Whether it’s a Zoom field recorder or an equally good device from Tascam, you will need one if you aim to record crisp, clear sounds in an environment extremely unfriendly for the job. And since there are so many of them on the market, finding the best audio field recorder is difficult, especially for someone who is using it for the first time. So, in order to help you get the top-of-the-line item perfect for your recording job, we have compiled this handy buyer’s guide for field recorders.
Tech 101: What Is a Field Recorder?
A field recorder is a portable device that captures audio anywhere you take it. Musicians and especially filmmakers use field recorders often. However, while these portable devices are incredibly useful, you need to be careful before getting one. If not, you can end up with a pricy recorder that bleeds audio from outside, producing poor-quality results.
Field Recorder Buyer’s Guide
Depending on what you want to record, you might need an audio recorder with more than two microphone inputs. Most recorders come with onboard stereo mics, as well as XLR/TRS connectors for external mics. So, just to be on the safe side, get a recorder that can cover up to six different tracks at once.
Self-noise is the type of noise that electrons produce when they move in a circuit, and it’s also known as Equivalent Input Noise or EIN. It tends to sound like white noise or a continuous hum during a recording. And while EIN is not a problem when you’re recording loud, booming material, it can be incredibly distracting or annoying when you try to capture quiet sounds.
Acceptable levels of EIN for any recording will usually vary between -110 and -130 dBu, with -130 being the optimal choice. On the other hand, anything between -110 and -100 dBu will result in noisy audio recordings.
The field recorder of your choice ought to support recording in several formats, such as MP3 and WAV. But more importantly, it should record high-quality audio in high resolution. The most common choice for field recorder users seems to be 24-bit/96 kHz. But if you can get your hands on a recorder that goes past 24-bit/192 kHz, or even if it records DSD-level audio, don’t hesitate to buy it,
This feature is pretty self-evident — the more storage room your recorder has, the more tracks it will save. Obviously, you can simply use the internal memory, but once it’s full, you will have to transfer your data and delete it from the device itself. Luckily, most modern recorders come with external memory slots, specifically for MicroSD cards. On average, the card can handle anything between 2 GB and 1 TB of data. The only real issue is the fact that you might have to take several memory cards with you at all times during recordings.
All portable devices get their power from batteries. That is why it’s important to get a recorder with long battery life. Right now, some of the best field recorders will run anywhere between 3 and 44 hours non-stop before the battery goes dead. If you buy a recorder that uses disposable batteries, make sure to have a few extra sets with you in case they run out. On the other hand, some recorders have a built-in battery or use rechargeable batteries specific to the model. Should you opt for this kind of recorder, make sure to charge the batteries fully before recording.
Naturally, there are plenty of other different features you need to look out for when purchasing a field recorder. Here’s a handy little list to help you nail your search:
- Type of casing (metal or plastic; both have their advantages and disadvantages)
- AC adapter
- PC connectivity
- Direct audio interfacing
- Wind protection
- Recorder case
- A remote control and a receiver
Picking the right recorder can be hard, especially since various users will need it for different reasons. A journalist will not need the same kind of recorder as a filmmaker would, or a musician. Hopefully, this guide will help you figure out which field recorder works best for you and your situation. And if it does, don’t hesitate to pay a little extra for the device — a good recorder, carefully used, can perform well for decades.