One of the easiest ways to improve your production, be it podcast, radio, film, or music, is to take a look at the type of device into which you are recording your audio. Most pros know—and will tell you—not all audio is captured equally. Integrating a portable digital recorder into your rig may seem like an obvious solution, but it is often overlooked, and is an excellent way to improve your audio quality.
As the audio needs of professionals and hobbyists alike run a gamut of complexity, from simple to intricate, a generous array of portable digital recorders has been spawned. These numerous recorders have vastly differing feature sets, and some will make more sense for certain applications than others. There are recorders with built-in microphones, some that can record directly to internal flash memory, and others that track to external SD cards. So, which ones will work for your audio needs?
Camera Mountable and Multi-Input
A good place to start dividing up the pack is to examine your audio needs. What are you recording? Do you require built-in mics, inputs for external mics, or both? If you shoot DSLR video, you will likely want something that is camera mountable with a built-in mic (or two) that can incorporate an external mic, such as a shotgun or lavalier.
Let’s take a look at some of the larger portable recorders available. These selections tend to feature multiple inputs and built-in mics, and can be used for mounting on cameras, or recording speakers or musicians.
For years now, the Zoom H4n Handy has become a go-to solution in this sort of application (among others). Its built-in XY stereo mics can be set to 90 or 120 degrees, depending on how wide a field you want to pick up. The H4n also has two XLR/TRS mic pres that allow you to hook up additional mics for close miking or shotgun applications. It will record your audio to external SD cards up to 32GB.
The Tascam DR-40, like the H4n, is capable of recording up to four tracks simultaneously via its built-in stereo mics and two XLR/TRS combo inputs. The DR-40’s internal stereo mics, however, can be switched between XY and AB recording patterns. Also from Tascam, the DR-100mkII has dual cardioid and dual omnidirectional mics built in, and supports external mics via its two XLR inputs. It is geared toward musicians, podcasters, and broadcast applications and includes a wired remote control.