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Sound Recorders

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Recording Sound

For good archival recordings it is best to record .wav files at a minimum of 44.1Khz 16 bit quality, and all the recorders mentioned below will do this (you shouldn't really consider any that do not). For the professional sound recordist the difference usually lies in the recorder's ability to work well with professional quality microphones, which the cheaper machines often don't do well, but all of these recorders have very acceptable built in microphones and your decision will probably come down to affordability and ease of use.

There are many portable sound recorders on the market such as the Zoom and Tascam ranges, the Edirol R-09, the M-Audio Microtrack, the Sony PCM-D50, the Olympus LS-10 and others. Prices vary from somewhere around £70 for the Zoom H1 or Tascam DR-05 to as much as you are willing to spend. Recorders that accept professional quality microphones start at around £150.

EMOHA's Opinion

Please note, there are many other recorders available!

Zoom H1 - we have used these and have recommended them in the past as they are cheap - £70 to £80 - and can produce good recordings in quiet environments. The batteries last for a long time too. They require a small tripod as the microphones will pick up handling noise ridiculously easily, they don't come with a USB cable, and many people find the buttons small and fiddly. Not recommended as there are other recorders that are easier to use at the same price (see below).

Tascam DR-05 - in 2018 this is still EMOHA's budget recorder of choice as it is easy to use and makes good recordings. It runs on AA batteries and accepts quite large capacity memory cards, and we have yet to hear of anyone having any problems with these. Generally, the Tascam products we have tried have been good and we would recommend considering any recorders from the Tascam range.

Zoom H2n - a definite improvement on the Zoom H2, this is better designed, has a larger screen, and reviews suggest the sound quality is better. It's cute too. The Zoom H2n has several internal microphones and is able to record surround sound. How useful this is for oral historians is debateable and although we like the H2n we have not been tempted to buy any, although there are plenty of groups who have used these and like them.

Zoom H4n - now we are up to the more expensive recorders that can accept high quality microphones. We like the quality of the inbuilt mics, but with high quality external mics the more expensive recorders come into their own. The Zoom H4n remains popular because it isn't as expensive as most of its rivals, it's easy to use, and the recordings are of good quality. We like them so much we have bought some. In 2015 these appear to have been briefly discontinued and then relaunched as the Zoom H4NSP. This is virtually the same as the H4n and, in 2017, costs somewhere around £175.

Tascam DR-40 - similar to the Zoom H4n in specification and price. We haven't had a proper play with this but it accepts high quality mics and, judging by the rest of the Tascam range, should be easy to use and give good results.

Zoom H5 - this is similar to the H4n but has interchangable microphones and more features, most of which oral historians won't need. A really nice recorder, we have one of these and absolutely love it. The quality of the sound from the inbuilt microphones is excellent, the design is simple, it's easy to use. However, it costs a lot more than the H4 and if all you want is a straight forward recorder for oral history you may be better off with the H4n or H4NSP.

Zoom H6 - this is a 6-channel recorder and is a great piece of kit for musicians and anyone requiring multi-channel recording. It's probably not necessary to have all these features if oral history is all you're going to be recording. It's also more expensive than the H4NSP and the H5.

Roland R-26 - we have only played with this rather than using it seriously but it feels well built, accepts high quality mics and has a very large screen. It also has a menu system that we wouldn't recommend for those of you who prefer to just press a button and record. Try this before buying to make sure you're happy with it.

Tascam DR100 mk11 - again, we have only played with this rather than recording interviews. It feels very well made and comes with a good reputation (see reviews below) and EMOHA would have no qualms about having a few of these.

Marantz PMD661 - this is the most expensive of the recorders we have used and many people are choosing Tascams, Zooms and other recorders because once the cost of good mics is added the whole kit can be pricey. You also have to engage with a menu system to set everything up, which not everyone enjoys. However, EMOHA likes the quality of the sound, the design, and the general ease of use once you get to know it. An added bonus is the ability to wear this over the shoulder like a radio reporter.

For photographs of many of these recorders have a look at Inquit Audio website, linked to at the bottom of the page.

Online tutorials

There are usually online 'how to use' videos for sound recorders. These are a couple:

How to use the Zoom H4n - https://youtu.be/pc6T2Amqvxc

How to use the Tascam DR-05 - https://youtu.be/Cuk9hxi2sI0


General review sites

There is a useful gear guide on the Transom website, where there are also recommendations and reviews: http://transom.org/features/gear-guide/

The Vermont Folklife Centre's 'Field Recording in the Digital Age' website (at the end of 2015 this hasn't been updated for a while so doesn't include the most recent sound recorders, but there is still lots of useful information) - http://www.vermontfolklifecenter.org/archive/res_audioequip.htm

Doug Boyd's Reviews

The Tascam DR100 - http://youtu.be/ZKODVsLuyzs

The Marantz PMD661 - http://youtu.be/NtnpodTVG70

The Marantz PMD671 - http://youtu.be/TjC6HErFmMc

You Tube reviews

There are many reviews of many sound recorders on You Tube. This is a small selection:

The Zoom H5 and the Zoom H4n - https://youtu.be/fLlyPDSypLc

The Tascam DR-05 and Tascam DR-07 mk 11 reviewed together - http://youtu.be/-2uBIXPWSq8

The Tascam DR-40 - https://youtu.be/ibtDYRS0M-8

The Tascam DR-44WL - https://youtu.be/CyHI6uCIWbU

A quick comparison of Zoom's H5, H6, and H4n, Tascam's DR-40, and Roland's R-26 - https://youtu.be/fjnoWjjYgNA

The Zoom H4n compared with the Olympus LS-100 - https://youtu.be/AZ3zsarY4LM

Using your phone, laptop etc.

As well as the sound recorders mentioned above it is posisble to make good quality recordings using your mobile phone (high quality microphones are available to plug in), tablet, or laptop. However, none of these devices has been specifically designed to record long periods of high quality sound and we would advise you to think carefully before using anything other than a dedicated sound recorder. How much memory does your device have? Is it prone to crashing for any reason? How long will the batteries last? Does connecting to the mains supply create unwanted hum and noise?

Where to buy sound recorders

If you are thinking of buying a solid state recorder you may wish to visit the following companies. They should not be considered to be approved or recommended by the East Midlands Oral History Archive.


Last updated: 09/06/2018
East Midland Oral History Archive Web maintainer
This document has been approved by the head of department or section.

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