best 2 track recorder?

Discussion in 'Location Recording' started by aracu, Sep 27, 2005.

  1. aracu

    aracu Active Member

    Any opinions on the best recorder to get for recording classical ensembles, using only 2 tracks, with a Royer 24 stereo mic and Millenium HV-3B pre-amp? Is there a difference in audio quality between the new digital recorders that are replacing DATS, made by Fostex, Sound Devices, Tascam, Nagra etc? The Fostex FR-2 preamps cannot be bypassed. The Tascam DV-RA1000 includes DSD recording. For practical reasons I would usually or always be converting to 16/44.1 or 16/48. The Sound Devices 722 looks good although I wouldn't need it's preamps. The Nagra ARES-BB+ looks promising. I've noticed that it is hard to find out how many decibels noise the units produce which could be picked up by a sensitive microphone. Some of them have built in hard drives, which are sure to produce some noise. I have very little
    experience with digital recorders and any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.
  2. FifthCircle

    FifthCircle Well-Known Member

    There are a lot of good 2-track recorders out there. Do you need one that is portable or rackmount?

    I regularly use the masterlink- go into it digitally and it is fine. The Sound Devices 722 sounds quite good as does its big brother the 744t. The Nagra V is also a heck of a recorder (as I'm sure David Spearitt will attest to). Many of these higher-end recorders have both analog line as well as digital I/O.

    I probably wouldn't purchase the Tascam DVD recorder as I've had too many bad experiences with Tascam products over the past few years. IMO, they simply don't have reliable gear anymore.

    Tell us more about what you need (expected use, features, price?) and we can probably help you better.

  3. aracu

    aracu Active Member

    Ben, I would be using it for recording classical ensembles of various sizes for composer demos, film music and for cd production. It does not have to have mastering or cd burning features because my computer can handle that, it just needs to
    be able to make wav files with an easy way of getting them onto
    the computer, be portable enough to carry on a subway, and not generate the occasional high frequency hard drive noise of a quiet computer, or any other noise while recording. I am mainly concerned that it is quiet, and has the best possible converters etc. to achieve as high quality and realistic a recording as possible, in as simple a way possible. I'd like to combine it with a Royer 24 stereo mic and a two channel Millenium preamp. They seem like uncomplicated high quality units with good reputations for recording classical ensembles. So the recorder itself doesn't have to have mic preamps built in. I know that it would be better theoretically to record with several more channels of mics, but I'm needing something simpler that will still do the job right. Price is not an issue, although I'd rather pay for high quality than for features I might not ever use. What do think of the new Nagras?
    Another question, do you think the preamps of the Sound
    Devices 722 are comparable to a Millenium 2 channel preamp?
  4. FifthCircle

    FifthCircle Well-Known Member

    You know, I've used them in completely different situations so comparisons are difficult. I have used the Nagras when they've been fed digitally and it has got to be one of the most robust recorders out there. I know David Spearitt on this forum swears by his as does Greg Simmons (who used to post here, but I haven't seen in ages). Plush, I believe also has one... The Sound Devices recorders are fast becomming standards on sets in the film world. Probably one of the things Sound Devices is best known for is the quality of their pres... I have a hard time imagining that they'd be better than Millennias, though. You would probably find the pres satisfactory for the "quick and dirty" kinds of recordings out there.

    For what you said, the masterlink may not be that great as they can be kind of a pain to get the data off of. You can make CD24's, but that process takes time. The recorders made for the film world have the advantage that it is easy to get the data on and off them.

    I cannot comment on the noise of the Sound Devices recorder as I used it on a set where there was a lot of other noise. The Nagra is quite quiet- enough that I wouldn't think twice about being in the same room as the music with it. I can't say that about my computer system. If you are using a Royer SF-24, you'll not have huge noise issues as the mics themselves are not overly sensitive.

    For size (and cost), you may also consider the DAV Electronics BG1 preamp as well. The brick size and shape would make it pretty easy to transport.

  5. ghellquist

    ghellquist Member

    Just a very quick idea. I would guess that the weak link in the portable recorders would be the analog side of things. Does Millennia ship their AD converter yet? I know they have been talking about it. That would probably be up to the quality sound-wise of the rest of your equipment, and then the rest is basically storing digital information.

  6. Cucco

    Cucco Distinguished Member

    So true!!! Ben and I have chatted regarding this off-line and it's funny to note that we have had similar recurring problems with so much of Tascam's gear. As cool as the DV-RA1000 looks, I wouldn't trust it as a "lone-recorder." (Besides, as cool as the DSD feature is, unless you have a Sonic or Sadie system that you're working on, the DSD-IFF format would not be able to be read by your computer. And besides, I question any implementation of DSD within an all-in-one box where the price tag is so low. Those A/D DSD converters are still pretty darned expensive for the good ones.)

    I would also tend to agree that something like the DAV BG-1 would be a better alternative. As nice as the Millennias are, they are big and not portable in the sense that you are looking for. The Grace 101s or especially the Lunatec V3 would be other great options. The Lunatec has GREAT converters in it and the pres are amazing. (Personally, I like the Grace and Lunatec stuff far more than Millennia. Where Millennia is clean, it ultimately, to me feels dry. The Grace and Lunatec stuff sounds clean and sweet. Not excessively colored, but oh so beautiful on classical music!)

    The Sound Devices stuff is great - and reliable. One of the film companies I work with uses these to track down to. Apparently (I don't know film/video stuff that well) they integrate into their systems in such a way that even they can figure them out... :wink:

    You might seriously want to look at the Marantz solid state devices. Marantz pro stuff is really nice. It's dead quite (no moving parts - no hard drive - Memory cards...) and the reports so far are that they are as reliable as you can get.

    Edirol (I know - it's scary to think, but hear me out) also makes a 4 track recording unit with all the inzanoutz that you could possibly want in a small form-factor/portable device and it too is reported to be VERY stable and quite good sounding. (I've even heard great things about the pres!)

    Anyway - you're looking at the market at the right time - there are so many options, it's hard to imagine with a little research that you could even possibly go wrong.

  7. Costy

    Costy Guest

    As a standalone recorders I'd second the Maranz ones... Masterlink
    is an cool piece, but it's a bit combersome (and not that portable),
    in my opinion.

    However, I understand you plan to transfer the material to a comp.
    What about rigging up a laptop with a portable interface ? Since
    you plan to use good pres something like Mbox could do the job.
    Just a thought...
  8. hughesmr

    hughesmr Guest

    I use a Masterlink on location and it has worked quite well for me. True, it's a bit heavy, but a nice pre plus a Furman surge/power strip plus a Masterlink fits in a 4U rack, though you might want a 6U case for ventilation. That said, I'd still like to try a better outboard A/D though before going into the Alesis....still thinking about plunking down for a Benchmark ADC1.

  9. DavidSpearritt

    DavidSpearritt Well-Known Member

    As I have banged on before many times about the Nagra V, I'll try to keep this brief.

    I reckon recorder choice is all down to ergonomics these days. All of the modern recorders "sound" pretty much the same, what will differ will relate to the following:

    1. Power management and choices, the Nagra V (NV) has a superb fully online light Lithium battery, that runs the box with phantom on 2 mics for 11 hours, this is a godsend. DC power adapter can be applied or pulled during record.

    2. File handling, the NV records directly to an industry standard BWAV's to removable laptop HDD, or flash card reader, or ... anything which will fit into a 3.5" bay. The BWAV's are directly accessible on the desktop, no conversion required. You can cut the power during record and the machine cleans up the current write to disc nicely before shutting off.

    3. General ergonomics, the NV has beautiful workflow, to describe it as almost perfect is not an exaggeration. Its gain pots are chicken head, so you can feel and set their position in complete darkness, (unlike an axi-symmetric rotary knob, or dreaded up-down switches), the mic pot graduations are in dB SPL, so you get real info about dynamic range of material, (instead of meaningless 1-10 markings), all set once parameters are in an easy two level menu, no useless little switches all over the box to malfunction with age, no disastrous deep forgettable menus with frustrating excessive navigation structure constantly requiring operation manual consultation.

    4. Other ergonomic features are pre-record buffer up to 30secs, 4 channels in, mix and record to 2, MS matrix on output, the best transport control in the history of recording, can be set in the dark without thinking, it just goes on and on.

    Some recent experiences with other new recorders has confirmed my choice of the NV to be very satisfying. My business partner has just bought a Marantz flash recorder and it has some serious ergonomic issues, one needs to take the manual with you to site, the controls are really stupid, 2 and 3 finger hold-down of silly buttons to change menus for basic things like sampling rate and input selection, you never remember these and cannot find or work them out from the front panel.

    I have heard the SD recorders have very labourious menus and apart from the tiny buttons and display they are well reported. The TASCAM DVR1000 requires "formatting" of the DVD media before use, this is a clanger to me. I would like to know what pulling the power on these during record would do as well.

    The NV is perfect for live classical recording and I have no complaints about it. Its expensive but my time (including post processing) and frustration prevention are worth a lot, so its really a bargain.
  10. DavidSpearritt

    DavidSpearritt Well-Known Member

    Aracu, to address some of the questions directly, the NV is totally silent in operation as is the BB+ which we tried recently. Although there is a tiny audible click when the NV goes into record, which I have had to edit out in post. Shouldn't sit next to the performer next time. The BB+ is a bit fiddly compared with the NV, so not nearly as compelling, but its a very nice little box, tiny, extremely light and economical on batteries, no digital in.
  11. mdemeyer

    mdemeyer Active Member


    On the Nagra V you mention:

    <<4. Other ergonomic features are pre-record buffer up to 30secs, 4 channels in, mix and record to 2, MS matrix on output, the best transport control in the history of recording, can be set in the dark without thinking, it just goes on and on. >>

    Looking at the info on their site, I see 2-channels of mic inputs. What are the other two? Analog line or digital?


  12. DavidSpearritt

    DavidSpearritt Well-Known Member

    Two line inputs in the 15pin D connector on the input side. I routinely record 4 channels to this machine.
  13. aracu

    aracu Active Member

    Wow you guys are very helpfull! From reading the various
    opinions on recorders I realized that I do not clearly understand
    exactly where a signal gets converted from analog to digital during recording with a recorder and a separate preamp. For example, if I am using a Millennia HV-3B preamp with a Nagra V recorder, which of the two units converts the signal, or do both convert it? I would
    like to understand better what Gunnar was talking about when
    he mentioned AD converters, which seems to be related to that. Another really basic question is, is it correct to assume that if you are recording with microphones, that you don't need digital inputs?
    Some of the comments made on preamps raise the complex issue
    of whether to use a preamp designed to not add anything to the sound or to use one designed to sweeten up the sound. I am trying to come up with a combination of mic, preamp and recorder that would generally give excellent results with a variety of rooms and ensembles, if possible, although I know it is idealistic, and I
    have little experience with high end preamps. Any other opinions
    on Millennia HV-3B verses Lunatec (new Gracedesign preamp)? I'm
    also wondering if there are any other opinions on using a Sound
    Devices recorder with it's built in preamps verses a separate dedicated preamp combination. I love the simplicity of it but have no idea what the difference in sound quality would be. Thanks for the detailed info on Nagra recorders. Looks like the Nagra V is going for around $10,000 (no wonder it's so good) and the Nagra BB+ for around $4,000 (big difference in price but still serious).
  14. route909

    route909 Guest

    I just finished work on a short film, using a Fostex FR-2 as the sole recorder. I recorded to a 2 gb and a 512 mb flash card that I borrowed from the guys I worked with. It has a pretty good sound, low noise preamps (at least with the Sennheiser mic and the Studio Projects C4´s I used) and goes to 24 192. I recorded at 24 48. A quick comparison between it and my Fireface800´s preamps told me that the sound quality was pretty decent.

    I used it with a USB keyboard to rename the files easily. It´s got some great features, like pre-record so you´ll never miss a great take, and it´s also got built in limiters. You can listen to audio backwards while rewinding if you want.

    I never lost a single take. The power went out in one take, but what was already recorded stayed intact. You can connect AES/EBU or S/PDIF and the recorder will automatically lock to any incoming sample rate bit perfect. USB transfer is slow, but it works.

    What´s not so great about it:
    Battery time is 2 hours or so
    External power supply emits a hi frequency whine, and has a crappy connector
    It gets slow after recording a lot of files to the CFC
    Clumsy interface, shitty buttons
    Audio outs on RCAs

    All in all a solid, good sounding recorder.

    I would like to buy a portable recorder in this price class, but first I want to try the Edirol R-4. Do you guys have any experience with it? It´s cheaper than the FR-2, has better battery time, a built in hard drive and 4 channels. Any thoughts?

  15. Zilla

    Zilla Active Member

    ATR, upper electronics bypassed, recording to 1/4'' at 30ips.

    Of course, you will need two decks for the six reel cross-overs that occur during the course of a typical recital. No biggy!
  16. aracu

    aracu Active Member

    Thanks, Mats, for the informative description. It's difficult to
    find info on how much noise the recorders generate.
  17. route909

    route909 Guest

    Yeah. I put up an ORTF pair of Studio Projects C4´s 6 feet away, to listen to the preamps, so I turned up the gain with headphones on (Grado SR-125), heard no noise, so I cranked up the gain till I got a "healthy" feedback between the mics and the cans... then I stopped worrying about the noise level :cool:

  18. Cucco

    Cucco Distinguished Member

    BTW Guys -

    There is a comparison of many of the solid state / hard disc portable recorders in this month's Electronic Musician. It's the cover story...

  19. aracu

    aracu Active Member

    Thanks Cucco. I checked out the article and was impressed to
    see that the Fostex's preamps were ranked as good as or
    possibly better than the Sound Devices preamps. A problem with
    the Fostex though is that you can't bypass it's preamps and
    have to use them. I don't get a sense that either of these two
    units would be an excellent solution on it's own (with mics) for recording classical ensembles, and the other units reviewed (Edirol, Marantz, HHB Minidisc) even less so. With such small and relatively inexpensive units its just too much to expect from their preamps and converters.
  20. recordista

    recordista Active Member

    Let me throw in a nod for the Sound Devices units. My 744T sounds great and has significantly lowered both my back strain and my stress level when recording on location. I would place the preamps and ADC in the same class as the Grace. Fit it with the largest Sony lithium battery and it will easily run for an entire day. There is a very slight audible sound (upper midrange) from the HDD when it writes, audible at maybe 4' -- but a padded bag or case easily nixes that, even at <1' distances. Sound Devices are great to deal with and their support is truly top notch, pro caliber (one day turnaround on upgrades, flying a tech out on set for one user who had a timecode problem, etc.)

    If you get one, I'd suggest holding off purchasing an external preamp until you have time to become familiar with the internal ones. You may want something that complements them (possibly with a bit more flavor than you get from a Grace or a Millennia.) IMO the 4-channel unit is worth the extra $$, really nice to be able to lay down a board mix or a couple of spots at the same time.

Share This Page