Skip to main content

Portable digital recorder with good mic preamps

Member for

3 years 3 months

Hi there,

I have used portable recorders starting in the 80s (WM-D3) and continued in the 90s (TCD-D8), mostly for recording piano recitals. My microphones of choice were and are the OKM-2 binaural mics by the Berlin 'Soundman' company and they served me really well.

Over the decades I've recorded some of the greatest pianists of all time such as Horowitz, Michelangeli, Arrau, Zhukov, Richter and many others and I am still listening to these recordings with great pleasure. Some of these recordings were done from the audience, some were done together with the artist and over the years I've found good ways to record a concert grand.

Here are some examples:

(1988!) OKM with WM-D3, audience recording

(1996) OKM with TCD-D8, mics on stage

(2019) OKM with DR-05, mics well placed

As you can hear, the older recordings sound less distorted, have more clarity and represent a fine piano sound. The new one from 2019, however, sounds like crap and I am confident that Tascam hasn't really invested anything in focusing on offering a high quality preamp that sounds good. Instead, the sound is mushy, distorted and unpleasant to listen to, no matter what bitrate or resolution one chooses.

I've had a break with music for more than 20 years, but recently I've gone back to my old passion, got a Steinway B grand and started recording again. Bought another new set of these OKMs and a Tascam DR-05 and as you can hear, the result is worse than it was 30 years ago with identical microphones.

Is there any portable digital recorder that handles dynamic microphones with a 3,5mm stereo jack that provides drastically better microphone preamps? I have a different setup with condensers, audio interface and a laptop, but I really want to have this portable thingy with those OKMs.

Any ideas?

Comments

Member for

12 years 4 months

kmetal Sun, 07/12/2020 - 16:32
I don't think they have 3.5mm jacks, but Sound Devices make highly regarded portable recorders. They are used in professional film and television. My buddy had one of their models and the recording he made of acoustic guitar in a house sounded good and clear to me.

It is probably possible to use an adapter to go from 3.5mm to dual xlr, tho i have not done so myself.

Member for

3 years 3 months

OE1FEU Sun, 07/12/2020 - 17:34
Funny thing is: Through your remark and some googling I found out that XLR mono inputs accept a 6,3mm plug. Now I just need to find an adapter that divides one 3,5mm stereo input into two 6,3mm mono plugs and I can then use them on the Tascan DR44-WL that I already have.

Interesting.

Still, the DR44 is bulky and the adapter is kind of awkward, so still looking for a separte piece of gar such as the DR-05, but in better quality.

Member for

12 years 4 months

kmetal Sun, 07/12/2020 - 18:14
OE1FEU, post: 464908, member: 51398 wrote: Funny thing is: Through your remark and some googling I found out that XLR mono inputs accept a 6,3mm plug. Now I just need to find an adapter that divides one 3,5mm stereo input into two 6,3mm mono plugs and I can then use them on the Tascan DR44-WL that I already have.

Interesting.

Still, the DR44 is bulky and the adapter is kind of awkward, so still looking for a separte piece of gar such as the DR-05, but in better quality.

Cool. Sound Devices makes the highest quality portable recorders i know of. Good luck!

Member for

15 years 7 months

Boswell Mon, 07/13/2020 - 06:25
I've never used the OKM-2 microphones, but I have known about them for many years, and have heard many impressive recordings said to have been recorded through them. However, I always believed they were electret type that required plug-in power (3 - 6V) supplied via the signal output cable. Plug-in power is normally available on the 3.5mm TRS microphone socket on portable recorders. If you were to get an insert cable that split a 3.5mm TRS plug to two 6.3mm TS plugs, the microphones would not receive the plug-in power, as no power out is provided on the TRS portion of combi XLR/TRS jacks. It's important that you don't connect to the XLR inputs of a recorder with phantom power (PP) applied, as the 48V PP would almost certainly destroy the microphones.

I'm constantly going round the loop of searching for quality portable recorders that I can take (usually at ridiculously short notice) to record concerts or demonstration performances. I have 8 or 9 different recorders that I choose from to bring out for these occasions, with varied success. However, these do not produce studio quality recordings, as you have found, largely due to relatively high noise floor in the recorder.

As an example of what you can achieve using standard gear, I'm attaching a short extract from an organ practice session I recorded in Kirkwall Cathedral, Orkney using an M-Audio Microtrack ii with its standard omni T-microphones. Turn your sub on for this!

To improve on the results, in the last couple of years I have begun assembling another class of recorders, that I have called simply "transportable and battery operated". The current manifestation of this has an Apogee Mini-Me pre-amp/converter plus an Edirol R-09 that acts as an S/PDIF bit-bucket. These are housed in a sturdy sandwich box, together with a compact 12V Li-ON battery pack that will power both units for about 6 hours on one charge with Phantom Power operating. A pair of MBHO cardioid SDC microphones and a lightweight stand completes the rig. I've had some really nice results from this, especially when recording at 24/96. The (now discontinued) Mini-Me is an under-rated performer for this type of work, giving a sweetness of tone and very low noise levels. It also has switchable soft limiting, which I sometimes select when I have not been able to get to any rehearsals and hence assess the SPLs of the concert.

[MEDIA=audio]https://www.recordi…

[MEDIA=audio]https://recording.o…
Attached files Kirkwall kirk organ coda (edited).mp3 (976.6 KB) 

Member for

3 years 3 months

OE1FEU Mon, 07/13/2020 - 07:03
I have actually found a solution. Since my previous recordings with the earlier Sony machines were so good, I had simply assumed that modern gear would be of the same quality. And since results were good with internal mic amps in the Sony, I have never seen the need to use the optional Soundman A3 adapter.

Today I have simply deactivated the mic power on the Tascam and used the A3 adapter, which is simply a small mic preamp - and the result is just stunning, no comparison to the built-in amps.

Thank you all for giving me food for thought, which actually resulted in a drastic improvement of recording quality.

Member for

15 years 7 months

Boswell Tue, 07/14/2020 - 00:29
I'm glad you have found an acceptable solution to your problem. However, there's something a bit odd about the improvement you have achieved.

The Soundman A3 adaptor is not advertised as a pre-amp - it's a 6V battery with a switched signal attenuator. What I assume is that having 6V of clean plug-in power provides a 6dB greater signal output from the OKM-2 microphones with less noise than the typically 3V noisy system power available on most portable recorders.

Member for

8 years 9 months

pcrecord Tue, 07/14/2020 - 04:51
I bought a Zoom F4 and I'm very happy with it.. Of course, the preamps do not compare to my Focusrite ISA preamps.. but they are quite capable.
There is an 8 channels available too, the F8... Depends on your needs.
They run on batteries (8 x AA) that could be rechargeable. I bought a second battery container to be able to swap them rapidly.
OKM-2 microphones would need a passive XLR adapter, which are inexpensive..
x