Portable recorder suggestions?

A friend asked me this morning what would be a good choice for portable outdoor recording for bird calls, of all things. He has been looking at a Fostex MR-8 portable digital 8-track.

For myself, I’d like to have a reasonable quality portable recorder for moments of inspiration and on the spot jams that need to be saved for prosperity. My little Sony digital voice recorder is great for taking notes, but just doesn’t have the quality needed for music.

Here’s what we’re looking for in the device:

Digital recording;
Battery powered;
Fits in a shirt pocket;
Accepts external mic input (built-in mic and line-in a plus);
Digital interface (USB);
Standard file format a plus (not Sony proprietary stuff);
Built-in speaker and/or line-out a definite plus for checking levels on-site.

I think that’s most of the requirements. Any suggestions?


Nothing by way of stereo portable recording has the bang-for-buck like MiniDisc, in my opinion. Especially if you cruise Ebay for recorders.

You can now get full linear PCM in HiMD, if you wannit. I’ve heard mixed information as to whether or not you can download recorded stuff from MD to PC via USB.

I’m happy with my standard MD portable (SONY MZR-50) at the standard speed. To download I have a home MD deck SONY JE 440 modded for SPDIF digital out (the higher models have it as standard). So I can make a digital copy of the MD to my PC in real-time, so the signal is only influenced by one generation of the MD ATRAC encoding/decoding. It works really well.

There’s some cool recording stuff at Core Sound using a PDA as a recorder. There are also some Flash-card based portables around.

Finally, check out the Nature Recordists group on Yahoo. They’re seriously into outdoor recording, and they frequently discuss the latest and greatest in portable recording.

Thanks archi, that’s good stuff.

Does anyone have any experience with the Neuros???

Would need a preamp to use an external mic, other than that it seems pretty cool.

I have both a Fostex MR-8 and a Sharp minidisc recorder to supplement my DAW setup.

I use the MR-8 mainly for ‘on location’ overdubs (they wouldn’t let us move that church organ we used on one of our recordings recently, and it wouldn’t have fit my home studio anyway :D ) and to record in certain acoustic environments (I always take the opportunity to pop a few baloons and capture the reverb for later use with SIR).

I like the MR-8 for three main reasons: No moving parts, i.e. no mechanical noise whatsoever, Balanced inputs, and it records in 16 bit, 44.1 kHz quality - good enough for me. However, I miss phantom power (a problem easily solved with an external mixer with phantom power and balanced outputs - I use an ALTO S-8 for that), and I miss some good quality headphone amps on it, but it is a workhorse. I’d recommend using the AC power that comes with it - it gulps down a set of 8 AA batteries just like that, and it won’t stand for rechargeables…

The Sharp minidisc is my travelling companion and my trusty portable recording buddy wherever I go - I use an ancient - but decent - Sony stereo mic to go with it. It makes almost flawless recordings while being able to fit in a coat pocket - mic and all. I’ve recorded brass bands and modern-style chamber music with it, and the results are stunning - add a bit of mastering limiter (sometimes not even needed at all BTW) and I have a cut ready for production.

If it has to fit in a shirt pocket you might consider the Zoom PS-04 smartmedia recorder. It comes complete with four-track capability, drums and bass and a wealth of effects. However, it recods in a proprietary compressed format in order to save space on the cards. More info at Zoom.

regards, Nils

zoom ps-02

Thanks very much everyone. He is leaning toward toward the MR-8, but during the research we turned up couple of pretty cool devices.

Edirol makes the R-1 which will do 24 bits and uses a standard compact flash device for memory. It has a built-in stereo mic, and accepts an external stereo mic or line input. Neat device, about $450 without battery pack or flash. If it was half the price I would get one for myself.

There is an MP3 player/recorder called the Neuros which is pretty cool. It’s basically a flash MP3 player that you can strap on their portable hard drives to. One nifty thing about it is that is has a built-in FM receiver and transmitter. So you can take it along in a rental or a friend’s car and listen to your collection. Punch a button and it finds an available FM channel. It has a built-in mic, but only a line-in so you would need an external preamp to use with an external mic for for portable recording. Neat unit, but they are experiencing reliability problems, and are not shipping their current model right now until those get sorted out.

My bud advises that he has a Sony mic, which he says came with a camcorder, I believe, that is very directional and will pull out sounds at a distance you can’t hear with the naked ear.


I have a recordable minidisc (netMD) player… the fact that I can not dump via usb to the computer is annoying so I would not recomend that. My sister has a iRiver mp3 player that records (line in and a mono mic). I think it does both raw wav and mp3 (i’m not sure though, it may only do direct to mp3 conversion). It would definitely be a small option (it comes on a lanyard). And you can drag off it just like any mass media storage device (nice).

Oh, and I was checking out a minidisc infosite (can’t remeber what) and there were some double AA mic preamps on there, if you find something you like with only a line in something like that would be an option (heck there are some nice tube headphone preamps out there that are battery powered for use with portable audio… maybe it could double as a mic preamp?).