What is the best all-round digital audio recorder for under $200?
February 6, 2017 11:04 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for a digital audio recorder for recording interviews, podcasts, musical performances, and video soundtracks. Broadcast quality (or near), sturdy, portable, stereo, external line in. On a budget (around $200 max, preferably less). Would be grateful for recommendations or advice. Thanks!
posted by kitfreeman to Technology (12 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
The Zoom H4N is the droid you seek, right at your price point.
posted by dbiedny at 11:41 AM on February 6, 2017 [3 favorites]

I use the built-in mics on a Zoom H4n to record band rehearsals.

I don't see them for sale new--I believe it's been replaced by the "H4n Pro"?

I have minor complaints: boot-up is slow (just timed about 45s from turning it on till it was ready). The UI is a little tedious if you're doing anything complicated (multi-track recording, effects, etc). If you're just turning it on and hitting record you should be fine. If you try to use it as a USB audio interface, you'll find the latency is high and unpredictable. It's portable but I think there may be more compact recorders--compare the specs.

I'm no connoisseur and don't really know what "broadcast quality" means, but I'd be surprised if it isn't. It sounds great to me.
posted by bfields at 11:48 AM on February 6, 2017

I have a Tascam. DR -05, I think. It works fine for recording my flute playing. The interface is a bit nerdy. I did find it worked better if it was across the room from me and my flute. I have no experience using it where the background noise level is high.

It's a record to device, download later via USB scenario. No playback from the device.
posted by SemiSalt at 11:52 AM on February 6, 2017

I have the Tascam DR-40. I really like it, I use it a lot for recording interviews, podcasts, band practices, even making quick multitrack demos. It has 2 XLR or 1/4in stereo inputs, but the 2 built in mics are pretty nice too. It stores stuff on an SD card. Lots of semi pro musicians I know use it. Hope this helps.
posted by capnsue at 12:11 PM on February 6, 2017 [1 favorite]

Seconding dbiedny, it's really hard to go wrong with the Zoom products.

Protip: Buy a pair of studio headphones so you can check the levels before you start recording. Correct levels are _key_ to high quality audio.

You'll need a SD card some AA batteries too. You might consider getting a wind-screen also.
posted by gregr at 12:32 PM on February 6, 2017

I've also got the Tascam DR-05. It definitely has a playback feature with (admittedly not great but definitely there) internal speakers. It can also playback through headphones. Both options were definitely requirements for me.

If you really need to be "professional" look for XLR inputs. You can get adapters that allow you hook into XLR soundboards, but it's better to avoid fiddly extras if you can. It's one feature I don't have and that I'd consider the next time I have to upgrade. Under my current working conditions, it's would be a "nice to have" not an absolute necessity.

In addition to looking at the audio components, I'd suggest taking a good hard look at the interface. Part of the reason I wound up with the unit I did was because it actually had physical buttons that I could operate pretty much blind. I didn't want to be put in the position of having to scroll through an on-screen interface to perform the basic functions. Again, that not might be a negative for you, but usability is definitely a key feature in my workflow.

Semisalt, if you need instructions on how to use the playback function, shoot me a MeMail. I'd be happy to walk you through the steps.
posted by sardonyx at 1:32 PM on February 6, 2017

Transom.org reviews audio recorders. Start here the go to the other linked hardware that it is being compared to.
posted by Mo Nickels at 2:50 PM on February 6, 2017

The Zoom's fine; most pro-quality digital recorders are fine. Microphone is the thing. And the best portable general purpose field microphone ever sold was the Sony ECM-929LT. You can get one for pennies on eBay. Stereo, and you can set the angle (or use it mono).

It is better than mics costing $1000 or more. It will last forever. Even the wind screen is great.

It was originally sold as an accessory with the legendary Sony Pro Walkman, and used by everyone from radio and TV journalists to bootleg recorders.
posted by Quisp Lover at 5:30 PM on February 6, 2017 [2 favorites]

Nthing the h4n. Its stock microphones are amazingly sensitive; I would wait to upgrade for that purpose. I have recordings where I find the noise of myself taking a coin out of my pocket from across the room) distracting.
posted by sweltering at 11:21 PM on February 6, 2017

The Zoom H4n (now pro) is THE standard sidearm in my business.
posted by spitbull at 2:27 AM on February 7, 2017

I have the Tascam DR-40 mentioned upthread and would unhesitatingly recommend it as one of my single best audio purchases. The recording quality is excellent - really crisp and detailed - it's pretty bullet proof (I toss it in my bag and don't worry about it much) and it lasts for aaaages on three AA batteries.

One thing worth mentioning: if you're going to be doing any outdoor recording, getting yourself a furry wind shield will pay dividends, and a small table-mount tripod (a Gorillapod works well) is indispensible if you're going to be doing sitting-down recordings - most recorders use the same screw-thread (1/4" Whitworth) as a camera tripod.
posted by parm at 5:45 AM on February 7, 2017

Thanks very much for all the suggestions and advice. It looks like the Zoom H4n pro edges it over the Tascam DR-40.

Thanks too to Quisp Lover for the mic suggestion.
posted by kitfreeman at 8:15 AM on February 7, 2017

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