Side by Side: Portable Recorders

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Since digital portable recorders have been introduced, there's been an explosion in the number of product offerings. The most basic devices offer multiple file formats and quality settings. The most common design has some type of stereo mic. Once the basics are covered, look at the various features. Battery life is an important concern so you're not constantly swapping cells as you work. One recorder offers dual power options to ensure long recording times.

Internal and removable storage, or a combo of both, depends on the usage. If the user won't be able to offload recordings regularly, removable is an advantage. The attached mics are certainly convenient, but they vary greatly in quality and sound. In some cases, a little equalization can be applied to improve the sound.

Other common options include on-board editing and effects and music tools such as a tuner or metronome. Again, depending on the user, these may be valuable tools. What really matters is how the unit operates in the hand of the user. Some users can dive deep into menus, while others need a few basic settings to be made for them. Every recorder we looked at provides a USB connection to transfer audio files.

Some recorders have special designs that work well for specific applications such as interviews or multi-track recordings. And if you plan to use an external mic with the recorder, look at the connector options. While a 3.5mm connector is reliable, an XLR offers a much more stable option.

ATS Nagra Mezzo

ATS Nagra Mezzo

This handheld recorder brings the Nagra quality to a compact and affordable package. It has 8GB of internal flash memory, built-in cardioid microphones for X-Y recording, an external microphone connection and line in and out connections. Recording quality is possible up to 24-bit, 96kHz in linear PCM or MP3 formats. An automatic gain control, voice-operated record function and low-cut filter assist in capturing the best recording. On-board editing allows for field editing. A built-in speaker and tripod thread mount round out the device.

Olympus LS-12, LS-14

Olympus LS-12, LS-14

The Olympus LS-12 and LS-14 capture audio with on-board directional stereo microphones. The 1.75" LCD menu screen provides intuitive and easy-to-follow settings, recording is made easier by the Mode Select Dial and Smart Mode features. The Mode Select Dial, located on the bottom right-hand corner of both recorders, can be set to the following modes: Tuner, Manual, Quick and Smart. Smart mode sets the recoding levels for less-experienced users. Both operate on two AA batteries. The LS-12 has 2GB internal memory, the LS-14 has 4GB internal memory. Both accept an SDHC memory card. Both include external mic and line inputs and a headphone jack, and will record up to 24-bit/96kHz signals.

Yamaha Pocketrak PR7

Yamaha Pocketrak PR7

The Pocketrak PR7 provides high-quality recordings whenever and wherever you need. Equipped with a newly developed crossed XY stereo microphone, the PR7 captures high-resolution stereo recordings, achieving consistent quality and natural sound. Additional tools for music recording include an onboard tuner and metronome, while overdubbing and marker editing, which are easily accessed via a simple, intuitive interface, can be used for field recording. It also features five optimized presets tailored to a variety of applications.

Yellowtec iXM

Yellowtec iXM

With a simple two-button, three-LED control panel, operation of this recorder is simple. The buttons are silent and waterproof as well. Levels are automatically set with Yellowtec's LEA engine. Twist-off twist-on (TOTO) exchangeable mic heads offer a variety of pickup options. The adjustable pre-roll recording buffer captures audio even before the record button is pushed. Power is supplied by a dual source: a built-in, rechargeable lithium-ion battery and three standard AA cells. It also sports a built-in headphone jack, line-in jack and USB 2.0 port to download recordings and charge the internal battery. It records to SD/SDHC memory cards.

Zoom H6

Zoom H6

The H6 offers six tracks of simultaneous recording and employs a system of interchangeable input capsules. Four capsules are available: stereo X/Y and MS (mid-side), both included with the H6, and shotgun and combo dual XLR/TRS capsules, available as options. It records directly to SD, SDHC and SDXC cards up to 128GB in a variety of MP3 and BWF-compliant WAV file formats. Four XLR/TRS combo jacks enable the connection of external microphones or line-level devices. Each input has its own dedicated gain control and pad switch, as well as phantom power in three different voltages.

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