Handheld Recorders for Sound Design

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Tunatoboggan
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Handheld Recorders for Sound Design

Post by Tunatoboggan » Sat May 02, 2020 6:26 pm

Hello, I'm looking into buying a cheap, compact, simple recorder. Normally I'd just demo it in-store or borrow someone's, but given the lockdown circumstances that's less of a viable option so I'd like to get your guys' opinions here. I have a very clear use-case, a few different products in mind, and some specific concerns:

Use Case:
I want a handheld recorder that I can take around my house and bring it with me outdoors. The purpose is for personal sound design library content, so mostly going to be recording objects that would be difficult to bring into the studio (water, fire, debris, large metal, a few ambiences here and there). I'd like to get stereo high-res files (at least 96khz minimum) that fold down to mono very cleanly and easily. The environments where I'm going to be using the device will be uncontrolled (noisy) so I know I'll be doing an RX pass on everything I record anyways so I don't mind a little self-noise. With that said, if I can get the noise floor as low as possible, that would be ideal. I have access to a "proper" field recording setup through work (Mixpre 6, mkh 8040s + 8060, blimp, whole 9 yards) and if I want to record in my studio, I have plenty of great options to use there. What I want is something cheap and easy that I wouldn't mind damaging or taking with me wherever I go.

Products I've had in Mind

Zoom H5 + SSH-6 - $400: Main advantage here is the modular mic attachments. I LOVE m/s recording, especially with a shotgun for the center channel. If this actually performs anywhere near to my 8060 / mkh 30 setup, I would be thrilled. No other recorder has this specific mic option built-in (form factor is a big deal here).
Concerns: I've read lots of complaints about noise floor and handling noise (no shockmount). Also, the frequency response for this mic capsule is questionable. I've seen graphs that cutoff hard around 20kHz, which would make recording at 96kHz pointless. Also seen that the windscreen leaves much to be desired.

Tascam DR-100 MKIII - $300: A bit cheaper and people say much cleaner/less noise than the Zoom in particular. Seems like a solid middle-of-the-road option, nothing too spectacular nothing too bad.
Concerns: The mics are fixed, so no option for built-in m/s recording here. If the stereo directional setting for the mics functions similarly to a focused-cardiod with a balanced image and it folds down to mono decently, then there's nothing to worry about.

Sony PCM-D10 - $500: Slightly nicer option (I'd never spend the extra for a D100, that's too much for my use case. I want to use it in hazardous environments). At least on paper, boasts very good quality pres and converters, adjustable mics, and good signal/noise ratio.
Concerns: More expensive, and if the quality isn't noticeably different than the Tascam, it's kind of a waste

For reference, here's the comparison chart I've been using http://www.avisoft.com/recorder-tests/. I'm looking for people who've had personal experiences with these devices here to weigh in.

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wuff_miggler
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Re: Handheld Recorders for Sound Design

Post by wuff_miggler » Sat May 02, 2020 6:31 pm

good topic! i have had a Zoom HN4 and a Zoom H1, and would like a H5 - so watching this space with interest :-)

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Re: Handheld Recorders for Sound Design

Post by Tunatoboggan » Sat May 02, 2020 6:40 pm

I found this thread from a little while ago viewtopic.php?f=3&t=206978&hilit=zoom+h5

Lots of opinions, but a bit unfocused and directed towards a slightly different use case. Still helpful though

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Re: Handheld Recorders for Sound Design

Post by Severed head » Sat May 02, 2020 6:51 pm

With all the available enhancements and degradation options in the box.
And your idea of hazardous environments maybe a cheaper option would be something to consider With the expectation/knowledge that the shell of the recorder will begin to go before the brain and will from my experience lead to interesting results from which you’ll be more resistant to acquiring from a higher dollar device.

But from what your saying 3-500 is sorta throw away in your world which is rad! For your options
WTB:, MA35 filter. -Mac recordings software from 2008/9
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Re: Handheld Recorders for Sound Design

Post by commodorejohn » Sat May 02, 2020 6:54 pm

Here you go! I'm not sure how practical it'd be for sound design, but theoretically with an additive-synthesis approach, the possibilities should be nearly limitless ;)
Computers: Amiga 1200, DEC VAXStation 4000/60, DEC MicroPDP-11/73
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Tunatoboggan
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Re: Handheld Recorders for Sound Design

Post by Tunatoboggan » Sat May 02, 2020 6:59 pm

commodorejohn wrote:
Sat May 02, 2020 6:54 pm
Here you go! I'm not sure how practical it'd be for sound design, but theoretically with an additive-synthesis approach, the possibilities should be nearly limitless ;)
hahahaha you got me. You guys never fail to deliver

I also did some more digging and found this http://jezrileyfrench-aquietposition.blogspot.com/. Very helpful doc, it's a shame these resources are difficult to find through googling

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Re: Handheld Recorders for Sound Design

Post by blakeq » Sun May 03, 2020 9:02 pm

I would start out with something cheap. (tascam dr40 for example). And then upgrade later if needed.

This might be another good place to ask the question:

https://taperssection.com/index.php?board=11.0

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Re: Handheld Recorders for Sound Design

Post by BartBral » Sun May 03, 2020 9:19 pm

Secondhand SoundDevices MixPre, with a decent mic might be just what you need...?

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Re: Handheld Recorders for Sound Design

Post by chvad » Sun May 03, 2020 10:27 pm

So here's my two cents. You mention access to better gear but I'm just writing in whole thoughts so if any of this is redundant to your post I apologize. My day-to -day job has me in front of a huge variety of mobile recorders so here's my take on the ones you mentioned:

Zoom H5 + SSH-6 - $400:
The Zoom H5 and H6 stuff has worked admirably well. The H4n was a nightmare by comparison, especially with external dynamics mics. Build wise both are "OK". The screen on the H6 sucks in direct sunlight and leaves you meter-less and the screen on the H5, while nothing to write home about, I think performs a little better despite it being a simpler display.

Concerns: I've read lots of complaints about noise floor and handling noise (no shockmount).
No more than any other handheld I've ever touched as is generally the case when you have mics hard connected to the body of anything. No more or less than anything else. Use an external mic with a proper suspension system and you've got no worries.

Also, the frequency response for this mic capsule is questionable. I've seen graphs that cutoff hard around 20kHz, which would make recording at 96kHz pointless.
I haven't used this capsule but the MS mic works pretty well for a clip on mic. Note: Anytime an on-board mic s used or a "clip on" mic I'm coming to it with a grain of salt and have floating standards. If I want want "great" I', not using these recorders or mics at all. But I think for the price and for what they are doing and capable of they are doing very well and are totally use-able.

Also seen that the windscreen leaves much to be desired.
Most do. If you want "good" you are spending more on an external shotgun, shock-mount, blimp and fuzzy. Any foam resting on any mic is nominal wind shielding at best on any mice.

Tascam DR-100 MKIII - $300: A bit cheaper and people say much cleaner/less noise than the Zoom in particular.
It's clean enough. I think tech wise the Tascam mobile stuff does well for it's range. Better than the H5 or H6? I'd just right neck and neck.

Seems like a solid middle-of-the-road option, nothing too spectacular nothing too bad.
SOLID but literally, NOT SOLID. My major gripe with Tascam is build quality. Especially with the Dr.100 line. The Data Wheel/Enter button combo is a brutal Achilles heel. I've seen a number of these take a minor spill (sub three feet) and that wheel is the first thing to break, pop off, springs-a-bouncin, never to be put back on. Broken. If you are super careful with your gear cool. These sound nice enough. Personally I wouldn't spent the money on this unit.

Sony PCM-D10 - $500:
No complaint. I like it. Little pricey for what's on offer. If I was spending 500.00 I'd save a little more scratch and go with the Sound Devices MixPre-3 II. Great recorder, sound amazing but a whole different game in terms of considerations (no built in mics etc etc)

With the price range you are considering I'd roll with the H5 or H6.

Regarding this "so I know I'll be doing an RX pass".
I know you aren't asking but wtf... I do this for a living so I'll offer my bullshit anyway. You shouldn't have to run an RX pass on everything even with stuff like this. Most mobile recorders made today (lets say $200 and up) amplify themselves fairly well (by themselves I mean their build in mics that are matched with their built in preamps). Even crappier stuff like the H4n, arguable, does "ok" with it's own mics. External mics? Yeah There's def some self noise but if you keep the preamps under 75% or so maximum gain (you can clearly hear the breaking point in these cheaper units wherein the preamp noise just jumps to higher levels)and stick with a higher output mic (ie no dynamics) you shouldn't really have an appreciable noise to have to remove. Especially for field recording where, contextually arguable, the noise is what you are looking for (not dialog or voices or whatever). Taking a good recording and pumping through RX is kind of like buying a crystal glass and smudging it no no good reason.

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Re: Handheld Recorders for Sound Design

Post by Tunatoboggan » Mon May 04, 2020 4:39 am

chvad wrote:
Sun May 03, 2020 10:27 pm
With the price range you are considering I'd roll with the H5 or H6.
Great points, detailed response, and practical perspective. This is what I was looking for, thanks chvad

I'm probably gonna go with the H5 and run a few tests with the included stereo mic capsule to see if the extra M/S one is really necessary. I had an interesting conversation with one of my coworkers who got an H6 a while ago for a similar purpose. Main takeaway from him was: if he could go back and do it over, he'd just get the crappy little H1 that could fit in your pocket. The H6 was too bulky to carry around everywhere, so he'd have to plan recording trips in which case it's just better to bring the full kit from work. The essence of the handheld recorder to him was convenience/spontaneity > quality, in which case the H1 was ideal. Definitely something to think about.

As far as using RX on everything, let me clarify that I do this for specific object-based intermittent sounds (which is the majority of what I record), never on long format ambiences or tones. If I'm gonna go out and drop a few large rocks in the pond, I'm definitely going to remove the constant open-air ambience later. So long as you're not trying to do too much in a single pass, it works remarkably well with no artifacts. If I find an interesting sounding AC unit while walking down the street, then as you said, the constant "noise" is what I'm looking for and I wouldn't touch it.

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Re: Handheld Recorders for Sound Design

Post by chvad » Mon May 04, 2020 8:48 am

Your welcome and regarding the H1 and your co-workers perspective... I don’t disagree. There is absolutely an extra layer of consideration (and gear) to be taken into account with the larger units. Using the H6 without a softcase/bag would, for me, suck. So just having a pocket device to flip out on a whim? very cool. I haven’t used the H1 but def see the appeal! i hear what yer saying regarding the RX! Curious to see what you end up doing!

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Re: Handheld Recorders for Sound Design

Post by Technologear? » Mon May 04, 2020 8:54 am

Tunatoboggan wrote:
Mon May 04, 2020 4:39 am
convenience/spontaneity > quality
+1

H4N owner here. Wish it could boot up quicker and be a bit smaller so I'd be more likely to keep it on me when heading out the door.

I find I can hear handling noise when monitoring with closed headphones turned up, which is enough to remind me to stop handling it!

What would you recommend for a 2 track studio-only recorder for recording the stereo mix from a mixer? You sound like you've had some good gear in your hands.

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Re: Handheld Recorders for Sound Design

Post by RickKleffel » Mon May 04, 2020 10:51 am

I've had a Tascam DR-100 MK II for as long as they've been around. I've done hundreds of interviews with it, traveling hither and yon, set up in lots of unhappy conditions. I was using the USB input to charge the thing; the USB input fell into the recorder about a month ago. The reorder rattles, but still works. I also use it for field recordings, forests, dawn chorus etc. Great sound, great stereo field for samples out of the box. Has 2 XLR inputs, when doing interviews I use EV RE-50B, per my minders at NPR. I'll likely buy a MK III in the fullness of time. FWIW, I also used it as a mix down recorder for my mobile setup when scoring The Dream Journal. Pretty Swiss Army knife, utilitarian, not fancy. But sounds great.

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Re: Handheld Recorders for Sound Design

Post by dml » Mon May 04, 2020 4:01 pm

I own a Zoom H5 and four H6. I teach classes in Sound Design and these are wonderful units for gathering sound. Zoom also sell a very nice wind screen that's essential for outdoor recording. Actually, I leave the wind screen on at all times.
Best,

dml

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Re: Handheld Recorders for Sound Design

Post by Daisuk » Mon May 04, 2020 4:18 pm

I have an Olympus LS-10 (I think it came out back in 2008). It's super easy to use, and the sound quality is decent - but it'd be interesting to know how much of a difference I'd hear if upgrading to say a Zoom H5/H6. Anyone who's tried both who'd care to elaborate? I reckon there wouldn't be much discernible difference for indoor use though, right?

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Re: Handheld Recorders for Sound Design

Post by akrenaut » Mon May 04, 2020 4:40 pm

Save some cash. Look at the Tascam DR-05. I've used one for years and never had a single problem or issue with it. Hundreds of field recordings. It can do very intimate asmr or catch the sound of the forest coming to life at dawn. I thought I would get it as a "starter" recorder, but found that's it's totally capable of what I use it for. Records in 24/96 wav files which can quickly go into a daw or sampler.
Literally :75:

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Re: Handheld Recorders for Sound Design

Post by BananaPlug » Thu May 07, 2020 9:07 am

Any opinions on the Zoom H1N? A reboot of the H1. Looks like a lot of value for about $100.
And I see there's a Tascam DR-05X now too.
(Sounds)--> :eek:
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Re: Handheld Recorders for Sound Design

Post by damase » Thu May 07, 2020 6:17 pm

not sure about cheap... the only input i can offer is that ive had a Nagra SD handheld with stereo condenser for more than 10 years now, payed more than than twice as much as the most expensive competitor models but it was worth every penny and to this day is my favorite microphone ive ever used. theyre discontinued now, but based on faith i would trust their newer/cheaper alternative the Mezzo too

battery life, and comfort, is a huge consideration for this type of usage. i rented the zooms before i bought the nagra and the battery would die sooooo fast on 4x AA. and it was also very bulky and uncomfortable in my pocket. my nagra lasts 10 hours on 2x AA recording 96k pcm. This may sound like a stupid reasoning but in the end you need to be able to bust out the recorder and capture sounds in a moments notice, and have a fun time doing it(or else you will tend to just leave the mic at home instead)

Also if you plan to hold the recorder in your hand, the comfort and squeekey-ness of the chassis can actually matter too, to reduce contact noise in your recordings.

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