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Portable audio recording device

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Jack Taranto
Portable audio recording device
on Sep 4, 2008 at 7:00:21 am

For a long time I have wanted a portable sound recorder. Now I'm at the stage to get one but...

The current models in my price range (< $500) Don't seem to quite cut the cheese. I've been researching it for some time now and I can't find anything good.

I need:
XLR Inputs (switchable between mic and line + 48V phantom power)
Digital recording (WAV & MP3)
Decent Built-in mics
Good volume Controls!

The Zoom H4 has really been my current pick, though it is a cheap device and it's operation reflects this with crummy menu driven controls for levels and input selection. Though the price is right and the features list almost fit.

The only other I have come across is the Marrantz PM660, though it isn't quite up to scratch with it's MP3 recording (only does it at 128kbps) and you cannot switch the XLR inputs to line.

Can anyone suggest another model that I have perhaps overlooked. The recorder is going to be used to record separate sound for HDV footage, sounds around society and nature (with built in mic), voice recordings, bands, etc.




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David Jones
Re: Portable audio recording device
on Sep 4, 2008 at 3:34:21 pm

Hi Jack

Well, you're pretty much correct in your findings; you're not going to find the recording device with everything you've described and in that price range.

I have an M-Audio Microtrack II, which has balanced inputs w/48v power, switchable mic/line, but are not XLRs; they're 1/4" phone jacks. It records up to 24bit/96K, but has meters with no numbers and probably feels as cheap as the Zoom H4. I got it mostly to provide transcriptions for producers.

It seems everybody-and-their-brother is coming out with these small recording devices, most lacking something a professional would want. The bottom line is that you're most likely not going to find something that has XLRs and a built-in mic.

Probably the overall best one out there, is the Sony PCM-D1. But it's $1,800! You might as well get the Sound Devices 702 and use your own mics. Sony does have another one out...the PCM-D50 at $599 (or less). Again, probably the best built one in that price range but not all the features you want.

Hopefully this helps.


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Rodney Morris
Re: Portable audio recording device
on Sep 5, 2008 at 2:41:00 am

I use the Zoom H4 for transcription recording. While the Zoom H4 does have XLR inputs, they are not line level selectable. They are mic inputs with varying degrees of input sensitivity (Lo/Mid/Hi via switches on the side). You can adjust the gain of each channel via the menu (some diving involved). It's not exactly convenient, but for only $300 it works well enough for transcription duty. The lack of line level input is really annoying though.



Freelance Sound Technician/Mixer


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Jack Taranto
Re: Portable audio recording device
on Sep 5, 2008 at 7:19:01 am

Thanks guys.

I did have a sneaking suspicion that the H4's XLR inputs were not line level selectable. Although it was not specifically stated anywhere.

What is the build quality like? Does it feel "plasticy" and cheap?

The M-audio Microtrack looks nice, I guess the problem is converting XLR down to 1/4" jack.


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David Jones
Re: Portable audio recording device
on Sep 5, 2008 at 3:22:29 pm

I didn't realize the H4 had XLR inputs. That's strange though, that it's not switchable to line.

The Microtrack II seems to have the most options (minus XLR inputs, though they are balanced). It also has a 1/8" TRS mic input, as well as a S/PDIF for digital recording. The "built-in" mic is actually detachable; it plugs in on top via 1/8" stereo plug. It does feel "plasticy" cheap, though. And I'm not a fan of the meters. There's no indication where -20db is. Or 0db for that matter. After some chatting on the Microtrack website, I did get some info about them.


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Rodney Morris
Re: Portable audio recording device
on Sep 5, 2008 at 3:36:27 pm

Yeah, the H4 feels plasticky and cheap. One good drop would do it in. Though in all fairness, you wouldn't want to drop ANY recorder.

I was a little disappointed that the XLR's weren't line level selectable. But I feed it with a mic level feed from my Sound Devices 442 and it works fine (for transcription purposes). I've not done any A/B tests to see how good the AD conversion is, but on $300 unit I have my suspicions.

Freelance Sound Technician/Mixer


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Andrew Commiskey
Re: Portable audio recording device
on Sep 5, 2008 at 9:18:07 pm

The H4 does have line level inputs (you have to convert the XLR to TRS 1/4" plugs) I have one and while the sound is OK I have had problems with basic operation and workflow. It does not retain operation settings when you remove the memory card which disconnects the batteries. (A SD card to USB adaptor is much faster for transferring files than through the H4's USB output) The operating system is cumbersome and not friendly if you are in a hurry. I recently got an Olympus LM-10 and I am much happier. OS is straight forward, it is smaller and the on board mics sound better. You can also adjust volume without going into the menu. It has no XLR's but my mixer has a 1/8" stereo out.
Hope this helps.
Drew

Chaos is the beginning of everything.


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Rodney Morris
Re: Portable audio recording device
on Sep 6, 2008 at 1:41:50 am

Thanks Andrew for the info on the line level 1/4" inputs. I don't remember seeing that in the manual - maybe I should look again.

Freelance Sound Technician/Mixer


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Jeff Mack
Re: Portable audio recording device
on Sep 9, 2008 at 5:54:31 pm

I always wonder why a laptop and a FW interface is not deemed a portable setup. I feel your options are much better to get a better sound.

Jeff



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