W hether you want to record a rehearsal, create a podcast,
digitize your old 8-tracks, or
capture the mating call of a
yellow-rumped warbler, today’s
handheld digital field recorders
make it easy to collect high-quality sound files.
Typical handhelds offer varying lengths of recording time
depending on several factors,
including recording quality,
memory, and battery life. The
Olympus LS- 10, for example,
records 55 minutes in high-quality Linear PCM format
and more than 69 hours in
MP3 format at 64,000 bits per
Field recorders save data as
Linear PCM, MP3, or WMA
files. If you plan to record
sound for the production of a
CD, it is a good idea to record
in the Linear PCM or “WAV”
format. If you have enough
memory space, high-resolution
WAV recordings provide extra
headroom, allowing you to capture a greater dynamic range
(loud to soft levels of sound).
When higher-quality audio is
not as important as smaller file
size (when recording podcasts,
for example), the compressed
MP3 format is a better choice.
The WMA format is popular
because it is supported by Windows Media Player and produces recordings that are less
compressed than MP3.
Most field recorders use secure digital (SD) or compact
flash (CF) cards for storage.
The Sony PCM-D50 listed here
comes with 4 GB of internal flash
memory in addition to an SD
slot. The exception is the Alesis
Pro Track for iPod, which attaches
to the Classic or Nano and uses
the iPod’s disc space for storage.
Most units run on AA or AAA
batteries, but some have a built-in power source. The Tascam
DR- 1 and the M-Audio MicroTrack II both use rechargeable
Field recorders come with various types of inputs and outputs
to provide connectivity to other
devices. The Sampson Zoom H4,
for example, has dual XLR-1/4"
plug jacks to accommodate two
types of mic cables, and it has
a USB port for downloading
files to a PC. Many come with
mono or stereo mini plug jacks
(1/8") as well as RCA-type jacks
for transferring data in and out.
Some even have an S/PDIF input
that allows you to record the
output of digital mixing boards
and do transfers from other digital recording/storage devices.
Many field recorders offer
phantom power to drive external condenser microphones.
Condenser mics require additional voltage to operate but have
greater sensitivity. Most of the
units listed here come with stereo condenser mics built in.
Field recorders range in price
from a couple hundred dollars
to $50,000 and beyond, depending on connectivity, mic preamp
quality, memory, ruggedness,
and on-board editing capabilities. The units listed here are just
a sampling of those available at
$500 or less.