Updated on Apr 07, 2021
If you’re looking for the best field recorders for filming, then this article will help guide you towards the perfect device for your needs. Here at Musician Nerd, we’ve covered a lot of different ways to record audio for film, and understand the import role your field recorder plays. Whether you’re looking for a handheld recording device to connect your lavalier microphone with, or something a little heavier duty for recording multiple boom mics, our list is going to cover every single need.
Similar to studio recording, you’re going to find that field recorders come in all different shapes and sizes. You may find two recorders can solve the same need, but one is of higher quality and therefore higher cost. Whether you’re a high school student working on your next film project, or a professional with a high budget, our list is going to have the perfect option for you.
We’re going to start by quickly covering the different choices you’ll see in this article. We will then dive into each option and talk about their highlighting details, why we recommend them, and who they’ll best serve. Afterward, we’ll cover some more important details about field recorders and what to keep in mind when making your next purchase.
The Zoom H8 Handy Recorder is my personal favorite thanks to the loads of features, versatility, and flexibility. You can see right away from the photo below that this is a much more heavy-duty field recorder that allows for many simultaneous connections.
The first notable feature would be the 12-track recording. If you’re working on a large production with numerous audio sources or complicated sources, you’ll find the ability to connect up to 12 microphones is essential.
Many of my peers use the Zoom H8 Handy Recorder to connect multiple shotgun microphones, a couple of booms, and sometimes lavalier microphones. It allows more flexibility in production to refine your quality and find out what works best for each shot.
You’ll also find it has an amazing user interface, with 3 distinct modes for field recording, music, or podcasting. The XLR inputs come with dedicated pad switches & gain control, and like many field mixers on this list, as its own built-in X-Y microphones.
The audio sampling rate comes to 24-bit/96kHz, which is an industry-standard high point. This ensures your produced audio comes out sounding just as great as you recorded it to be. Overall a huge favorite of mine, and well worth the cost.
The Tascam DR-40X is a huge fan favorite in terms of the best field recorders for filming with. It’s relatively affordable, very portable, and simple to work with. It offers good quality and works great for anyone from beginner filmmakers to YouTubers & even musicians.
I’ve been working with this field recorder for over 10 years, going back to when I was in school recording audio for my own productions. I’ve seen this field mixer used for everything, from interviewing & taking notes to recording music & film audio. It’s incredibly simple to work with and does exactly what it intends to do.
The 4-channel mode allows you to do dual recording for more than one audio source, and nondestructive overdubbing. This allows you to record over tracks while specifically editing or deleting the overdub & leaving the original audio intact.
The Tascam DR-40X comes with built-in Phantom Power, so you should be able to power any microphone you’re using. The feature I enjoy the most, however, Is the remote capabilities. You’ll be able to power a footswitch so you can record as needed without using your hands to activate the device. Incredible field recorder and highly recommendable.
The Sound Devices MixPre-6 II is definitely a field mixer for the professionals looking for that high-end touch with great flexibility and control. Despite the larger look, it’s still a quite portable field recorder and works great with any film rig.
This field recorder is powered with four ultra-low-noise Kashmir microphone preamps, that use adjustable limiters. You’ll be able to record high-quality audio for your production with total control over the sound, with absolute dedication to each input.
I’ve only worked with this field mixer on a handful of occasions, as it’s not always worth the money unless you’re doing a more serious production, but I was astounded by the high-quality output. It reminds me of the work I’ve done in recording studios.
You’ll also find it has mounting capabilities to work with your filming rig. There’s an 8-in & 4-out USB audio interface so you can connect the Sound Devices MixPre-6 II to your laptop while out in the field. There’s an adjustable sampling rate capability as well, for producing 16-bit/44kHz to 32-bit/192kHz audio.
If you’re working on a large project where pristine audio is key, this is by far the best choice on this list for you.
Here we have the Saramonic SmartRig+, a much smaller, portable, and affordable field recorder that can work right in your very pocket! I’ve used this one for years from live speeches to filming with lavalier microphones in tight corridors.
This two-channel field recorder is perfect for junior filmmakers, YouTubers, and anyone else working on a budget! It allows for recording two audio devices at the same time and can stream right to your phone or camera device. It supports both XLR & ¼ inputs, and can even support musical instruments.
I’ve used this more for lavalier microphones or as a carry-on device, as the quality isn’t as great as some of the others on this list. At this price range, some people may do better using a microphone preamp instead, but for those who need to move around, definitely give this one a look.
Overall, it does what it’s supposed to do. It won’t break the bank and offers a great amount of versatility.
The Zoom H4N Pro is a great alternative to the Tascam DR-40X, as a higher-end field recorder with the same small shape & versatility. This is one that I still use to this day on most sets from working with film students to professionals in the space.
The four-channel recording with 24-bit/96kHz has its very own built-in X/Y microphones for those who are recording on the fly. For filmmakers who need a powerful field mixer, however, you’ll get two XLR/TRS inputs for your microphones to capture audio.
For quality output, you’ll see that it has a 4-in/2-out USB audio interface that allows you to drop your recordings right into your laptop with ease. The controls are really simple to work with and allows for overdubbing, effects, and more!
The Zoom F1-LP is another highly popular field recorder for filming with lavalier microphones, thanks to the small size and ability to clip right on to your belt! Yeah, that’s right, this is a belt buckle field mixer perfect for subtly recording audio either on stage or in your next film production.
This two-channel field mixer may be small in size, but wow does it produce some serious audio! With a sampling rate of 24-bit/96kHz, you’ll be getting the best audio production capabilities. It’s super simple to use with one-touch button controls right on the front.
The other cool feature of this field recorder is how it’s simply powered by AAA batteries and can fit in the palm of your hand. This option will be best suited for people using lavalier microphones for either filming or live stage speaking.
The Roland R07 is a good field recorder for those looking for something super small, lightweight, and affordable that can still push out higher resolution WAV recordings. Roland is a favorite brand of mine, so I was happy to test out this device and found the recordings were great, though the UI is a little less user-friendly.
This high-resolution field recording device can produce anywhere from 16-bit/44kHz to 24-bit/96kHz, allowing you to be modular with your recordings. It’s best for taking field notes when you’re on the go, as it won’t support external microphone connections.
A great feature is the low-latency Bluetooth capabilities. This allows you to control & listen to content using your smartphone or Bluetooth speakers. It has playback capabilities as well with its own built-in speakers.
This one might be a little off the mark in terms of field mixing for film, but it’s so worth mentioning thanks to the high-quality functions.
A more unique & super convenient field recorder for filming would be the Tascam DR-60D MkII, a bulky and powerful device. What’s cool is how it has a DSLR camera mount right on the top so it can fit in with your filming rig extremely conveniently.
If I’m being honest with you, my favorite feature might be the actual look & feel. It blends right in with your camera device and looks like it belongs in a filming rig. This DSLR recorder can record up to 4 channels at once, with 2 XLR inputs using Phantom Power, and 2 1/8” inputs stereo connectors for lavalier microphones.
This field mixer uses upgraded HDDA preamps providing up to 64dB worth of gain, and extremely competitive low noise levels. You’ll be happy to hear that the sampling rates comes out at 24-but/96kHz as well, for WAV file resolutions.
Finding the right field recorder for you depends on multiple factors, such as how many microphones you intend to use, what type, and how complicated your film will be. A lot of people find they’re fine using something less complicated like the Tascam DR-40X, as it provides the basic functionalities and connectivity to work with your microphone. 4-Track recording is plenty for the average person, but some require much more.
However, the Tascam DR-40X has a sampling rate of 16-bit/24kHz. This won’t be horrible for most people, but if you really care about getting the most out of your recordings, then you’ll want something that records at 24-bit/96kHz.
It’s also important to consider the type of microphone you’re using. Most condenser microphones will require something called Phantom Power, an active power source that was created as a universal standard for microphones.
When you need something more heavy-duty to manage a significant number of audio sources, the Zoom H8 Handy Recorder becomes more and more attractive. It also offers a high-end standard sampling rate of 24-bit/96kHz. From the design to the features, it makes multi-track recording extremely seamless & produces high-quality output. The versatility for changing between recording modes on the user interface is also really handy (no pun intended).
Once you’ve found the perfect recording device, it’s important to make sure you’re also using proper microphone equipment. Every purchase you make counts, as every item in your equipment bag plays a key role in capturing perfect sound. There are several types of devices we can use when recording film audio, so let us cover them.
The first most popular choice we see are boom microphones, which are the ones you’ll see suspended from the air over the sound source. These microphones are incredibly popular as they allow you to get close to your target while keeping the microphone out of frame. While they have powerful pickups, they don’t rely on as much long-distance technology as on-camera choices do.
My two favorite boom microphones would be the Rode VideoMic Pro (more affordable) and the Sennheiser MKH416-P48U3, a much more high-end choice. These two choices have a great balance between quality & reliability.
The next type of microphone we’ll cover are mounted shotgun microphones, which sit right on top of the camera and have powerful long-distance technology. They use side slots to phase out sound coming from the wrong directions, allowing it to zero in on your sound source. They’re also convenient as you won’t need a dedicated boom operator to hold the microphone.
My favorite choice by far is the Neumann KMR 81i, as it offers amazing quality, though it comes at a cost. A more affordable choice would be the Sennheiser MKE 600, another fine choice that balances quality and affordability.
The final category we’ll cover is the lavalier microphone. These are especially common for those on a budget as they allow you to record your audio without a second-party or heavy-duty mic. They work by clipping onto your clothes and are often very subtle.
We also see lavalier microphones used for on-stage speaking as you can move around without someone following you with a microphone, and it keeps your hands free. While they’re not as likely to uphold the same standards as the other two in terms of quality, something like the Sony ECM77B would blow your mind by how professional the produced audio sounds.
By now you should have an idea of the best field recorder that is right for you. It’s important to make sure you find a good balance between quality and budget. Many people fail to consider that recording audio for film requires more than just a great boom microphone or acoustics. The device you choose for capturing that sound can make a massive difference.
If you went ahead with one of our suggestions, feel free to let us know in the comments below! If it’s working great, or it’s giving you trouble, we value that feedback, and it helps us refine our suggestions to make sure we only offer you the best.
Posted on Apr 06, 2021
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