Best gear for taking field recordings while traveling?
June 22, 2009 12:00 PM   Subscribe

What compact gear setup is be best for taking general-purpose environmental audio field recordings while traveling?

I'm heading off to New Zealand in November and plan on taking as many field recordings as I can — of the city, of the country, of machinery, of the weather, of people, of water, etc. Can anyone recommend compact, durable, high-capacity devices with which to do this? My hope is for a digital recorder that accepts an XLR mic, both of which should be on the smallish side, but I'm as yet unsure which particular makes and models would work best for capturing the environmental sounds I'm seeking.

(I do realize that there are other threads about field recording technology, but at this point they're quite old, and I'm sure infinitely better devices have been produced in the interim.)
posted by colinmarshall to Technology (7 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I haven't used a huge swath of competing devices, but I'm pretty happy with the Zoom H4n. It's got built-in mics, as well as inputs for either 1/4" plugs or XLRs. Has quite a few options, but is easy enough to get going, and sounds remarkably good, in my opinion. You can record up to 4 channels at once; there's also an option for using it like a 4track.

Previously, I've used a minidisc recorder with lavalier mic, a portable DAT with shotgun mic, a hand-held cassette recorder, and hauled a rack-mounted Pro Tools system for location recording. This fits in my bag, takes AA batteries, and is a great compromise between portability and functions.

additional pros: copying files off the card just involves plugging it in via USB. Hooray for faster-than-realtime-transfer!
cons: the manual was hard for me to comprehend, though I figured most everything out just by scrolling through the menus.
posted by dubold at 12:15 PM on June 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

Seconding the Zoom. I didn't jump right in with this suggestion since I use it to record vocal music, but I can attest to the quality of the recordings and its excellent features.

As dubold said, the device's own menus can be irritating (though all the things you need on the go - level adjustment, input selection, etc. - are readily accessible), but transferring files to computer is a breeze and makes for easy editing.

It's also extremely light and, so far, very durable. It actually looks a little cheap, but that matte gray plastic shell is just disguising the technical brilliance beneath.
posted by philotes at 12:59 PM on June 22, 2009

check your MeFi Mail - sent you a link to some audio samples.
posted by dubold at 12:59 PM on June 22, 2009

nthing the Zoom H4. Best bang for your buck and easy to travel with. Great piece of equipment.
posted by Lutoslawski at 1:16 PM on June 22, 2009

I'm going to un-nth the Zoom. There are definitely better recorders out there for the money. The zoom stuff always seems to have issues. Especially if you are using an external mic. Their preamps have been wonky.

I have an Olympus LS-10 and I'm pretty happy with it. I've heard good things about the preamps, although I haven't used them. It feels solid in the hand, nice microphones.

I was just talking to some musician friends and we all agreed that our old (non-himd) minidiscs sounded better than anything. You can get them on Ebay really cheap. I kind of wish I was still using that instead.

Check out and for a lot of information and reviews.

Seriously, do a lot of reading before you get the Zoom. Tascam has some nice stuff out there. XLR jacks are going to be hard to find, but it's easy to get an XLR to 1/8 inch cable.
posted by sully75 at 3:50 PM on June 22, 2009

Yeah. The Zoom, although a generally competent device is not very durable.

Marantz is often overlooked but I've had a portable DAT of theirs as well as their PMD-660K and have to say that they are rugged machines of high quality catering to the serious or the pro. Dual XLR inputs, phantom power, a really useful clip marking function, a crude (really crude) editor, etc. I have enjoyed the machine. They also have one at about half that price that, I'll bet, is good, too. Notice, though, that both of the Marantz machines are out of stock at BHPhoto. This is usually, but not always, a sign that something is good.

The downside on the 660 is it's a little power hungry. I only get about 2.5 hours on 4 AAs. I highly recommend some Eneloops or other high-quality rechargeable batteries. The smaller 620 unit, from what I have read, is far more conservative with battery power.

Much loved but one I'm not so familiar with is the Sony D50.
posted by bz at 5:02 PM on June 22, 2009

Seconding Marantz. I've done field recordings of speech with the PMD-670 and been pleased. It may be a bit bulky for your needs, with about a billion batteries in it.
posted by knile at 8:47 PM on June 22, 2009

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