If you’re shopping for handheld field recorders, but not quite sure yet what you’re looking for…
Or how to tell the difference between one model and the next…
You’ve come to the right place.
Because in this ultimate guide, you’re about to get a crash-course on the 9 best field recorders on the market today, to see exactly how they stack up against each other.
So here’s what we’re about to cover:
Table of Contents:
- The Original Standard in Portable Field Recorders
- A Portable Recorder with 5 Different Mics
- A Professional Option with 2 XLR Inputs
- The Best Portable Audio Recorder for Filmmakers
- A “Prosumer” Field Recorder with Amazing Built-In Mics
- The Top-of-the-Line Handheld Recorders in the Zoom Lineup
- A Field Recorder Capable of 192kHz Recordings
- The Most Expensive Field Recorder on the List
The Original Standard in Portable Field Recorders
Easily the most recognizable field recorder on the market today…
The Zoom H1n is the updated version of the original modern field recorder: the H1.
For 90% of the people reading this post, this is the model I’d recommend. And here’s why:
- It’s extremely affordable
- It’s super easy to use
- It’s light and portable
- It allows for easy stereo recording
And despite its simplicity, it’s somehow still extremely popular among pros who have their pick of unlimited high-end gear.
A Portable Recorder with 5 Different Mics
Compared to the H1n, the main upgrade you’re get from the Zoom H2n, is the extra mics:
- 2 in the front – for XY Stereo recording
- 3 in the back – 1 backwards/2 sideways
Together, this combination of mics allows for multiple styles of stereo recording including:
- X/Y – which is the standard method
- Mid-Side – which allows you to narrow or widen the stereo image in post
- 2 Channel Surround – aka spatial audio, which is a type of 360° audio used with the Google Jump VR Platform
- 4 Channel Surround – which creates a 3D image using a 4-channel mix
The H2n also offers a pre-record feature, which essentially records constantly, allowing you to capture moments even when you press record a moment too late.
It offers an auto-record/auto-stop feature, which essentially triggers a recording automatically at a certain volume level, then stops it when the volume drops off.
Overall, it’s a massive upgrade from the H1n, with only a minor upgrade in price.
A Professional Option with 2 XLR Inputs
If you’re noticing a trend so far in our selections, it’s simply because of the fact the Zoom recorders truly are the leaders in this field.
And their most popular model ever, is the Zoom H4n.
The main reason why it’s so popular, is that it was the first to offer two XLR inputs, allowing musicians and sound engineers to use any mics they choose.
It also offered many other useful features including:
- 90-120° Swiveling microphones
- Built-in guitar tuner
- 50 Built-in effects
- Audio Interface capability
The most current version of this design, the Zoom H4n Pro -(Amazon/B&H/Thomann), adds several improvements to the original, including:
- Lower Noise Floor
- Higher Gain
- Improved Screen for Outdoors
- Better Pre-amp for Dynamic Mics
The Best Portable Audio Recorder for Filmmakers
While very similar to the H4n Pro in both looks and features…
The Tascam DR-40x has several added features that Youtubers and filmmakers can both appreciate:
- Line-in input – to connect with cameras and other audio/video devices
- BWF (Broadcast Wave Format) – which handles useful metadata such as timestamping
- Secondary Safety Track – as an insurance against clipping
One more added feature worth mentioning: the dual mics can actually swing fully open for A/B stereo recording.
A “Prosumer” Field Recorder with Amazing Built-In Mics
Somewhere between consumer and professional grade models…we have the Sony PCMD-10 – (Amazon/B&H).
Compared to Sony’s high-end field recorders, which are primarly used for ultra accurate nature recording…
The PCMD-10 is targeted more towards typical on-the-go musicians and filmmakers, who are willing to sacrifice a tiny bit of sound quality for the sake of convenience.
And I mean a very tiny bit…since this model has arguably the highest quality built-in mics of any field recorder we’ve covered so far on this list.
And if you need even higher quality, you can always use the external XLR connections to use whatever microphone you desire.
The Top-of-the-Line Handheld Recorders in the Zoom Lineup
Once more, we’re moving up a level in the Zoom lineup…to the H5 and H6.
The first notable feature is the XLR/TRS combo inputs, which can be extremely useful for having the right connector available at the right time.
The next noteworthy feature is its multiple interchangable capsules that I’ve listed below:
- X/Y capsule
- Mid/Side capsule
- Shotgun capsule
- Mid/Side shotgun capsule
- Extra Double XLR/TRS Inputs
While the H5 and H6 are different in a number of small ways, the one BIG difference that will likely be the deciding factor is the number of XLR inputs. The H5 has 2 (4 with the extra connector), and the H6 has 4 (6 with the extra connector).
A Field Recorder Capable of 192kHz Recordings
For the most part, the vast majority of audio recordings are done at either 44.1 or 48 kHz.
However, with certain types of critical recording recording applications, where the very highest dynamic range is required…
Higher sample rates maybe used as well, all the way up to 192 kHz.
And the Tascam DR100-mkIII is one of the few devices in its class that can handle this much data through-put in real time.
If you’re not exactly sure why you’d need this feature, then you don’t need it.
But if you do, then I don’t need to explain it to you. So instead, I’ll just give you the link:
The Most Expensive Field Recorder on the List
So here’s why the Sony PCM D-100 is considered by many to be the ultimate pocket field recorder:
- It’s virtualy the only recorder be able to record Direct Stream Digital format, the ultimate in high-res audio.
- It automatically switches between internal storage and card storage when either one fills up.
- It has two converters per channel, with one recording at -12db as an insurance against clipping
And finally, the most awesome feature of all: a “quiet record” setting for the lowest level sound sources, that eliminates virtually all of the internal sounds of the device.
The biggest flaw with the PCM D-100 is that it has no XLR inputs, which for many people, is a definite deal breaker.
If that’s not a problem for you though, it’s definitely worth checking out:
- Sony PCM D-100 – (B&H)