In this article, we’ll talk about how to capture sound on the go using field recording gear. But before we get into that, let’s talk about a brief recent history of recorded music. When compact discs were introduced in the ’80s, they adhered to a strict standard known as Red Book. Red Book was developed by Sony and Phillips and stated that all CDs needed to be recorded with a sample rate of 44.1k and a bit depth of 16bit. This is based on the human hearing spectrum and designed to preserve the pristine quality of digital audio. When you rip a cd into digital format and want to preserve that quality, it is typically as a Wav or AIFF file with the same sample rate and bit depth as the Red Book standard.
In the ’90s, the internet became a popular venue for sharing music. However, due to the low bandwidth of ISPs and modem technology, Wav and AIFF file sizes proved to be too large and problematic. This led to the creation of compressed formats such as MP3. The MP3 was revolutionary in that it preserved most of the sonic quality in a much smaller, manageable file size. However, compressing a file that is normally 50MB to one that is 5MB has its drawbacks. Mainly, fidelity loss throughout the audio spectrum.
Nowadays everybody is recording every day. Whether photo, video, or audio; we’re all capturing our lives to document our experiences. How are we doing this? With our mobile devices. However, these devices do not have professional audio microphones and are not designed to record in high fidelity. For example, the iPhone voice memo recorder’s maximum audio bit-rate for an audio recording is 64 kbps in mono. This is a far cry from the Red Book standard which translates to a bit-rate of 2,116 kbps. When we record audio without proper field recording gear, we’re shortchanging our experiences and leaving the original fidelity behind as a memory.
Enter field recording devices which use studio-quality microphones and preamps in a portable format. Whether you are a musician, band, producer, videographer, student, physician, or house of worship; field recording gear will help you capture profess
ional quality audio. So let’s get into the nuts and bolts of how each portable recording device is different.
Field or Hand?
Field recording is primarily done with two different categories of products. The first being labeled as a field recorder, the other being a handheld recorder. The major difference between these two styles of hardware is the size and feature sets. Field recorders generally have a larger footprint than handheld recording devices. They have physical microphone inputs to use the mic of your choice, whereas handheld recorders have built-in microphones.
Field recording equipment such as the Zoom F8, Tascam DR-70D or Boss BR800 has multiple inputs. This makes these types of recorders idea for recording bands. Instead of recording a stereo 2-track of the environment, microphones and instruments can have their own dedicated channel which can later be mixed to your liking. On the flip-side, handheld recorders typically have one stereo microphone (2 channels), with a few having as much as four. These are more useful for recording the entire performance, pre-mixed. Field recording devices also tend to have more recording options such as onboard MS decoding (Mid-Side, an advanced recording technique) and advanced editing functions. Field recorders are also more popular amongst videographers looking to match the quality of the latest video formats. Many times they’ll have a field recorder held with a shoulder strap and somebody holding a boom mic which is connected to one of the inputs.
Handheld recorders are more popular for people looking to capture a pre-mixed live performance. This can be the live show for your favorite band, a church sermon, or conference room meeting. Students use them to record lectures. Musicians learning to play use them to record their practice sessions so they can monitor their progress. Doctors use them for dictation. Parents use them to record the voices of their children. The list goes on. The fact that you can fit these devices in your pocket make them a must-have for audiophiles.
Each portable field recorder and handheld recorder has its own unique features. These include microphone placement, the ability to use your own microphone, onboard phantom power, variable speed playback, camera mounts, on-board speakers, and more. For a better description of these differences and to help you decide the best product for your needs, read the AMS Handheld Recording Buyer’s Guide.
Once you get your first recorder, remember to experiment. One of my favorite things to do is to interview family members. It will help you get used to the machine and give you a keepsake. This is especially true of the elders in your family. It will be a great feeling to play Grandpa’s voice in 20 years from now. Your grandkids will have a cool archive of what everybody sounded like. I also like to use mine to record real-world samples. I took mine to Italy and recorded the bells of a famous church ringing. Years later I brought the sample into Ableton Live and created a cool texture by loading it into Sampler, one of Ableton’s instruments.
Whether you choose a field recorder or handheld recorder, you will find the solution you need at AMS. Brands such as Tascam, Zoom, and Boss have all be in the digital recording market since its inception. They are reliable and on the cutting edge of technology. Best of all, the quality of the onboard mics will ensure you capture all the detail of your audio source.
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