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 2014 (approximate street price in USD):
- Compact, convenient, take-everywhere recorder: Sony PCM-M10 (Transom review) – $240
- Sonic clarity in a small package: Sony PCM-D100 (Transom review) – $800
- Affordable sound quality with XLR mic inputs: Tascam DR-100mkII (Transom review) – $270
- Reporter’s workhorse: Marantz PMD 661 (Transom review) – $600
- Simultaneous interview/ambience recording: Zoom H4n (Transom review) – $200 – OR Tascam DR-40 (Transom review) – $200
- Ultimate sound quality: Sound Devices 702/722 (Transom review) – $1,800/$2,400
Recommended External Microphones:
- Omnidirectional, Condenser: Audio Technica AT8010 – $160
- Short Shotgun, Condenser: Rode NTG2 – $270
- Sennheiser K6 powering module + Sennheiser ME66 short shotgun capsule – $250/$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-M10/D50/D100, Marantz PMD 661, Tascam DR-100mkII/DR-60D/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.
Recorder Pros and Cons (with links to Transom reviews)
|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.|
|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.|
|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.|
|Marantz PMD 620
|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.|
|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.|
|Sound Devices 702/722
|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.|
Recorder Feature Comparison Chart
|model||external 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
|Sony PCM-M10||mini||2-very good quality (omni)||condenser||no||MicroSD Memorystick||AA (2) very long > 24 hours||W: 2.5″
Wt: 6 -5/8 oz
|Zoom H4n||XLR/mini||2-very good quality||condenser||no||SD||AA (2) 6-11 hours||W: 70mm
|only in multitrack mode||$300|
|Marantz PMD 661||XLR||2-very good quality||any||yes (coax)||SD||AA (4) 6 hrs||W: 3.7″
Wt: 14 oz.
|Olympus LS10||mini||2-good quality||any||no||SD||AA (2) 12 hours||W:1.9″
Wt: 5.8 oz
|Marantz PMD 620||mini||2-good quality||any||no||SD||AA (2) 4 hrs||W: 2.5″
Wt 4 oz
|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)
Pretty darn helpful, right?
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