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After selling my Fostex FR2-LE due to requiring a more handheld recorder that I can carry around daily to capture those unexpected sounds, I was all set to buy a Zoom H4N. But upon some last minute research, I came across the Tascam dr-100. Now the units seem similar, but whats enticing me about the Tascam, is the included rechargable lithium battery that automatically switches to AAs as back up when this runs out of juice (unaffecting recording), as constantly purchasing and changing the batteries on the zoom is a potential pain. Also, the pre-amps on the tascam seem better from the reviews i've read as well. So, what are the opinions on here?

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12 Answers 12

I've owned both and I'd recommend the H4n.

Both have crappy battery lives Both are built out of plastic

The DR100 has tons more switches, but only about half of them are useful

I wasn't happy with the DR100s built in mic quality, especially in comparison to the H4n

H4n will go into 4 track mode, DR100 will not

I did a shootout a while back, located here:

http://thesoundmyheadmakes.blogspot.com/2010/11/handheld-recorder-shootout-part-1-specs.html


edit - if you're just planning on using the internal mics I'd seriously consider saving up the extra couple hundred bucks and getting the PCM d50. Insane battery life, way better mics (that swivel), metal build, and 4 gigs buit in memory. I use mine daily.

Another option in that same price range is the sony PCM-M10. even crazier long battery life, mics about as good as the others in that range, metal build and built in memory.

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thanks @rene really useful - i plan to mainly use the built in mics as I plan to just keep it in my bag and use as when, so looks like the Zoom could be the one to go for in this respect. –  Noiseboy Sep 12 '11 at 12:20
    
Just wanted to add to Rene's comment. I would highly recommend the Sony D50, I also use mine daily and it really is an awesome piece of kit! It really is at a totally different level to the Zoom or the Tascam (in build and sonic quality). If you want a handheld recorder and can't quite justify the Sony D1 (seriously, who can?) then there is no better recorder than the D50. –  Si Charles Sep 12 '11 at 20:14

I own the DR-100 and have used the Zoom H4N once as well. I've never done a side-by-side shootout, but there are a few features on the DR-100 that made me like it more than the Zoom:

  1. Dial volume control - the Zoom uses software buttons to control volume and its volume scale goes from 1 to 100. I found this fairly annoying, as I remember it takes at least a couple of seconds to go from one end of the scale to the other. The DR-100 has two dials that go from 1 to 10 and can be controlled independently, which is much more intuitive for me.

  2. Batteries - The Zoom H4N uses alkaline batteries. The DR-100 has both alkaline batteries and a rechargeable lithium ion battery. I use the lithium ion as the primary battery and the alkalines as backup, so I never really run out of power. You can recharge the lithium battery off of a USB 2.0 connection as well.

  3. More hard buttons, less software controls. On the H4N (from what I remember), many key functions were controlled through software menus. The DR-100 has dedicated buttons on the back for Phantom power for the XLR inputs, mic gain, limiter and internal speaker. The front has a toggle switch for input (line, unidirectional, omnidirectional, XLR). It would have been nice if the high pass filter was hard switch as well but that is menu.

A couple of downsides:

  1. Stupid Menu Issues - you can't reset the take number, ever. This should be fundamental, but does not exist anywhere in the menus. The only way to reset your take number is to physically reset the unit from the system menu. Also, there is no delete character function when you're choosing the file name. So if your previous file name was GlassShatter_041 and now you just want DogBark_042, you won't be able to because you can't delete characters and the new filename is shorter than the old one. Again, this can be set back to default, by a full system reset. These may seem like really minor things, but they annoy me a lot, in part because when you do the full system reset you have to reassign your bitrate, sample rate, high pass filter, etc.

  2. Comes With A Case That Is Useless - The case has no belt loop and is too small to fit the recorder with the supplied windscreen. You'll more than likely need an additional storage case (I used an old headphone back which works fine).

All that being said, I also have the Sony PCM-D50 and the noise floor for the internal mics is much lower than the DR-100. The mics on the D50 are great as well and the unit construction and battery life are much better overall. My partner and I really only bought the DR-100 to use as a second handheld recorder that had XLR inputs.

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@Noiseboy I bought a zoom few months ago and I am generally satisfied. The only downside is the automatic sample rate to 48kHz @ when it goes into quad, the background noise of the preamps when recording sources at low volume and ... changing batteries is to be considered. I can tell you that I have quite a lot for my money! ; O) Bernard

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If budget is not the main concern, do not go for zoom. I have one myself and I'm quite satisfied with it. It's serves good for the price. And saved my ass in many occasions. But in addition to above mentioned points I would also add, "slooooow startup". I find it a little annoying, especially when I hear something interesting out of the blue and wanna capture it asap. The smaller the sd card the faster it loads I realized tho. So maybe its just a minor irritation on my side :)

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I own the Tascam one and the main downside I find to it is there is no facility to attach a strap, it is intended to be either handheld or it has a tripod screw at the back. It works fine if you're recording still, it's a pain if you're planning to move around, e.g. recording dialogue on a shoot.

The wheel is a very nice feature to navigate through the menus or move forward/backward when listening to your recordings. However, it goes crazy (the navigation sort of stalls) when you spin it too fast.

It's nice to have physical switches to the most used functions like phantom, limiter and mic gain (three positions, L/M/H, I recorded firecrackers from a 5m distance in L, smashed a TV from a 1m distance in M and all "usual SPL" recordings I do in H).

The meters are OK, fairly responsive. Because there is no way that you can easily walk around with it, you'll usually set it and forget it.

The gain wheels feel nice although it's a bit of a pain to set different gains for each input (you need to hold one wheel in place otherwise rotating one will rotate the other, and it's a lot of fingers in one place if you have big fingers).

I read somewhere that using two mics in the XLR inputs would increase preamp noise. I haven't run into this problem, using an AT8015 and an NT1-A.

So there you go, running in the field it's a pain although I'm sure if I took the time I could make a bag for it, otherwise it works fine. If you're recording still it just works.

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thanks for the answer justin, really useful info. –  Noiseboy Sep 12 '11 at 12:21

agreed with Rene, if you plan on using internal mic's most of the time, then h4n is a better option.

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If you want something solid (metal-cased), pocketable, quick startup with single button record and runs for hours then skip those recorders and chose the Olympus LS-11. This operates on readily available AA cells with in-built 8Gb flash memory (will support additional 32Gb SD card), remote control, V-sync control (used to be called vox), Cubase LE4 software, carry case, cables etc. It's got good preamps and produces an excellent stereo image. In my opinion anything with XLR inputs places it out of the pocketable league and often requires additional preamp equipment to take make it worthwhile - not ideal for your requirements described.

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also there will be new recorder from roland in october http://www.prosoundweb.com/article/roland_systems_group_introduces_new_r_26_portable_field_recorder/

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That little bugger looks like a serious contender! –  Olle Sjöström Sep 12 '11 at 19:11

I bought the Zoom and for the money i spent on it... it serves me right. Some of the things you all said bothered me as well, but there are some other things to consider before buying one.

First, you can't control the channels separately. Secondly, the noise level is kinda high on the headphone. Also the gain is deceiving, and I it makes me want to go after a pre-amp, which is too much trouble.

So if you're a musician that just wants to record rehearsals or if you are only interested in mobility and - mainly - if you have no money, the H4n will be ok for you. Otherwise I wouldn't recommend it.

Oh, but the built-in mics are gorgeous. The sound is clean and powerfull and I love it.

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Actually I think that with a software update you CAN control the input levels separately. Haven't updated myself but I've heard some rumors. –  Olle Sjöström Sep 12 '11 at 19:10

As far as usage with internal mics goes, has anyone got opinions of the zoom h2n?

I wonder if having 5 mic capsules doesn't suggest a compromise on quality.

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For me the selling point is the A/D converter and balanced/unbalanced line in for my mix/pre. H4N definitely loses some signal detail when going in the unbalanced line in.

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Myself, I would frankly continue with the Fostex. And I actually do, though it is the regular bigger FR2 hanging from my shoulder wherever I go :-) I was working with the H4n about a week ago and got a little disappointed. It's definitely not a bad machine, and as I got a very vital part of my FR2 smashed the same day I was leaving (fixed it the same day I got back home! Love this easily mend-able machine :-)), I had no choice than to go with it, but it has a very compressed sound even though all compression was off, it had way too soft somewhat padded treble, and a rather high noise-floor. But the thing that annoyed me the most was that it seemed to refuse to record in true mono! For some reason, rather than choosing one signal for the mono-feed, it mixed the two channels together, adding any noise and phase-distortion to the one signal... At least it did with the internal mics, I suppose the same applies to the externals, though I didn't try to change input to try it out.

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Whenever I've wanted to record mono with the H4n I just use one of the mics and take out that track in post, but yeah, I'd also like that true mono function for real. Hej förresten :) –  Olle Sjöström Sep 13 '11 at 19:45
    
Yup, that's what I had to do too :-( Can't see the logic in offering neither true mono nor single-track recording? Well well... Tjenis själv! :-) –  Christian van Caine Oct 2 '11 at 12:43

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