Amateur Recording 102

Yesterday’s post talked about assembling a portable recording system around an iPhone (or Android device). As expected, I received a number of comments about “all-in-one” portable recorders like the models from Zoom H4 or the Sony PCM-D1 Portable 2-Channel Field Recorder. There are more than a dozen of these low to mid-priced units available from the usual vendors (Sweetwater or B&H). If you want to enter the realm of professional recording, you can check out machines from a company called Sound Devices or even Nagra…but at these prices ($3K – 10K), you’ve moved out of the amateur world.

I talked about portable recording using add-ons or accessories because you may already have a Smartphone. Buying another device and carrying around a second record with you is akin to having a dedicated digital camera. Yes, a Canon camera with all of its complexity and switchable lens etc will undoubtedly do a better job in the skilled hands of an experienced photographer than a cell phone but it’s another bulky device and requires additional knowledge.

A couple of years ago, my musician son asked for a portable recorder to record his band rehearsals and shows. Being a professional, I sought out a high quality setup at the local Guitar Center, purchased it and wrapped it up in gift paper. He expressed his thanks but took the setup back and replaced it with a Zoom H4 Mobile 4-Track Stereo Field Recorder…it was the right choice for him and actually cost a bunch less than what I thought would be the “best” rig. It always comes down to the best equipment FOR the job…not the best equipment period. The same is true for high-end audio playback systems as well, come to think of it.

The advantages of buying a dedicated portable digital recorder are many. They typically have swappable storage slots so that you can do a bunch of recording and then swap out the SD card. They allow you to choose from a multitude of sampling rates and formats…all they way up to 192 kHz/24-bit PCM. There are even handheld units that can capture DSD format audio from Korg. The unit is called the M2…although as I explained to the sales geeks from Korg at the NAMM event earlier this year, they do not have any way to edit or process what you record other than to output analog audio from the device. They jumped on the DSD bandwagon. I know both MA Recording and Blue Coast use Korg machines in their productions.

Other advantages include built-in microphones, limiters and other processing. They are rugged and even have the standard 5/8ths or 1/4″ threads on the bottom so you can mount them to a mic stand. Choosing one of these machines will set you back between $100 and $500.

So you choose. Do you want to have a completely separate device for recording in addition to your cell phone or is it better to strap on an extra set of mics and capture very good audio on your iPhone. Both methods work.

Tomorrow, I’ll step up to the world of professional devices.


Mark Waldrep, aka Dr. AIX, has been producing and engineering music for over 40 years. He learned electronics as a teenager from his HAM radio father while learning to play the guitar. Mark received the first doctorate in music composition from UCLA in 1986 for a "binaural" electronic music composition. Other advanced degrees include an MS in computer science, an MFA/MA in music, BM in music and a BA in art. As an engineer and producer, Mark has worked on projects for the Rolling Stones, 311, Tool, KISS, Blink 182, Blues Traveler, Britney Spears, the San Francisco Symphony, The Dover Quartet, Willie Nelson, Paul Williams, The Allman Brothers, Bad Company and many more. Dr. Waldrep has been an innovator when it comes to multimedia and music. He created the first enhanced CDs in the 90s, the first DVD-Videos released in the U.S., the first web-connected DVD, the first DVD-Audio title, the first music Blu-ray disc and the first 3D Music Album. Additionally, he launched the first High Definition Music Download site in 2007 called iTrax.com. A frequency speaker at audio events, author of numerous articles, Dr. Waldrep is currently writing a book on the production and reproduction of high-end music called, "High-End Audio: A Practical Guide to Production and Playback". The book should be completed in the fall of 2013.

4 thoughts on “Amateur Recording 102

  • Phil Olenick

    The basic problems with using a smartphone are:

    – it might get an incoming call, a text, or have an alarm of some sort come up, disrupting the recording;

    – you lose the use of your pocket computer – which is really what a smartphone is – during the thing you’re recording, as well as your phone; and

    – unless you’re going to stay with it, your risk from theft or accidental breakage increases from the loss of a specialized device to the loss of your phone and pocket computer – it’s the old “putting all of your eggs in one basket” problem.

    Add to that the reduced storage capacity of smartphones compared to external devices – one of my app programmers responded to my request that it let me store my data on my SD card that Google is actually now restricting apps from making use of the interchangable SD cards that are one of Android’s advantages – and I’d far rather use an external device.

    The phone is appropriate to use when something comes up unexpectedly, but shouldn’t be made the basis for a recording rig.

  • Hi Mark,
    having one all-purpose device surely has it’s charm.
    However, you left out my main reason for wanting to have dedicated units for a special purpose like taking pictures or listening to music: at least the Android devices I’ve owned so far run out of battery so fast, it’s not funny! Just switch on the GPS for a while and you can see the battery indicator shrinking by the minute!
    As long as this problem is not solved, I’d much rather carry around different devices, knowing they will last the day…

  • Camilo Rodriguez

    Hi Mark,

    Since you’re planning on taking on professional equpiment as well, I’d like to know what you thoughts are on software. As I’m sure you’ve noticed, I am a big fan of the work of Todd Garfinkle. As a musician, I’d like to be able to record my own music and that of fellow musicians and friends. I like the open and dynamic sound of Todd Garfinkle’s recordings, and also the idea that you can make such fabulous recordings without breaking the bank. I’m thinking of buying a pair of omnis, a mic PreAmp and A/D converter and record to my laptop’s harddrive, and since I prefer PCM over DSD, and won’t use anything similar to the KORG unit that Todd Garfinkle uses and the software features it comes with, which software would you recommend, and how necessary is it?


    • I’ll be talking about professional portable equipment today. I know Todd and his approach to recording…it’s a purist minimalist approach that is not far from Peter McGrath or Morten Lynberg of 2L, also very good engineers. Personally, I find Todd’s recordings too distant and full of room sound. But this is my personal preference. He sells his wares at the same shows as I do and does very well…so there must be many people that agree with you. I don’t understand his preference for DSD recordings. He captures in DSD and then converts to 44.1 kHz/16-bits for release on CDs in stereo. The High-Resolution PCM DVD-ROM discs that he sells at 176.4 or 88.2 kHz show the ultrasonic noise in spectral analysis.


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