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I'm a newbie and would like to buy a digital voice recorder mostly to record interviews and conferences. I didn't find an article in the http://recording.or… Articles[/]="http://recording.or… Articles[/] section about the top brands and models for DVRs.

An article somewhere (NYTimes? Slate? Other?) on the Net last year recommended the Olympus DM-520, which is now end-of-lifed, and the Tascam DR-08, but mostly for recording live music.

Recently, I saw someone at a conference recording with a Zoom H4n and he told me it was a great product for this.

I have a couple of questions:
1. What top features should I check for when buying that type of equipment?
2. What brand + model would you recommend for personal use, ie. not expensive, professional gear?

Thank you.


Boswell Thu, 01/19/2012 - 09:45

You need to ask yourself a few questions before you can decide on a make and model of recorder.

What's the purpose of making the recording? If it's for a typist to listen to for transcription purposes, the big thing is intelligibility, and a mono recording is what you need. If the purpose is, for example, to make a CD for distribution amongst those who were present, then the venue's acoustics have to be taken into account, and you probably also need a stereo track with the various sources panned appropriately within the sound field. There are other possibilities, and these are just two.

Mono stenographic recorders are fine for the first type, but you need to use one that has appropriate characteristics for the type of interview. You really do not want to be pointing the microphone alternately at the questioner and the respondent.

Use of a multi-track recorder such as the Zoom H4N would give you the option of using individual mics (up to 4) for the different speakers, or, alternatively, taking a stereo output from a multi-channel mixer.

On the other hand, if you envisage yourself sitting with the recorder in the audience at a conference wanting an audio recording of what took place, you need to consider different microphone and recorder properties.

Winfried Fri, 01/20/2012 - 06:57

Thanks for the infos.

So here are some things to check before making an informed choice:
- mono or stereo, depending on number of sound sources (if just for recording notes for later transcription -> mono; if multiple speakers in a room -> multi-track recorder like the Zoom H4N)
- Mic quality
- Uncompressed 24 bit file format

Are there other great/recommended features I should know about?

Boswell Fri, 01/20/2012 - 07:18

If this really is just recording speech, forget the uncompressed 24-bit format. Individual recorders will have their own selection of compressed and uncompressed formats that balance speech quality against storage capacity, and, having chosen a recorder, you should try a number of the different formats to see what their shortcomings are in your particular set of circumstances.

RemyRAD Sat, 01/21/2012 - 14:55

Basically the H4n, is your most worthy investment. And that's because it features 2 XLR/1/4 inch inputs. It also has the capability of recording 4 simultaneous tracks while also utilizing its built-in XY condenser microphones. But that's not great for interview purposes. That's where you just need a couple of LAVALIER, News style microphones. If you have one main host and a panel of people, you're likely to need an external mixer, which could also feed the ZOOM product while bypassing its XY built-in microphones. Having done television audio for NBC-TV for 20 years, this is what you do. The recording devices is just a recording device and multiple microphones are necessary such as in doing Meet The Press where you have a central host and up to 6 guests that need to be properly miked. Sometimes desktop stands with a single microphone can cover 2 people adequately at a time but only in conjunction with an additional hardware limiter which can also be accomplished after-the-fact in software. Most software will not provide for those in recording, in real time hence the need for an outboard limiter after the microphone preamps. This won't be practical for your purposes unless such criteria is first met. In your situation, you might be able to cover a panel of 4 people with the onboard XY stereo microphones and a couple of individual microphones for the host & a special guest. But the H 4 will have to be smack dab in front of your 4 panelists while the host & special guests could be further away with their individual microphones. That's doable but it could look a little goofy for TV. Nevertheless, those are your options.

Old NBC-TV engineer
Mx. Remy Ann David

Winfried Mon, 01/23/2012 - 07:37

RemyRAD, post: 383134 wrote: Basically the H4n, is your most worthy investment. And that's because it features 2 XLR/1/4 inch inputs. It also has the capability of recording 4 simultaneous tracks while also utilizing its built-in XY condenser microphones.

Thanks for the tip. Since the Zoom has two built-in microphones and two XLR inputs, how can it record 4 simultaneous tracks while also using the XY microphones?

RemyRAD, post: 383134 wrote: If you have one main host and a panel of people, you're likely to need an external mixer

What I'll do, is either ask the person in charge if I can plug the Zoom into the mixer, or I'll just hold the Zoom in front of a loudspeaker.

BTW, is there a good book/DVD that you would recommend for newbies to learn about sound recording?

RemyRAD Tue, 01/24/2012 - 13:13

There is no books out that I know of that relates to these new compact solid-state based recorders. There are plenty of books to explain how to do this with multiple microphones & mixers.

Your question regarding of how the H 4 n, can record 4 simultaneous tracks is simple. The built-in XY stereo microphones record to a pair of tracks and the two separate XLR inputs record to two additional tracks, simultaneously, all together at once. It can even be utilized in an overdubbed situation where, say, you have recorded a piano accompaniment with the XY stereo microphones. After the accompaniment has been recorded, you can plug in a solo vocal microphone into the XLR input and even record 2 separate passes of a vocal while playing back the compliment in your headphones. It's quite a versatile device with actual equalization, dynamics processing & effects, built right into a device a little larger than a pack of cigarettes. It's awesome. And it also serves as a 24-bit/96 kHz capable USB computer audio interface. So it actually serves more than 2 separate purposes. It's a worthy investment.

Unfortunately, it won't age like a fine wine from France
Mx. Remy Ann David

Winfried Thu, 03/29/2012 - 04:51

Which shotgun microphone for Zoom H4N?

HelloAfter recommendations here and elsewhere, I think I'll go for the Zoom H4N to record lectures, conferences, and interviews.In the frequent case where I won't be able to connect to the sound mixer and the loudspeaker is overhead, I'll have to connect a shotgun microphone and aim it right. I know it's not ideal, but the sound mixer is usually off-limit.Which brand/model would you recommend that I connect to the Zoom? It has two XLR inputs, but I don't know if I need to use self-powered microphones or if the Zoom offers +48V phantom power.Budget-wise, this is for personal use, so I'd rather something in the same ballpark, ie. around $/€200.AudioTechnica has several models, but I read good things about the Sennheiser MKE 400 and the Rode NTGx series.Thank you.