Part Two: How to Find an Audio Recorder That’s Right for You.

Olympus WS-321M

Last week I wrote a post about my search for a new audio recorder and some good options in the $600US to $300US range. You can check it out here. This week I’ve focused my research on recorders under $30oUS. Just click on the product for more information.

  • Tascam DR-1: About$300US to $250US.  “The Tascam DR-1 is a very good, affordable, fun-to-use recorder that sounds good too.” And Musician’s Friend writes, “The TASCAM DR-1 brings innovative portable recording to a size and price that make it the recorder you can’t leave behind. This hand-held portable recorder lets you record live gigs, rehearsals,  samples, songs, podcasts, or news events in MP3 or 24-bit WAV format. The DR-1 recorder’s built-in stereo condenser microphone can be arranged in variable angles to fit different recording scenarios,  such as desktop or shirt-pocket recording. A huge 1GB card is included for hours of recording.”
  • Tascam DR-07: About $280US to $200Us. ” The TASCAM DR-07 Handheld Digital Recorder lets you record to SD or SDHC Card Media. A stereo pair of electret condenser microphones captures great-sounding performances as 24-bit WAV or MP3 files. A 1GB SD card is included with the portable recorder.The TASCAM DR-07 is powered by AA batteries and files can be transferred to your computer using a high-speed USB 2.0 connector. All of this recording power is contained in a compact, sturdy case that has a mic stand mounting hole. Includes windscreen.” Musician’s Friend.
  • Zoom H2: About $180US. “The Zoom H2 is a very convenient small recorder, and can give remarkably good sound when using its internal microphones. It’s especially good at picking up musical performances or collecting stereo ambiences of events that are at least moderately loud. Internal noise resulting from turning the input gains all the way up make it ill-suited for recording very quiet, delicate events. And using external microphones, as would be preferable for most interviews, gives poor results overall. So this machine can be a valuable tool in the recordist’s kit, but won’t be suitable for all circumstances. But its price, size and flexibility make it attractive as a recorder to carry at all times, in order to capture spontaneous moments, or to dedicate it to specific tasks, such as recording ambiences, demos and musical performances.”
  • Yamaha Pocketrak 2G : About $200US. “…the Pocketrak 2G is a solid — albeit pricey — choice for interviewers, students, and business types who need a tiny, large-capacity voice recorder that handles both MP3 and WAV files. In fact, with a built-in USB terminal and swappable battery, it is the ideal recorder for the backpacking ethnographer.” Review by O’Reilly.
  • Sony ICD-MX20:About $200US. “Reviewers are satisfied with the recording capability, software, and clear audio quality although there were issues with the tiny user interface and user manual. If you can overlook the user interface and user manual, it’s a decent option.”
  • Olympus WS-321M: About $100US. “The WS-321M is a voice recorder first, and it does this well…All in all, the 321M offers enough advanced recording options to make it ideal for professional use. The 321M, however, is far more adept as a recorder than it is as an MP3 player..”

Choosing an audio recorder is a very individual matter. So, I’m not going to tell you what you should buy. You have to work within your budget and decide what will be your primary use for the recorder. Are you going to record interviews that will be transcribed and turned into a book? If this is the case, audio quality doesn’t need to meet  broadcast standards. Are you recording interviews to edit and transfer to CD?  In this situation you’ll want the best audio audio you can afford.

What did I finally choose? I went with the Olympus WS-321M, not because it was the cheapest  but because it met my needs right now. I work primarily  in video and only occasionally have clients who wish a book or audio memoir produced. I didn’t want to go with a more expensive recorder that wouldn’t see much use. I  budgeted no more than $200 so that ruled out a good many of the recorders on my list. The Yamaha and Sony were possibilities as was the Zoom H2. The H2 has had a lot of good press but there are serious questions about noise when using an  external mic. And because I like to use a lavaliere mic when conducting interviews, this made me nervous about the H2.

Olympus has had a long history of producing good quality voice recorders and the reviews for the WS-321M were positive. I also had the opportunity of “test” driving a model and felt the audio quality was suitable for my purposes. There are some drawbacks to the WS-321M. It doesn’t record in WAV or MP3 but in WMA (Windows Media Audio). This means using free downloaded software to convert to  WAV, MP3 or AIFF format. It’s not a big deal but it’s another step you need to go through. The recorder has only one external mic input which doesn’t allow the interviewer to be on mic. Again, not critical but it’s nice to hear the interviewer’s questions as clearly as the subject’s response. But for the price, I’m not complaining.

I hope that my research has been of some help to you. Do you have a favorite recorder that I didn’t list? Let me know what you use and what you like about it.