Audio recording devices

July 11, 2016 at 06:23 AM · Advice for recording solo practice and orchestra practice would be appreciated. Looking for simple operation and excellent quality.


Replies (25)

July 11, 2016 at 07:30 AM · Personally i like to use a stand alone recorder where the recorder or the media card can be hooked up to a computer for editing, backup and listening. Digital quality is excellent these days.

What you need is a good acoustic in which to record, and some good mic's. Omni mic's are good and I find about 5-8 feet distance to be ideal, but this also depends on the acoustic of the room.

July 11, 2016 at 11:00 AM · The pocket-size Zoom series is well worth looking at. Excellent build, quality and capabilities on all fronts. I'm still regularly using one of its earlier models, the H2, which, with its dual stereo mics, can provide 4-channel surround recording should I ever need it. I've also used the H2 to investigate the ultrasonic wave form emitted by a mouse-scarer; the 24-bit 96-kHz mode was ideal for this.

With headphones the H2 isn't a bad stand-alone mp3/wav player, either, accepting up to 32GB hdsc cards.

July 11, 2016 at 12:49 PM · For solo practice, the Tascam DR-40 is a similar level of quality to the Zoom devices mentioned above, so could be another option. The built in microphones are good, and you may not need anything else, though you can plug in any mic that uses the XLR connection standard as well.

July 11, 2016 at 01:05 PM · The Tascam and Zoom devices are very good. They're not going to be the basis of a professional recording studio, but for practicing they are very user-friendly. For recording solo practice, you may find that cashing in a little sound quality for the added benefit of a video image may be worthwhile, in which case you want a camcorder and a tripod.

July 11, 2016 at 01:47 PM · The current Tascam models are the DR-22WL and the DR-44WL. They are distinguished from previous Tascam models, and I believe from their competition, by being Wi-Fi enabled. This allows the user to control them from their mobile phone or tablet. The advantage to that, I think, is that the recorder could be positioned more optimally somewhere in your orchestra's practice hall, and controlled from your own chair. I have an older Tascam model DR-07mkII, without Wi-Fi capability, so I can't comment on the new models from my own experience. You'll have to do your own research. If I was shopping for a new one now, I would be inclined towards the simpler of the two current Tascam's, the DR-22WL. That model is also distinguished from earlier ones by having simple dials to set record level, playback volume, operational functions, etc., instead of having to use buttons to scroll through choices, and thus fulfilling your requested criterion for simple operation.

Another intriguing idea is a high quality microphone that plugs into your mobile phone. Here's one example that's getting laudatory reviews from users.

July 11, 2016 at 02:20 PM · My own experience has been with the Edirol R-09 (which is now sold as the Roland R-09). Here is a comparison of the Edirol and Zoom:

I have been completely satisfied with the quality of the recordings I have made - not only of my own instruments' sound but (I must confess) of concerts I have attended with the recorder in my shirt pocket (backed by a postcard to prevent sound absorption by my body). I recorded all of my granddaughter's performances with the top level of San Francisco Girl's Chorus including Mahler's 8th Symphony with the San Francisco Symphony - so I was able to compare the quality of my recording with that of the Grammy Winning CD of the concert. (I always purchase the CD if I record an ensemble - because I'm not trying to cheat anybody.) So when the SFGC performed with the Cypress String Quartet I was also able to compare my recording of the Cypress's Dvorak American Quartet with their CD. (I have also recorded my grandson's band Steep Ravine, which worked pretty well when the audience was not noisy - I have not recorded any concerts that I did not have "blood" in.)

This Edirol is an amazingly good recorder about the size of a pack of 100mm cigarettes, but you have to study a bit learn to use it, it is short of "buttons' so it's use is not intuitive until you learn how.

My son, who has a recording studio (Black Range Recording) has used a Zoom on the go (not in his studio, of course). (EDIT: He came to visit us in Calif last week & I learned he replaced his ZOOM with a new Ederol/Roland - mainly because it has a "monitoring" speaker that is convenient.)


July 11, 2016 at 03:22 PM · Does it need to be portable? I don't record outside my home, and mostly record students and myself.

To that end, I have an Audio Technica AT8022 stereo microphone ($400), running into an iMac via a Presonus Audiobox USB converter ($150). The software is Audacity, a free download,

and the speakers are self-powered M-Audio AV40's ($150). Many people might get sticker shock when considering a $400 microphone, but the AT totally outclasses anything cheaper, and can use phantom power (no battery). Mics prices kind of parallel bows, and I'm sure most people reading this would turn up their nose at a $400 bow. My whole setup is about $750, including an good-quality mic stand, which is less than most student bows.

Headphones are ok, but actually kind of a pain, especially when teaching. A decent pair of speakers is really worth it. The Mac speakers are ok, and I found the usual add-on speakers at computer places cheap junk.

I'm not against portable equipment but the quality is generally lower, the in/out ports are more vulnerable to wear, and they don't often accept balanced mic inputs or have phantom power.

I have a Marantz digital recorder sitting in a box in the garage because I never use it.

Make me an offer....

July 11, 2016 at 03:31 PM · I have my stereo hooked up to my computer with $5000 reference speakers, the computer speakers I've seen are a poor comparison!!

July 11, 2016 at 04:48 PM · Anyone have a recommendation for a camcorder with a good audio set-up?

Has anyone used the GoPro?

July 11, 2016 at 05:20 PM · The Zoom Q3 has typical Zoom sound, plus video of smartphone quality.

The Q4 , similar to a mini camcorder, seems to have a curious "semi-fish-eye" image.

July 11, 2016 at 05:41 PM · Portability is a plus. It all boils down to what you're going to do with the recordings you make, and whether you really need a lot of clever features. For recording my kids' performances, I use a Sony camcorder. The built-in mic is not audiophile quality, but I'm still proud as hell when I watch the video, and I don't think a better mic would change that one way or the other. On the other hand neither of my kids is conservatory material (nor have they shown an interest in going that route), which is just fine with me too.

I use my Tascam DR-05 for recording myself while I practice, when I don't want to use video, or when I'm practicing with others. It's plenty good for teaching me where I need to fix problems. It's easy to say that you should be able to listen to yourself while you play and make a mental list of the problem spots to work on. But that particular skill, based on my admittedly limited experience, improves at the same rate as your playing skill. I find that when I go back and listen to myself, I can hear lots of things that I didn't have the mental bandwidth to notice while I was playing.

July 11, 2016 at 05:43 PM ·

July 11, 2016 at 09:19 PM · Thank you for all of the helpful info!

July 12, 2016 at 04:29 AM · I'd be interested in a camcorder for recording Cute Kid things, but also for recording performances as well as rehearsals, which can reasonably capture the sound of an orchestra relatively nearby without distortion. (My orchestra usually practices in a large rec room, not a hall, unfortunately.)

July 12, 2016 at 02:05 PM · Normal camcorders seem to have abominable sound: lousy microphones and automatic level control (or rather automatic level demolition?) and which pickup mechanical noise fom the zoom and auto focus. I use the Q3, with a mirror set up behind for "selfies", as the monotor screen is behind.

July 14, 2016 at 08:49 PM · I use a Sony pcm-m10 for this purpose and I think it's perfect. Its omni-directional microphones make mic placement easy (put it anywhere). It's very discreet. Batteries last forever. It has a limiter to prevent overloading. For solo violin in a nice room I think it does well giving a nice full sound.

Most other recorders have directional mics which make mic placement more challenging.

July 16, 2016 at 02:36 PM · I have a Tascam DR-100 mkII. It has 2 sets of built-in mics -- directional and omni. I don't think I've ever used the omnis. The directional are 'ok', and doing better with externals would probably be a steep jump in price. It has a wireless remote which I've never used. I most often use it with hotshoe mount on a DSLR with a cable connector to the mic input on the camera, which produces dual recording -- directly on the camera with much improved sound, and another on the Tascam. With this setup I'm at or beyond my capacity for gadgetry and controls, so external mics and WiFi/phone control are a pipe dream. (Hmm, maybe I could hold some stuff with my mouth).

Tascam portable recorder comparison PDF

July 16, 2016 at 02:41 PM · I also use the PCM-M10 a lot for practice purposes. Just place it closer to the source than you think you need to. For more serious recordings, I use a pair of pencil condensors plus a really nice mic-pre.

July 16, 2016 at 04:37 PM · IRIG pro duo and an iPhone make a good practice recording setup. Both mounted to my music stand. Pro duo provides phantom power to the 2 mic xlr inputs, giving flexibility. Using GarageBand right now because I'm used to it.

July 16, 2016 at 09:21 PM · Lydia, for anything where the quality matters, I'd recommend setting up a separate audio recorder next to the camcorder. Nowadays it's not hard to automatically sync the good audio track with the bad one from the camcorder. Even plugging a good mic into the camcorder usually gives you noisy results.

July 19, 2016 at 02:43 AM · Serious head-desking from me tonight. I forgot to record myself tonight (two playthroughs of Lark Ascending with orchestra). Conductor's camcorder apparently failed.

Needed: Something dead-simple and foolproof to use. :-)

July 19, 2016 at 04:24 AM · That's tough for audio. They build the camcorders to be foolproof for video (although maybe not in your conductor's case, ouch!) but then they strip out any quality audio features. Therefore I still think the best thing would be to get a Zoom H4N or a Tascam and set it separate from the camcorder. Then you not only have a backup in case either one fails, but assuming both work, you have better audio from the recorder that you can sync up with the video later for when it matters.

July 19, 2016 at 08:58 AM · Serious head-desking from me tonight. I forgot to record myself tonight (two playthroughs of Lark Ascending with orchestra). Conductor's camcorder apparently failed.

But you presumably heard what you played and must have an idea where it needs looking at? We don't have to record everything. You will certainly remember any major cock ups!

July 19, 2016 at 02:49 PM · Hah. :-)

I find recordings, especially video, to be really interesting for all the little things that you didn't hear. It's also useful for the rehearsal post-mortem, especially figuring out why something might have gone wrong. (My teacher is fond of reminding me that in this work, there is a difference between being correct and being clear -- you can be perfectly metrical but the orchestra can still be uncertain of where the beats are).

In this particular case, I want to look at a few places where there was a desynchronization, where I'm not sure if I was wrong, unclear, or the (sight-reading) winds simply made a rhythmic mistake. I'm not performing it until next year so there's many months before we actually rehearse it, but I figured I'd make notes to myself of all the spots to look at carefully.

July 22, 2016 at 06:51 PM · I've had a Zoom H4n for a couple of years, and have used it to record private lessons, orchestra rehearsals and concerts, and bluegrass jams, and my wife has used it to record lectures. It's easy to use, and its built-in microphones give good sound quality (although it also accepts external mics with 1/4-inch or XLR connectors). The CDs I burn from it are a hit with both members and fans of our orchestra.

Unfortunately, my unit died a few days before the final concert of our spring season. It would record for a few minutes, then lock up claiming that the SD card was full. I had our local shop send it out for repairs, and got the word that it would cost $200 to do so. Since a new one is only $275 (Canadian), I think I'll just get another. I'm slightly concerned about reliability after this episode, but I did get two years of good solid service out of the unit and it is a joy to use.

Oh, as for that last concert... my local dealer (Long & McQuade) had an H4n in their rental stock - for a $13 one-night rental I was able to get the recording, so everyone is happy.

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