I am an independent filmmaker. I already own a prosumer-grade camcorder and I am looking to complement it with an external audio field recorder. Perusing B&H, portable options with XLR inputs range from $180–$6,650. I know that audio is “80% of what you see” (or some such figure), so I don’t mind spending on quality, but when even low-end offerings are capable of 24-bit/96kHz WAV recording, how do I decide how much to budget for such a purchase? Does quality plateau after a certain price point?
The main things you should look for are the following:
ADC: Analog to digital converter, which turns the XLR signals into digital bits. More expensive recorders will have better ADCs - look for one with a high SNR, dynamic range, etc.
Preamp: Does it have enough power to run your mics? Some require more juice than others.
Connectivity: Are you recording to an SD card or to the line inputs of your camera?
Power: How long does the battery last? Can you charge it on the go?
To be honest, 24bit/96kHz isn't the most important thing if the recorder is crap. Look at the specs for your recorder to find the best hardware for the price (I don't know how much you're willing to spend) and if possible do a test recording at the store. Sometimes, cheap hardware actually performs admirably.