Portable Digital Recorder Comparison
Is there a definitive field recorder we think you should buy? No. Do we have opinions about all the choices that are out there? You bet. See a summary of our humble opinions in the charts below.
Also, please see our Good-Better-Best recommendations.
Current Recommendations – fall of 2012 (approximate street price in USD):
- Compact, convenient, take-everywhere recorder: Sony PCM-M10 ($240)
- Sonic clarity in a small package: Sony PCM-D50 ($450)
- Affordable sound quality with XLR mic inputs: Tascam DR-100mkII ($270)
- Reporter’s workhorse: Marantz PMD 661 ($600)
- Affordable music/ambience recording: Zoom H2 ($200)
- Simultaneous interview/ambience recording: Zoom H4n OR Tascam DR-40
- Ultimate sound quality: Sound Devices 702/722 ($1,800/$2,400)
Recommended External Microphones:
- Omnidirectional, Condenser: Audio Technica AT 8010 ($160)
- Short Shotgun, Condenser: Rode NTG2 ($270)
- Sennheiser K6 powering module ($250) + Sennheiser ME66short shotgun capsule ($210). Additional capsules can be purchased (Omni, Cardioid, Lavalier, etc) to work with the K6. This can be more economical and compact than purchasing and carrying several different microphones.
- note: we cannot recommend dynamic microphones such as the Electrovoice RE-50 or Beyer M-58 for use with most of these flash recorders. The Sony PCM-D50, Marantz PMD 661, Tascam DR-100mkII, Tascam HD-P2 and Sound Devices recorders may provide adequate clean gain with dynamic mics, but the rest of these models require higher-output microphones in order to make clean recordings when using the external mic inputs. Using dynamic mics with these recorders with quiet sources, such as the spoken voice, will, in most cases, result in hissy, low-level recordings.
|Upgraded (cleaner) mic inputs compared to original DR-100. XLR mic inputs with standard phantom power, hardware switches for inputs and other controls, dual power sources (both AA and rechargeable battery), easy to use, good built-in stereo mics, good audio quality with any external microphones, simple menu structure, protective soft sleeve included.||AA battery life is short. Battery-source menu is clunky. Mono/stereo record-mode setting is buried in a series of menus. No true single-track mono recording. Too large for a pocket. No AC power supply provided.|
|XLR mic inputs with phantom power. Clean mic preamps. Very good sound quality with built-in or external mics. Beeps if left in record-pause. Power cord provided.||Rechargeable Li-Ion battery only. Complicated multi-step menu structure for simple tasks, including recording. Too many recording options. Weak headphone amp.|
|XLR mic inputs with phantom power. Small, sturdy and affordable. Built-in mics sound good. 4-Channel recording capability. Dual Recording mode makes safety track at lower gain. True mono recording saves disc space. Good battery life.||Poor sound quality with external dynamic mics and other low-output microphones. Up/Down rocker for input gain rather than knob. Most controls accesed by menus rather than knobs and switches.|
|Small, sturdy and affordable. Built-in microphones are somewhat tolerant of wind and handling noise. Good sound quality with internal or external mics. 4-gigs of built-in memory. 5-second pre-record buffer. Great battery life. AC power adapter included. Small speaker for playback.||Uses Micro SD or Memorystick media for additional storage, not standard SD cards. No cover for USB connector.|
|Simultaneous 4-track recording from internal mics and external inputs, very good quality built-in mics, XLR inputs and phantom power for external mics, additional minijack mic input, useful Automatic Gain Control, long record times on standard AA batteries, AC power adapter included.||Weak gain with external dynamic microphones, some background hiss with external mics, menu navigation more complex than other recorders.|
|Inexpensive, small, easy to use, good built-in stereo mics, good audio quality with external condenser microphones, uses easy-to-find AA batteries, simple menu structure.||Weak gain with external dynamic microphones, slight background hiss, cannot record mono files, 1/8″ mic input, power cord not included.|
|Easy to use, good built-in stereo mics, good audio quality with external condenser microphones, simple menu structure.||Weak gain with external dynamic microphones, slight background hiss, cannot record mono files, 1/8″ or 1/4″ mic input, rechargeable battery only, power cord not included.|
|XLR mic inputs with standard phantom power, hardware switches for inputs and other controls, dual power sources (both AA and rechargeable batteries), easy to use, good built-in stereo mics, good audio quality with external condenser microphones, simple menu structure, protective soft sleeve included.||Weak gain with external dynamic microphones, slight background hiss, cannot record mono files, too big for a pocket, power cord not included.|
|Marantz PMD 661
|XLR mic inputs with standard phantom power, very good sound quality with a wide range of external microphones, large bright display, slanted LED meter readable from several positions, shoulder strap allows hands-free operation, gapless track division, recording configurations can be stored as presets, true mono file recording, up to 24-bit 96khz recording, S/PDIF digital input..||Larger and heavier than the new pocket-sized recorders, mediocre built-in microphones, changing configurations requires clicking through many menus, time info and level info shown on separate pages of display.|
|HHb FlashMic DRM-85||Excellent sound quality, easy operation, integrated mic and recorder, effective Automatic Gain Control, professional appearance, good battery life, records mono files.||Expensive, mic is large and heavy, no memory card slot, only one gig of built-in memory, only one microphone pick-up pattern (omni or cardioid,) basic model has no line-input.|
|Olympus LS10||Very small, good sound quality with external mics, input gain knob, 2 gigs of built-in memory, good battery life, USB2 file transfer.||Built in mics are over-bright and wind-sensitive, cannot record mono files, 1/8″ mic input, no digital in, no power cord supplied.|
|Good sound quality with external mics, adjustable built-in mics, sturdy construction, large input gain knob, 4 gigs of internal memory, good battery life, hardware switches for many functions, gapless track division.||Built-in mics are very wind sensitive, windscreen is expensive, cannot record mono files, 1/8″ mic input, a little too large to be pocket-sized, only uses Sony memory cards,|
|Good sound quality with external mics, small, light, one-button record, config presets, mono recording, gapless track division.|
|Marantz PMD 660||XLR inputs, good meters, recording config presets, mono recording, gapless track division.||Hissy with some dynamic mics, input distorts with some condenser mics, comparatively large and heavy, no digital input.|
|4-channel surround recording, good built-in mics, very small, inexpensive, easy to use, quick start-up.||Loud hiss on external mic inputs, clipping on line-input, no digital in, no phantom power, mini jack only external mic input.|
|Zoom H4||Easy to use, good built-in mics, XLR mic inputs, phantom power.||Fine input volume control is buried in a menu, built-in mics very wind-sensitive, case transmits handling noise, single channel recording complicated to set-up, unintuituve menu navigation, no digital input.|
|Ease of use, small, hardware switches or buttons for major functions.||Noticable hiss on all inputs, no digital in, no phantom power, mini jack only external mic input.|
|M-Audio Microtrack 24/96||Balanced mic inputs, digital input, clean sound, mono recording.||Built-in rechargable battery not field-swappable, non-standard phantom power voltage (fixed on Microtrack Mark II), TRS mic inputs not as convenient as XLR.|
|XLR inputs with phantom power, excellent sound quality, optional padded case, good meters, large display, gapless track division, configuration presets, time code for sync to video or film.||Larger and heavier than other recorders, plastic case, expensive, menus can be hard to navigate, low gain for dynamic mics, speaker is on by default if no headphones connected.|
|XLR Inputs with phantom power, Excellent sound quality, metal construction, flexible recording options, reliable meters, long recordng times possible to 722’s hard drive, gapless track division.||Expensive, heavy, larger than the pocket recorders, batteries hard to recharge in the field.|
mic input type
|built-in mics||best external mics||digital audio input||memory card type||battery type/
approx battery life
|dimensions||(single track) mono recording||Street Price (USD)|
|Tascam DR-40||XLR||2-very good quality||condenser||no||SD/SDHC||AA (3) 12-18 hours||W: 70mm
Wt: 213g (w/o batteries)
|Sony PCM-M10||mini||2-very good quality (omni)||condenser||no||MicroSD
|AA (2) very long > 24 hours||W: 2.5″
Wt: 6 -5/8 oz (w/batt)
|Zoom H4n||XLR/mini||2-very good quality||condenser||no||SD||AA (2) 6-11 hours||W: 70mm
|only in multitrack mode||$300|
|Tascam DR-07||mini||two-good quality||condenser||no||SD||AA (2) 10 hours||W: 2.2″
|Tascam DR-1||mini and 1/4″||two-good quality||condenser||no||SD||removable rechargeable only 6 hours||W: 2.8″
|Tascam DR-100||XLR||four||condenser||no||SD||removable rechargeable + AA (2) 10 hours||W: 3.2″
|Marantz PMD 661||XLR||2-very good quality||any||yes (coax)||SD||AA (4) 6 hrs||W: 3.7″
H: 1.4 ”
Wt: 14 oz.
|HHb FlashMic DRM-85||none||1-excellent quality||n/a||no||none – built-in memory only (1 gig)||AA (2) 10 hours||Length: 9.6″
Wt: 14 oz (w/batteries)
|Olympus LS10||mini||2-good quality||any||no||SD||AA (2) 12 hours||W:1.9″
Wt: 5.8 oz (w/batteries)
|Sony PCM-D50||mini||2-very good quality||any||yes (optical)||Sony Memory Stick Pro Duo/Pro-HG Duo||AA (4) 12 hours||W: 2.88″
Wt: 12.9 oz (w/batteries)
|Marantz PMD 620||mini||2-good quality||any||no||SD||AA (2) 4 hrs||W: 2.5″
Wt 4 oz
|Marantz PMD 660||XLR||2-poor quality||condenser||no||CF||AA (4) 3 hrs||W: 4.5″
Wt: 1.1 lbs.
|Zoom H2||mini||4-very good quality||none||no||SD||AA (2) 6 hrs||W: 2.5″
Wt: 3.9 oz
|Zoom H4||XLR||2-very good quality||condenser||no||SD||AA (2) 6 hrs||W: 2.75″
Wt: 6.7 oz.
|Edirol R-09||mini||2-very good quality||none||no||SD||AA (2) 6 hrs||W: 2.5″
Wt: 6 oz.
|M-Audio Microtrack 24/96||TRS and mini||very good T-mic (included)||condenser||yes||CF||built in rechargeable only 3 hrs||W: 2.4″
Wt: 4.9 oz.
|Tascam HD-P2||XLR||1-poor quality||any||yes||CF||AA (8) 6 hrs||W: 9.7″
Wt: 4.3 lbs.
|Sound Devices 702/722||XLR||none||any||yes||CF||removable rechargeable 3 hrs||W: 4.9″
Wt: 2.6 lbs. (722)
2.1 lbs. (702)
|yes||$1,800 (702) $2,400 (722)|