Best Audio Recorders for Creators on the Go – 2022

When it comes to portable audio recorders, Zoom and Tascam are the dominant brands, but there are other excellent options available.

Whether you’re a new or seasoned podcaster or YouTuber, you’ve probably considered improving the audio quality of your productions. While better audio can be obtained by using filmmaking microphones such as shotgun and lav mics, as well as understanding audio editing and mixing, there is another arrow in your quiver: a portable audio recorder. They’re an excellent tool for producing high-quality audio and video projects.

You’re probably curious about what they are, how they work, and how to find the best one for your project. We’re here to assist you in locating the best digital audio recorder for your next creative project!

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Best Audio Recorders for Creators on the Go

What is a portable audio recorder?

A portable audio recorder, also known as a “field recorder” or “handheld recorder,” combines microphone and recording technology to capture and store audio both in the studio and on location.

These digital handheld recorders, which are descended from portable analog recorders such as the Swiss-made Nagra (particularly the IV series) and Germany’s Marantz, are available in a range of sizes and price points.

Best Audio Recorders for Creators on the Go

Years ago, when reporting on stories, journalists would interview subjects using small handheld recorders, usually from the Olympus or Sony brands. While these “voice recorders” are still available, larger handheld recorders from Tascam, Zoom, and Sony now offer musicians, filmmakers, videographers, and podcasters a highly portable and cost-effective option for audio recording, regardless of their needs.

These handheld recorders are typically about the size of a smartphone or smaller. A screen and buttons provide access to and control of audio levels and audio recording folders, while two microphones in an X-Y array sit atop the device (some have 5-mic arrays). (In the stereo X-Y array, two mics are placed next to each other so that the diaphragms are as close to touching as possible.) Many handheld recorders also include two XLR input jacks for connecting external microphones such as studio, lav, and shotgun mics.

Because of their portability and digital recording and storage capabilities, handheld recorders are extremely popular among podcasters, YouTubers, and filmmakers.

When Should You Use an Audio Recorder?

Portable audio recorders, as we mentioned at the end of the previous section, have a wide range of applications. As a result, there are numerous answers to the question of when to use a handheld recorder. It can be determined by the type of project, the budget, deliberate creative limitations, or simple considerations such as keeping podcasting or videography/filmmaking equipment light and portable.

You should also consider using a portable audio recorder instead of directly recording audio to the camera. Handheld recorders have a higher signal-to-noise ratio, the ability to separate the audio track from the video track, and more audio editing options (a combination of boom and lav mics, for instance, instead of just one of them).

Best Audio Recorders for Creators on the Go

You may be able to get away with using your smartphone’s audio recording technology in the early stages of your podcast, YouTube production, or music demoing process. You’ll quickly realize, however, that handheld recorders provide far superior recording quality, from features like mic arrays to controls, storage capacity, and file formats.

When it is clear that the built-in microphones on handheld recorders will suffice for the project rather than using external microphones, they are also useful.

The most important thing to remember is that digital audio recorders are extremely versatile. It all depends on how you intend to use them, which could be field recordings, foley sound production, sound effects, journalistic interviews, or even capturing real-world sounds to sample for music production. The possibilities are virtually limitless.

By now, you should have a good understanding of how handheld recorders work. If you don’t know how to use one, here are some quick tips for both audio (podcasting, for example) and video production (YouTube, short films, etc.).

If you plan to use a handheld recorder for video production, you can save money by leaving it alone. To put it another way, you only use the onboard microphone array.

These digital recorders are typically sold with tripods that allow you to stand them upright while recording. If you want to get closer to your interview subject or another sound source, use a shoe mount or a boom pole to attach the recorder to your camera. Use framing that captures what you need visually while keeping the recorder out of the frame if you use a tripod.

These are all excellent options. Consider purchasing a windscreen or dead cat wind muff to reduce pops, clicks, and other unwanted audio noise.

Use WAV files with a sample rate of 24-bit/48 kHz when recording for video. The broadcast standard audio sample rate is 24-bit/48 kHz, which is ideal for video recording. Higher sample rates result in better recording quality but keep in mind that the files are larger, reducing storage capacity. Consider purchasing a couple of SD cards if your recorder accepts them to increase the storage capacity of your audio recordings.

Use the 24-bit/48 kHz WAV sample rate for audio once more. If your project is audio-based, such as a podcast or sound art installation, you can position the handheld recorder as close to the sound source as you like.

Do you want to make more professional audio recordings with your portable recorder? Consider purchasing one or more external microphones to supplement your equipment.

Look into lavalier, shotgun, and even studio microphones, as we mentioned several times above. While the built-in mic arrays on your handheld recorder are excellent, external microphones will significantly improve your audio production. When you combine microphones with higher sample rate recording and SD cards for more storage, you’ll notice a significant improvement in audio quality for your productions.

Best audio recorders for film

Don’t worry if you’re unsure where to start looking for the best budget and professional handheld recorders. We’ve compiled a list of the best portable audio recorders on the market. While it may appear that the handheld recorder war is primarily between Zoom and Tascam, other options exist.

Begin your search for a low-cost handheld recorder with visible X-Y stereo mic arrays, as discussed above. The Tascam DR-05X is a low-cost, compact ($119) recorder, but you won’t be able to use professional microphones with it. A similar price point is the Zoom H1n, which includes a 3.5mm Mic/Line jack for attaching a lavalier mic. 

The Roland R-07 ($179) is a good alternative to the DR-05X and H1n in terms of functionality, though it does include Bluetooth connectivity if that’s important to your production.

Best Audio Recorders for Creators on the Go
Photo Courtesy Of B&H Photo/Video

Are you looking for a good low-cost portable audio recorder for video production and possibly some audio projects? Take a look at the RØDE Wireless Go II. The GO II is a wireless transmitter and receiver that features an omnidirectional condenser microphone for recording and a 3.5mm TRS input for lav mic. In adverse recording conditions, RØDE also provides windshields for the GO II.

Best Audio Recorders for Creators on the Go
Photo Courtesy Of B&H Photo/Video

Sony’s PCM-A10 ($229.99 on B&H) is a step up, with a built-in 3-mic array, 16GB of memory, and a microSD slot. The 3-mic array on the PCM-A10 is adjustable with a “zoom” mode, XY array for music recording, and wide stereo for outdoor events. With its adjustable mics, 4-track recording, 2-in/2-out USB audio interface, XLR/TRS combo inputs, and built-in +48V phantom power, the Tascam DR-40X is possibly the best portable audio recorder available in this price range. 

That’s a lot of functionality for the price! The Zoom H4 ($249), with its X-Y mic array and XLR- 1/4″ combo inputs, as well as a 3.5mm stereo mini-jack input for external microphones, should also be considered.

Best Audio Recorders for Creators on the Go
Photo Courtesy Of B&H Photo/Video

The Marantz Pro PMD-661 MkIII ($349 on B&H Photo/Video) is a great option if you want to spend a little more money for more capability without breaking the bank, thanks to its built-in two-mic array and XLR inputs for external mics. The Zoom H5 ($299) is slightly more expensive than the H4, but for good reason: the H5’s modular mic system allows users to swap out the X-Y array for mid-side and shotgun mic capsules without purchasing expensive external microphones. It can also record up to four input signals at the same time, making it an excellent choice for recording up to four sound sources at the same time.

Best Audio Recorders for Creators on the Go
Photo Courtesy Of B&H Photo/Video

Are you looking for the best portable audio recorder for film that is both portable and handheld? Consider the Mixpre II series from Sound Devices. This series, a film industry-standard, includes 32-bit float recording (a format with a lot of headroom and fidelity), 192 kHz recording, timecode generators, 192 kHz recording, adjustable limiters, and auto-copy to USB drives.

The Zoom H6 ($349.99 on B&H) is a strong competitor to the PCM-D10 and may be a better choice for some creators, especially those who intend to use it for multiple media. The H6 has four XLR/Line inputs (each with phantom power) for external microphones and a capsule for a stereo 18″ Mic/Line-In mini phone jack. A 6-track recorder, a 2-inch full-color display, built-in effects, and a stereo USB audio interface are also included. When you look at the specifications, it’s easy to see why Zoom bills the H6 as the most versatile handheld recorder available.

Best Audio Recorders for Creators on the Go
Photo Courtesy Of B&H Photo/Video

Summary

Consider how you intend to use handheld recorders as you research them. If you’re a reporter who plans to transcribe interviews for online publications, you won’t need the most feature-rich portable audio recorder. However, if you’re making professional videos or podcasts, or even live music recordings, these feature-rich handheld recorders could be just what you need.

After determining how you intend to use a handheld recorder, we recommend delving deeper into the technical specifications. If you don’t require multiple XLR/Line-In inputs, choose a less expensive recorder. Consider more professional handheld recorders if you need those inputs for music recording or to record multiple guests on your podcast at the same time.

Keep in mind that handheld recorders separate the audio track from the video track. As a result, you’ll need to sync the sound from your portable audio recorder with the edited video when editing. To do this, you’ll need an injected time code as a sync track recorded on your camera. You can also record the audio from both your camera and your portable recorder. Adobe Premiere Pro users can always select both the portable and camera audio files during post-production, then right-click and select “synchronize audio.” When matching audio and video tracks, a film slate (or your hands) can be used to make a clap to help set a sync point. Use the slate before each take!

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About the author: Trent (IMDB Youtubehas spent 10+ years working on an assortment of film and television projects. He writes about his experiences to help (and amuse) others. If he’s not working, he’s either traveling, reading or writing about travel/film, or planning travel/film projects.

Best Audio Recorders for Creators on the Go

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