Compact stereo recorders are a great way of capturing audio away from the mouse and keyboard. Here's our selection of current models, with links to the SOS review where available.
The Micro BR80 has a remarkable array of features for its small size. Using either its built-in stereo mics, the mic/instrument jack socket or stereo line input, it can layer up to eight different tracks, in multitracker fashion. It can also be used as an audio interface, and ships with Cakewalk's Sonar X1 LE recording software.
Roland UK +44 (0)1792 702701
Roland US +1 323 890 3740
This high‑quality recorder, unlike most similar products, has the ability to record six discrete channels of audio. It has a built‑in X-Y pair of mics, plus two preamps with phantom power, and a mini‑jack input for compact stereo mics.
Roland UK +44 (0)1792 702701
Roland US +1 323 890 3740
The Alesis Palmtrack is both compact and affordable, yet it has a stereo pair of mics built in, as well as the ability to capture external mic or line sources (via 3.5mm jack). The internal and external mic signals can be mixed prior to recording, and it offers uncompressed 24‑bit quality, up to 48kHz.
Numark Alesis +44 (0)1252 896000
Alesis +1 401 658 5760
Weighing only 92g, this compact recorder can nonetheless capture audio at up to 24-bit/96kHz quality. It also has a built-in five-band EQ for processing recordings, and comes with a wireless remote control.
Yamaha Music Europe +44 (0)8448 111 116
The DR100 MkII includes two omnidirectional and two cardioid microphones. It can also record from external mic or line sources, thanks to its two XLR/jack inputs, and it has a speaker built in for listening back to recordings.
Tascam UK +44 (0)1923 438880
Tascam US +1 323 726 0303
The H2N has no fewer than five mic capsules built in, allowing it to record in X-Y stereo, Mid/Side, Blumlein and surround modes. It offers USB file transfer and headphone monitoring, and has an input‑gain knob on the side to let you adjust the record level without having to navigate the menu.
Zoom UK +44 (0)1462 791100
Korg's MR2 is unusual for a handheld recorder, in that it offers 1‑bit DSD recording: a high‑resolution format that can be converted to any of the 'normal' sample rates and bit depths, making it useful for archive recording. It has an X-Y pair of mics built in and records to SD and SDHD cards.
Korg UK +44 (0)1908 857100
Korg +1 (631) 390 8737
This brand-new model uses a three-mic configuration: a stereo pair of directional mics is supplemented by a mono omni capsule, which extends the LS14's low-frequency response down to 20Hz. Other features include a built-in tuner and metronome, and replay speed variable between 50 and 300 percent of the original recording.
Olympus UK +44 (0)800 111 4888
Olympus USA +1 800 201 7766
Marantz's PMD661 is chunkier than many of its rivals, but it has two mic preamps built in, so you can use your own mics as an alternative to the built‑in stereo pair. It also has quality input metering, and records to SDHC cards (up to 32GB in capacity), at up to 24‑bit/96kHz.
D&M Professional +44 (0)1753 680023
D&M Professional +1 630 741 0330
As you might expect from a Line 6 product, the BackTrack is aimed at guitarists. Accordingly, it has a quarter-inch jack socket for connecting an electric guitar, and is available in a '+ Mic' version, which allows you to record acoustic sources too. It also has an instrument out socket, so you can play your recordings back through any amp or pedal combination you like.
Line 6 Europe +44 (0)1788 566566
Line 6 +1 818 575 3600
The AR4i is unique among the models here, in that it's designed to work with an iPhone or iPod Touch, and is intended for use with its own recording app. You can configure its detachable mics in a variety of ways, and as a bonus, the chassis provides a neat way of holding your iPhone/iPod that's perfect for recording video.
One of this model's selling points is that it has 4GB of recording memory built in — and that can be supplemented with a MicroSD card of up to 16GB in capacity, for a total of 20GB! It has a built‑in stereo mic array (as well as inputs for line or mic sources) and a large LCD screen, and comes with a remote control.
Sony Professional +44 (0)208 412 9705
Sony Professional +1 201 930 1000
With the current generation of handheld recorders, you can capture top-quality audio almost anywhere — and some of them have a surprising amount of added functionality to boot...
How often have you stood in the garden, listened to the dawn chorus, and yearned to record that glorious crescendo of tweets, whistles and chirrups? Or wished you could incorporate the vibrant cacophony of the inner city into one of your productions? The advent of handheld, battery-powered recorders has made such dreams a reality, and their audio quality has come a remarkably long way since some of the earlier 'dictaphone' type models. Though the prices and feature sets of the devices shown on the previous pages vary considerably, even the most basic recorders are now capable of extremely good results using their built-in microphones.
Many expand on this, however, by letting you use external mics of your own choosing. Some have mini-jack input sockets intended for use with stereo microphone sets; these can accommodate either battery-powered mics or mics designed to use 'plug-in power', a kind of low-voltage (3-5V) phantom power-type arrangement. Some handheld recorders go even further, by incorporating stereo XLR inputs and full-fat mic preamps with 48V phantom power! With one of these models, you should be able to make recordings with almost any current studio microphone, which opens up a world of stereo miking configurations such as Blumlein, spaced and Mid/Side arrays.
If this is something that appeals to you, then it's also worth going through the technical specifications of any preamp-equipped recorder you might be interested in. It's not uncommon for such recorders to be able to capture the sound from the built-in mics in addition to any extra mics you happen to have plugged in. With this sort of machine you could, for example, record a full drum kit onto four discrete tracks for mixing later, using the built-in mics as overheads and your own mics on the kick and snare.
So, in theory, your handheld recorder could do much of the work of a home-studio setup. But some people like to consider them more as musical 'scratchpads', recording ideas while they're fresh in the mind, and then taking that inspiration back to a 'proper' studio. If this sounds like you, then you might want to invest in a recorder with overdubbing facilities. Essentially pocket-sized multitrackers, these recorders will let you not only capture a 'rough and ready' version of a song for guitar and vocals (say), but to also get that idea for a harmony or counterpoint melody down too. And some even allow for surprisingly detailed editing, so you can chop and change verses and choruses to refine your arrangement, all from the same device.
And, as if these bijou boxes were trying to take over your studio completely, many are capable of acting as remarkably capable audio interfaces, too! Indeed, if you happen to just be starting out in the world of home recording, a recorder with mic preamps that can also work as an interface might very well be the wisest first investment you could make. You could then record your song ideas straight away, before transferring the audio to your computer for processing, and if your budget grows in the future to accommodate some fancy microphones, you can start recording straight into your DAW through the recorder's preamps.
Even if you've already got a competent setup at home, however, you may still find it worthwhile investing in something that lets you record away from the mouse and keyboard. With a bit of camouflage and a pocket recorder, you could be recording a marsh tit's mating call or the gentle coo of a Bohemian pouter pigeon in no time!