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Sound Recorder Advice (1 Viewer)

Andrew Clarke

Well-known member
Greetings all

So my antique mini-disc has finally died and I’m looking for a new recorder to use with my Sennheiser ME66/K6 Microphone System, pre-amp, Rycote shaggy dog windshield, pistol grip shockmount & handle and Sennheiser headphones. To be honest I haven’t got as much use out of this kit as I should and am looking forward to upgrading.

I’ve been researching semi-pro sound recorders lately and I’m rather unsure what to go for. There are so many options out there. Reading many and various websites and blog posts especially the interesting review by Jez Riley French (who runs sound recording workshops etc) over at http://jezrileyfrench-aquietposition.blogspot.com/2015/12/a-quick-guide-to-hand-held-recorders.html has got me scratching my head but am currently veering towards the Olympus LS-100.

I’m looking for something smallish, portable, reliable that I can use in rough field conditions at various temperatures/humidity (including ‘noc-migging’), easy to operate, good battery life, that I can use on its own with a “pre-record” button when I don’t want to lug the mic around and that I can also use as a mini-studio. Price wise I don’t want to go over £250 if possible. The Sound Devices / Telinga kit will have to wait until I’ve had a good rummage behind the sofa for more pennies.

So I’d be grateful if any experienced sound recordings could offer any help and advice. What kit have you tried and how did you find it? Always been a bit of a Luddite - is there anything glaringly obvious I should bear in mind on one recorder over another in that price range? Do I need any extra cables/accessories to link the above to my mic? How many channels do I really need for field recording?

Apologies if this topic has reared its ugly head again - we all have to start somewhere - but any feedback/help would be greatly appreciated!

Good Birding


Andrew
 

Borjam

Registered User
Supporter
For that kind of money you can consider a second hand unit.

I would recommend two in particular: The Fostex FR-2LE and the Tascam HD-P2. Both have very good microphone preamps. Although the headphone amplifier in the FR-2LE is terrible. Just learn to trust the preamps :)

Downside (or not) of the FR-2LE and the HD-P2 is, Compact Flash media is much more expensive. On the other hand it's more reliable.

For new units have a look at the Tascam DR-70D and the DR-701D. According to the Avisoft noise input comparison they are very good. And their price is great.

http://www.avisoft.com/recordertests.htm

As for batteries, the FR-2LE accepts a 4000 mAh battery for more than 8 hours of continuos recording. These batteries are cheap. The Tascam DR-70D and DR-701D can be powered from common USB batteries.

Any of these recorders has proper microphone inputs with XLR connectors and they can give phantom power to the microphones. So you won't need fancy adaptors. Just straight XLR cables.

I forgot: You won't need a microphone preamp with any of these unless yours is a high end unit from Sound Devices or something of the sort.

Number of channels needed, depends on what you want to do. For example, three channels allow you to place a stereo microphone for ambience while using a shotgun on the third channel. Or you can use an extra channel as a slate mic (place a lavalier on your body and make voice notes while recording) etc.
 
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Andrew Clarke

Well-known member
For that kind of money you can consider a second hand unit.

I would recommend two in particular: The Fostex FR-2LE and the Tascam HD-P2. Both have very good microphone preamps. Although the headphone amplifier in the FR-2LE is terrible. Just learn to trust the preamps :)

Downside (or not) of the FR-2LE and the HD-P2 is, Compact Flash media is much more expensive. On the other hand it's more reliable.

For new units have a look at the Tascam DR-70D and the DR-701D. According to the Avisoft noise input comparison they are very good. And their price is great.

http://www.avisoft.com/recordertests.htm

As for batteries, the FR-2LE accepts a 4000 mAh battery for more than 8 hours of continuos recording. These batteries are cheap. The Tascam DR-70D and DR-701D can be powered from common USB batteries.

Any of these recorders has proper microphone inputs with XLR connectors and they can give phantom power to the microphones. So you won't need fancy adaptors. Just straight XLR cables.

I forgot: You won't need a microphone preamp with any of these unless yours is a high end unit from Sound Devices or something of the sort.

Number of channels needed, depends on what you want to do. For example, three channels allow you to place a stereo microphone for ambience while using a shotgun on the third channel. Or you can use an extra channel as a slate mic (place a lavalier on your body and make voice notes while recording) etc.

That’s great Borjam - just the kind of information I’m after :t:

I take it you don’t like Olympus?

Lots more thinking and head scratching to be done I reckon.

Any more responses would be greatly appreciated.
 

Borjam

Registered User
Supporter
That’s great Borjam - just the kind of information I’m after :t:



I take it you don’t like Olympus?



Lots more thinking and head scratching to be done I reckon.



Any more responses would be greatly appreciated.



Looking at the numbers the Olympus is in a bit of a disadvantage. Every decibel is sacred :)

The main advantage of the Olympus is hand held usage. The Tascams I mentioned are intended to be used in a bag or on top of a tripod.
 

beetle

Mark Telfer
I'm here looking for advice myself. But based on my experience using the Olympus LS-12, I'd say you'd do well with the LS-100. Whatever the merits of those Tascam units, they are surely too big for use while out birding. My LS-12 sits in my top pocket or in a little shoulder-holster I made and records all day long while I'm out birding (just on the in-built mics with a fluffy hood); really handy for reviewing calls of fly-over pipits in the autumn, etc. Batteries last for 2-3 full days in the field. I also use it with my Sennheiser ME66/K6. I have dropped it and abused it with no ill-effects. It has phantom-power which I need for running my nocmig setup. What it does not have, which would be an advantage of the LS-100 is plug-in power and a modern rechargeable Li-ion battery. Only runs off 2xAA and with a phantom-powered mic a pair only lasts 2 nights of nocmig recording. My other gripe is that it only records in stereo for the high-quality recording settings, which is pointless with my mono nocmig microphone!
 

iveljay

Well-known member
I started replying to this when it started and backed out as my response was turning into a book, largely trying to guess precisely what you would be happy with. Its so long since I owned a mini disk unit that I find it difficult to predict. At first any modern reasonable quality audio recorder will seem good, the trouble is that after you have been using it for a while you will be a lot clearer on what you really want.

The two new Tascam units mentioned are designed to be bolted under a camera or onto a tripod, technically good but not ideal field equipment possibly, but thats just for me.

My current favourite from Tascam is the DR100 MkIII - the older MkII is a far inferior beast so don't be tempted to buy a Mk 2 however good a bargain it seems. It is about the same size as the Oly LS-100.

The LS-100 is a very old design, but has a lot going for it still as when new Olympus tried to get the best they had into it for the price. They have even issued a firmware update this year - not exactly critical but to keep European legislators happy.

Both the LS-100 and the DR-100 are powered by rechargeable batteries.

On the Oly when it runs flat, you can swap the battery out with a similar spare, as it uses what were quite common digital camera batteries.

The DR-100 has a built in recharegeable but also two internal AAs as a reserve and will switch to the reserve automatically. Furthermore there is an optional extra battery pack that screws onto its base taking 6 more AA cells, though this has to be manually switched in.

Neither is anywhere as small as Mark's LS-12, but both have xlr connectors which should normally be an improvement over the 3.5 mm jack on the LS-12. However the LS-12/14 range is discontinued despite being much younger than the LS-100 which is still available. Their replacements are even smaller LS-P1,P2 or P4 which I find too small, others disagree.

The trouble is that there are a lot of attractive options out here and as you have clearly got beyond the basics on your mini disk you are going to be quite critical of your purchase, if not today... etc.

I havn't mentioned Zoom recorders where even the aged H4 has recently been upgraded into the H4N-Pro with much better pre-amps again not to be confused with its predecessor H4N.

There are lots of excellent recorders out there and I have used a lot of them and cannot pick one that meets all my needs let alone anyone else.

My current favourite general purpose 'just about handheld' is the DR100 Mk3. But for general use my ancient Olympus LS-11 a hot favourite of many in the past or my other long time, but equally discontinued favourite Sony PCM M10 are much used.


A ranked list of quantifiable must -haves - such as desired continuous recording time - size - etc., are about the only way you or anyone else can help you, unless you want to go with your gut feeling and that can work surprisingly well too.

One thing that may help is to download the instructions of those you might consider - they are all available including many discontinued models that you may find second hand. After a while you will learn to skip over all the things you don't want to know - unfortunately they occasionally fail to mention something useful, but they all have summaries of their specs.

So probably a list of must haves or some sort of intended use profile - since just about anything available can cope one way or another with your ME66/K6 setup, its all the other things that will decide the issue.

J
 
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Andrew Clarke

Well-known member
I started replying to this when it started and backed out as my response was turning into a book, largely trying to guess precisely what you would be happy with. Its so long since I owned a mini disk unit that I find it difficult to predict. At first any modern reasonable quality audio recorder will seem good, the trouble is that after you have been using it for a while you will be a lot clearer on what you really want.

The two new Tascam units mentioned are designed to be bolted under a camera or onto a tripod, technically good but not ideal field equipment possibly, but thats just for me.

My current favourite from Tascam is the DR100 MkIII - the older MkII is a far inferior beast so don't be tempted to buy a Mk 2 however good a bargain it seems. It is about the same size as the Oly LS-100.

The LS-100 is a very old design, but has a lot going for it still as when new Olympus tried to get the best they had into it for the price. They have even issued a firmware update this year - not exactly critical but to keep European legislators happy.

Both the LS-100 and the DR-100 are powered by rechargeable batteries.

On the Oly when it runs flat, you can swap the battery out with a similar spare, as it uses what were quite common digital camera batteries.

The DR-100 has a built in recharegeable but also two internal AAs as a reserve and will switch to the reserve automatically. Furthermore there is an optional extra battery pack that screws onto its base taking 6 more AA cells, though this has to be manually switched in.

Neither is anywhere as small as Mark's LS-12, but both have xlr connectors which should normally be an improvement over the 3.5 mm jack on the LS-12. However the LS-12/14 range is discontinued despite being much younger than the LS-100 which is still available. Their replacements are even smaller LS-P1,P2 or P4 which I find too small, others disagree.

The trouble is that there are a lot of attractive options out here and as you have clearly got beyond the basics on your mini disk you are going to be quite critical of your purchase, if not today... etc.

I havn't mentioned Zoom recorders where even the aged H4 has recently been upgraded into the H4N-Pro with much better pre-amps again not to be confused with its predecessor H4N.

There are lots of excellent recorders out there and I have used a lot of them and cannot pick one that meets all my needs let alone anyone else.

My current favourite general purpose 'just about handheld' is the DR100 Mk3. But for general use my ancient Olympus LS-11 a hot favourite of many in the past or my other long time, but equally discontinued favourite Sony PCM M10 are much used.


A ranked list of quantifiable must -haves - such as desired continuous recording time - size - etc., are about the only way you or anyone else can help you, unless you want to go with your gut feeling and that can work surprisingly well too.

One thing that may help is to download the instructions of those you might consider - they are all available including many discontinued models that you may find second hand. After a while you will learn to skip over all the things you don't want to know - unfortunately they occasionally fail to mention something useful, but they all have summaries of their specs.

So probably a list of must haves or some sort of intended use profile - since just about anything available can cope one way or another with your ME66/K6 setup, its all the other things that will decide the issue.

J

Many thanks for the detailed response Iveljay - some really useful comments in your reply :t:

As you say there are many variables to consider - am still working through and revising my ‘ranked list of desirables’ as you put it. Although several of the well regarded sound recorders are discontinued I think I’ll probably buy a new unit to benefit from the warranty.

I’m surprised that I’ve had less feedback from people to be honest. Must be many birders who’ve researched the subject and started up with a nocmig rig of late. It would be handy to know what models the experienced BirdForum sound recordists started with, what they’ve upgraded to and which models they will obtain in the future?

Thanks again

Andrew
 
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iveljay

Well-known member
It may appear the world is ignoring you and those who are replying are not being that helpful in their (verbose in my case) replies.

Usually the biggest problem is to convince folks to buy decent microphones - you don't need this advice.

Unfortunately I have had dozens of interests throughout my life that overlap with themselves and with my work.

Both audio and photography go back well over 60 years, as do studying nature, playing music etc.

My microphones range from minute covert things to at one stage a large home-brewed parabolic. My equipment covers uses as diverse as proving sound for a village panto and recording birdsong.

I meet many people out with binoculars and cameras, but audio equipment, next to never.

The only caviat to that are professional sound recordists who not unexpectedly have kit that I could never justify buying.

Like things photographic, the general public want to record everything from babies first cry to an orchestral concert on their i-phone and schools are debating if they should drop the last residual music they may be teaching on instruments in favour of using DAWs to make music from loops in future.

As such fewer manufacturers are bringing out new products and are just selling their older designs such as the LS-100, Olympus have very obviously largely dropped out of the decent quality domestic music/ video recrding market place and possibly the sole reason the LS-100 is still with us is because it now it has had its firmware enhanced to provide high quality sound track and integration for their top of the range OMD_EMx cameras.

Quite honestly the only reason I am kept busy at various times is because the last person who knew how to link radio mics into something else has just died or whatever.

If you are simply taking your excellent microphone into the field and recording birds, you are looking for a recorder with a high gain and the best signal to noise you can get for your money. You may find that your existing pre-amp is good enough. Pretty well re-iterating what others have said above.

When I was looking for something similar a few years ago my Sony PCM M10 met that need being noticeably superior in audio trials run against my Olympus LS-11 (the LS-11 has other virtues), this was 6 years ago and both are still in use alongside my more flexible Tascams and a Zoom H5 I am supposed to be evaluating. The recorders I keep are those that fit a task profile - a ranked wish list (or specification) - better than others and are bagged up together with necessary mics, dead cats, power suppies, shock mounts etc to do a particular type of task.

I would dearly love to find something that would be perfect for all roles, the nearest being some very nice field recorders which still aren't perfect as (a) - they don't fit in my pocket or (b) can't replicate the functionality of my 32 track Tascam for starters.

So like you I still read endless reviews - download the manuals and specs for kit to meet some task that it is rumoured to maybe be needed in 12 months time, that I may be able to convince the source to buy for themselves rather than me having to adapt what I already have.

The best performers tend to be those devices that are still selling and therefore competing against others so the latest affordable low noise pre-amps are being fitted, this means the top of the range hand helds Tascam DR100 Mk3s (my old favourite DR-40 has older design pre-amps and can't compete with others later designs) or Zoom H6/H5/H4N Pro: video systems such as the Tascam DR 70 and its siblings and competitors; or expensive professional field recorders.

For those occasions when my recordings have correctable faults I tend to use things like Audacity (free), but have also invested in the Sound Forge Audio Cleaning Lab software. Even the former can reduce pre-amp noise and generally improve a dodgy recording. Though a lot of problems would have been avoided if I had followed my own advice and monitored all recordings in real time with headphones.

We are in no way trivialising or criticising you for asking the problem, its just a bit like ones teenage child asking their parent about the best way to date a possible lifelong attachment, it seemed so simple when I was doing it and quite honestly these days the response would be - 'you remember that smartphone I bought you ....'.

Ok no child has ever asked a parent that question, but our feelings are the same - a genuine problem that we wish to whatever that we knew an obvious answer.
 
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Borjam

Registered User
Supporter
Currently I use a Sound Devices MixPre-3 which has an amazing noise floor and big preamp gain.

Before that I used the Marantz PMD661mkii which is quite good (and capable of recording bats quite well with its built in microphones at 96 KHz) and a Fostex FR2LE.

In the microphone front I used an AKG Blue Line body with the CK98 shotgun capsule (it
 

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