5 Best Portable Digital Recorders for Live Music

March 08, 2019 3 min read

5 Best Portable Digital Recorders for Live Music

When it comes to audio recorders for music, everyone gravitates toward their own unique setup, whether it’s specific to a music studio, a concert venue, or a home studio. It all depends on the type of sound you’re going for. But if you’re ever in a pinch for a sound bite and don’t have an arsenal of recording gear at your immediate disposal, a portable recorder is the way to go while on the go.

Live recording can always be a little tricky when accounting for environmental noise or unplanned situations, so here are some recommendations for mobile recorders to suit your varying mobile recording needs.

It’s widely accepted that Tascam and Zoom are the two most major competitors for audio recorders on the market - Sony, Roland, Yamaha and Olympus offer some decent alternatives, but for the industry standard in quality and performance, let’s stick with the top dogs.

The Zoom H1n is your plain-and-simple point and shoot for audio recorders. This lightweight and straightforward sound stick is easily adaptable with an external microphone or DSLR tripod setup, with a sound format range of 16-bit/44.1kHz to 24-bit/96kHz that lets you record any number of rehearsals, dialogues or performances in clear stereo.

While it isn’t anything fancy, it’ll get the job done with the durable and versatile recording quality of the Zoom brand.

For a recorder with a few more options for fine-tuning your live sound, we look to the Tascam DR-05.Similar in size, sound and price to the H1, this recorder includes just a few more tricks up its sleeve -- including peak reduction, variable speed audition, level-align, loop/repeat playback, self-timer, integrated editing, and a chromatic tuner.

I’ve used this recorder for DSLR-synced interviews (outdoor, I might add), and I was not disappointed in its easy setup and impressive quality.

Zoom H4N PRO Digital Multitrack Recorder - 2016 Version -  - 1

One go-to medium-grade recorder is none other than the Zoom H4n Multi-Track Recorder.

This compact 4-track recorder comes with 2 built-in stereo microphones, as well as 2 XLR mic inputs, all with high-fidelity preamps and a production value that is built to last. With phantom power, up to 140 dB SPL, a low-noise floor, and the capacity for 32 GB of storage space, you’ll never miss another quality soundbite again.

Alright, time to get into the heavy hitters. First up: the Tascam DR-70D.With 4 XLR inputs, plus a built-in omnidirectional stereo mic, this powerhouse PCM recorder comes equipped with all kinds of gadgets that can really pack a punch for live sound. Each input of the 70D features a low-cut filter, limiter, and individual gain control (up to 64dB!) for a wide variety of soundscapes.

It even comes with a special Dual Recording Mode, which can record a lower-level copy of your original recording for any unforeseen peak audio, making post-production a foolproof operation. For all of its power, the only downside to this machine is its lackluster battery life, so if the 70D’s features seem to fit your bill, make sure to add an external battery power supply.

Similarly, and lastly, is the Zoom F4 Multitrack Recorder, another power-sucking, yet marvelous, mobile recorder. With comparable controls to its Tascam competitor, the F4 boasts a 6-input/8-track interface, LCD display with accurate timecode, and on-board mixer for controlling volume, pan, noise reduction, and just about every other sound parameter you can think of.

From phantom power to strong preamps to shortcut controls to doubling as a USB audio interface, I would be hard-pressed to find something this recorder can’t do.

There are a wide array of digital recorders out there to choose from, and everyone has their own unique setup that caters to their sound-capturing needs. The trickiest part is finding your particular setup. I encourage you to try out a handful of recorders to find one that resonates with you and your work, even if it’s not any of these 5 recorders. Each one comes with their own strengths and limits, and it is up to YOU, the recorder, to discover them all.


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