Gadget Bag: Field Audio Recorders

Add sound to your video and slideshows

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Putting together a top-notch slideshow is within reach of any nature photographer. Software like Adobe Lightroom, Apple iPhoto and Aperture, Boinx FotoMagico and Photodex ProShow Gold are just a few of the powerful options at your disposal for combining images, video and music into a show that’s far beyond anything we could do with film.

Including a soundtrack in your slideshow is as simple as clicking a box to add music, but there are occasions when one would prefer to have the sounds encountered while shooting instead of a melody from the iTunes library. If you’re shooting video with your DSLR and incorporating motion clips into your slideshows, you’ve probably already discovered that the internal microphones aren’t the best sound-capture devices. The sounds of a rushing brook can be overwhelmed by wind or just conversation among other people who are nearby. You can get a much better result with a dedicated audio recorder.

With features like directional microphones, high bit-rate recording and fast direct connections to a computer, compact field audio recorders are a far cry from the old microcassette devices that many of us would use to record field notes. In Gadget Bag, we’re presenting a number of recorders that you might consider. In future issues of OP, we’ll explore sound recording and how to use audio in more detail.


Alesis PalmTrack

Alesis PalmTrack
Despite its low estimated street price of $129, the Alesis PalmTrack is far from a low-end portable recorder. With four built-in microphones, the Alesis can record in several different modes, including omni and stereo, and you can plug an external mic into the 1⁄8-inch jack for more flexibility. The Alesis records WAV files up to 24-bit/48 kHz or MP3 files at 64-320 kbps, and it takes SD cards.


Foster FR-2LE

Fostex FR-2LE
Fostex designed the FR-2LE for on-the-go field recording. Its rugged construction withstands rigorous usage, and its estimated street price of $599 gives you ample features. The FR-2LE has two built-in stereo microphones, with two XLR/TRS inputs with phantom power. You can record WAV files to a CompactFlash card at a rate of up to 24-bit/96 kHz. You also can record in MP3 format. A two-second “pre-buffer” records the two seconds prior to you hitting the button so you won’t miss anything. The FR-2LE also has Fostex’s one take=one file system, which is designed to prevent you from overwriting a file.


Korg SOUND on SOUND

Korg SOUND on SOUND
The Korg Sound on Sound is favored by musicians for its ability to record multiple parts on top of one another unlimited times. For a nature photographer, the most attractive aspects are the built-in, high-quality stereo microphones, compact size and reasonable cost ($299 estimated street price). The Sound on Sound records to microSD or microSDHC cards, and it takes AA batteries.


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Marantz PMD661

Marantz PMD661
The compact Marantz PMD661 features built-in stereo microphones, two XLR inputs with phantom power and a 1/8-inch jack for using external microphones. It also includes free PMD Mark Editor software, which is nice if you want to start getting a little more advanced with your audio work. The PMD661 records up to 96 kHz sample rates and 16- or 24-bit. A 1 GB SD card is included with the unit, and you can use SDHC cards as well. OP readers will find the bright OLED monitors easy to see even in bright conditions in the field. With an estimated street price of $599, the PMD661 has a good combination of capabilities for room to grow as you delve deeper into audio recording.


Roland R-5

Roland R-05
Its $249 estimated street price makes the Roland R-05 one of the most attractive field recorders for nature photographers who are beginning to experiment with sound. Its built-in stereo microphones record to SD cards, and it can operate for 16 hours on a fresh set of AA batteries. Audio files are in a convenient MP3 or WAV format, which makes them easy to use once you’ve downloaded to the computer.


Roland R-44

Roland R-44
Extensive built-in effects are among the most attractive features of the Roland R-44. Coming in at an estimated street price of $995, the R-44 is a more advanced unit that has a built-in limiter, low-cut filter, enhancer, DeEsser and other effects. At first glance, these effects might seem like overkill for a nature photographer or video shooter, but you’ll quickly see that they can be incredibly useful in the field where conditions can change in the blink of an eye. Two built-in microphones and four XLR inputs with phantom power give you almost unlimited options from simple recording to complex four-channel recording. You can plug the R-44 directly into your computer via USB 2.0 or you can record to SD/SDHC cards. The unit records at 16- or 24-bit, and sample rates go from 44.1 to 192 kHz.


Sony PCM-50

Sony PCM-D50
With a pair of built-in Electret Condenser Microphones, the Sony PCM-D50 is one of the most popular portable recorders on the market. Broadcast journalists have relied on it for the same reasons that it’s a good choice for nature photographers: It’s compact, has built-in, high-quality microphones, is reasonably priced at an estimated street price of $499 and its native recording format is the universally accepted WAV. The built-in condenser mics can be set to X-Y recording or Wide Stereo. The PCM-D50 has 4 GB of built-in, solid-state memory that you download via USB 2.0, or you can use Memory Stick removable media.


Sound Devices 702

Sound Devices 702
Recording to CompactFlash cards, the Sound Devices 702 field recorder features a tough, ready-for-anything aluminum and stainless-steel chassis. At an estimated street price of $1,875, it’s at the high end of the recorders we’re looking at here. For that price, you’re getting a sophisticated recorder that can record uncompressed PCM files at 16- or 24-bit at sampling rates of up to 192 kHz, delivering extremely high-quality audio. Using Sound Devices’ next-generation microphone preamps, the 702 boasts low distortion and low noise. The unit doesn’t have built-in microphones. Instead, it has XLR inputs with phantom power for connecting high-quality microphones. It can record uncompressed files, as well as convenient MP3/MP2 files.


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Tascam DR-100

Tascam DR-100
With four internal microphones, a 1/8-inch jack and two XLR inputs with phantom power, the Tascam DR-100 gives you plenty of recording options. There are two internal cardioid and two internal omnidirectional mics, which is all most of us will ever need in the field. Having the XLR inputs makes this a portable recorder that you won’t soon outgrow. The DR-100 records in WAV or MP3 formats, and it takes SD/SDHC cards. The estimated street price is $309.


Zoom H4n

Zoom H4n
Among independent filmmakers, the Zoom H4n has gained quite a following. It has some 50 built-in DSP effects, a pair of built-in stereo condenser mics and two XLR inputs with phantom power. If you’re trekking into the backcountry, you’ll especially appreciate the Stamina Mode, which can give you up to 11 hours of recording time. Using the internal mics and two external mics, you can record in full four-track mode, or you can just use the internals for “point-and-shoot” simplicity. The H4n doesn’t break the bank, with an estimated street price of $299. It records up to 24-bit/96 kHz on SD/SDHC cards.

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