Ambient recordings can be used in a thousand different ways to make your music distinctive. Reverse, warp, time stretch, pitchshift, apply filters and effects to them, or simply utilize them as is. But first, you’ll need to record them, and for that you’ll need the best field recorder you can find.
For producers, sound designers, and musicians alike, having a portable recorder and making it a habit to carry one about can be quite useful. Most of these now have outstanding features that allow them to handle multitrack recording, bake in effects, and even power your favorite condenser mics while on the fly.
Running sound out of the board at a show into a portable recorder is an easy way to broadcast live content for your audience if you’re a performing artist or musician. If you’re a music student, having one of these on hand during classes can help you stay on track.
Zoom H8 Handy Recorder
- Customized applications for podcasting, music and field recording
- Large color LCD touchscreen display; over 20 hours of operation on 4 AA alkaline batteries
- Interchangeable input capsules, 4 mic inputs and 2 XLR/TRS combo connectors
The Zoom H8, which looks like something out of a science fiction film, is a powerful and versatile portable recorder with three “apps” tailored to the workflow needs of field recording, music recording, and podcasting. Zoom is known for its inventive product line, which ranges from the entry-level H1n to the pro-level F8n, but the Zoom H8 is the company’s most ground-breaking yet. It’s managed to cram a lot of information into its charming, if rather awkward-looking, robotic shape.
It has ten inputs and can record up to 12 tracks concurrently at 24-bit / 96kHz quality. Meanwhile, the microphone capsules that may be swapped out range from the included XY condensers to mid-side and shotgun models. There are six XLR inputs onboard, but if you need more, an EXH-8 expander capsule can be used to add four more.
This is a recorder aimed squarely at the next generation of creators. Whether you’re a musician, podcaster, or field recordist, the Zoom H8 features modes tailored to your needs. You’re unlikely to run out of sound capacity with eight inputs and 12 tracks, but if you do, you can remove the accompanying mic capsule and replace it with four more XLR inputs. Alternatively, you can replace the supplied mic capsule with one of over a half-dozen different mics, including an Ambisonic array.
The huge high-resolution touch panel is very useful for monitoring levels. Of course, there’s a phone app that does the same thing, but the built-in screen feels more instantaneous. Zoom refers to it as a “Handy Recorder,” but it’s much more than that. Mix, trigger sound pads, overdub, and connect to Zoom’s Guitar Lab for a large selection of amps and effects. When you plug it into your laptop, it also acts as a USB interface.
Tascam DR-40X Four-Track Digital Audio Recorder and USB Audio Interface
- High-quality unidirectional stereo condenser microphones that can record in A-B and X-Y positions
- XLR/TRS inputs compatible with +4dBu line level / +48V
- 4-channel mode that can be used for dual recording and nondestructive overdub recording, etc.
The DR-40X from Tascam is aimed squarely at musicians. It not only has two balanced XLR inputs for additional microphones or mixer connection, but it also works as a class-compliant audio interface over USB 2.0. The DR-40X is a real four-track recorder/interface because the XLR inputs don’t override the built-in mics.
There are a slew of other musician-friendly features on the DR-40X, including a basic but welcome mix facility. You can listen to all four tracks at the same time while altering the mix and pan of each one separately. Six different reverb effects can be applied to either the input or output signal, and the integrated tuner will keep you all in tune. You can also overdub as many takes as you need and then bounce the tracks down to a final mix if you’re a perfectionist.
Tascam’s approach of dual recording gives greater headroom by recording a second safety track at a slightly lower volume to capture any stray spikes distortion-free. A peak reduction function and a limiter are also included to ensure clean, error-free recordings.
Sound Devices MixPre-6 II Portable 32-Bit Float Multichannel Audio Recorder/Mixer
- Four ultra-low-noise Kashmir microphone preamps with adjustable limiters capture high quality audio in the field, on set, or with a computer. Choose...
- Create a mix using the built-in 6 x 2 portable mixer.
- 8-in, 4-out USB audio interface streams to your computer via USB-C at bit depths up to 32-bit float.
Sound Devices is a well-known name in the film and television industry. Its expensive 800 and 600 series recorders are legendary, widely considered as the go-to devices for collecting location audio for Hollywood blockbusters like The Revenant, which won an Oscar. The MixPre II line, which was just released, is more budget-friendly, making it great for sound designers, podcasters, and artists who don’t want to have to sell a kidney to get into the business.
Its implementation of 32-bit Float is excellent. Just said, this improves headroom to the point where you don’t need to worry about levels — any waveforms that appear clipped in your DAW simply need to be normalized. The MixPre-6 II is primarily a recorder, but it also functions as an 8-in, 4-out USB interface and a full-featured mixer. The MixPre-6 II’s four high-quality Kashmir preamps offer pure, noise-free audio, making it excellent for ambient recordings in calm environments.
The MixPre-6 II may be turned into a portable multitrack studio with the $99 Musician Plugin, which includes overdubbing and track bouncing, punch in/out, reverb, and a metronome. This implies you won’t need a laptop or DAW to record and create a small band. The gain levels are so clean and high that you won’t need a Cloudlifter to drive a notoriously gain-hungry Shure SM7B mic (a podcaster favorite). This makes it ideal for podcasters searching for a one-stop shop for recording, mixing, and streaming.
Sony PCM D-100 Portable High Resolution Audio/Voice Recorder
- Offers solid state storage, Built-in electret condenser microphones
- Native recording including DSD, WAV and MP3; Output impedance: 220 ohms
- Simple uploading to computer, Supports USB 2.0
The Sony PCM D100 is made to last. Its solid aluminum frame and scaffold-like mic cage give it a reassuringly durable appearance and feel; nevertheless, if you drop it, the pavement will almost certainly come off worse. This is a straightforward field recorder geared directly at the professional market, with a price tag to match.
There’s no sophisticated Bluetooth app to assist you tune your guitar, and it won’t help you tune your guitar either. Instead, every effort has been made to ensure that the PCM D-100 catches the greatest possible recording, regardless of location or conditions. For minimized noise, the preamp circuitry is isolated from its power supply, and levels can be adjusted for each mic. These can also be adjusted independently, swiveling from 90 to 120 degrees.
The PCM D-100 is unusual in that it can record in DSD format, which some audiophiles say sounds smoother and more “analogue” than PCM. It’s only a pity there aren’t any balanced XLR inputs. To take advantage of its fantastic sound capabilities, it would be fantastic to connect it to some high-end microphones…
Zoom H1n Handy Recorder
- Streamlined body with matte finish and newly designed protective mic enclosure
- Built-in stereo condenser microphones in 90-Degree x/Y format
- One-touch button controls
With its dead-simple stereo pickup and unlimited overdubs, the Zoom H1n makes documenting music performances, dialogue, and sound for movies easier than ever before. The Zoom H1n is the follow-up to the well-received H1. Dedicated one-touch buttons for recording, playback, and audio settings have been added, as well as a new 1.25-inch touchscreen “A/V sync is made easier with a backlit LCD, slate and test tone generators, auto-record and self-timer functions, a front-facing speaker, and adjustable playback speed for transcription and notation.
Whether you use the phase-coherent onboard stereo XY mics or connect your own sound source via the 1/8” input, you’ll be happy with the results “The Zoom H1n captures your world in stunning 24/96 hi-fi via a stereo mic/line connection. Note: To record, you’ll need an SD card (sold separately). The brand-new 1.25 “The Zoom H1n’s monochrome display looks stunning in almost any lighting situation. The arrangement is neat and tidy, and the backlight shines brightly in dim or direct light.
Audio is captured in perfect phase-coherent stereo via a pair of built-in stereo condenser microphones arranged in a fixed 90° XY pattern. When the situation calls for it, however, a 1/8 “You can use your studio and shotgun mics with the mic/line input. To meet your needs, broadcast-ready, BWF-compliant 24/96 WAV and space-saving MP3 audio formats are available.