Some of my most popular posts on this blog have concerned digital audio recorders. Between 2008 and 2010 companies released a steady stream of new models, utilising 24-bit A/D and SD card storage. These recorders were a godsend to those of us interested in field recording, since now we had access to smaller, more efficient, and less expensive units. It is no coincidence that field recording has flourished in the last five to seven years. This is enabling technology.
Most of the new recorders were targeted at the high SPL regime of band practice, live music, or interviews. Their microphone pre-amps were designed to withstand high signal level without distortion, but tended to be relatively noisy at low input levels.
My goal was to determine which models were fit for field recording. I bought several and borrowed others. I read extensively across all available information sources, some of which I list at the end of this post. Ultimately I made a choice perfect for my own practice, the Olympus LS-5 (or LS-11, or LS-10, all variants on fundamentally the same recorder). My detailed articles and comparison tables enabled others with different priorities to make their own decisions.
I've been rather silent on this topic in the last few years, for the simple reason that there have been no outstanding break-through in this area. Nonetheless, recent discussions on social media make this a good time to update my comparison table. I'll also pull together a list of historical articles, since they contain much information that is still useful.
My table sorts affordable recorders in order of increasing size. I've estimated the volume in cubic mm by multiplying the linear dimensions. Mass in grams is listed alongside the retail price. For this table I've switched from dollars to Euro, taken from German store Thomann. Defunct models have been omitted, although you might still find them on the secondary market.
The list is divided into three categories. Pocket recorders are less than 200 cubic mm, hence small enough to carry with you at all times. None of these are large enough to accommodate XLR sockets, instead providing a 3.5mm stereo input with plug-in power (PIP), perfect for powering small electret microphones. They also include built-in microphones, sometimes of surprisingly good quality.
Hand recorders are too big for any but the largest pockets, but are nonetheless still lightweight. All have built-in microphones and most have XLR connections, so you can hook up studio mics that require up to 48V. (Though there's no guarantee a portable recorder can provide that much juice.)
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