Best digital recorder a non-tech person can stand
April 4, 2019 11:21 AM   Subscribe

I want a good quality digital recorder but without a huge initial learning curve.

I have important recordings on microcassette and more recently on a Sony digital recorder that wants something earlier than windows 7 to transfer to. I want a recorder I can count on to work in years to come and I don't want to get in over my head technically. I am looking to do a combination of interviews and nature recordings so I don't want strictly directional. The Zoom recorders look great, I am interested in the earlier models but am I setting myself up for obsolescence? I have a tendency to buy things more than do things so I am trying to keep it under 200.
posted by InkaLomax to Technology (8 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I've had a lower-level Zoom for 4-5 years now, and it's still doing great. The microphone on top can be a little bit omindirectional, but my version was only $100 when I bought it, and it has inputs for microphones, if you'd like to get something a little bit more multi-directional to capture sound all around you.
posted by xingcat at 11:28 AM on April 4, 2019

I loove my little Roland R-07. It's really simple to use, and works great.

I really like that you can connect it with bluetooth so that you can place it near what you want to record without having to be right up with it to start recording. This could come in handy with nature recordings.

At the same time, you can use it very simply, without needing to deal with any technological extras.
posted by umbú at 11:36 AM on April 4, 2019 [1 favorite]

Zoom and Tascam are pretty much the two standard recommendations. I happen to have one of the latter ones. I like it and bought it because it has actual buttons that are simple to use. It has mostly proven itself to be a reliable workhorse.
posted by sardonyx at 11:37 AM on April 4, 2019

Whatever you do, I would highly recommend that whichever recorder you decide upon, check whether it records two audio streams, one lower than the other, so that if there is a spike in the levels, the possibility of digital distortion is greatly reduced. This is very, very useful.

The Roland R-07 does this, calling it the "Dual Recording" feature. All of the older sonys I've had do this as well.
posted by umbú at 12:57 PM on April 4, 2019

I have a Tascam DR-40 recorder and I don't think it's any harder to use than a traditional analog tape deck. But that's not to say it's totally mindless or anything. It's just that the "digital" part doesn't add much complexity—you still need to know how to record audio if you want to get good results, though. I.e. understanding how to set levels, how gain structure works, where noise/hiss comes from, etc.

The quality of your recordings are always going to be directly proportional to the amount of effort you're willing to put into them, particularly in the preparation.

Good resources I've found:

Mount Holyoke College - Library Resource Guide for Podcasting - includes info on the Tascam DR-40 and Zoom H4N.
"How we make the Loving Project" - good walkthru of how a (high quality) podcast is made, using two recorders (DR-60mkII main and DR-40 backup) and external microphones.

Note that you need to be careful if you start buying external mics; some mics work much better with some recorders than others. I won't get into the weeds on why that is (short answer: good preamps are expensive, yo), and for a basic podcast you can do just fine using the onboard stereo pair mics of a DR-40 or H4N in a quiet room, but it's something to have in the back of your mind. Gear that's designed for theater sound reinforcement or PA use often isn't a good fit for recording.
posted by Kadin2048 at 1:48 PM on April 4, 2019 [2 favorites]

I have a Tascam DR-05 with an external mike and fluffy windbreaker. As a simple set up I couldn’t be happier with it.
posted by Middlemarch at 1:31 AM on April 5, 2019

I have the Tascam DR-05, currently about $80 on Amaxon. I use it for recording my flute playing, both at home and in other indoor venues. It serves my needs quite well. For me, it works best with the unit 6-10 feet away.

The screens and documentation are pretty techy, but in practice, it's push to turn on, push for record mode, push to start. You would also want to learn about setting the sound level. I take the files off the device using the supplied USB cable which is no fuss for a user with any PC experience at all.

I'll put my latest recording on MeFi Music.
posted by SemiSalt at 5:38 PM on April 5, 2019

Another note: there is a video about the DR-05 here.
posted by SemiSalt at 5:57 PM on April 5, 2019

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