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The 13 Best Field Recorders for Portable Recording

13 best field recorders

Portable recording devices—or field recorders—are a great resource for collecting interesting sounds from the world around you.

Field recordings can be extremely inspiring.  They’re a resource that all producers should take advantage of.

But to get started with found sound you’ll need a device to make recordings on the fly.

Here’s the 13 best handheld field recorders available today:

  1. Zoom H4n Pro
  2. Tascam DR-40X
  3. Zoom H2n
  4. Zoom H6
  5. Tascam DR-05X
  6. Tascam DR-07X
  7. Zoom H1n
  8. Sony PCM-D10
  9. Zoom H5
  10. Tascam DR 100 MkIII
  11. Your phone
  12. Roland R-07 Stereo Recorder
  13. Sony PCM-D100

 

Alright, now let’s unpack what you can expect from each of these handheld recorders.

 

1. Zoom H4n Pro

Street price: $219.99 USD

Zoom H4n

Japanese manufacturer Zoom builds everything from audio interfaces to multi-effects guitar pedals.

But they’re one of the biggest names when it comes to portable recording devices. Much of their success in this category is due to the popularity of the Zoom H4n.

This classic field recorder packs all the features and functionality you’d expect in a best-in-class handheld solution.

Great, battery life, moveable microphones for 90° XY or extra-wide 120° stereo and an additional pair of line inputs on a 1/8″ jack make this a simple field recorder a long-time favourite.

The ability to record files in mp3 resolution can also be handy for saving space on your storage media.

2. Tascam DR-40X

Street price: $199.99 USD

Tascam DR-40X

Zoom’s main competitor in the portable recording space is Tascam.

Zoom’s main competitor in the portable recording space is Tascam.

Tascam is a legendary brand when it comes to mobile recording. They introduced the original Portastudio cassette recorders.

Tascam’s field recorders draw on that long history of expertise.

The DR-40X is Tascam’s offering in the popular 4-track form factor.

It includes built-in XY mics as well as mic/line combo jacks for using external gear.

3. Zoom H2n

Street price: $169.99 USD

Zoom H2n

The Zoom H2n sports a slightly different design with its microphone array contained directly within its compact housing.

There are a total of 5 microphones inside, making it possible to record in standard XY as well as mid-side and several surround configurations.

The H2n packs a lot of functionality into a small package with onboard M/S decoding, automatic gain control, compression, EQ and USB mic capabilities.

4. Zoom H6

Street price: $329.99

Zoom H6

The H6 is Zoom’s top of the line field recorder. It boasts a comprehensive feature set that can handle nearly any mobile recording situation imaginable.

The Zoom H6 is a pro solution with a whopping six simultaneous tracks and four external mic/line inputs.

Top end portable recorders (especially those with extra I/O) are often aimed toward video production pros and may be slightly overkill for creating basic field recordings.

Top end portable recorders (especially those with extra I/O) are often aimed toward video production pros and may be slightly overkill for creating basic field recordings.

But if you want a field recorder that can do it all, the H6 is a great choice.

5. Tascam DR-05X

Street price: $119.99 USD

Tascam DR-05X



The DR-05X is the most compact of Tascam’s portable field recorders. It’s a straightforward stereo field recording device with good capture quality.

Its two omnidirectional mics offer a simplified A/B stereo configuration that’s great for capturing your environment without too much fuss.

It includes a neat feature for non-destructive overdubbing to quickly create multi-track recordings and can also function as an ultra-portable 2 in/2 out USB interface.

6. Tascam DR-07X

Street price: $149.99 USD

Tascam DR-07X

The DR-07X expands on the DR-05X with a traditional XY microphone array that can be angled at 120 degrees for extra width.

This field recorder offers a great balance of features and performance for the price.

7. Zoom H1n

Street Price: $119.99 USD

Zoom H1n

The H1n is the most compact of Zoom’s field recorders.

Its smaller size means that the microphone set is fixed in XY configuration. But it still delivers great sonic performance.

Plus, the grab and go format makes it easy to keep a recording device on hand at all times.

8. Sony PCM-D10

Street Price: $499.99 USD

Sony PCM-D10

 

Sony’s handheld field recorder products are on the higher end of the price range for field recorders.

But for the extra money you’ll get a high-quality professional device for capturing mobile recordings

The PCM-D10 is on the pricier side, but still within reason for intermediate budgets.

For those who want the absolute best in quality, the PCM-D10 could be the right choice.

Sony’s excellent AD/DA conversion ensures that you hear your recordings as transparently as possible.

Its headphone amplifier is also a cut above so you can monitor anywhere with confidence.

9. Zoom H5

Street price: $279.99 USD

Zoom H5

The H5 is Zoom’s specialized portable recorder for video production.

Its innovative system of interchangeable capsules allows you to equip different microphone types depending on the application.

Traditional XY, omni, mid/side or  line/mic input modules make this the most versatile field recorder on this list.

There’s even a mini shotgun mic attachment available for situations where you need maximum directionality.

It also includes USB audio interface capabilities for mixing on the fly.

10. Tascam DR-100 mkIII

Street price: $299.99 USD

Tascam DR-100 MKIII

The DR-100 mkIII is Tascam’s high-end field recorder. Its focus is on delivering pristine audio quality for the most demanding mobile recording situations.

A stereo pair of directional mics as well as two omni mics make it easy to capture realistic representations of a sound or space.

11. Your phone

https://blog.landr.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/10-Best-Field-Recorders_1200x627_phone.jpg

As the saying goes, the best camera is the one you have on you. The same is true for field recorders.

The best handheld recorder in the world won’t help you if it’s not accessible the instant an amazing sound crosses your path.

The best handheld recorder in the world won’t help you if it’s not accessible the instant an amazing sound crosses your path.

Sometimes a phone recording is all you need to distill the essence of a sound. That’s pretty encouraging!

There’s also a wide range of phone mic accessories that can add a stereo pair of microphones similar to those found on popular offerings from Tascam and Zoom.

12. Roland R-07 Stereo Recorder

Street price: $199.99 USD

https://blog.landr.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/10-Best-Field-Recorders_1200x627_roland-r-07.jpg

The Roland R-07 is a pocket-sized handheld recorder. Its ultra-compact form factor and familiar iPod-style control scheme make it another great option to keep on hand at all times.

The “Rehearsal” button engages a mode specifically tailored to capturing the sometimes unpredictable nature of practice room recordings.

You can even loop segments of your recordings and change their playback speed to practice.

13. Sony PCM-D100

Street price: $774.99 USD

https://blog.landr.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/10-Best-Field-Recorders_1200x627_sony-pcm-d100.jpg

The PCM-D100 is Sony’s high end field recorder.

Designed for extreme performance, the PCM-D100 is the most expensive field recorder on this list. But it’s also the most hi-fi solution for handheld recording out there.

Sony has spared no expense on the mics, preamps and converters featured on the PCM-D100. Choose this field recorder if uncompromising quality is your goal.

Track and field recorders

Portable handheld recorders give you the freedom to record anywhere. That’s a powerful concept for any producer’s workflow.

Whether you want to record rehearsals, jot down ideas, or capture rare soundscapes from the natural environment, you need the right field recorder to do it.

Use this list to find the perfect field recorder for your setup.

 

 

Michael Hahn

Michael Hahn is an engineer and producer at Autoland and member of the swirling indie rock trio Slight.

@Michael Hahn

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