So I’m really getting tired of answering the question “What’s the best handheld recorder” or “Which one should I get” or whatever permutation of that question gets asked. It’s not that I don’t like helping people, but I get bored of answering the same question over and over – plus, there’s really no right answer – it’s very much based on your needs.

So, a month or two ago, I decided that I was going to do a handheld recorder roundup. Not just one that compares specs and all – that’s as simple as data gathering, and anyone can do it with a little help from Google and your preferred audio retailer’s site. What I want to do is to round up all of these recorders and actually do listening tests, then post my results, as well as the recordings up on the blog.

Sounds simple, right? Well, almost – I need to get a hold of all of those recorders first! Not really an easy task. Fast forward to this past week, where all of the manufacturers and their execs / reps are in the same room. Sweet! So I got a number of companies (including, but not limited to Nagra, Tascam and Sony, plus the Olympus and Zoom I already have access to) to commit to letting me demo their recorders. So expect that in the next few months.

Little Tascam Recorder

There were a few new arrivals from Tascam at the show. One in particular caught my attention:

This little guy records two separate tracks at two different levels. It records the one that you are in control of plus a second track at 12db lower. Great for those moments when an unexpected transient comes along and peaks out your recording. Good for those “only have one take” sounds. Of course, in any serious situation, a 702 has more headroom, and you can tier a Deva’s┬álevels…

I haven’t played with this one in a quiet environment to know how good it sounds, but I’d imagine it to be fairly comprable to a Zoom H2 (minus the 4ch capabilities). This is one of the ones I’m testing on the shootout, so I’ll have a better idea on what it’s about in a month or so.

Sweet.

Big Tascam Recorder

Tascam also debuted their new control surface for their Newish large format portable recorder, the HS-P82. It looks cool, and the system is offered at a good price, but I can hardly see it competing with a 788T/CL9 or a Deva/Mix12/Mix8. I’ll get over the fact that it feels a bit cheap. It’s made out of metal and all, but the buttons and switches just feel cheap. But then again, it’s cheaper than all of it’s competitors. Here’s the thing though – it has a TERRIBLE menu system. I mean come on, it doesn’t cost much to make a user-friendly menu. I played with the machine for about 5 minutes and couldn’t figure out input routing or metadata. So I asked a rep. He couldn’t figure it out, so he asked another rep. Took the two of them 5 minutes to figure out that they couldn’t figure it out. Now, I know it comes with a user’s manual, but I use tons of different recorders – Sound Devices, Devas, Nagras, Fostex stuff – every single day – I know how to navigate menus – they all have the same options, just in different places – it isn’t very difficult to figure out. Why this one is, I have no idea. Maybe in a few firmware updates, this will be better. More difficult to figure out than a Cantar X or a Nagra V.

Big Tascam Recorder

Speaking of Nagra, not too sure why this one doesn’t get more attention. The Nagra ARES series. Perhaps the price point, but it’s cheaper than the Sony D1… My only gripe with this one is that it can only do 48k (why?). You can buy different capsules for this one, making it stereo, omni, cardioid, etc… plus a reporter’s mic on a cable you can buy, and an XLR adapter. Pretty sweet recorder – plus it has Nagra Preamps. Legendary. Again, I’ve never used this one in a decent environment, so I can’t account for it’s recording quality, but I would venture to guess it’s one of the best sounding ones out there. It’s another one on my list to test in the next month.

Oh, and the guy I talked to from Nagra, Steve George (a US Nagra Rep and the US Service Manager) literally tracked me down on the AES exhibit floor the day after I met with him just to give me this sweet Nagra hat. They weren’t giving them away, he just happened to have one with me and knew I was a fan. Now THAT’s customer service :-)

Sony – nothing new to report – same few portable recorders. They’ll both be reviewed.

Zoom, Roland/Edirol, Yamaha, Olympus weren’t represented there, but I’ll still try to get some of those to compare for my lineup.

That about does it for the portable recorders! Again, let me know if you have any specific questions about any of these posts or something that I didn’t cover!

Next up, microphones!