Before I start I have to admit: I am far, far away from being a pro - in fact, I am not even making sounds/music for a living. It´s what I love to do in my leisure time and that´s why my budget is a maximum of 700 Dollars.

I have an obsession for sounds that can be found in our everyday surroundings - not really "ambient" sounds but sounds with very specific sources like our voice, a pneumatic hammer, all kinds of instruments, animals, the tiktok of a clock that is so often overheard, the paper shredder in my office - as you know: the list is endless. NoiseJockey´s awesome "Fun with Bikes"-Video covers exactly what I am talking about.

Since I know that there are so much interesting textures and tones hidden inside them I want to get really "close" to those interesting sound sources and record them.

So I kept my eyes and ears open to what might be a small-budget-solution for my aspirations - but since the market is so full of portable recorders, microphones...

I might need advice from you pros.

I already own an Echo AudioFire4 interface, but no mic (yet, but that´s another story) but I don´t want to carry my laptop etc. with me so I am looking for a portable solution.

Thanks for your advice!

Echo AudioFire4
(source: echoaudio.com)

7 Answers 7


Your mileage may vary, but here's what's in my indie film recording kit:

Marantz PMD661 recorder (great preamps for the price, mediocre built in stereo mics)

Rode NT4 (for stereo location and ambient recordings)

Audix SCX1-HC (hypercardioid mic for mono and boom mic applications)

If you want to use external mics (and you probably will), be aware that not all preamps are created equal. The biggest difference you will find is in the noise floor. Here is a great comparison of a lot of popular recorders on the market:


Also, I think Rode actually makes pretty good stuff, but I'd only really recommend the true condenser mics (NT3, NT4, NT1, NTG-3, etc) and not the lower end electret condenser mics (NTG-1, NTG-2, etc). Electret condensers are a different sort of technology that results in more noise and worse performance than true condensers. If it can be powered by a AA battery, it's not a real condenser mic.

My setup is highly optimized for my particular needs, so take all of these comments with a grain of salt. For me, I wanted something that could cover ambient stereo backgrounds, stereo concert/music recordings, foley, film boom mic work and ADR, and sound crisp, clean, and free of noise. For these purposes, my setup is great. For someone else with different goals and budgets, it could be all the wrong stuff. Do enough research until you know you're getting the best stuff for you.


Welcome, P. Lockhead! Let me direct you to a few posts that may address your question:

Best entry-level portable recorder DIY contact microphone My first field mic. Usefulness of "guerrilla" vs. "pro" recordings

My advice would be to purchase one of the entry-level recorders favored by many folks on this site, the Zoom H2. You get a pretty decent 4-channel recorder capable of 96kHz for a relatively small amount of cash.

  • Thank you so much for you advices! Next time I´ll scan the other threads before I ask a question - looks like there are a few people with the same/related questions. But thanks for posting the links to those threads - I´ll check them out. Commented May 5, 2010 at 13:11

For recording indoors, the Audiofire makes a usable preamp with separate gains on each mic input. You can run it without a computer, provided you use Echo's Console software to do the necessary settings first (hard pan inputs 1&2, turn phantom power on), and power it via the DC adapter.

If you go for a line-in portable recorder such as e.g. Sony PCM-M10 you can use the AF4, or another preamp (including portable) and analogue i/o. But a Microtrack or equivalent s/pdif equipped recorder makes a neat bit-bucket for the AF (remember to set sampling rates before disconnecting from computer). Finally there are XLR-input, phantom-power-capable units such as Zoom H4n, which can power microphones by themselves.

My favourite for sustained textures with objects that you can safely touch has to be the DIY contact mic solution - cheap-o-matic piezo transducer, wires, jack, and a touch of soldering can get you hours of fun, with often amazing results at quite literally no cost.

There are a few low-cost, battery-powered, microphones out there that don't require external power, such as Røde's NT3, NT4 or NTG-2. Many serious pros smirk at them but try beating Røde on value. For ambiences you can explore stealthy microphones, but first see what the folk at Taperssection, as well as nature recordists, have to say. From what I've read in the links @birdhousesound listed above, there's a wealth of information on this very site.

good luck!


Hey, Lockhead, welcome to the group. Your question is a very common one, as birdhousesound pointed out. For $700 you could get a Zoom and some goodies to go with it, although the recorder itself is often sufficient for gathering sounds. I went with Zoom's H4n and I've been very pleased with it. If you have specific questions after reading some of the other posts on the matter, feel free to ask.

  • I have seen really mixed reviews for the H4N - some people are totally loving it, others seems to hate it - check out the comments: bradlinder.net/2009/03/… I had this device in my own hands but couldn´t test it - but it felt great :-) Commented May 5, 2010 at 13:10
  • Interesting. I have had some trouble with external mic cables making contact, but playing with them a bit takes out any noise. I do wish I had the remote for the H4n, since "riding the levels" on the unit can result in a low "t'kung, t'kung" sound. For my purposes, however, it suits me just fine. I've been able to record smashing audio with it, with both internal and external mics. Commented May 5, 2010 at 19:36
  • That´s why I ended up here because most reviews and comments only led to more confusion. :-( Commented May 5, 2010 at 20:41

Definitely start small, reserve some budget for a case/pouch and what cables you might need, and do your research. But all that said, buy the best you can afford. Ease of use is also critical: The harder it is to set up, the less you're going to want to use it, which'll stop you before you've started.

For the smallest, lower-end recorders, I look at them with an eye towards always using the built-in mics. For me, carrying around a separate microphone takes away from the spontaneity of their use...plus, their preamps are usually not great, and it increases set-up time. Others are different and buy such devices based on the mic pre's, an equally valid approach, so it depends on your style and the results you want to get.

If you get a unit you like - D50, M10, H4n, H2, etc. - then you can always get an external preamp and a mic and still have a tight, small rig as an upgrade someday - very common approach that's great for stealthier recordings. Even if/when you move beyond that, you'll still find that even that older, cheaper gear still has its uses. And that's where price and value differ!


Thank you so much for you advice.

I will keep my ears open for a low-end recorder with good built-in mics and an input option for external mics.

I have read rave reviews about the Sony PCM-M10 - maybe I´ll get an NTG-2 (this seems to be a low-end shotgun mic for and a way to get "close" to the sound sources without recording too much ambience.

  • 2
    The NTG-2 was my first condenser mic, but in retrospect, a hypercardioid would've been a better investment. Shotguns are not designed to be used indoors in acoustically bright or reflective areas...hypers can be used everywhere, all the time. The NTG-2 is an amazing deal for the money, and it might be right for you, but just sharing my own experience. Randy Thom once said, "Get any mic close enough to a sound source and it becomes directional;" it's all about signal:noise ratio! :-) Commented May 5, 2010 at 14:19
  • I had to go through a few articles to understand what you have written but thats cool because since I am a beginner I know a few more things now. Ha! :-) But there is another question thats pops up: will a hypercardiod capture sound in a "better" way than the internal mics (when I get them close enough to the sound source) of what may become my portable recorder? Can you recommend a hyper that fits into my not-pro-only-leisure-time budget? Commented May 5, 2010 at 14:45
  • 2
    Sure! To keep it short: built-in mics are stereo, hypers are mono...any external mic'll prob. have better freq. response and dynamic range, and lower "self-noise"...Røde NT3, Oktava MK-012 (noisier but cheapest modular capsule system) would be good budget cardioids/hypercarioids. If you get an external mic, though, buy wind protection (like a Rycote ball gag & furry cover), otherwise your outdoor options will be limited. Hope that helps! Commented May 5, 2010 at 16:22

Okay, I´ve been into local stores, checked out a lot of mobile recorders and think I have found 2 units that I like: Olympus LS-11 and Sony PCM-M10 (the LS-11 sounded "thicker"/"better" to me, but the sony is cheaper and already comes with wind protection - I could save 100 Euros). Sadly, both don´t support XLR, so external mics (something I would get - in the future...) that need phantom power are not an option.

Sooooo... what would be the the better choice: get one of those mobile recorders and just start recording the stuff I am looking (NOT ambience but specific sound sources) for OR save the money and get an external mic (Noisejockey mentioned Røde NT3 or Oktava MK-012) and a unit that supports XLR, hoping to get better results? It´ll take months to save the money for a bigger budget.

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