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postcardcv Monday 3rd June 2019 21:03

considering getting a recorder, what should I buy...?
Following on from comments in a recent rare bird thread I have started to try and look into portable recorders and have so far managed to get lost and confused.

Basically I am wondering how much I would need to spend to get a decent enough sound recorder (that doesn't weight too much), that I can have in my camera bag when out and about to grab recordings of odd calls. I then started looking at the night recording that some are doing and ideally would like a recorder that could also be used for that too as it would be interesting to try.

So how much do I need to spend and which recorder(s) should I be looking at?

Fat Paul Scholes Tuesday 4th June 2019 08:35

There are lots of options - my advice for a first time buyer would be:

a) Don't spend a fortune at the moment. You can get what you want for about 100

b) Make sure you buy a wind blocker for the mic (whether external or part of the recording device

c) If you're buying a recorder and a mic to go with it, make sure the two are compatible. Does the mic need a battery or will the recorder supply power to it ('phantom power')? If you buy a mic and recorder with XLR inputs you'll need to run an XLR cable between them (instead of using minijack, for example) to supply power to the mic. if the mic doesn't have an XLR input, chances are you'll have to put a battery in it.

d) Download Audacity or Raven (or similar) and learn how to use it!

Fat Paul Scholes Tuesday 4th June 2019 08:40

Some useful discussion of options in these threads

iveljay Tuesday 4th June 2019 13:09

Sound advice - you won't really know what you want until you give it a try - some folks have a small recorder clipped to their coat left running all the time - others walk around with a small recording studio - and you will find just about everything in between.

By reading threads you will see what peoples favourite microphones are - these are like camera lenses - you will use the same ones forever - the recorders are like camera bodies - there are no really bad recorders from the music recording categories of the big well known and specialist manufacturers, just some are better performers and/or easier to use and adapt than others and you pay accordingly. People upgrade as they understand things better - you can learn the violin on a Strad but for most of us the entry point is set a trifle lower.

Unfortunately you missed Amazon selling Olympus LS-P4s at a collosal discount recently which would have been ideal as they are very small, but like most recorders can be adapted to take excellent microphones if you want to.

The suggestion to get Audacity or equivalent is excellent as you can often turn the most dismal recording into something far better with minimal effort. Also Mark failed to point out that it if completely FREE!, so there is no real excuse for not getting it.

Whatever you do someone will tell you that you could have done better and you may even agree with them with hindsight.

One of the most popular (amongst a whole range of different applications) inexpensive recorders is the Tascam DR05 - well under 100 (75 from Andertons music shop - they do mail order, have it in stock and are well known - Amazon are expensive for this at 99) - easy to use - windshield and lots of other useful accesories etc are readily available on Amazon etc.. It runs on AA batteries and you may want to buy a bigger micro sd/sdhc card than the one that comes with it. Both ther user manual and the reference manual are downloadable from the manufacturers website (this applies to all recorders). There is a slight confusion as to the difference between version I and version II models - they are identical hardware - it was just a readily available firmware upgrade and anyway it is extremely unlikely you will bump into the early version except as second hand.

Excellent value for the money, but others on this forum will have other views on starter kit and their suggestions will be worth listening to.

Nearly forgot - make sure that you have some easily carried headphones or earphones - listening to what you are recording at the very least means you can optiise the direction you are pointing your microphones - the built in speakers (if any) - are pretty useless.

Come back with your questions - you will have them (especially on interfacing some microphones that use xlr connectors etc to recorders with 3.5 mm jack inputs) and someone will do their best to answer them. We seem to be few in number, but friendly I hope.


postcardcv Tuesday 4th June 2019 13:16

Thanks for the advice. Lots more reading and thinking to do. I was looking online at the Zoom h4n which I have seen mentioned by a few people on here and also at the cheaper Tascam DR-05 which looks like it could be a good budget solution. That said I’d rather pay more for the Zoom if it is worth the extra...

Fat Paul Scholes Tuesday 4th June 2019 14:03

I use the zoom and really like it - but I know nothing about the Tascam so I can't tell you how much better it is, if it's any better at all! However, I'm sure that it'll be suitable as starter kit.

No set up is without issue. My gripes with the Zoom are a) that it guzzles battery power so to get anything more than a couple of hours out of it I need to run it on a powerbank, and b) it has a long startup time (i.e. the time it takes between turning it on and it being ready to record). I get around this by turning it on and leaving it on all day, recording as I go.

Maybe someone who uses a tascam will tell you that it's perfect - if so, go for that!

Just to reiterate - buying the kit, setting it up and recording the bird is really only half of the deal. You will need to edit your recordings and the more comfortable you get doing that, the more you will get out of recording bird sounds. Audacity will help you visualise and clip, and clean all of those recordings you make, at no cost.

iveljay Tuesday 4th June 2019 15:19

The latest version of the Zoom H4n the H4N Pro is good and is much heavier than the DR05 as it has XLR connectors that make it easier to connect the better microphones. This latest version also has good pre-amps i.e less background noise from is electronics. I have one that is slated for evaluation soon. I gather that it still guzzles batteries and start up time gets longer the bigger memory card you use.
There is a significant difference in weight, cost and bulk, but it is more flexible and you will be able to use it for most portable recording needs more easily.

I havn't used any hand held Zoom recorders much yet, but compared to the bigger Tascams such as my DR100 MkIII the battery consumption is a downside - the DR100 has an internal rechargeable battery, internal back up AAs and a takes a bolt on battery pack that has to be manually switched over. However we are now entering the same arms race as we see on the photography and binocular forums.....and as several threads point out for complete security of power you need to move up to the big luggable recorders.

Battery performance is usually in the specification section of the instruction manuals as is info on the best memory cards etc., you will learn that battery performance has minimal corrrelation to the number of batteries the recorder uses. I have an old Yamaha unit that runs for ever on a single AA cell!

There are no perfect audio recorders, just those that work for you best.

I also have a Zoom H5 lined up, that being a later generation than the H4 is rumoured to have slightly better battery consumption, but has interchangeable microphone modules including a short shotgun, but I record other things as well as birds, so I need flexibility for the portables as my most powerful recorders are totally unsuitable for field use.

For investing for use over a long period the Zoom H4N Pro is a good choice, for simple use and excellent value for money the DR05 is good, I could come up with other choices, they will all have their downsides as the less expensive end of the market is mainly designed for musicians and reporters.

So - of the two, I would personally go for the Zoom, but I will make full use of it (as you may after a while), but the Tascam DR05 has a lot of followers too, decisions like this can drive you mad you know....

At the end of the day - follow your dreams and learn with whatever you've got and as Mark says you can do wonders in post processing.

iveljay Tuesday 4th June 2019 17:15


Comparative boot times for a number of currently commercially available recorders I have lying around. Rounded up to nearest second, in all but the Olympus rounding up was the nearest time anyway.

Baby Olympus LS-P4 16 Gb ---- 5 seconds (4.3 actually - the fastest)
Tascam DR05 8 Gb ---- 5 seconds
Tascam DR100 MkIII 8 Gb ---- 6 seconds
Zoom H4N Pro 8 Gb ---- 19 seconds
16 Gb ---- 43 seconds

So if the only consideration was start up time that is the result.
However the Olympus and DR05 don't have XLR connectors, so tend to have a less efficient sound transfer from the best microphones. The DR100 is perhaps overkill.
Tascams, Olympus and Zoom all have different menus and other control considerations that suit some folks more than others and they all have different battery lifes.

So of the Zoom H4N Pro and the Tascam DR05 I still prefer the Zoom for its overall flexibility and state of the art pre-amps, but thats me. I would suggest that one should stick with 8 Gb cards for it which is plenty big for most people.

Happy hunting.

postcardcv Tuesday 4th June 2019 23:15

Thanks to you both for all of the info and advice - I’m not sure that I am any closer to working out what I want to buy but am starting to understand a little of what I need to look for. I’ve downloaded Audacity to have a play with and try to get to grips with so will see how I get on.

Fat Paul Scholes Tuesday 4th June 2019 23:23

Good luck - this might be useful.

postcardcv Wednesday 5th June 2019 10:34


Originally Posted by iveljay (Post 3856820)
So of the Zoom H4N Pro and the Tascam DR05 I still prefer the Zoom for its overall flexibility and state of the art pre-amps, but thats me. I would suggest that one should stick with 8 Gb cards for it which is plenty big for most people.

Happy hunting.

Can I ask a favour? I am trying to get my head around the physical size difference of theses two recorders. If you get a chance could you take a photo of them together (ideally with something standard as a scale reference). Thanks.

postcardcv Wednesday 5th June 2019 11:05


Originally Posted by Fat Paul Scholes (Post 3856972)

Thanks for that, had a quick look and think it will help me to get to grips with it.

iveljay Wednesday 5th June 2019 12:57

2 Attachment(s)
Pictures hopefully attached. Illustrating the sort of range of handhelds around.

The Olympus is clearly the smallest, has a built in retractable usb connector, runs on a single rechargeable AAA battery - that is reputed to last a long time. It has a 3.5 mm ext microphone connector and is light enough to attach to a battery holder on a shotgun microphone. It could be attached to clothing and worn.

Tascam DR05, a bit big to wear, it uses 2 AA size batteries and has the same 3.5 mm microphone connector as the Olympus.

Zoom H4N Pro. Thicker and heavier than the DR05. It has 2 AA batteries and these days has a very nice non slip rubberised coating. The external microphone connections are now 2 mono XLR/1/4 inch jacks in the base. Feels solidly substatial and business like.

Zoom H5 Loads in 8 seconds with a 16 Gb card - Also uses 2 AA cells. Similar connections in the base to the H4N but not locking as on H4N.
Case nicely stream lined but feels slippery - not sure that I'd use it outdoors without a lanyard round my neck or wrist. Two major functional changes from H4N - rotary microphone gain controls as opposed to click up or down buttons on everything before and an interchangeable microphone module above the screen allowing a selection of other microphones to be fitted.

Tascam DR100 Mk III. Even bigger and heavier. It uses a built in rechargeable battery and carries a reserve of 2 AA cells. It has both the connectors on the H4N and a 3.5mm stereo mic input. Its frontal array of microphones is fixed but has 2 sets - one directional stereo set facing forward and an ambient set angled left and right. The built in microphones are fully caged and far better protected than those on the H5, though the H5 has upgraded shock mounts to compensate. Lots of toys for this - all useful such as bolt on battery packs and wired remotes. Lots of buttons so much more direct control than having to use menus all the time. Designed to work for its living - but on the upper limits of a handheld for weight and size.

Clearly there are many more considerations - such as price which I havn't mentioned , but these are quite typical in their various categories to other manufacturers offerings other than the Olympus which is a bit on its own.

iveljay Wednesday 5th June 2019 13:49

A brief note on the little Olympus. I have in the past said that I prefered its slightly bigger (discontinued) predecessor, however I have an admission.

Despite its small operating controls I do actually use it a lot, its so small it can go just about everywhere and accompanys me to rehearsals or trips into the countryside when I don't intend to record anything but might. In fact I took advantage of the recent Amazon bargain sale and bought its twin. It allows me to include one in the prepacked bags I assemble for the various projects I get involved in from time to time.

It also has a voice guide (like a sat nav) that I switch off, but can be useful if you have left your reading glasses at home!

However - would I use it as my primary audio recorder in adverse conditions with numb fingers etc., probably not - the others have bigger buttons, but if push came to shove it would get the job done.

A plus point for the Zooms - mine came in simple plastic hard cases - great for protecting them against dust and travelling knocks, but not big enough for anything else to be included.

When talking about cases, the Duragadget protective EVA case takes all the bigger recorders here and some necessary bits - such as battery chargers, usb cords etc. All fit easily other than the H5 which needs to have the partitions re-arranged so it can go in sideways - the mic module makes it a bit too long to fit vertically. They has a removable container for added protection of smaller recorders but it is too small for the bigger ones and I re-use to hold other stuff in my other travelling bags. I use these a lot.

postcardcv Wednesday 5th June 2019 19:08

1 Attachment(s)
Just been spending some time playing with Audacity, clearly I've got a lot to learn about it. I found an old dictaphone so recorded some bird song on that to play about with. I am assuming that I'll notice the difference in sound quality with a better machine.

I've attached a snippet of what I've just recorded, just clipped the front and end off it as it was clunking. Anything recorded when holding the dictaphone had horrible background noise but when set down it was not too bad.

Fat Paul Scholes Thursday 6th June 2019 14:46

If you want to play around with some nicer noises you can download from Xeno-Canto and the Macaula Library.

postcardcv Thursday 6th June 2019 23:04

I think that I’m swaying towards the Zoom, I suspect it will have many features that I’ll never use but will no doubt wish I have them if I go for the Tascam! I am curious about how it works using a power bank. Do you use a standard USB power bank like I would have for my mobile? Does it power via the USB port or would I need to get a specific lead?

Fat Paul Scholes Friday 7th June 2019 08:08

1 Attachment(s)
I think any powerbank will do - but the 'bigger' the better. You'll need a cable such as this one to run between the powerbank and the recorder, and they fit together like in the picture. Please excuse the rather manky piece of tape that's keeping the cable organised...

You still need to have some batteries in the recorder while you run it off the powerbank. If you're interested in Nocmig, you can get an AD-14 adaptor to run the recorder off the mains overnight.

postcardcv Monday 10th June 2019 16:56

he he he - I am so rubbish at shopping!

After reading more reviews, watching some videos and listening to sample recordings I decided that the h4n was the one for me. I then saw a used Tascam dr-100mkII on eBay and bid on that, but didn't win it. Started to feel that the Zoom was more than I would need to perhaps the much cheaper Tascam dr-05 was the way to go instead. Lots more reading done and yet more audio samples listened too and I was more confused that ever. The Tascam will clearly do what I am initially wanting it to do, however the Zoom is a bit more future proof (I don't think I will need anymore than it offers in the foreseeable future) and will be good when my kids want performances recording... now to reconvene myself that it is worth the extra money. Once I've done that I need to order it quick before I get distracted and confused again (made the mistake of also looking at the Zoom H5 and the Tascam dr-40 too).

iveljay Tuesday 11th June 2019 01:56

You earlier asked the question, whether you would hear the difference?

Its a bit like photography, will a very advanced and expensive camera end up giving you better photographs?

The answer to that one is that initially they may even be worse, as you get to grips with it. The photos I get of my grandchildren are brilliant, my children take out their phone and snap them at their best without having to think to much about it.

However, I used to take a lot of photographs that would be seen and owned by other people, I could only guarantee to do that with a much more advanced set of equipment I knew like the proverbial back of my hand. My biggest critics being my own family.

It all boils down to what you want from it, my little Olympuses are used as my point and shoot recorders, and for that almost any of the recoders we are talking about can do. If I was thinking of hanging an external mic on something I would probably use something like the Zoom, though the Olympus would cope. The Olympus has the virtue of minimal size and weight with good performance, but for anything else I find other things more useful.

As for the DR05, there was a nice music clip on YouTube one of the responses to it praised its quality and asked what settings he used on his DR05 to achieve this. His response was along the lines that he was a simple non-technical musician and just pressed the record button.... Bear in mind that music is louder than birds so its a bit easier getting acceptable music recordings than many other things.

If you think that you will want to start doing more advanced things then the Zoom H4N Pro will give you the headroom to grow into it. It is bigger and heavier, but the chances are you will never need anything else.

The Tascam DR100 Mk II you missed was not a great loss, previous generation components compared to the Mk III which has had numerous tweeks to improve it considerably.

I have had a Tascam DR40 (the original design with the moving microphones) for a long time, but the intention of getting the Zoom H4N Pro was that it has been upgraded recently and has a better sound performance than the DR40 that was better than the Zoom up until its latest version.

So will you hear a difference? Potentially yes....however the answer has as much to do with you as whatever equipment you have. I suspect that you already know this though.

To put in into proportion - what binoculars or birding camera with a basic lens can you buy for the 175 ish pounds the Zoom costs?

If you decide to go for the excellent shot gun microphone setup that many birders use that will set you back approx 350 plus a little bit for a cable that fits whatever recorder you eventually own. This again is at the low end of what any lens for a camera would cost, but will you be fired up enough to get and use one?

There are some excellent shops that will willingly sell you a crystal ball if that helps.

Fat Paul Scholes Tuesday 11th June 2019 10:08


Originally Posted by postcardcv (Post 3858663)
he he he - I am so rubbish at shopping!

After reading more reviews, watching some videos and listening to sample recordings I decided that the h4n was the one for me. I then saw a used Tascam dr-100mkII on eBay and bid on that, but didn't win it. Started to feel that the Zoom was more than I would need to perhaps the much cheaper Tascam dr-05 was the way to go instead. Lots more reading done and yet more audio samples listened too and I was more confused that ever. The Tascam will clearly do what I am initially wanting it to do, however the Zoom is a bit more future proof (I don't think I will need anymore than it offers in the foreseeable future) and will be good when my kids want performances recording... now to reconvene myself that it is worth the extra money. Once I've done that I need to order it quick before I get distracted and confused again (made the mistake of also looking at the Zoom H5 and the Tascam dr-40 too).

If you don't buy one, you'll never record anything ;-)

To me, you're overthinking this. You may well be able to hear the difference between the different recorders - but you'll only ever know about that if you buy them all. The spec of the recorder is actually a pretty small part of the overall equation, in terms of getting decent recordings. The proximity and volume of the bird, the amount of wind, the amount of background noise, the type of mic, and the time you spend learning how to clean up recordings in Audacity are all more important than buying the right recorder. I do a lot of recording next to a sewage works - and the best recorder in the world is still going to pick up the hum of the machinery, the vehicles coming and going, the wind rustling through the leaves, people yelling at their dogs etc etc.

peter.jones Tuesday 11th June 2019 11:30

I agree. I have a zoom h2n, it's old now, I wouldn't necessarily recommend it. I use it during overhead migration.
When I hear a call, and play back later to analyse what it was, it often picks up several calls from the bird before and after the single call I heard! That's good enough for me!

So buy one with decent reviews on here, in your budget, and enjoy

iveljay Tuesday 11th June 2019 15:48

Truth be told, I transitioned from tape to solid state memory in January 2009. The recorder still works, I have a full set of microphones that go with it and it still gets used.

It has its limitations which is why I bought the Oly LS-11 a few years later in 2012.

A year later te LS-11s pre-amps could not be stretched to get the quality of sound I wanted out of a shotgun mic I was using on a project, so along came the Sony PCM M10.

XLR connections are far less fragile in the field than 3.5 mm trs connectors and a balanced signal audio cable gives a stronger signal and is far less prone to external electrical interference in some locations, hence the Tascam DR-40 and so the arms race continued as I hit problems with what I had.

The LS-11 still actually meets most of my needs after 7 years and the only reason I now use its newer Olympus (easily replaced) siblings on a day to day basis as is that there is nothing currently available that suits me as well if anything happened to it.

Peter's Zoom H2N has pretty unique features for recording ambient bird song, it has an built in array of microphones that can give you a selection of recording fields including 360 degree coverage - there is no shortage of good recorders out there that we havn't looked at.

So with a field of excellent runners - all on form, but with different strengths and weaknesses - which one will you back?

GMS Friday 14th June 2019 08:06


Originally Posted by Fat Paul Scholes (Post 3858849)
If you don't buy one, you'll never record anything ;-)

Agreed. I spent too much time looking and going round in circles.
I've gone for the budget option now, sold my old Zoom H1 and got the Tascam DR-05 as a starter kit. I hope a good solution at 71. I'll test it for the next few months and during autumn vismig and see how it works out. Can always upgrade in future

Also got an Audiomoth device as a nocmig starter kit for the garden. Almost more excited about that one !

Torchepot Friday 14th June 2019 09:36

I have the DR-05 and have been using it for a couple of years now. No complaints - it’s worked faultlessly. I use mine for remote recording - sealed in a sandwich box with a microphone attached to the box. Considering that it’s being left out in all weathers over extended periods - it’s proving to be a tough little machine.

Just a heads up - if you decide to add a powerbank or USB external battery to extend battery life - you may have the same issue that I have had. The DR-05 draws very little current - even with the display illuminated permanently and power to the mic turned on. Of the several “smart” powerbanks I’ve tried they turn themselves off long before they’re depleted as the current drawn is so low it fools them into acting as if the device is fully charged (sometimes within a few seconds!) I finally found one that doesn’t do that - link here

I should say that the result is that I’m now able to get almost 72 hours continuous recording with the machine unattended (with a decent pair of AA batteries on board too).

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