Any filmmaker will agree that most of the time, especially when you need to hit the road for that film project, having the best portable audio recorder could save your life.
If you are into filming concerts and live events, I don’t need to tell you just how bad your sound will be if you only depend on your camera’s inbuilt microphone.
I get it, most film editors cringe at the thought of synchronizing the separate audio file to their footage file in post. But, is there any better alternative?
To a filmmaker, a portable audio recorder is like a pocket knife. It’s better to have it with you even when you don’t need it than to need it and not have it. From recording ambiance sounds to doing a documentary interview, let’s go through some of the best portable audio recorders you will find. But first …
What is a portable audio recorder?
Well, a Portable audio recorder is a small handheld device used to record music or audio. You can use it to record interviews, lectures, live shows and concerts. It’s a device that comes in handy whenever there is a need to record quality audio on the go. In fact, some portable audio recording devices such as the TASCAM DR-22WL go as far as letting you instantly upload your files. Amazing right?
Here’s what we recommend
If you are on a tight budget and still need decent quality audio recording, the Zoom H1 and the TASCAM DR-22WL are a solid pick. These two devices not only stand out in terms of affordability and quality but also have a variety of features fit for any film project.
With that being said here are the best portable audio recorders for filming and videography.
- Yamaha Pocketrak PR7
- Olympus LS-14
- Roland R-05
- Sony PCM-M10
- Zoom H5
- TASCAM DR-22WL
- Zoom H6
Zoom H1-low budget
We thought of no better way to kick of this list than to give the Zoom H1 the top spot. After all, Zoom
Electronics is a reputable manufacturer of incredible audio recording devices. The Zoom H1 boasts of powerful performance with features such as quality WAV and MP3 recording capacity at 96kHz/24-bit and at 320kbps respectively.
Whether you are looking to shoot videos for YouTube or shoot a short film, the audio recording quality that the Zoom H1 produces is reliable for anyone on a tight budget. However, it doesn’t come with a microphone cover foam and tends to pick up some wind noise while recording. You might need to buy a microphone cover foam separately. Remember to include a carry case while you are at it. For most filmmakers, however, the lack of a carry case and a microphone cover foam is a small price to pay for the quality recording this portable device is capable of.
- Quality audio recording
- Built-in speaker
- Comes with a screen to measure input levels
- Picks up wind noise
- Does not come with a microphone cover foam
Yamaha Pocketrak PR7
Among the heavy hitting manufacturers of audio recording equipment, Yamaha stays at the top. For that reason, the Yamaha Pocketrak PR7 had to make it to the list. Although some complain that its slightly bigger body compared to the Zoom H1 is an inconvenience, this portable recorder comes with a carrying case which is better than what you get with the zoom H1 for portability. Plus it also boasts of a high-pass filter control that gives it an edge over its competitors. Overall, the Yamaha Pocketrak PR7 is great for live music recording and also comes at an affordable price for its features and quality.
- Comes with a carrying case
- Features dynamic and high pass filter control
- Slightly larger for fitting in your pocket
It’s hard to ignore the Olympus LS-14 especially with its new Tresmic three microphone system that enables you to record lower bass ranges. Basically, if you are out looking for a portable audio recorder capable of excellent sound isolation, this handy recorder is a good option.
It features an effortless and pristine playback capacity not to mention a capacity to capture sounds of up to 130dB SPL. With an inbuilt amplifier and speaker plus an interface that is easy to use, this is one of the best portable audio recorders even for the visually impaired. You can expect to record sound at the typical sound rate of 24-bit/96kHz. What’s even more exciting is the fact that this device comes with a bunch of smart settings that automatically tweak and filter the noise levels. This can be quite useful for field recording of film projects.
Furthermore, this recorder comes with an SD card slot to the side plus an additional internal memory of 4GB. When it comes to battery life, Olympus LS-14 is one tough handheld recorder. You can expect to get about 46 hours of recording from this device. For some users, the plastic casing of the Olympus LS-14 feels a bit cheap; however, its build quality has a reassuringly weighty feel.
- Easy to use
- Excellent sound isolation
- WAV or MP3 format output
- The build quality could be better
If you are looking for a portable audio recorder with a decent display and an intelligent control layout, get your hands on the Roland R-05. Even though the brand is mostly known for producing music equipment, their portable audio recorders are quite solid. Weighing about 0.3 pounds, this device boasts of a strong attractive metallic exterior that is rugged and portable enough for use as a field recorder.
This device comes with easily accessible controls plus a clear display that is easy to read. To get started, you only need to set up your recording levels and you are good to go. This recorder will give you both WAV and MP3 formats at a 96kHz sample rate. It has a tripod mount included so that you can easily mount it on your DSLR to capture either dialogue or ambiance. Compared to the earlier version, the Roland R-05 brings a couple of improvements to the table. It includes a support for microSD cards with an internal storage capacity of up to 32GB. Since it has a rugged durable build, this device is capable of withstanding even the toughest situation.
The only noticeable flaw with this device is its weak audio recording capacity in music concert situation. However, if all you need is a portable audio recorder for voice and ambiance in your film projects, the Roland R-05 is a no-brainer.
- Decent display
- Controls are easy to use
- Rugged compact build
- Slow performance
- Low-quality sound recording for music
From its pitch control right to its palm size and compact build, the Sony PCM-M10 is a decent pick for any audio recording job.
This portable audio recorder boasts of a durable construct that is simply built to last. The Sony PCM-M10 has a fashionable that easily fits in your palm just like a smartphone.
The device features a built-in omnidirectional condenser microphone not to mention an external mic input. You can get up to 16 hours of nonstop recording at high-quality WAV and MP3 formats with a simple AA battery. You also get up to 4GB of internal storage for your files and an extra micro SDHC card slot that supports up to 64 GB.
The only deal breaker on this portable audio recorder is its iffy playback speaker that sounds pretty low in terms of volume. For filmmakers looking to playback their audio while still out in the field, this can be a disappointment.
- Compact rugged design
- Sufficient internal storage
- Excellent audio clarity with low noise
- A bit pricey
- Low volume speakers
Compared to the Zoom H1 the H5 stacks up well in terms of features and quality recording. Obviously, it falls into an upper tier price tag. But, the Zoom H5 is worth every penny. Here is why
First, it comes with a four-track simultaneous recording capacity not to mention XLR/TRS connectors with selectable phantom power for creating professional sounding audio. Thanks to a system of interchangeable input capsules and detachable stereo X/Y microphones, you can easily choose the best microphone for every recording situation.
There is more. The Zoom H5 can be used for multiple applications ranging from audio for film, to podcasting and even newsgathering thanks to its dual combo inputs that handle external mic and line level signals.
Running on 2 AA batteries, this portable recorder gives you over 15hours of recording time which is great for documentary filmmakers. It has a sampling rate of 44.1, 48, or 96 kHz that allows for precise synchronization in video post-production even for voices that are recorded off-mic. Apart from its rugged construct, the Zoom H5 has an intuitive pushbutton and menu wheel that is easy to use while recording on set. Plus even though the number of options can be a bit overwhelming for first-time users, the default settings work just fine with a bit of getting used to.
- Easily customizable settings
- Rugged portable construct
- Excellent audio quality
- High-quality screen
- Quickly eats through battery power
- A bit bulky
TASCAM is a well-respected rival when it comes to the manufacturing of audio recording devices. With the Tascam DR-22WL, you are not only getting convenience akin to what professionals use, but you also get an affordable recorder. This handy audio recorder will link up to your Android or iOS device via WiFi for monitoring and control while you record.
You can even stream or playback recorded files on your phone through the WiFi connectivity or transfer files to your hard drive over the cloud. Impressive right? Well, the Tascam DR-22WL is also built to support XLR inputs for an even better quality recording with external microphones.
This device also boasts of a set of stereo condenser microphones arranged in an XY pattern for stereo imaging. Furthermore, the inbuilt A/D converter features a low- nose audio input circuit capable of handling sound pressure up to 120dB without distorting.
The only downside that some users have indicated is the fact that the controls feel a bit flimsy. Overall, however, operations on this audio recording device are pretty intuitive making even for beginners.
- Quiet preamp
- Large easy to read LCD screen
- Excellent stereo imaging
- Weak WiFi signal
- Flimsy controls
Zoom H6 Six-Track Portable Recorder
At this point, it is quite obvious that Zoom Electronics has the market cornered when it comes to audio recording devices. The Zoom H6 is used by professional filmmakers globally and for a good reason. It is easy to use, durable and produces the quality audio recording that professionals love.
It comes with the ability to record up to four channels simultaneously giving it a major upside when compared to rival recorders at its price range. As an upgrade to the H5, Zoom H6 supports a maximum SD card size of up to 128 GB which is perfect for film professionals working on huge projects and documentaries. With a versatile construct capable of handling whatever you throw its way, not to mention advanced preamps that sound great, the H6 only requires standard AA batteries and it will give you more than 20 hours of quality recording. As if that is not enough, it comes with an extremely easy to use interface. Just like the H5, the microphone is interchangeable and you get an XY microphone in the package. You can buy a shotgun mic capsule, an EXH-6 Dual XLR Combo capsule or an accessory pack to fit your needs.
- Durable build quality
- Intuitive interface
- High-quality audio recording
- A bit bulky
How to choose the best portable audio recorder for film
Without a doubt, choosing the best portable audio recorder for film pretty much depends on your needs. You are much better off looking for a simple but reliable device than recording audio from your phone or camera. If that’s the case, you can easily get a budget-friendly device that will do the job just right. On the other hand, you might be looking for a high quality portable audio recorder for a professional project like a documentary. If so, there are a variety of options with the right combination of features to give you enough flexibility for your project.
No matter what you are looking for there are a couple of considerations that will give you a better experiences. They include
- Budget – a decent portable audio recorder with a capacity to record quality audio in WAV and MP3 format will range from about $100 to about $500. Obviously the bigger the budget the higher your chances of getting better quality preamps for better recording. If you are a filmmaker who values quality audio, it will make total sense to splurge a bit on a device that delivers.
- How you plan to use it – there is no need to go with a device that features multiple XLR inputs when you are only going to use it to record outdoor ambiance and music rehearsals. While picking your model, make sure it only has the features you need. You might end up saving some money for other purchases.
- Memory – while some portable recording devices come with internal memory, some feature a microSD card slot while others have both. If you are planning to interview individuals for a documentary, you might need sufficient internal storage. This will prevent you from switching microSD cards frequently. You might also go for a device that supports microSDs with larger memory capacity.
- Battery life – recording audio can take hours, a good device will give you a decent amount of power before you need to replace or charge the battery. On average, most of the options you will find have a battery life in the range of 5 hours to 20 hours.
- Microphone – while some models feature interchangeable microphones it is also important to think about the configuration of the microphone on your device. Basically, you can build a mini home studio with some of these devices as they offer the best quality possible. Most devices will have an omnidirectional microphone which is a microphone configured to capture sound from all angles. This configuration can be great for recording ambiance and converts. Since most zoom devices feature interchangeable microphones, you can switch to a shotgun microphone configuration if you want to record interviews.
- Other extra features – depending on how you intend to use it, a portable device will come with extra features that you might find useful. For example, some come with wifi connectivity allowing you to back up your files online. Other features intuitive interfaces with LCD screens that make them easy to use. You might also be on the lookout for devices that are mountable to allow you to use them as a microphone for your podcast or film.
So there you have it. Our list of the best portable audio recorder for filmmakers and videographers will hopefully help you pick the best audio recorder. Give a try to any of the listed models and experience a new way of capturing audio. After all, no one likes the distorted sound so how about you pick a device that will help you capture the right levels with minimal noise?