Field Gear: Good, Better, Best

October 30th, 2012
Okay, we finally did it. We made some recommendations. Sure, Transom is dedicated to mission, philosophy, and nuanced storytelling advice, but what you really want to know is: WHAT GEAR SHOULD I BUY… right? (What do writers obsess about… pencils?)

Transom Staff have described our personal rigs, and together, we compiled our assessments into dollar-determined good, better, best-ness. There are links to our in-depth reviews and to actually buy the stuff, or at least put it in your Cart and dream.

So, let’s indulge our consumerist desires for a moment, and then we can get on with the real work. Feel free to leave a comment with your own preferences. Jay A

Transom Folk’s Field Gear
Recorder Microphone
Good:

Sony PCM-M10

Memory: microSD & Memory Stick

Transom Review

(Used by: TSW)

Audio-Technica AT8010

Type: Omnidirectional Condenser

(Used by: TSW)

Better:

Tascam DR-100MKII

Memory: SD or SD-HC

Transom Review

(Used by: JA, JT)

Beyerdynamic M58

Type: Omnidirectional Dynamic

(Used by: VM, TSW)


Sony PCM-D50

Memory: Internal flash & Memory Stick

Transom Review

(Used by: BG, RR)

RØDE NTG2

Type: Condenser Shotgun

(Used by: JT)

Best:
Sound Devices 722 recorder

(About $2500)

Sound Devices The 722

Memory: Harddrive & CF

Transom Review

(Used by: JA, VM, JT)

Shure VP88

Type: Stereo Condenser

(Used by: BG)

Headphones
Open-Ear Closed-Ear In-Ear

Sennheiser PX 100-II

Type: On-Ear

Sony MDR7506

Type: Closed-Ear, Large Diaphragm

Etymotic Research HF5

Type: In-Ear Earphone

Tools We Use

Jeff Towne, our Tool Master, has perhaps the web’s most comprehensive Portable Digital Recorder Comparison, along with a field-recording Handhelds: Microphone Shootout and advice on What Gear Should I Get?

There’s plenty of great audio recording equipment out there, but the above are what some of us at Transom currently use, for our own gigs and in our Story Workshop:

Transom Producer Notes

Tascam DR-100mkII recorder, front view

Tascam DR-100mkII

Jeff Towne says: Your first splurge should be on headphones: get the Sony MDR7506 model mentioned in the “best” category. Although they don’t directly affect the sound that’s being recorded, being able to monitor accurately might have the biggest effect on the quality of your recordings. I used to use a set of Etymotics almost exclusively, until one of the earpieces broke. And that might have been due to trying to pull them out too rapidly, and that’s my primary hesitation about them: you can’t take them on and off quickly. It’s helpful, and sometimes safer, to be able to hear the real world in its actual stereo spatial representation, not just what’s coming down your mic. So I’ve gone back to the good old Sony 7506s. I honestly can’t think of any headphones I’d rather use in the field. I’ve worn some ridiculous high-end phones in some studios, but I’m not sure I’d use them for location recording.

I personally use the Tascam DR-100mkII recorder (Transom review) with a Rode NTG2 short shotgun mic. The DR-100mkII is a significant improvement over the original DR-100 that we reviewed. It’s functionally pretty much the same, but the sound quality is much better, allowing it to use a wider variety of microphones with good results. I’m a big fan of the Sony M10 too. The M10 is smaller, lighter, simpler, and cheaper than anything else that sounds as good. It’s a good choice as a starter recorder, excellent as a back up; it’s easy to use, sounds great and is reliable.

Many of the small recorders have very good built-in stereo microphones. Take advantage of them! I don’t recommend using the built-in mics for interviews, but they’re often perfect for getting immersive ambiences and vivid documents of events.

The $99 Zoom H1 is remarkably good for a $99 recorder, but I’ve also lost recordings that I was sure I had made, it feels less durable than other recorders, and the built-in mics are insanely wind-sensitive, so I’m reluctant to give it a general recommendation. I don’t think there are any recorders less expensive than the Sony M-10 that I’d heartily recommend.

And here’s the most important part: we’re suggesting that people mix and match recorders and mics, but as I wrote in a recent sidebar, almost all of the cheap flash recorders require a hot-output mic to avoid sounding super-hissy.

Except the Sony M10. The M10 is pretty good with almost any mic. It sounds better with condensers, but not bad with a dynamic like a Beyer M58, or an RE50 or whatever. It’s solid, the batteries last forever, the built-in mics sound great, and are not all that sensitive to wind (omnis). We’ve given them to rank beginners and they’ve gotten good tape. The M10 is a good choice if someone is just trying to get the cheapest thing that we think is good–it’s the cheapest one I feel good about. I’d almost recommend the Tascam DR-40 (Transom review), but it requires specific mics to get clean recording.

The Tascam DR-100mkII is a step up from the Sony M10. It’s better, partly because of the more robust XLR inputs, phantom power, and a better battery scheme. The DR-100mkII requires a little more work to master than the M10: there are more options, which is powerful for the more experienced recordist and confusing for the beginner.

I really think the sound quality and ease-of-use of the Tascam DR-100mkII and the more expensive Sony D50 makes them roughly equivalent recorders.

Jeff uses: Tascam DR-100mkII recorder, Rode NTG2 Short Shotgun mic, Sony MDR7506 headphones.

Viki Merrick says: Once you make friends with the 722 — it rocks. No sound issues at all at all (as long as you know your phantom things). I’ve been using the Beyer M58 (dynamic ENG/EFP omnidirectional microphone) forever: rugged, solid, forgiving mic, pretty ample omni.

As for recorders, I use I like the Marantz PMD 660 (Transom review) because it has XLRs and a window I can see — it doesn’t feel like a toy and the buttons are almost old school. It feels reliable: makes me feel safe.

Viki uses: Marantz 660 or 620 (Transom review) recorders, Beyer M58 mic, Sony MDR7506 headphones.

Barrett recording a rodeo cowboy at the Miles City Bucking Horse Sale, Montana

BG recording rodeo bull-rider, Doug Davis, Miles City (MT) Bucking Horse Sale (w/ Shure VP88 mic and in-ear earphones)

Barrett Golding says: The VP88 mic is my one-stop-shop for all things audio. It has great sound, rejects wind and handling noise pretty well, and it’s stereo — M/S Stereo at that, so much less chance of phasing problems. It’s light, durable, and powered by either 48V phantom or an internal 6V battery. My spare mic: another VP88. For headphones, make sure to choose something with a flat frequency response — monitor quality. Phones may sound better if they pump certain bandwidths, but they’ll fool you as to the character of the sound you’re capturing. Even small in-ear earphones (which I use: sound isolating earphones with mini-drivers, not ear-buds) should have some bass, so you’ll know if wind or plosives are ruining your recording. You’ll also need phones that are efficient — i.e., lots of sound with less power — so you can still monitor even when things get loud.

I like the tiny monitor earphones that musicians now use on stage. Their in-ear canal design fits tight in your ears, providing excellent sound isolation. They have almost full-frequency response; and what you lose in bass, you gain in not looking like a Martian, w/ big cans over your ears, as you approach someone when trying to get an interview.

My recorder of choice is the Sony D50. It’s light, quick to set up, has crazy-long battery life. I love the big-ass volume control. The mic preamps are pretty good, and the internal stereo mics are usable. Here’s a piece I made for NPR on the Long Beach Grand Prix using the D50′s internal mics for many of the driver interviews and the VP88 for the ear-rattling auto sounds.

Barrett uses: Sony PCM-D50 recorder, Shure VP88 stereo condenser mic, Etymotic HF5 In Ear Earphones.

Samantha Broun says: I use the Marantz 661 (Transom review) with either a Beyerdynamic M58 (Electret condenser microphone for ENG/EFP) omni mic or an Audio-Technica AT8035 shotgun (Line + Gradient Condenser Microphone), and Sony 7506 headphones. I bring a Marantz 620 as back up. What I like about the 661 is that it has two XLR inputs. I also like that it’s big enough to have a shoulder strap so that I can carry it over my shoulder (with the level meter in plain view) but it’s not so big that it feels bulky.

On the other hand, what they say about Marantzes is true. They can be a little hissy. So, I wouldn’t go to the mat for either the 661 or the 620. They are simply what I choose from the generous mound of gear that Atlantic Public Media can loan me. No matter what the rig, I will stand by my mics. I use an Audio-Technica 8035b shotgun when I want good, focused sound and the Beyer MCE58 when I want an omni-directional.

Samantha uses: Marantz 661 recorder, Beyer MCE58 and Audio-Technica AT8035b, Sony MDR7506 headphones.

Sony 7506 headphones

Sony MDR7506

Jay Allison says: My usual go-to rig for field work is a SD-722, a combo of a Sennheiser MKH 20 omni condenser and a Sennheiser MKH 416 short shotgun, with Sony 7506 headphones. I use the full condenser Sennheisers because they aren’t affected by humidity like electrets are. Two cardioid Sennhesiers would be a good alternative to a stereo mic like the VP88 for those who want separate mics–handy for interviewing more than one person at a time. The Sennheiser K6 system is awfully useful because you can get lots of capsules for one pre-amp, although I liked the old K3U system even better and still use those.

If I were to take a backup recorder, it would be the TASCAM DR-100mkII. Backup mics are a Sennheiser capsule system, with omni, cardiod, short shotgun, and lavalier.

Also, I use APM’s Neuman RSM 191 MS stereo mic every day for recording my narration and the occasional controlled interview, and I would use it to record music in a live concert setting but it’s crazy overkill and very expensive, even purchased used on Ebay as it was. It’s awfully nice with that 722 though.

If we had an “okay” category, I’d put in the iPhone. I’ve made stuff from things I’ve recorded with just that. Here’s an iPhone recording, using Griffin iTalk Recorder app and built-in mics on an iPhone 4 of Jake Shapiro, in an indoor parking garage, playing a drum I had just bought for my son for Christmas.

Also, the new Apple earbuds are quite good. For “better” over the ear “walkman” style headphones I use the Sennheiser PX 100. They have a model you can use with cell phones too. Very nice for $40-60.

I’m down with the “best” category (although you might add the 702 Portable Audio Recorder) which is cheaper and records only to a card. It’s comforting, though, to have the backup of the hard drive. For “best” headphones, I still like the Sony MDR7506

Jay uses: Sound Devices 722 recorder, Sennheiser MKH20 and MKH416 mics, Sony 7506 headphones (with backup: Tascam DR-100mkII recorder, Sennheiser K3U capsule mics, Sennheiser P100 headphones).

Rob Rosenthal says: Here’s the deal. I’m a radio producer. I’m not up to my neck in cash. So, I can’t buy high-end gear. At the same time, it’s incredibly important to me to use gear that is reliable and sounds great. I think I’ve found a solid middle ground: rugged and quiet equipment that doesn’t strangle my wallet.

My go-to recorder is the Sony D50 (Transom review). It’s like a hand-held tank. It fits solidly in the palm of my hand and feels like I could drop it twenty times and it would still work. All the buttons are exactly where I want them. The screen is bright and provides the info I need. And, if that weren’t enough, it’s quiet as a mouse. I’d have to try hard, really hard, to make a bad recording. The one drawback is the mini-plug mic input. I’d prefer an XLR input. But, with an L-shaped mini-plug connector, I’ve never had a problem with the cable popping out.

My back-up rig is the D50s sister — the Sony M10 (Transom review). It has fewer bells and whistles. It’s smaller. Not quite as rugged. Maybe I could only drop it five times before it bit the dust. But, the sound quality is top notch, just like the D50. In fact, because it’s half the price of the D50, I recommend the M10 for people starting out.

For microphones, I almost always use the Audio Technica AT8035b. Talk about a good sounding mic. Jeezum crow. Love it. And, because it’s a long shotgun mic, I don’t need to get in people’s personal space as much as I do when using my back-up mic, the Electro-Voice RE-50.

Wind poses a challenge for the 8035b. So, whenever I’m outside, I rig the mic in a Rycote wind shield — a shock mount, zeppelin, and wind sock (all lovingly known as a “dead cat”). I’ve used other brands of wind shields but Rycote is the best. And, I should mention, the RE-50 (Electro-Voice RE50N/D-B Handheld Interview Microphone w/ N/DYM Capsule) is great in the wind — no need for a dead cat.

I also have an Audio-Technica AT822 stereo mic and a low-cost set of binaural mics from Sonic Studios but frankly, I don’t use them very often.

Lastly, the headphones. I always wear the Sony MDR7506. First and foremost, they’re comfortable. I don’t want to wear a set of earcuffs for hours and hours — comfort is important. They’re very good at isolating external sound but not so much that it feels like I’m in a sound isolation booth or something. And, they sound great!

So, **without** the back-up equipment and the dead cat, that’s about $800 of gear — D50, 8035b, headphones. You can go cheaper. Pairing the M10 and RE50 will knock the total down to about $500. However, don’t forget batteries, mic cables (I always carry **at least** two), and a gear bag (I use a Tenba which has padded space for a laptop.)

Rob uses: Sony D50 recorder, Audio-Technica AT8035B mic, Sony MDR7506 headphones.

Transom Story Workshop says: Students at the Transom Story Workshop tend to be beginners. Many have never picked up a mic or turned on a recorder before. So, it was important for us to choose a field recording pack that both sounded good and was simple for novices to use. Plus, since the Workshop started from scratch in the fall of 2011, we needed to find gear that fit our start-up budget. We landed on the following and feel we made the right choices:

Recorder: The Sony M10. We can’t say enough about how good this recorder sounds. It’s VERY quiet. And, it has a solid, built-in limiter. Those two components were important to us when selecting a recorder for students because new producers often don’t pay close attention to the levels. Having a quiet recorder and a good limiter helps a student make better recordings. I would have preferred, maybe, the Sony D50. It seems more durable. But, the M10 is solid, lightweight, and has fewer bells and whistles to learn — and it’s half the price.

Mics: We have a slew of mics on hand for the students including the Electro-Voice RE-50, the Beyerdynamic M58 and MCE-58, and the Audio Technica AT8010. I’m a fan of the RE-50 and the MC-58 for new producers because they are more forgiving of mic handling noise. But, all of these are excellent mics.

Headphones: For the price — about $25 — the Sennheiser HD202 is a good set of “cans.” They help isolate external sound, they’re fairly comfortable, and they reproduce sound well. Yeah, they aren’t the Sony MDR-7506s we love, but we were on a budget and everyone is happy with these headphones. Never a problem.

TSW uses: Sony PCM-M10 recorder; Beyer MCE 58 and M58 mics, Audio-Technica 8035B and 8010 mics, Electro-Voice RE50soices RE50 mic; Sony 7506 and Sennheiser HD202 headphones.

Some Other Mics Mentioned Above:

Some Other Recorders and Headphones Mentioned Above:


47 Comments on “Field Gear: Good, Better, Best”

  • James says:

    I was a little surprised the Tascam DR-40 didn’t get a mention as an alternative for some of the other recorders. Alas, I would love to go with a DR100mk2, but it lacks the one killer feature of the DR-40, dual record mode. Oh, I’m not going to blow a recording by peaking out, because I have a -6 or -12 db backup? Sold and sold. Maybe the mk3 will have it.

    Aside from that, well done. I love my 8035, and my Rode NTG1s (it’s the NTG2 without the battery). Great roundup.

    • Jeff Towne says:

      Yeah, I like the Tascam DR-40, especially because of its dual-record mode, but as I mentioned in my comments, it just sounds terrible with an RE-50 or Beyer M-58, so it’s not a great candidate for mixing and matching with any mic. But with a high-output mic like the Rode NTG-1 or 2, or really any condenser mic, the DR-40 is a pretty nice recorder, especially for around $150.

      • James says:

        I have two RE-50s that are the N/D-B style, but I’ve barely touched them. I wonder how they do with the DR-40, since they should have a higher output. I guess I should experiment.

  • Zak R. says:

    As always. Thank you Jeff and Co. This is great. I’m hoping someone can recommend a model of the “tiny monitor earphones that musicians now use on stage” that Barrett mentions. Thanks!

    • Zak, one of the in-ear earphone monitors i use is listed/linked at top, under Headphones. it’s called Etymotic Research HF5. but right now i mainly use a pair by Ultimate Ears, and have used Shures in the past. any quality one will do. good ones start at $150, but you often see a street price closer to $100. as these small earphones are kinda fragile, i always have two w/ me.

  • Henry Howard says:

    A slightly cheaper Sound Devices would be the 702 if you don’t need the internal hard drive. For those that aren’t afraid of used, 702s and 722s show up regularly on e-bay and other sources. They are built like
    tanks.

  • Phil says:

    Thanks for the summary. I’d like to point out that the Sound Devices is a wonderful instrument, and if you don’t need the redundancy of the hard drive, you can get one for $1800 or so. Alot of money, but still, your last recorder.

    Mics: Maybe I missed it, but do the dynamic mics, like the Beyer or the EV635/RE50 play nice with the DR100mk2?

  • Flawn Williams says:

    Here’s another vote for the Sound Devices 702 in the “best recorder” category. Unless you really need the capacity of a hard drive (and CF cards have pretty high capacity these days) or the redundancy of recording to both hard drive and CF, the 702 offers the same preamps and performance as the 722 for 25% less $ (lists for $1875 vs $2500).

    My students and I have had good luck with the Olympus LS10 and LS11 small recorders, both with their built-in mikes and with plugging a handheld omni like an AT8010 into it for mono interviews. Olympus has been propagating a whole slew of later models since the 10 and 11…some are improvements, some are less capable than their forebears. But this line offers great battery life.

    And a pleasant discovery in the mikes dept is the Audio Technica AT875R condenser short shotgun. It offers good directionality coupled with a smoother more pleasant voice tone than most of the hyped-up-sounding short shots out there. Under $200, phantom only, and physically smaller than the Rode NTG2.

    • Flawn Williams says:

      PS: The 702 recorder is also quieter than the 722. In some quiet interview situations, the whirr of the hard drive on a 722 can be picked up in a nearby microphone. But the 702 has no hard drive.

  • Skip Pizzi says:

    Good choices overall. But, as I recall recommending back in the 1980s at NPR on a similar good/better/best list (and if it’s not already obvious), the reporter/producer/recordist kit should never include only a single microphone. There is no one “best” mic for all applications. Just as a photographer may have a preferred single camera but multiple lenses, a recording kit can be built around a single recorder, but with multiple microphones.

    The ideal group should include (1) a shock-mounted dynamic omni, (2) a decent (short) shotgun with one or more windscreens, and (3) a single-point stereo mic — in that order of priority.They are not good/better/best — they are apples and oranges. Regardless of recorder, ideally, you should have one of all three mic types in your kit. And the mics recommended here are all excellent examples of each (e.g., Beyer M58, Sennheiser MKH-416, Shure VP-88). For the latter two mic types, appropriate fishpole with shockmount are also important.

    Also totally agree with Jeff on making your first splurge on the headphones. The Sony MDR-7506 would be my choice for that as well.

    • Skip MuthaFreakin Pizzi, the God of Audio Eng, the Ghost of “The NPR Sound” Past, and the Granddaddy of this Good/Better/Best list. It was your G/B/B list in the early 80s NPR Producers’ Handbook that inspired this very Transom post.

      So many of us then-neophyte producers used your gear-selections as a shopping list. Every time we got a few more shekels for a grant of some-such, we’d see what we could afford a little higher up your totem. Can’t tell you how much and how many people you helped, ‘cept to say: Thanks for that.

      So, to the rest of y’all, suffice to say, pay attn when Skip speaks. Same for Flawn’s comment above. When Skip was Chairman of the NPR-Eng Joint Chiefs, Flawn was one of his 4-Star Generals.

      • Skip Pizzi says:

        Not sure I agree with the chain of command you describe, Barrett, but thanks for the kind comment. Seems like ancient history now, but nice to know it still holds some resonance — and provided a bit of what today we call “economic stimulus.”

        (BTW, lest the above post be misunderstood, there’s no need to stop at those three mics or mic types in building your “ideal” kit. As has been mentioned by Flawn, Jeff and others, more choices and backups are also welcome. One each from those three mic classes are a good *minimum* set.)

  • Mary Jo West says:

    I can’t thank you enough for sending us this INCREDIBLY HELPFUL INFORMATION. THANK YOU!!!!
    Mary Jo West Phoenix, AZ

  • Flawn Williams says:

    Responding to Jay’s description of humidity sensitivity in condenser microphones: he said “I use the full condenser Sennheisers because they aren’t affected by humidity like electrets are.”

    Actually both electret condensers and “full” condensers from most manufacturers can be susceptible to noise caused by high humidity situations. That includes the Neumann RSM-191 Jay mentioned. (I know, because I temporarily lost use of its older sibling the RSM-190 in the Bolivian rainforest.)

    Sennheiser uses a different transducing technology called “RF condenser” in its MKH series of mikes, and that is what gives them their excellent resistance to humidity noise problems. “RF” here stands for “radio frequency”, but this is a different application of radio-frequency than the now-ubiquitous wireless mikes.

    For a long time Sennheiser was the only company using this method, but Rode popped up with the RF conversion method a few years ago in their NTG-3, a shotgun mike that is pricier than the other Rodes mentioned here. Perhaps Rode licensed Sennheiser’s patents, or perhaps those have now expired.

    If you want more technical info on RF condensers, look at:
    http://www.bblist.co.uk/pdf/sennheiser/mkh.pdf

    And what happened when my RSM-190 stopped working in the rainforest? I switched to my backup mikes! Just like everybody says above, ya gotta have backup. In this case, Sennheiser MKH40 cardioid and MKH30 bidirectional mikes set up as an MS pair, which behaved perfectly in the worst of the humidity. These mikes are great performers anywhere from the concert hall to the ends of the earth.

    And I offer eternal thanks to Greg Budney of Cornell U’s Library of Natural Sounds who gave me the advice to make sure I had the Sennheisers with me on that trip.

  • I’m surprised there was no mention of the Zoom H4N here. You’ve done reviews on it before, but how does it compare to the Trascam DR-100mkII or even the Sony PCM M10? I know the DR-40 is supposed to be a more direct comparison, but the M10, DR-100 and the H4N are closer in price and from what I’ve read have sturdier, less plastic-y bodies than the DR-40. I’m just starting out, and I’m looking for a great starter set on a budget–I already have a Zoom H1, which is a great little powerful thing, but way too sensitive for regular use, especially outdoors. I just borrowed a Sony PCM-D50 for my first story and it was GREAT, but for $500, I just can’t afford it. I’m looking to spend no more than $500 total — including an external mic and hopefully headphones — and that’s only because it seems like I can’t really spend less than that to get started. Thoughts? Help!

  • David says:

    Thanks for the comprehensive analysis! I just have a quick point: is Olympus LS-100 so problematic that it hasn’t been mentioned here? I used to to think that at least it can nicely compete with the Tascam DR-100mkII. Jeff, I’m still looking for your LS-100 and DR-100mkII reviews as I want to compare these two.

    • The main goal of this post was to convey gear that we’ve used regularly, for a long while, either as individual producers, or at Transom/Atlantic Public Media, or in the Transom Story Workshop. I’m sure there’s lotsa other great gear out there, and hope folk continue to leave comments about that gear, as you did. But the above Good/Better/Best is all gear we have depended on, so can personally recommend.

  • john dozier says:

    Pizzi, still giving out expensive advice? Dozier

  • LH says:

    Contrary to the official Transom verdict above, I find the combination of Sony PCM-M10M and Beyerdynamic M58 pretty hissy- almost to the point where it’s a problem for professional work. I bought this combination for the reasons given in the article- low handling noise, not too expensive but professional quality- and I now find myself buying a higher output mike to go with the M10.

  • Andrew says:

    Thanks for the great info. I found this page while searching for details about the audio equipment NPR uses for their musical “Field Recordings”. The audio is always really great, despite the sometimes less than ideal environments as you can see on the latest recording of the Civil Wars below. Any idea what kind of mic or other audio gear they might be using for these videos?

    http://www.npr.org/event/music/164632420/the-civil-wars-a-song-of-loyalty-before-its-tested

  • Thanks very much for the info. I’ve mostly done tv work but want a digital recorder since my dslr camera is a bit limited, plus I want to be able to do radio work and I’ve realised my old recorder isn’t up to the job I think. Can anyone suggest the cheapest recorder I could get that would offer broadcast quality audio, something that you’d suggest for a student perhaps? I’ve spent hundreds on my kit already so am on a tight budget. I know I’ll have to buy something second-hand or on ebay which is fine but am hoping to spend around $100… if that’s possible. Thanks.

  • L.T. Hanlon says:

    Has anybody tried the Sony ECM-MS957 stereo microphone? It’s mentioned in the PCM-D50 operating manual.

  • Susan Doran says:

    hi – what a great resource – thank you!

    So….I’m pretty new to all this…and not 100% sure I understand how the Sony PCM-D50 can be used with anything other than a dynamic mic. And yet if I understand what Rob R wrote (above), Rob uses the Sony PCM-D50 and re: “microphones, I almost always use the Audio Technica AT8035b.”

    From my cursory research, the Audio Technica AT8035b appears to be a condenser mic, which I would not think the Sony PCM-D50 can handle. So, how does he make that work? Is it necessary to first purchase the Sony XLR Adapter for $450, which –as I understand it– provides the phantom power necessary to use a condenser mic (as well as allow for the use of XLR hookups)?

    What is stymying me (as I try to figure out what rig to buy) is if the $450 Sony XLR Adapter is not purchased, is there a high enough quality dynamic mic to do professional radio-quality work, using the Sony PCM-D50? I am talking, specifically, about interviews with people in indoor settings, trying to get rich vocal quality, with relatively little background or ambient noise.

    thank you very much!!

  • Ryan Noyes says:

    Greetings from Army life in Kuwait. Comments on recorder and earphones — some by way of reading this article and making purchases. The Sony PCM-D50 has very little advantage, in my opinion, to the M10. The limiter circuitry is the same in both models (important), the preamps are both super quiet, and battery life is great in the Sonys as mentioned. My only gripe: none of the super small digital recorders on the market have separate gain knobs for each channel (one can dream). The M10 has the leg up because it’s smaller. This, to me, is super important. The smaller the device, the more likely it’s going to be on your person AT ALL TIMES. I’m on active duty in the Army (for one year only) as an infantryman (my second rodeo doing this) to put the soldier’s voice on air. I’m trying to capture the canny moments that normally don’t get recorded. To do that the recording gear has to be small and durable. My choice was a PMD 662 with the Oade modification ($500) or the M10 at less than half that price, with a dial gain knob — also critical to me. I bought a belt clip made for a police radio on http://www.theclip.com, drilled a 3/8″ hole in it, found a 1/4″ X 20 flathead screw that measures 1/4″ in length on fastenal.com and screwed the clip right into the tripod mount. Now, that M10 is a belt-worn thing that looks like a beeper. It hides under a combat uniform and hasn’t failed me yet. I plug a Sennheiser wireless receiver into it now, also belt worn just adjacent. I LOVE the setup. Rob, BTW, I’ve dropped mine five times already. Twice on concrete and once in the belly of a DC-10 two days ago.

    After Barry’s raving review on the Etymotic earphones, I picked up a pair. Let me just say this guys: the fidelity in these things is absolutely off the charts for the price. Crazy!!! Music never sounded better. I lost a pair of $400 Shure earphones (left in an aircraft) about five years ago and never bought expensive earbuds again. Though the Shure’s were built better, the Etymotics sound MUCH more flat, accurate and dynamic overall — and only 1/4 of the price. That said, lets face it: they are tiny wires. They break. They get lost and left on airplanes. They are NOT the be all, end all solution to monitoring a recording. IMO, these are nice to have in your kit, but not before first purchasing over-ear “cans.” One more thing: I have to disagree with Barry that these little guys would actually hear plosives well (super low-frequency wind noise, etc.). But, to his point, they isolate sound superbly well — better than over-ear headphones. In fact, they work better than the ear plugs we use on the .50 cal range (I tested that, too ;).

    Finally, on microphones, I think we’ve reached the point where we require our microphone to be self-powered (by battery). These new recorders with 1/8″ stereo mini jack won’t supply phantom power. If we own condensers that require phantom power (I’m in this boat), I think I’m taking the loot to eBay. I’ve decided that the best way to go is to buy a powering module like a Sennheiser K6, and buy capsules for it as funds allow. I frustratingly had this same ideology six years ago when I bought the AKG Blue Line stuff (SE300b, etc.). I should have gone for something w/ an internal battery — big mistake.

    Ryan

  • E says:

    Is the problem with the Marantzs at this point just that the smaller/lighter ones don’t allow for any phantom power, or is it the price? In the “I’m surprised” camp – it seems like something that’s such an industry standard at least deserves a why we’re not including it note.

  • Ryan Noyes says:

    E,
    Yikes! Your post made me go back and I see I made a terrible mistake. I meant to refer to the Marantz *620* (NOT the 662). The 662 is a different classification of recorder. It’s the PMD *620* that’s their tiny one. It’s almost identical in size to a Sony M10, but at more than 7 years of age now, it’s also a complete dinosaur. The biggest change in these tiny recorders is the the quality of their preamplifier. The better a preamp, the quieter your recording when “mic gain” is turned way up. The 620 is hissy in this scenario (Jeff has audio samples on this website) and the M10 generally is not. I have no idea why Marantz never upgraded their 620. If you don’t need phantom power, don’t need an internal hard drive in the recorder, don’t need a microphone gain knob/wheel (vs buttons), there IS a solution.. Our industry’s second-favorite tools nerd (can I say that?) has got to be Doug Oade: http://www.oadebrothers.com. Doug physically removes these hissy Marantz preamps (and many other recorders, too) and replaces them with things of absolute beauty. It’s wonderful surgery, but it’ll cost ya ;)

    R.

  • Kye Yves says:

    Thanks, as always for y’all’s enthusiastic gear advice sharing. I’d really love to see a Tools article on storing equipment and how you travel with gear. I’ve learned a few things the hard way, so I’m always curious how people organize and protect their gear.

  • Corbin says:

    The exclusion of the Oade-modified Marantz PMD-661 mystifies me. This is a great unit, and the preamp mod costs very little relative to the cost of a new 661. The mod eliminates the hissy preamp issue. The Marantz has XLR (48V phantom) as well as miniplug inputs, RCA outs, and a S/PDIF digital in. The only weak point is its underpowered headphone amp, but for interviews, it”ll work just fine. I use mine with an RE-50N D/B and an AT4073a ‘gun, and it sounds great.

  • Sean says:

    Olympus LS-5

    Wonderful! – the Transom Tools recorder recommendations – very inspiring and very helpful.

    Has anyone compared the Olympus LS-5 / 11 to the Sony PCM – M10? If so do they agree with the following reviewers that the LS-5 is better?

    The LS-5 is available in / from Europe and not in the US, but that’s what shipping is for. ; ) Approx $200 plus shipping.

    With thanks.

    - There is a (short) time after which googling should turn to buying / using / making your own mind up. I drastically missed it. But if others may find the following useful – perhaps it wasn’t time so, ER, misspent! ; ) -

    TapersSection – Olympus LS-5 / 11 – ‘Olympus LS-10′ –

    - http://taperssection.com/index.php?topic=156950.0

    TapersSection – Roland R-05 or Olympus LS-5, help me choose -

    - http://taperssection.com/index.php?topic=153963.0

    Very detailed review of both Olympus LS-5 and Sony PCM – M10. LS-5 / 11 recommended over Sony PCM – M10 particularly for _voice_ recording. –

    - http://www.theatreofnoise.com/2010/04/sony-pcm-m10-versus-olympus-ls-10-ls-11.html

    More –

    - http://www.theatreofnoise.com/2010/09/revisiting-sony-pcm-m10-versus-olympus.html

    Best source of recorder reviews – with sound samples – Including LS-5 – see 2012 – German site – AudioTranskription.de -

    - http://www.audiotranskription.de/english/fresh-sounds-in-2012

    “We digress” – Zoon H4n vs Tascam DR 100 Mk II vs Olympus LS 100 -

    - http://www.photographybay.com/2012/03/17/zoom-h4n-tascam-dr-100-mkii-olympus-ls-100-compact-xlr-recorders-compared/

    UK buying source – cvp.com -

    - http://tinyurl.com/aotyevq

    fyi – TapersSection ‘LS-10′ link above has a less expensive French source, “Should browsing turn to buying.” ; ) – Digixo –

    - http://www.digixo.com/audio-mp3/enregistreur-numerique/olympus/p268660-ls-5.html

  • Mark Sommer says:

    Jeff, I notice that no one is recommending using a wireless lavalier mic with a DSLR (in my case a newly purchased Sony A57) to capture the warm, intimate sound of a subject who is moving around at some distance from the camera. I’d like to enable that person to be able to move freely and still film him/her from a distance of 5-25 feet without my having to chase them and impede their spontaneity by being in their way. I’ve been warned by both professionals and customer reviews that wireless lavs in the range of $150-200 (like the Audio Technica PRO88W-R35 Wireless Lavalier System with ATR3350mW Omnidirectional Mic) pick up static and rustling of clothes and that to avoid them one has to spring for something like the $600 Sennheiser EW122P G3 EW122-P Wireless Lav Mic. I know that any lav mic won’t compare with the sound of a good handheld mic but since I’m filming as well and don’t want to mic in view, it seems a lav mic is the only way to go. If I’m also recording myself, will a $200 range lav mic work well enough for that purpose? I also have a three-year-old Sony PCM-M10 that’s been dropped a few times but still appears to work. I could graduate to a Tascam DR40 to capture the external lav mic sound or plug the receiver directly into the Sony A57. Which arrangement would you recommend? Many thanks for any advice you can offer.

  • Cleo says:

    Hi!

    I’m a senior in high school just getting into radio journalism. I’m doing a story about the Appalachian Trail and need to get some recording equipment that is relatively simple. Which combination of recorder/mic/headphones/carrying case do you recommend to start with?

  • Daisy says:

    Hi, I want to combine the Sony PCM with the beer dynamic M-58 N (C). Will it work? What adapters would you recommend?

  • The Sony PCM D50 is discontinued!?! What’ll I do? The price is in the $700-$800 range now. Should I wait for the next generation, or just settle for the M10?

    I’m new to the game, but still receiving student loan money. I have the money to buy the gear, but the gear I buy now will most likely be my only gear for the next 5 years. Will the M10 and a fine condenser do it? Should I worry less about the internals and just go with the Trascam DR-100mkII? In the age of backpack journalism I like the idea of not even needing a mic.

    I already have a Mackie Onyx Blackjack DAW for interviews where portability and immediacy are not a concern. I’m leaning toward the M10, or waiting for the D50′s replacement. What do you think?

  • sans2013 says:

    Hi Jeff – great article – hoping you can help me. I just bought the Tascam DR100MKii and have been testing it out with my mics. I am using the 7506 headphones for reference. I do not have shotgun mics yet but am keen to get the NTG2 or if I can get enough cash to splurge on NTG3. Firstly I would like to hear your suggestion regarding this, secondly I have tried my wireless lavalier mics and the noise floor is crazy. When I put my Samson CO3 studio condenser mic on it, its much better but still has slight noise floor, this level I can live with but I really want to use my lavaliers, I usually get great sound when I use them in live shows however in live shows we never listen that close to noise floor. My purpose is for film sound so I really don’t want to be out in the field and then capture ‘horrible’ sound cos then that would be a major quality setback for my projects. Don’t really have time or funds for ADR’s afterwards. My headsets lavaliers are JTS. Any help would be awesome. Help from anyone else would be great too. Thanks

  • Costa says:

    After reading this excellent guide, and doing some crafty searching on eBay, I went with the M58 and DR-100MKII. Both proved to be great on their own and combined.
    I’ve got useable audio from impromptu interviews conducted in a noisy pub, which was really a nice surprise.
    I also recorded my band’s gig on Thursday using the uni mics on the DR with the machine on a table in the middle of the club and the results were fantastic.
    Taped some meetings (instead of taking notes) using the omni and got a decent recording that was easy to decipher.
    All in all, a great combo for less than 450$.

    Thanks for the advice!

  • OOne of the greatest blog I have read forever. I really want to say that you are doing an excellent job for those person who love to listening everything on headphone.

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