What are the best budget portable audio recorders for filmmaking?
Most professional video cameras do a good job of recording audio. If you are lucky, your video camera will have two XLR sockets with preamps and phantom power. However, if you are a DSLR filmmaker you will find there are not many choices for recording quality audio. Most new filmmakers often ignore the need to record good audio and only concern themselves with the moving image. This is a huge mistake. The viewer will forgive you for having poor looking images but will never put up with poor audio.
So if your video camera does not have good connections for professional microphones, you might want to consider a portable audio recorder. Most portable audio recorders come with professional XLR sockets and phantom power and often have a built in microphone as well. Once you have your audio recorded you can use your favourite video editor to sync up your sound to the wild track on your video.
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So which audio recorder should you buy? Well that depends on your filmmaking needs. A simple two channel recorder will do fine for most interviews but you may need more channels if you have multiple people speaking. You may also want to record musical instruments and this might affect your choice of chosen portable audio recorder. Professional XLR microphone sockets and phantom power can also be worthwhile additions. All of these features and more will affect which audio recorder you choose to buy.
The Zoom H1N is a great entry-level audio recorder if you need a simple a low cost way to add quality audio to your video productions. You can buy one for under $100 and it has many uses for video production. On the front you will find two X/Y microphones that do a good job of recording sound in front of it. There is also a 3.5mm microphone socket that you can use to add a lapel microphone instead of using the X/Y microphones.
It will record in the WAV format up to 96 kHz 24-bit and in MP3 format up to 320 kbps. There is also a USB port to connect it to a computer and a built-in speaker so you can playback and hear your recordings. It records its audio files to a single 2GB micro SD card but you can replace this for a larger capacity card if you need more recording time. The Zoom H1N gets its power from two AA batteries and there is a ¼ inch screw mount on the bottom of the recorder for you to add a cold shoe mount so you can put it on a DSLR camera. There is also a headphone socket if you want to monitor your audio as you record it.
Price: $120.00 £97.00 €108.00
Zoom H4N Pro
The Zoom H4N Pro has been a popular choice for filmmakers for many years. It has many features that make it ideal for filmmaking and it continues to be a best-seller. It has two XLR sockets with 48 volt phantom power and these inputs will also take unbalanced ¼ inch cables if you need to plug in musical instruments or line-level audio equipment. As well as these is a 3.5mm socket if you wish to add a standard 3.5mm lapel microphone.
You can listen back and monitor your audio recordings with the 3.5mm headphone socket or you can use the built-in speaker, which is on the back of the H4N. Alternatively, on the front of the H4N are two X/Y microphones if you don’t fancy plugging in an external microphone. The H4N will record in WAV format up to 96 kHz at 24-bit and MP3 format if you need more recording time. You can adjust these setting with the 1.9 inch display screen. It stores these files on two SD cards up to a storage size of 32GB, so you will have plenty of recording time.
When you are ready to copy your files to a computer you can attach the H4N by its USB port. The H4N also comes with free Cubase LE software for you to edit and produce your audio. The H4N needs two AA batteries for power and these should give you about 4 hours of recording time, so you might want to carry some spares when you are out on a shoot. You can also plug in an optional AC adaptor if you want to run it off the mains power supply.
Price: $230.00 £186.00 €208.00
The DR-40X is a versatile four-track audio recorder for music, podcasting and filmmaking. It is the successor to the DR-40 but adds many new features from the previous model. On the front are two X/Y microphones if you need to use the recorder without any microphones attached to it. At the bottom of the recorder are two XLR sockets that you can use to add any external microphones. These sockets will also support line inputs and have 48 volt phantom power if you need it.
There is a digital display to give you full control of all the DR-40X’s settings and buttons for manual control. There are also multiple effects that will add reverb, audio peak reduction, low-cut levelling, auto levelling and a chromatic tuner. The DR-40X has a four-channel setting. This will allow you to use the front X/Y microphones as well as any other microphones at the same time. This can be useful when recording musicians or bands.
The DR-40X has a dual recording setting which will record a second version of your audio at a lower level. This is useful if your audio should be too loud and clip while you are recording. There is a 3.5mm headphone socket if you need to monitor your audio and a built in speaker. The DR-40X records to a micro SD card and this will support up to 128 GB in WAV or MP3 formats. It gets its power from 3 AA batteries and these should give you enough power for 14 hours of use.
Price: $180.00 £145.00 €163.00
If you need maximum recording choices for audio field recording, you cannot go too far wrong with the Zoom H6. It features four XLR sockets with line inputs and phantom power. So it is great if you need to record multiple subjects. On the front of the H6 is a slot for you to exchange six different microphone capsules that you can use for various recording tasks. It comes with an X/Y microphone as standard and this has a 3.5mm socket if you need to add an external lapel microphone.
You can also invest in other capsules that include a directional microphone and extra XLR sockets. There is a digital display for controlling the H6’s settings and manual dial controls to adjust the levels of the microphones it connects too. The H6 gets its power from 4 AA batteries and these should give you enough power for 20 hours of use. It also supports WAV format up to 96 kHz 24-bit and MP3 format up to 320 kbps. There is a USB port to connect the H6 to a computer and it also comes with free WaveLab SE and Cubase SE recording software if you want to master and cut your audio.
Price: $350.00 £283.00 €317.00
Tascam DR 70-D
The Tascam DR 70-D is another excellent audio field recorder, which is perfect for film production. It has 4 XLR sockets with line inputs and phantom power. There are also two omnidirectional microphones on the front if you don’t want to plug in any external microphones. The DR 70-D has a built in digital display any you can use this to mix all four channels of audio that you record. There are also manual control dials to adjust your recording levels as you need too.
There is a limiter and a five-setting low-cut filter to further improve your audio recordings. The DR 70-D has excellent microphone preamps and these will do a good job of improving your audio gain. There are also various line-out sockets to connect it to a DSLR camera as well as a USB port to connect it to a computer. If you want to monitor your audio you can plug in your favourite pair of headphones as well.
If you want to mount the DR 70-D to a DSLR camera you will find a ¼ inch screw mount that will allow you to screw it into a DSLR camera. It will record in WAV and BMF formats to a standard SD card up to a memory size of 128GB, so you will have plenty of recording time. The DR 70-D gets its power for four AA batteries and these should last for about six hours of recording time.
Price: $250.00 £200.00 €225.00
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