Introduction to Portable Audio Recorders

Introduction to Portable Audio Recorders

Ever find yourself shooting a project, event, or ceremony on a DSLR or mirrorless camera and wonder what’s the best possible way to record sound? Most folks are now using portable digital recorders, such as the H4n, Tascam, or Zoom H6. Portable recorders are simple to operate but understanding the workflow will help make editing in post-production easier.

Portable recorders should be set to record at 24-bit 48 kHz WAV files. 44.1/48/96 kHz indicates the sampling rate of the analog-to-digital conversion. 16/24-bit indicates the bit depth of the analog-to-digital conversion. The larger the number, the higher the sound quality, but the files that are created are larger as well. Investing in high capacity SD cards is important to this workflow and keeping a few backups in your bag is helpful.

There are a few ways to place your portable recording devices to get the optimum sound. The recorders should never be more than a few feet away from your subject. This is when you must become creative in placement of your gear since you don’t want to get your recorder in the shot.

zoom-h4n-on-camera

Connect the portable recorder to your DSLR via the microphone port (make sure your camera has this – not all DSLRs do).

Another setup is to directly mount the recorder to the top of your camera. While this works for run-and-gun interviews (depending on how close you are to the subject) or for picking up ambient sound, it’s not the best quality for more formal events. The Zoom H4n has tripod threads built into it so you can attach it to the shoe of your camera. Be mindful that this will pick up all sorts of sounds, such as lens focusing, you dialing into the controls, and vibrations while moving around. If you’re going to shoot outdoors, you must look into use of wind protection over the microphone.

A run-and-gun setup where a directional mic is connected to the mounted recorder, which is – in turn – connected to the DSLR.

A run-and-gun setup where a directional mic is connected to the mounted recorder, which is – in turn – connected to the DSLR.

Regardless of where you’re shooting, the point is to get the sound as close as possible to your subject without getting the recorder in frame of your shot. If you don’t want to rely on the built-in mics of the recorder, you can use a shotgun mic plugged into the device. You can even connect a shotgun mic to a boom pole and connect it to your recorder via an XLR cable for better out-of-frame directional sound.

Many boom poles accommodate XLR cables that can be run between a mic and your recorder and camera setup.

Many boom poles accommodate XLR cables that can be run between a mic and your recorder and camera setup.

Most people forget that in order to make life a little bit easier, we have to find way to sync sound. When recording onto an external recorder, the use of a clapper slate is handy when indicating the beginning of a scene. Ensure that both the camera and the external recorder is actually recording prior to clapping the slate or (if you have no means of obtaining a clapper) simply clap your hands as loud as you can in frame. When editing the sound in post, matching the frame with the spike in the separately-recorded audio files will sync your sound to your video footage.

clapper-board-sound-sync

When you go to edit your video footage with your sound recording, the spike in the audio wave will help you match up to the clapper on-screen for easy syncing.

Some additional reminders when using portable recorders:

• Monitor your audio. Bring a set of headphones with you to your shoot so you can make sure that you’re capturing sound. Do a quick test to monitor levels and get a feel for what the recording will sound like.

• Double check your settings. Sometimes you can accidentally nudge or bump a button or lever. Just quickly look over everything to make sure that your gain adjustments, volume, and other settings are properly in place.

Make sure your recorder is actually powered on – a surprisingly common mistake on set.

Make sure your recorder is actually powered on – a surprisingly common mistake on set.

• Make sure you’re recording! I know this is very basic but you’d be surprised how, through all the hustle and bustle of trying to get proper framing and set up, you might forget to press record. Most portable recorders have the red light indicator but some may be hidden or out of plain sight. Simply glance at your recorder and make sure it’s a solid red light. Keep batteries on hand as well if you begin to see the light flicker indicating low power. If you see this, you can be prepared or have someone on crew alerted to assist you with the power switch-out (switching to AC power from batteries) so you don’t miss anything important.

Here are some portable recorders for you to explore:

zoom-h4n zoom-h4n-pro zoom-h6 sony-d1
Recorder Zoom H4n Zoom H4n Pro Zoom H6 Sony D1
Tracks 4 4 6 2
Media SD/SDHC SD/SDHC SD/SDHC 4GB Internal Flash Memory, Memory Stick Pro
Battery Life Up to 6 Hours on AA Batteries Up to 6 Hours on AA Batteries Up to 20 Hours on AA Batteries Up to 5 Hours on AA Batteries
Weight 9.9 oz 10 oz 9.9 oz 18.5 oz
PCM Recording Up to 96 kHz/24-bit Up to 96 kHz/24-bit Up to 96 kHz/24-bit Up to 96 kHz/24-bit
7 Day Rental*
$38
$30 $41 $25
* as of this writing
The following two tabs change content below.

Cherish Ortiz

Cherish received a BFA in Cinematography from the Academy of Art University. She has gone on to work as a freelance 1st camera assistant under award-winning directors of photography and continues to crew on high production films and commercials.

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *