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I'm looking to purchase a portable field recorder to keep on me at all times, in order to capture those golden sounds we all come across day to day. I'm well aware of the usual suspects (H4N, M10, etc.) but what would you consider the creme de la creme, the absolute god of the portable field recorders?

Some more background info:

  • I want a recorder with built in or small attachable microphones. External mics and pres are a no go for this one. Has to be a single handheld device.

  • I currently have a beautiful location rig consisting of sound devices recorders and schoeps/dpa mics, etc. This would be purely for spur of the moment capturing, not planned recording sessions, something I can whip out at any moment and start recording.

  • 24/96 is essential, 24/192 would be ideal.

  • We'll pretend that price is no object just for arguments sake.

Cheers! Jo

  • I am curious about the Nagra one, and Sony is coming out with fthe D100 soon (I think about the same cost each). Never used them/demo'd them, but I'm curious – Stavrosound Oct 30 '13 at 0:37
  • After some research this morning it definitely seem the Nagra SD and Sony PCM-D100 are the two front runners. Not many people seem to have experience with them though. – Joseph Dutaillis Oct 30 '13 at 1:55
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The Sony D100 looks intriguing. From what I've read, it's due early 2014, and retails for $1000. The extra frequency range looks interesting. But it really depends on how the preamps will shape up, in my opinion.

http://blog.sony.com/2013/10/sony-unveils-pcm-d100-high-resolution-audio-portable-recorder/

I love using the Sony D50. I also have a H4n and an H4.

  • I find it is built solidly, which is handy if you plan for it being a device you pack with you wherever you go. That's what I do. I just toss it in my bag and go. I'm pretty rough with it, actually. However, it stands up to a lot of punishment when packed with other random things.

  • I also like its speedy start up time. This is really helpful if you stumble across a cool effect and need to grab it quickly (i.e., an approaching siren). I've found other recorders are not as snappy.

  • To my ears, the D50 sounds the best out of the three I mentioned. It is quite smooth and clear, has decent depth and soundstage.

  • Memory limitations are a bit of problem for an extended shoot (4 GB onboard, max of 4 GB can be added via Memory Stick, according to manufacturer's specs). It's also important to note that the internal and supplemental memory are considered two "devices." That means you need to switch between them when choosing your recording destination.

  • Not a huge fan of its menu system. I find selecting and scrolling through items a bit cumbersome, but that's a small point.

The D50 is much pricier than the others I've mentioned, but I believe it's worth it. I think it's the best out of the portables I've tried. Don't forget to get a windsock, you'll need it outdoors.

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    i've added a 16GB memorystick to my d50 (magic gate HXpro) without issues.It shouldn't really be a problem on the d100 i guess/hope. Love my d50, only small gripe is that it's relatively big and heavy, so it's not always in your pocket like the m10. – Arnoud Traa Oct 30 '13 at 19:51
  • Really! I was wondering about that, and scoured the manual, which said it had a 4GB limit -- although I was suspicious of that. Good to know it can handle more, thanks for the info. – Paul Virostek Oct 30 '13 at 20:04
  • jup! i took the gamble and just bought (€60 back then). one small difference is the startup time get's longer, because it needs to check the memory. it takes about 4 seconds longer with my memorystick link: amazon.com/Sony-PRO-HG-Memory-Stick-MSHX16G/dp/B002629RP4 – Arnoud Traa Oct 30 '13 at 20:18
  • oh btw which windsock do you use? i bought the sony furry and it's okish. is the rycote one better? – Arnoud Traa Oct 30 '13 at 20:37
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    @ArnoudTraa I got the Rycote D50 windsock, $35, and it does well. Still susceptible to stronger gusts, though. I got it at B and H: bhphotovideo.com/c/product/595002-REG/… – Paul Virostek Oct 31 '13 at 21:22
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There will be a new Sony PCM D100 in a few months….I love my M10 Superior quality ! Very low noise !! I personally would´t recommend the Nagra Lino. I read not very good about it. Sorry. Have no links about articles. I did a lot of research in the last werks because of my dead h4n and i went for the m10. Super long stand by, superfast boot up ( even with two cards in it) and perfekt portabillity ( it's so small and lightweight). What i also really like is, that it has very low handling noise in comparison to the h4n....

Maybe this link could be very helpful. Some say, this device is exactly the same manufacturer like the nagra! http://www.aeq.eu/products/digital-portable-recorder

  • Personally i believe its a hypocritical/unhelpful to speak negative (or positive) of something if one hasn't used it firsthand and/or cannot actually provide a credible source as to what was read about it. – Stavrosound Oct 30 '13 at 18:54
  • Yes, you're right, but when i hear/ read from audio professionals or people who are into something. Then it influences my decision, isn't it ? After i read, that the nagra is the exactly same device as the aeq recorders, i feel reamed by the manufacturer. Especially i the price is a lot higher. – Andreas Usenbenz Oct 30 '13 at 19:38
  • I'm so sorry what i mean is the nagra Lino – Andreas Usenbenz Oct 30 '13 at 19:43
  • here's a round up of the 2 handheld recorders by nagra, both sound pretty good to me. bhphotovideo.com/indepth/audio/hands-reviews/… – Arnoud Traa Oct 30 '13 at 19:58
  • with regards to the aeq product. i've never seen it, but what if nagra bought the company (no info on the website) and upgrade the circuitry, it would be understandable that they up the price a bit. just guessing.. – Arnoud Traa Oct 30 '13 at 20:34
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I think the PCM-D100 will be the king of all handheld recorders! I think most professional sound recordists realise that handheld recorders of this size with XLR inputs all fail with noisy preamps, they're all okay (tascam dr100mkii, zoom h4n) but they don't cut it, so you either keep using your big beast 744t or you pair a recorder with a mixer (mixpre-d/302 etc) if that recorder also has some awesome sounding onboard quiet mics like the PCM-D50 and the omni mics of the PCM-M10 (which I think works better for ambience) then bonus, so the PCM-D100 is going to be absolutely the king, I'll be buying it the moment it hits the shelves, it's not missing XLR inputs it doesn't require them.

  • I think you might be right @Chris. Speaking of which, do you know the release date? – Joseph Dutaillis Nov 13 '13 at 5:49
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The King is the Sony M-10. It is cheap, has good sound, is quiet, batteries last forever, and you will actually use it because it is so small. It is what most people should buy instead of all the other junk they do buy......

The Prince is the Zoom H-1. It is silly cheap, is noisy, has somewhat acceptable sound, battery life is fair, and you will actually use it because it is so small. And if someone steals it you just laugh....ha ha.

The Emperor is either the Sony D100, M50, D1, as they all have good sound, are quiet, are all somewhat portable (sometimes you will use them).

The Fostex FR2-LE is the court general.....it is under $1000, quiet, has great sound, but is not so portable.

The court jester is the Zoom H-2. It is no better (but bigger) than the H-1, is still cheap, does the job, but the jokes on you if you buy it (or any of the other bigger Zooms) as the Sony M-10 is way better and the price is silly cheap. (All the zooms hiss like country snakes).

The damsel in distress is pretty much everything else under $600, as you will get involved, and with the commitment be stuck with nagging hissing......

The holy grail is the Sound Designs (and other high end stuff) which costs more and is less portable, but sometimes the hero's quest must be pursued. (Bring royal $$$.) If someone steals it, you cry....

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Nobody seems to talk about this recorder all that much, but I've had a Sony PCM D1 for years now and absolutely love it. It's been on many a trip with me and held up over years of abuse. It was the expensive predecessor to the PCM D50 and made out of titanium. I got a deal on mine, because I never would have purchased it at the original, crazy $1999 list price.

It is now discontinued, a tad bulky compared to most handhelds, and unlike the PCM D50 the mics are locked in an XY pattern. But the sound quality is excellent (minus a tiny drop in low end response around 200Hz which I correct for in mastering) and the self noise is super low. If you can find one used, or back stock, I highly recommend it.

The Nagra SD also seems promising. I've checked one out at a trade show and the build quality/size is quite nice. Can't comment on the sound though. Glad to hear Sony is introducing a new hand held, they certainly lead the field IMHO.

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