Looking for the best audio recorder for filmmaking, or video production? Our guide will help you pick the best portable digital recorder for your needs - and help you find the best price.
Professional videographers will tell you that there's plenty you can do to rescue video footage, but when it comes to audio, there is little margin for error. What’s more, viewers are more sympathetic to slightly shaky or overexposed footage, but bad audio will have viewers reaching for the standby button in double quick time.
No, getting audio right is a must and if you are serious about raising the quality of your videos, then an audio recorder should be on your wish list. These external devices record audio separately to the footage you shoot on your camera and then they are paired back together in video-editing software such as Final Cut Pro, Adobe Premiere or iMovie. Once the enhanced audio recorded on the external device is synced with the footage, the inferior audio from the camera can be trashed, leaving an improved sound. What’s more, with one dedicated non-camera audio track running through your scene, it’s easier for videographers to mix in footage from a B-camera to further increase production values.
Ranging widely in size and budget, there’s a good amount of choice on offer when it comes to audio recorders, although like any sector, there are brands that dominate and this time around it's Tascam, Olympus and Zoom. However, with multiple options on offer, it means you should definitely be able to find an audio recorder that fits your needs and, more importantly, your budget.
Olympus boasts a strong pedigree in audio recorders and the LS-P4 is the brand’s current top model. The beauty of this unit is that it’s small and lightweight, enabling users of small compact cameras to still mount it on the hotshoe and connect the audio recorder to the camera. Users have 8GB of internal storage, but if that’s not enough, you can pop in a Micro SD card (up to 32GB). The LS-P4 enables users to plug in a lav mic for interview situations, or you can use the built-in three-microphone system that enables capture of 96kHz/24-bit recordings. Downloading audio to a computer is super easy thanks to an innovative slide out USB connection.
One of the most popular audio recorders on the market, the Zoom H6 is packed with features and is a great option for those videographers requiring multiple connections. Users can choose to employ the X/Y mics for more ambient sound or add in a handheld mic (suitable for more formal interview situations) via one of the four XLR inputs. Each separate input can be separately adjusted and monitored to ensure the correct mix of levels thanks to the 2-inch colour LCD, and the H6 takes normal-sized SD cards so you should never be short on memory.
Another mainstay of the audio recorder world, the DR-40X can be considered more on the entry-level of the handheld recorders when compared to options like Zoom’s H6. Two XLR inputs are complemented by omnidirectional mics that can be switched from an A-B pattern to an X-Y pattern, depending on the sort of ambient sound you’re intending to capture. If you’re filming indoors and don’t want to worry about swapping batteries, the DR-40X can be powered by a mains plug (not included), and the audio is recorded to a SD card, so you can quickly whip the storage out and download files to your computer.
The R07 is a great option for ‘Run & Gun’ videographers looking to capture improved sound for their productions. The small unit includes built in stereo microphones and a port to plug in a lav mic, should you be filming someone presenting to camera. There is a useful LCD to show sound levels, but the presence of Bluetooth means you can also monitor at a distance using bluetooth headphones (no cables to trip over here). The R07 can run for 15 hours off 2x AA batteries and features programmable Presets so once you find the right settings for a certain scene, you won’t have to program them again. What’s more, a rehearsal mode listens to your audio and adjusts the settings for you for optimal sound quality. A smartphone app enables remote control too, further enhancing the speedy operation of the R07.
The DR-10 SG is an incredibly compact unit that is well suited to vloggers who want to shoot handheld but with improved audio. Essentially, the DR-10 SG is a hotshoe mic, with a built-in audio record that stores files on a Micro SD card. The device tips the scales at just 110 g (including batteries) and a supercardioid shotgun microphone captures sound in front of the lens. With four selectable EQ modes and audio pass-through to the camera, users can fine-tune the audio and the unit benefits from a shockmount, to reduce introducing unwanted audio when the camera is moved or knocked. A single AAA battery gives over eight hours of operation – impressive.
Now for something a little different. The Memory Mic is a clever audio recording solution that is perfect for videographers who are using their phones to record footage. Attaching onto your subject via a magnetic clip, the Memory Mic is essentially a Bluetooth lav mic that records audio internally. Once you’re finished recording a scene, you can then transfer and sync the audio with your video clip via Bluetooth and a free app for iOS and Android. An incredibly small and lightweight solution, the Memory Mic offers four hours of use on a single charge and takes just two hours to power back up again.
The DR-60D MkII may not look like a typical audio recorder, but the unit is perfect for videographers looking to take audio within their footage to the next level. This time around, the camera sits on top of the audio recorder, screwing into place where your tripod plate would go. With two XLR/TRS inputs, videographers can choose to add in audio from these sources with audio straight from your DSLR or mirrorless camera, which is recorded to a full-size SD card slot. A USB port enables remote powering of the unit and at the front you will find an LCD to display sound levels along with buttons to quickly playback clips you’ve recorded via your headphone. Phantom power sends a 48v signal to mics that need extra power and a mixer affords a high level of control on how the balance of sound will be recorded.
The perfect two-track audio recorder for simply popping on your belt and presenting to camera at distance, as no connection to the camera is needed. The F1-LP records audio via a lav mic and is a good option for those videographers using non-DSLR cameras such as GoPros, smartphones or cameras like the DJI Osmo Pocket, as you can use the F1-LP to capture high-quality sound that you can merge with your footage in post-processing. If you would prefer not to use the lav mic, more ambient sound can be captured by adding one of Zoom’s mic accessories to the 10-pin jack (such as a Zoom’s hotshot module or XLR capsule). This versatility is even more impressive considering the F1-LP’s mid-level price-tag and the unit benefits further from an LCD to show information, a tally light to show when the unit is recording and a headphone port so audio can be monitored in real time.
One of the most versatile and professional recorders on the market, the H8 does it all. With no less than 6 XLR inputs and 10 inputs in total (via Zoom’s optional capsules), users can mic up a whole band when filming projects like music videos and includes Zoom’s multi-pin jack to add a selection of mic capsules. Powered by 4 x AA batteries, the H8 features an innovative colour touchscreen display that enables users to access the various app, including a Podcast app that boasts sound effect buttons and a Field app to capture ambient sound when out on-location. Music fans will appreciate the USB access to Zoom’s Guitar Lab that offers a number of amp simulation effects so you can create quality productions in your studio. Offering Phantom power the H8 can accommodate dynamic microphones and the audio is recorded to a SD card (up to 512GB).
What to look for in an audio recorder
- Recording formats: Can the recorder capture audio in different file formats such as WAV and MP3 files? This gives versatility to your work flow and allows high quality audio to be added to your footage.
- Different inputs: Look out for multiple inputs as this will allow you to mix up the microphones you use - from lav mics when presenting to XLR inputs for boom mics and shotgun mics to record ambient sound.
- Internal memory: Most audio recorders enable users to record sound to a SD or Micro SD card. However, some also offer internal storage – useful if you filled up cards or have forgotten them.
- LCD screen: Does the audio recorder offer an LCD? These are useful for not only adjust settings, but also for monitoring sound levels to make sure the audio isn’t too loud/quiet.
- Bluetooth technology: Some audi recorders offer Bluetooth, which enable benefits such as remote control via a smartphone app, or the ability to monitor sound remotely via cable-free Bluetooth headphones.