I'm new to field recording but not studio recording. I'd like to buy a portable recorder and mic for under $400 US (approximately).

Having researched online, can I get away with a cheaper recording device (e.g. Tascam DR-40 with XLR inputs and purchase a $200-300 shotgun mic to plug into it? If yes, would the preamp be sufficient in a cheaper recording device?

My newbie logic is that anything can record but capturing the sound is more important.

2 Answers 2


Nature recording is a really tricky place to start with cheap gear, as ambiences tend to be reasonably quiet and cheap gear nearly always has a high noise floor! I've found most quiet nature ambiences I've recorded with a handheld recorder either with the built in mics or external mics are almost unusable because of the noisefloor.

One response is to get cheaper gear and concentrate on louder sources that you can record without worrying about noise...

However I've recently discovered that cheap, plugin power electret omni mics have very little noise and very high output, meaning they can be used with a cheap handheld recorder to get pristine ambiences! Although it's hard to reject unwanted sound with omnis, it's a mix technique championed by Chris Watson who is one of the UKs top wildlife sound recordists.

So if you add to whatever handheld device you decide on, some Clippy EM172 or Lom MikroUsi and some bubblebee wind protection, you'll add the ability to record really quiet sources for about $100

FWIW I've felt let down by almost all the built in mics I've heard apart from Sony, but Sony's don't have xlr which is frustrating when you want to experiment with external mics! I might suggest starting with a used Sony, then jumping to a SD Mixpre or Zoom F4 once you want to start using external mics.

  • Thanks for your comment Ed, it certainly will help to inform my choice. Commented Sep 3, 2019 at 12:55

Firstly, don't be trying this with a shotgun mic.

You need to be working with stereo mics for any ambient recording. Only use directional mono mics for close spot SFX or dialogue. If you are on a budget you should try and spend the money on something that has a decent set of on-board stereo mics.

Ideally - and hopefully eventually - you will end up getting decent condenser mics with appropriate wind protection in order to do this, however this will be down the track if budget is an issue.

Always consider wind protection when recording outside as any wind will cause the capsules to blow out and will ruin your recording.

  • Thanks for the advice on the shot gun mics, Mark. I'm going to have trouble deciding what a good on-board mic but I'll keep reading. Any thoughts on an all-in-one solution with a decent pair of mics on the top? Commented Aug 24, 2019 at 16:50
  • At that budget you are looking at a Zoom recorder - H5N at the minimum. Do not go near an H4N - too noisy. Also consider the Tascam DR-100Mk3 recorder and if you can find the budget, look at a sony PCM-D100. Sony is better build quality and features.
    – Mark
    Commented Aug 25, 2019 at 0:38
  • Thanks Mark - I've had bad luck with Tascam in the past and prefer to stay away. One question, I've read that the PCM-D50 was quite the little device and they're all over eBay. Any thoughts on that model? Thanks, Tim Commented Aug 25, 2019 at 19:23
  • Can't really give you any thoughts on that. It's discontinued by sony though - probably why they are all over ebay.
    – Mark
    Commented Aug 25, 2019 at 21:38

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