Field Recorder Compare/Contrast
So, I've decided to drop some cash on a solid-state field recorder, to serve the dual purpose of gathering sound effects as well as production sound for film shoots. I am met with three options within my price range (please tell me if there is a good one that I've missed!): The Edirol R-4, The Marantz PMD671 and the Fostex FR-2. Besides the obvious difference between the R-4 and the rest, can anybody advise me with a compare and contrast concerning the pros and cons of these units?
I bought an FR2 last year to record production sound on a short film in Spain, I experienced only one problem throughout the 4 week shoot and that was more to do with the internal software having trouble with a very full 2gig CF card. Otherwise it performed flawlessly. I loved the file naming feature, I bought a cheap keyboard to speed that up. It is an easy machine to operate, fairly robust, but I would recommend an external battery setup if you are away from mains power for more that a couple of hours. The 8 AA internal batteries are not worth much in terms of longevity.
Couple of questions, Rob: how much recording time were you actually able to wring out of that 2GB card, and how did the Fostex's mic pre's fare? Were you running directly into it, or was there some intermediary device?
I was recording at 48khz@24bit, since the film was shot on DV there was no good reson to go higher. So i was getting around 4hrs on the 2gig card and half on a 1gig card, both cards performed flawlessly and since we were doing all the syncing in post from a simple clap at start of take, having discreet files for each take/shot made the syncing a breeze.
I have been told by a Doug Oade of Oade Brothers that the FR2 mic pre's leave something to be desired and since I was running sound on my tod I decided to buy a Sound Devices 302 to handle the mics and give me some leeway in levels (it has a brilliant limiter) I could easily have gone straight in but really wanted the 302 as an addition to the kit, plus it gave me some backup if the FR2 went awol, ie I could go straight to camera via the 302 and keep the levels sweet.
I did find out that Doug Oade's company sell the FR2 with a mod on the mic pre's making them better sonically. Try them out.
I've had an FR-2 for about a year now and have only a few complaints. One of my biggest annoyances with the device is that the screws that attach the neck strap to the chassis are prone to working their way loose. When pricing the FR-2 be sure to take into account the cost of a portabrace (don't bother with Fostex's field bag, since it blocks access to all the top-panel controls as well as the battery cover). As has already been mentioned by another poster, the FR-2 eats AA's like popcorn. I found that rechargeable NIHM AA's provided a longer lifespan than alkalines, but you'll eventually want to go for a more rhobust battery system, such as an NP-1.
I recently had mine fitted with a timecode card (which finally became available almost a year after the FR-2 hit the shelves). I was annoyed to find out that the first few production runs of the FR-2 (such as mine) needed to have modifications made to the power systems before they could physically accomidate the card. Fortunately, I was able to get the modifications done locally rather than sending the unit to Montreal. I've been told that the newer models will accomidate the cards without any resoldering. Of course, now that the card's in there, it's been working fine.
I've only once encountered file system problems. After filling up a 1GB compact flash card, I deleted the first few files and resumed recording. After powering down, I found that it would not reload that particular CF card. The card worked fine in my mac's CF reader, and worked fine in the FR-2 once I downloaded the contents and cleared them from the card. I would reccomend that you avoid deleting files and fragmenting the data contents of the drive, and that you always carry spare cards.
The preamps on the FR-2 are better than most other recorders in the price range. Personally, I prefer to use my PSC M4 mkII mixer's preamps since it's pots are easier to work with and I can provide an additional output to the camera when we're not shooting on film. Additionally, I can connect the FR-2 to the M4's 12V power output, and run the whole ball of wax on the M4's internal NP-1. The M4 also provides additional inputs, stereo linking, independant phantom power switches for all channels, M-S decoding, and a comprehensive selection of headphone monitoring options.
I've heard reports of wireless recievers picking up RF noise from the FR-2, so you should definately test it with your wireless mics first.
While you're comparing recorders, though, you should check out the Sound Devices 722 and 744T. I recently used a 744T on a video shoot of a live musical performance, and was duly impressed. One rather neat feature is that it used the same batteries as my Sony handycam. Still, the endless menus of the 744T quickly became very anoying, and I wouldn't want to have to use one without a SD 442 on the front-end (since channels 3 and 4 on the 744T have neither mic preamps nor limiters).
I haven't used the Edirol R-4, but the lack of a timecode option (a drawback shared by the SD 722 and the Marantz PMD671) severly limits it's potential flexibility. I also find the presence of built in reverb effects makes me vaguely uneasy about it.