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At Musitechnic we encourage our students to go out and record sounds they can use in their film post-production projects. Portable recorders are pretty handy when you want to just grab an ambiance or a room tone. I took 4 different portable recorders available at Musitechnic and decided to compare them with this purpose in mind. They are different recorders, some are more recent than others, some have little in common other than being portable recorders, but I’m comparing their sound when recording ambiances with a post-production perspective. I am therefore not going to look at the specs, I just want to listen to them in this context. If you are planning on using any of these recorders, listening to those audio files can help you make an informed choice. Today I will present you the different recorders along with the first recording I did for this informal test. Next time I will present you the other recordings along with my conclusions.

The recorders:

All files were recorded at 24bit and 48kHz.

 

The Edirol R09 is the smallest (weights 145g). Stereo microphones are omnidirectional back-electrets in a slightly spaced AB configuration. It cost about 500C$ when it came out in 2006.


The Roland R26 is the biggest (weighs 370g), can record at higher sampling rates, can record 6 tracks at once, it lets you use external microphones and also offers 2 types of built-in stereo condenser microphones: cardio for an XY configuration or omni for an AB configuration. The AB microphones were used to record these files. It came out in 2012 and cost around 700C$.


The Zoom H6 is the second biggest (weighs 400g), a 6-track that can record at higher sampling rates, has interchangeable input capsules, acts as a USB computer interface, records ‘safe tracks’ (at levels 12dB lower), allows overdubbing, has a metronome, a tuner and lets you record up to 6 external microphones simultaneously. You can even mix your tracks from the device. Probably the most sophisticated of the bunch. The XY condenser microphones were used to record these files. When it came out in 2013, this device cost about 500C$.


The Zoom H4n is the second smallest (weighs 280g), a 4-track recorder that can record at higher sampling rates, features compressors, reverbs, amp modelling, MS capabilities, mix down capabilities, acts as a USB interface, has a fixed stereo XY microphone configuration plus two extra inputs (for external mics or instruments). We used the XY condenser microphones to record the files. This device came out in 2009 at around 300C$.


1) Cafeteria

My first stop was at the Musitechnic cafeteria where I put the recorders down on the edge of a table looking for some ‘wallas’ (a recording of people talking indistinctly to be used as part of a background in a film soundtrack). The recorders were set one on top of the other, trying to get the same perspective for all recorders. Here are the sounds so you can hear for yourselves:

 

Impressions :

I listened to the tracks with a pair of Sony MDR-7506 headphones. All the recorders were good and there were no audible problems: I could not hear any obvious internal background noise or hiss that should not have been there. I listened to the tracks randomly starting with the Edirol R09:

  • The Edirol R09 sounds warmer with more lows present (listen at 0’14 when the door closes for example). The stereo image is pretty narrow, probably contributing to the warm, surrounded-by-sound feel of this recorder.
  • The Zoom H4 has obviously less rumble, less bass. It breathes more and feels less aggressive, less oppressing probably because the ear has less low-end energy to deal with. The Zoom H4 is clearer than the Edirol R09 but also wider, more 3D, more impressive. There is a ‘wow’ factor that comes into play because of the wider stereo image. The sounds are easier to locate than with the Edirol R09 (notice in the first 10 seconds how some voices are clearly in the left and other voices more center-right). Once the ‘wow’ factor wore out, I noticed a ‘hole’ in the middle of the sound field, as if sounds were clearly on the sides but seemed to be lacking energy in the center when compared to the Edirol R09. Listening through a pair of monitor speakers also gave ‘hole’ in the middle impression.
  • The Zoom H6 has a sound very close to the Zoom H4 but is more susceptible to rumble and has more low-end than the Zoom H4. It has the same stereo feel as the Zoom H4 with the same ‘hole’ in the middle.
  • Switching to the Roland R26 the stereo image changes again, it becomes narrower, closer to the stereo feel of the Edirol R09. However it is slightly wider than the Edirol R09’s soundfield. The Roland R26 is heavier on the bass than the Zoom H4 and Zoom H6 but it is not as bass-heavy as the Edirol R09. Some rumble is clearly present though.

Hearing the change in the low-end from one recorder to the next, I put a spectral analyzer on the tracks. You can see the difference in low end in the following pictures: On the Edirol R09 the low end (rumble under 30Hz) is the loudest part of the sound. The Edirol R09 and the Roland R26 are the loudest recorders in the 125-250Hz band. The Zoom H4 and H6 are the quietest in the frequencies above 14kHz, which also helps to make them sound quieter.

 

Cafeteria Edirol R09 Spectral Analysis

Cafeteria Zoom H4 Spectral Analysis

Cafeteria Zoom H6 Spectral Analysis

Cafeteria Roland R26 Spectral Analysis

This is the end of the first part of this informal test, until next time, when I will compare more recordings and will share with you my conclusions regarding these four portable recorders.

Questions and comments: k.blondy@musitechnic.net