Five Best Recording Devices

[vc_row][vc_column column_width_use_pixel=”yes” overlay_alpha=”50″ gutter_size=”3″ medium_width=”0″ mobile_width=”0″ shift_x=”0″ shift_y=”0″ shift_y_down=”0″ z_index=”0″ column_width_pixel=”800″][vc_column_text]We can all use another set of ears in the practice room to keep us honest. But picking the best device for our particular needs is a tricky task, with so many feature-packed devices to choose from. Do we go for convenience? Or sound quality? A mix of both? Or something else entirely?

Earlier this week I asked which portable studio recorders you thought were the best, and you nominated 14 of your favorites. Based on your feedback, here are your top five:

Disclosure: In some cases, I’ve linked to the Amazon pages for these devices. As an Amazon affiliate, I’d get a small commission if you happen to buy something through the link. It doesn’t change the price you’d pay, but does help support the site. =) Of course, if something about that makes your spidey senses tingle, that’s ok, just go to Amazon directly without clicking the links, and you’ll be all set.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row row_height_percent=”0″ overlay_alpha=”50″ gutter_size=”3″ column_width_use_pixel=”yes” shift_y=”0″ z_index=”0″ column_width_pixel=”800″][vc_column width=”1/4″][vc_single_image media=”5501″ media_width_percent=”100″][/vc_column][vc_column column_width_use_pixel=”yes” overlay_alpha=”50″ gutter_size=”3″ medium_width=”0″ mobile_width=”0″ shift_x=”0″ shift_y=”0″ shift_y_down=”0″ z_index=”0″ width=”3/4″ column_width_pixel=”800″][vc_custom_heading]iPhone / iPod / iPad[/vc_custom_heading][vc_column_text]It’s been said that the best camera is the one you have with you. Similarly, the best practice room companion may be the device you carry around with you 24/7. You probably won’t record your next album on an iDevice, but the sound quality is better than you might expect. The built-in voice recorder app is super easy to use, and if you want to upgrade to a paid app like iTalk Recorder Premium ($1.99) or StudioMini ($5.99) it’ll only set you back a few dollars.

For those using an Android device, Hi-Q MP3 Voice Recorder (Lite) seems to get the job done at a price that can’t be beat (free).[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row row_height_percent=”0″ overlay_alpha=”50″ gutter_size=”3″ column_width_use_pixel=”yes” shift_y=”0″ z_index=”0″ column_width_pixel=”800″][vc_column width=”1/4″][vc_single_image media=”5500″ media_width_percent=”100″][/vc_column][vc_column column_width_use_pixel=”yes” overlay_alpha=”50″ gutter_size=”3″ medium_width=”0″ mobile_width=”0″ shift_x=”0″ shift_y=”0″ shift_y_down=”0″ z_index=”0″ width=”3/4″ column_width_pixel=”800″][vc_custom_heading]iPhone/iPod + external mic[/vc_custom_heading][vc_column_text]If you like the convenience and portability of your iPhone/iPod, but want to kick the recording quality up a few notches, you can buy external microphones that plug into the dock connector on the bottom of your iDevice. The TASCAM iM2 (~$30) utilizes a pair of high-quality mics which are comparable to those used in their DR-series of portable studio recorders.

UPDATE (7-19-2018): The iM2 doesn’t work with the newer iPhones with the Lightning connector.

However, Blue Microphones makes a similar device called the MIKEY (~$100) that is a bit pricier but similarly easy to use. Zoom’s iQ7 (~$100) is also Lightning-compatible, as is Shure’s MV88 (~$150).[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row row_height_percent=”0″ overlay_alpha=”50″ gutter_size=”3″ column_width_use_pixel=”yes” shift_y=”0″ z_index=”0″ column_width_pixel=”800″][vc_column width=”1/4″][vc_single_image media=”5503″ media_width_percent=”100″][/vc_column][vc_column column_width_use_pixel=”yes” overlay_alpha=”50″ gutter_size=”3″ medium_width=”0″ mobile_width=”0″ shift_x=”0″ shift_y=”0″ shift_y_down=”0″ z_index=”0″ width=”3/4″ column_width_pixel=”800″][vc_custom_heading]Zoom H2 / H2n[/vc_custom_heading][vc_column_text]Portable recorders like the Zoom H2n (~$160) and the older model H2 have some advantages over smartphones. Longer battery life, higher quality built-in microphones, and the ability to use SD cards which you can swap in and out to expand capacity on demand. Not to mention the ability to plug in a far greater range of external mics if you want to. Readers liked the H2 (and the newer H2n) for its ease of use and the sound quality of recordings, both in practice room settings and in performances.

Since the post was originally written, Zoom has also released an updated version of their entry-level H1 recorder – the H1n (~$120), which has a slightly lower price tag, and is a definite upgrade over your phone’s built-in mic (listen to a comparison with the iPhone here).[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row row_height_percent=”0″ overlay_alpha=”50″ gutter_size=”3″ column_width_use_pixel=”yes” shift_y=”0″ z_index=”0″ column_width_pixel=”800″][vc_column width=”1/4″][vc_single_image media=”5504″ media_width_percent=”100″][/vc_column][vc_column column_width_use_pixel=”yes” overlay_alpha=”50″ gutter_size=”3″ medium_width=”0″ mobile_width=”0″ shift_x=”0″ shift_y=”0″ shift_y_down=”0″ z_index=”0″ width=”3/4″ column_width_pixel=”800″][vc_custom_heading]Zoom H4n[/vc_custom_heading][vc_column_text]The Zoom H4n (~$199) is a higher-end model than the H2n, with features like XLR input jacks that more experienced musicians will value. It’s also quite popular with videographers who pair this with a high-end DSLR to shoot high quality videos with great audio. If you find yourself trying to choose between a Zoom H2 and H4n, you can compare sound samples on this sound sample site (Thanks Christine!).

There’s also Zoom’s H5 (~$270) (couldn’t find a great comparison with the H4n, but you can listen to a comparison with the older H1 here). It might not be a significant enough upgrade to warrant ditching an existing H4n, but could be worth a look if you’re still undecided.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row row_height_percent=”0″ overlay_alpha=”50″ gutter_size=”3″ column_width_use_pixel=”yes” shift_y=”0″ z_index=”0″ column_width_pixel=”800″][vc_column width=”1/4″][vc_single_image media=”5502″ media_width_percent=”100″][/vc_column][vc_column column_width_use_pixel=”yes” overlay_alpha=”50″ gutter_size=”3″ medium_width=”0″ mobile_width=”0″ shift_x=”0″ shift_y=”0″ shift_y_down=”0″ z_index=”0″ width=”3/4″ column_width_pixel=”800″][vc_custom_heading]Roland R-05[/vc_custom_heading][vc_column_text]It may not be as well-known as the Zoom brand of portable recorders, but the Roland R-05 (~$199) nevertheless garnered a number of nominations from readers who praised the sound quality of the mics and faster audio scrolling to scan through your recordings more quickly.

UPDATE (7-19-2018): The Roland appears to be harder to find nowadays…I don’t know if it’s still being made.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row row_height_percent=”0″ overlay_alpha=”50″ gutter_size=”3″ column_width_use_pixel=”yes” shift_y=”0″ z_index=”0″ column_width_pixel=”800″][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_custom_heading]And the winner is…[/vc_custom_heading][vc_column_text]Voting was exceedingly tight, but coming out in first place by a hair (i.e. only two votes) was the iPhone / iPod / iPad. Presumably, the undeniable convenience of an iPhone outweighed the mediocre sound quality for the purposes of practice-room recording.

Tied for second were the higher-quality yet affordably-priced Zoom H2n (26%) and the more versatile and full-featured Zoom H4n (26%).

In third place, with 11% of the vote was the iPhone/iPod with external mic attachment.

And bringing up the rear with 7% was the Roland R-05.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row row_height_percent=”0″ overlay_alpha=”50″ gutter_size=”3″ column_width_use_pixel=”yes” shift_y=”0″ z_index=”0″ column_width_pixel=”800″][vc_column width=”1/4″][vc_single_image media=”9383″ media_width_percent=”100″][/vc_column][vc_column column_width_use_pixel=”yes” overlay_alpha=”50″ gutter_size=”3″ medium_width=”0″ mobile_width=”0″ shift_x=”0″ shift_y=”0″ shift_y_down=”0″ z_index=”0″ width=”3/4″ column_width_pixel=”800″][vc_custom_heading]Update – the Sony PCM-M10?[/vc_custom_heading][vc_column_text]Aside from the comment below, I’ve been hearing great things about the Sony PCM-M10 lately (currently ~$210, depending on where you look), and had a chance to play with it a tiny bit. It is compact, has great build quality, sounds pretty great, and for what it’s worth, if I were buying a portable recorder in this price range, it’d be at the top of my list.

Here’s a comparison of the Sony and Zoom H4n with some audio clips, and a thorough and helpful writeup and review of the Sony.

UPDATE (7/19/2018): Unfortunately, the Sony PCM-M10 appears to have been discontinued…

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Comments

47 Responses

  1. Thanks for this article. I also receive your newsletter via email.
    The wind instrument group I play in has found phone recording whether iPhone or high end Android to be pretty much worthless for assessing balance of the group and how we actually sound to people listening. We have tried video cameras, which are a little better and have used an American Audio Pocket Record. The latter has given us the best results, but is a bit hard to use in a practice environment where you want to start up quickly.
    What do you see as the best of these recorders for a wind group that includes trumped, flute, clarinet and sax? The Sony?

    1. Hi Charles,

      Yep, a phone can give you a sense of whether you’re in tune or if you’re rushing, but won’t help much with balance or dynamics or sound quality.

      For what you’re describing, there are a couple ways you could go:

      WAY #1: The simplest solution would be to try a portable recorder like the Zoom H4N ($199) or Zoom H5 ($269), which are basically just upgraded versions of the pocket recorder you’ve already tried. But a) if you’re doing multiple takes, navigating the interface to find the recording you want to listen back to is a bit clunky, tedious, and confusing, and b) I’m not sure what the recording quality is like if you’re taping the group from say, 30+ feet away. Maybe it’d be fine – and I’m sure others would be able to weigh in on this, but I’ve only had experience recording close-up with the H5. And why does the distance matter? That will be more representative of what the audience will be hearing, than what the group sounds like with the recording device 5 feet away.

      WAY #2: To that end, the more complex solution would involve hooking up a standalone mic to a laptop, so you can create an audio recording that better captures the group’s sound and balance from the audience’s perspective a good distance away. However, this would require some extra bits of equipment, like an XLR-to-USB converter/pre-amp (e.g. the Blue Icicle (~$45) or Shure X2U (~$99)), a mic stand or mini tripod of some sort, and an XLR extension cable to go from the mic to the XLR/USB converter. On the plus side, there is good free recording software available for both PC and Mac that’s easy to use, this would give you much more choice over what mic to use, and probably produce a better result at the end of the day, but it’s not as portable a solution, and will take a few minutes to set up.

      And why not a USB mic like the Audio Technica AT2020USB+ ($149) that would plug directly into a laptop? The problem is that USB cables are essentially limited to about 15 feet in length, so you’d have to get an “active” USB cable to ensure enough power gets to the mic beyond 15 feet. But one of my students discovered that this can be a bit hit or miss, as she ran into some problems with the sound dropping in and out when she tried this. Admittedly, this may have been caused by a cheap USB cable, but still, this isn’t an issue when using an XLR extension and an XLR-to-USB preamp/converter.

      Met percussionist Rob Knopper has written about his personal setup here, with a picture to show how it all fits together in practice (the short version is that he uses an Audio-Technica AT4040 ($299) and the Blue Icicle mentioned above, though if on a budget, I’ve also heard good things about the Audio-Technica AT2035 ($149)).

      Probably way more info than you wanted, but hope this helps!

  2. Thanks for this. It is helpful. I started out looking at the Tascam devices as reommended by a shop but then reviews seem to say it has a lot of interferce and Zoom devices seem to be better.

    I wanted to record my playing from a high-end grand piano (for the first time) for practice purpose and there is no plan, at least now, to upload to youtube. Would you recommend H1N, H2N, H4pro or H5? I don’t need anything fancy but would like good quality sound. I will just be sharing these recordings with my teacher / a few close friends. Thanks.

    1. Hi Michele,

      So…if the main purpose of recording is to do lots of recording of short passages, and listening back immediately to then make adjustments during your practice process, even though the setup is more complex, requires more equipment, and there will be a bit of a learning curve, the XLR mic + XLR to USB preamp + laptop combination, like percussionist Rob Knopper describes here is probably your best bet. It’ll be the easiest/fastest way to record and listen back to short passages.

      However, if you would just like to record yourself doing a run-through, to share with teacher/friends, and don’t plan on recording/listening back to short phrases over and over as you practice them, a Zoom device is probably easier. However, you’ll still have to deal with the SD card, and digging through the file system to make sure you select the correct audio file, and transferring the file over to your computer, and then sending it to teacher/friends from there.

      The absolute easiest way to record though (and what I’d probably recommend, even though I haven’t tested this particular device out myself) would be to use something like the Shure MV88, which attaches to your phone directly, and enables you to record from the built-in video recording app or voice recording app, which you can then easily send to your teacher/friends. In terms of recording, playing back, and sharing, this is probably the simplest, fastest, and easiest option.

      In terms of audio quality, that’s a whole rabbit hole you can go down and get lost in. I mean, here’s a great video that compares the Zoom H5 with a range of different “legit” mic setups, which is pretty fascinating to watch. Of course, because YouTube processes the audio, you won’t hear quite the range of differences that the original recordings would reveal, but with headphones on, you can still hear a difference: Recording a grand piano is TRICKY – here’s what I learned..

      And here are a few other videos that compare default iPhone mic sound with the sound of the Zoom H5 or Shure MV88 or various USB and XLR mics.
      Piano: Recording Piano : Shure MV88 Smartphone Microphones for Great Audio
      Harp: Mic comparison – iPhone 11 vs Shure MV88 vs Blue Yeti Nano
      Violin: iPhone 11 Vs ZOOM H5 Vs RODE NT4 – Classical Musician Perspective

      And…a comparison on piano of the Zoom H1, H4n Pro, and H6: Sound Comparisons – Zoom H1, H4n Pro & H6 (XY & MS)
      Hope this helps!

      Noa

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