above the Zoom F4/F8 for pure sound quality: smoother, fuller, more natural sounding, more analog like, and of course the amazing analog limiters. I base this on owning a Zoom F4 and a Sound Devices USB Pre2 (which has the same audio topology as the 744T, meaning it sounds as good as the higher end SD recorders) as well as the YouTube/SoundCloud comparison videos:

Couldn't find any comparisons of Sound Devices to Zaxcom, Nagra, AETA or other high-end recorders. It seems sound quality doesn't improve after Sound Devices, only features (channels etc.), power system, and size? (that's what I got from a quick peek at Gearslutz.com).

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13 hours ago, Ty Harper said:

I will always throw the Marantz PMD661 into threads like this. No question Zoom's has got the market cornered with their name and features. And I will say their pre-amps have gotten consistently better over time (I was down with Zoom for a minute. Had the original H4 and then the H4N), but they still don't have sh*t on the 661. 

Basically if audio quality is your priority then imho the Marantz PMD661 (Version 1 or 2) is a hugely slept on option (unless you need more than 2 XLR mics). I think it's mostly because it came out before the indie/DSLR revolution, but the PMD661 is still kind of the standard in the public radio broadcast world where audio quality is really all that matters (it's the standard recorder at the CBC in Canada, and I know This American Life and other PR shows swear by it).

Anyways, just my 2 cents but the PMD661 (for what you get in pre-amp quality, IN/OUT options and overall sound quality) is hugely slept on in the indie video world, and available used nowadays for $300 easy (just sold one of my units for that price). AND if you're lucky enough to get one of the OADE Mod'ed units, you're taking that thing to a whole other level.

https://www.oade.com/digital_recorders/hard_disc_recorders/PMD-661MODS.html

It's also bigger than a lot of the newer recorders out there, but realistically I don't see how it's size is really an issue beyond the optics of it being `bigger than' as opposed to it actually being big.

I'm with you all the way on this one - I've had the Marantz PMD661 for many years now, it's hands down excellent & still is.

One option people haven't thought of, if you're on a budget, is to get an old analogue field amp & then plug it into a small digital recorder - you'll get the the benfit of professional grade Limiters, Pre-amps etc... & you'll be recording to digital. Also, when/if you ever get to use a camera with XLR sockets, you can just plug straight into the camera & get perfect sound for editing.

Personally I'd think long & hard about getting something from ZOOM or TASCAM - you're buying into a name & not quality.

SONY doesn't appear anywhere here but they do some good small recorders, but probably not as cheap as Z or T.

Sound Devices have been at the top for some time & it doesn't look as if anyone will ever catch them - if you can afford it, don't look anywhere else. On a budget, you can get your hands on their analogue 2 channel field mixer (about £200-300), it'll be small & then you can get a small digital recorder to go with it - professional grade at a really decent price!

As far as mics go, old doesn't mean bad: you can pick up a Sennheiser K3 or K6 power module & then add an ME series Mic capsule (£200-300 for both) - again professional quality.

I've recorded plenty of sound from an analogue field mixer into the apparently hopeless Mic input of BM Pocket & got excellent results - everything is handled by the field mixer & then the camera just acts as a digital recorder.

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Starting on a budget I'd not look at any of the suggestions to be honest - here's my take;

Best sounding starter sound recorder IME is the tiny Sony PCM-M10 which can take self powered mics via the 3.5mm jack. Can be mounted on a hotshoe, 2 AAA batteries last for ever, tiny put in your pocket take anywhere recorder you will still keep even when you buy more expensive gear. 

When you have saved up for better phantom powered mics then the best and cheapest option is to get hold of a used Fostex FR2LE - it's pre amps are not far off the SoundDevices 7 series i.e if you can't get good enough sound for your film with it then it's not the fault of the recorder. ( sometimes wonder why I upgraded......)

Spending a bit more  or simply an alternative  would be a SoundDevices mixer pre to combine with a Sony M-10. 

Beyond this you are really getting into the realm of being a  dedicated sound recordist and we are not even talking about the real tools of sound - the microphone.

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On 7/22/2017 at 7:41 AM, UncleBobsPhotography said:

The Tascam DR-10CS/DR-10L is even smaller. It only records mono, but I like using it for lavs or shotgun mics which are mono anyway.

Yeah is normal on sets for all dialogue to be recorded in mono. I would not ever whatsoever see this as even a slightest negative about the Tascam DR10L that it is not stereo. That would just be a weird complainant about it. 

Also, the Tascam DR10L can record a safety track at the same time, which is a massive benefit over the Zoom H1.

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