Field Recording Devices

There are many options for field recording devices available on the market. The ultimate choice depends on the specificity of work that one embarks on plus personal preferences. A rough categorization based on the level of complexity and amount of features is:
1. Pocket size (or dictaphone-like) recorders
2. Hand-held recorders (relatively larger and more robust if compared to the pocket-size ones)
3. Multi-track field recorders (as the name suggests, facilitating multi-channel recording of 8 or even more tracks simultaneously)
4. Automated field recording systems
Pocket-size recorders such as Roland R-05 featured in the photograph below, or similar Zoom H1, Sony PCM D-100, are affordable options enabling flexibility, easy portability, and multiplicity of uses both indoors and outdoors. They typically come with built-in stereo mics. While those built-in mics are the main way of capturing the audio signal, there is often a possibility to connect a limited number (often one or two) external microphones.

Roland R-05 (click to enlarge)

Due to the minimal size of the recorder, the external mic input is usually a 3.5mm jack which means that more professional phantom-powered microphones are not compatible. These kinds of recorders are particularly useful for spontaneous situations, recording on-the-go, audio journaling, interviews, audio-sketching, and rehearsing.

Marantz PMD 661 MK II featured in the photo below is a handheld solid-state recorder. This device belongs to a family of more professional devices also known as a linear recording device (other models in this family are for example Tascam DR-40X or Zoom X4n). Their construction is solid and robust; the case is usually made of metal which makes it more durable and suitable for working in various, also unpredictable environments, whereas the casing for small, pocket-size recorders is plastic.

Marantz PMD 661 MK II (click to enlarge)

These handheld recorders are usually equipped with two XLR inputs enabling the use of many models of phantom-powered external microphones (or hydrophones). These models are also equipped with built-in microphones, however, they typically play a secondary role. They are suitable for all kinds of outdoor and indoor stereo recording field, interviews, focused, directional as well as omnidirectional recording.

Zoom F8n is a multitrack field recorder. This is a family of the most professional and sophisticated field recording devices. Similar to Zoom F8n (8 tracks) are Sound Devices MixPre-6 or 10, and Tascam DR-701D (which is a 6 track recorder). Besides being used professionally in the film industry as sound capturing devices, due to their versatility in terms of types of microphones they support, multitrack recorders are increasingly deployed among field recordists and sound artists engage in creative approach documenting soundscapes.

Zoom F8n multi-channel recorder (click to enlarge)

These devices can also function as USB audio interfaces and external sound cards. While compatible with the majority of available multitrack recording software, they can make for a small-scale, mobile sound studio environment. Due to their relatively larger size than the models mentioned above, multitrack recorders are usually carried in a bag or special protective cases which also accommodate space for extra equipment such as microphones, battery packs, and cables.

Beyond these types of recorders, there has been an emergence of new kinds of recorders that facilitate passive, or differently put, automated recording. An example here is AudioMoth, an audio monitoring station developed as a collaboration between scholars interested in ecoacoustic monitoring. It is a low-cost, open-source acoustic monitoring device used for tracking audible changes within wildlife.

AudioMoth audio monitoring station

Using analog MEMS microphone (Micro-Electromechanical Systems), besides audible sounds AudioMoth works with ultrasonic frequency range. Designed with low battery consumption, devices such as this one (or similar but more costly Song Meter SM4 Acoustic Recorder and SET- Soundscape Explorer Terrestrial) can be programmed to remain in one place and record passively for long periods of time, even several days or weeks.