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I do a lot of backpacking and want to start recording the wildlife I hear during the night. I thought a small portable sound recorder might do the job. The idea is to place the recorder a distance from my camp before I go to bed, let it run all night, and stop it when I wake up. When I get home, I can then transfer the recording to my computer, portable music device, share with friends, etc.

The features I need are:

  • very lightweight
  • long recording time: 8 hours
  • digital file format: non-Microsoft
  • quality sound considering the device size
  • easy on the budget: ~$100

Thanks a lot for any recommendations you can provide!

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If your budget can stretch to a bit over $200 and are certain you don't need external mics then the Sony M10 should do the job. If you need external mics and can tolerate the high self-noise when using the built-in mics, then the Zoom H4n.

There are a lot of excellent recorders in the $200 - $500 range. Which one works best for you probably depends more on which one is currently on sale more than anything else. The Sony does have excellent battery life - 12 hours of recording time (which easily fits on a 16GB card MicroSD card) on a pair of Eneloops. And it supports standard memory cards.

  • +1 for the Sony M10 – user6513 Feb 6 '14 at 11:46
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There is the Zoom H1, which is around $100 and ticks most of the boxes you mention. However, I'm not sure it will produce good enough recordings of the wildlife you mention. You get what you pay for, $100 is really not sufficient to get high quality components. Add to that the narrow stereo image of the H1 (because of the xy mic setup), which makes the recordings rather flat.

See if you can try it out somewhere. Maybe you are happy with it.

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stretch to the cost of a Sony PCM-M10. you will never, ever, regret it.

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For that price range you may need to consider buying used. Recorders like the Zoom H2 are nearly indestructible, record in stereo (24/96) or quad (24/48) and sound remarkably good. I use mine all the time; it's been through the wringer, dropped and dinged, broken parts and corroded mic grilles, but still going strong. (Just used it last weekend to record for a huge movie coming out in May.) Now, finding someone who will part with theirs, that's another story…

  • I would actually part with my H4n if there'd be a home for it. – Stavrosound Feb 6 '14 at 10:16
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The Olympus LS-10 has really good built in mics (for the price anyway) and can be found refurbished for about $130. You are going to have a really hard time finding anything particularly solid under the $100 mark though. It's hard to get a good mic for under $100 let alone an entire recorder.

The quality you get starts going up a lot very rapidly as you approach and exceed the $200 point. The Sony M10 is a solid base unit or if you can go a little more, using the Zoom h4n with an external microphone can get good results.

Keep in mind though, these ARE the budget options. Really top quality field recordings are going to be done with really clean recording gear which is going to rapidly rise up in to the $1000 plus range for the recorder and probably another few hundred for the mic alone.

Sub-$100 recorders are like the cheap camera phones of audio field recording. $200 to $300 devices like the M10 and h4n are like the moderate to high end point and shoots. (With the h4n maybe making it to the level of a cheap entry level DSLR if you have a good mic on it). You don't get in to the DSLR equivalent until you get to true professional field units and stand alone mics.

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How about the Tascam DR-70D? Around $300 not as small but still easily backpack able. Noise floor specs seem respectable and less than h6 and h6 perhaps even the tascam 100mkII Any opinions anyone?

  • Hi Steveh, this is a question not an answer. Can you either post is as a question or make it into a clear answer? – Arnoud Traa Mar 9 '15 at 13:43
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Unfortunately I can't recommend anything at that price range. Some of the cheapest for fx recording purposes are about $400 or more. For wildlife and ambience recording of that nature, it's all about excellent preamps and a good-built, lo-noise condenser mic. In that regard you're looking at more of the $1200+ range for a kit at the very bottom end of the spectrum ($2000 being a more average low side of the spectrum).

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