Portable field recorders are essential pieces of a professional film/television audio kit. They're also a great choice for mobile recordings such as podcasts, voice memos, live musical performances, foley, and more. From handheld voice recorders to multi-channel units that sync to cameras, there are plenty of field recorder options and, similarly, plenty of brands that produce them.
With so many options to choose from, it can be difficult to find precisely what would work best for your needs and wants. In this article, I'll share my take on the top brands to look out for when deciding on a field recorder for your projects.
Though obviously subjective and prone to biases, I've done my best to list out these brands based on the following metrics (in no particular order):
- Company reputation
- Performance of the field recorders
- Longevity of the field recorders
- Availability of the field recorders
- The company must currently be in operation
With all that being said, let's list out the brands.
The top 11 best portable field recorder brands on the market are:
Let's get into each of these brands in greater detail and explain why they belong in the top 11 best field recorder brands. I'll share their country of origin, a bit of history, an example of a notable recorder, and a link to their official website.
Sound Devices is the creation of three audio enthusiasts who honed their craft at Shure (one of the world's biggest microphone brands) and decided to go solo in 1998. For this endeavour, they opened up their first facility in Reedsburg, Wisconsin, followed by another in Madison and another one in Berlin, Germany.
Sound Devices has been providing top Hollywood studios with the tools to make series like Game of Thrones and movies like The Revenant, among many others. They create the most pristine-sounding, weatherproof equipment to record crystal-clear audio regardless of the environment. If it is good for the big screen on multimillion projects, it can surely enhance your rig as well.
Notable field recorder: Sound Devices Scorpio (link to check the price at Sweetwater)
This is indeed a hard-to-match product in the field audio recording industry. To begin with, this USA-made device is built like a tank and packs enough features to be the only gear you hit the road to record audio with. Its 16 8-series preamps are state-of-the-art ultra-low noise, beautifully voiced connections that can enhance the sound of any field microphone.
Adding to that, the 32 channels turn into 12 buses and 36 tracks to be stored in the 256GB of internal memory and dual SD slots. Also, the Dugan Automixing/MixAssist is available for up to 16 channels. Finally, the 32 channels can be used for Dante I/O.
If you need to hit the road for a serious audio project and can afford this unit, it will definitely take the results to the next level; learn more about it here.
Sound Devices was founded in 1998 by Matt Anderson, Jon Tatooles, and Jim Koomar. The company headquarters is located in Reedsburg, Wisconsin, USA.
Official website: sounddevices.com
Glenn Sanders founded Zaxcom in 1986 and won the Emmy for Outstanding Achievement in Engineering Development for its TBC System in 1989. He had been working in the post-production industry and set out to close the gaps he had experienced first-hand.
Zaxcom made history again in 1996 with its Deva unit, the world's first four-channel portable hard disk recorder. This achievement granted Sanders and co-creator Howard Stark the Scientific and Engineering Award Academy Plaque in the 2003 Academy Awards Ceremony.
Nowadays, the company continues to set the path for the industry with cutting-edge technology, hard work, and relentless innovation. Before buying any other brand, check out this pioneering company.
Notable field recorder: Zaxcom Deva 24 (link to check the price at Zaxcom)
A touchscreen interface is all you need to access the 24 channels available in this field recording wonder. Moreover, the versatility in the routing of the inputs and outputs allows the user to create virtually any configuration the scenario requires. Plus, any media coming from the Deva can be recorded to three simultaneous destinations.
Among the virtually endless features, sound quality and ease of use are some of the highlights of this magnificent unit. The Deva tradition is still making history today; you can learn more about it here.
Related article: Do Audio Mixers Affect Audio/Sound Quality?
Zaxcom was founded in 1986 by Glenn Sanders and is headquartered in Pompton Plains, New Jersey, USA.
Official website: zaxcom.com
Zoom was founded almost 40 years ago, in 1983, in Tokyo, Japan. Right from day one, the company's motto has been “We're for creators”; they abide by it to this day, manufacturing tools for those in the frontline of creativity every day.
The company characterizes for bringing cutting-edge technology in diverse formats to match very diverse budgets and creative styles. Thus, ranging from inexpensive field microphones to state-of-the-art multitrack field recorders, this company has a product for every sound and video enthusiast out there.
Make sure you check them out before buying; there's surely something in their lineup for you.
Notable field recorder: Zoom F8N (link to check the price at Sweetwater)
Portable enough to fit in the backpack of any sound creator and powerful enough to contain a universe of sonic options at his or her disposal, this amazing unit by Zoom is an integral, state-of-the-art solution for field sound recording.
To begin with, it can record to multiple formats simultaneously, featuring eight beautifully-voiced preamps with a super-low noise floor and up to 75dB of gain boost. Also, it uses AI-powered software called AutoMix to automatically reduce ambient noise and focus on the sounds you're trying to capture. Finally, this wonder does it all running on 8AA batteries.
This is an incredible unit with a huge load of power and versatility; you can check the rest of the specs here.
Zoom Corporation was founded in 1983 in Tokyo, Japan, where the company headquarters has remained to this day.
Official website: zoomcorp.com
Zoom is also featured in the following My New Microphone article:
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Lectrosonics was founded in Albuquerque, New Mexico, in May of 1971. This company could be considered one of the anonymous heroes behind the spectacular growth of the film industry in the US in the past decades. Indeed, the company received the Technical Achievement Academy Award in 2017 for its historical contribution.
Nowadays, they are the benchmark of the field recording and wireless equipment industry, with every unit proudly designed and manufactured at the company's Rio Rancho factory in New Mexico. If you are serious about the outcome of your field recordings, you have to check this company out.
Notable field recorder: Lectrosonics SPDR (link to check the price at B&H Photo/Video)
This field recorder houses Lectrosonics' “servo bias” input preamp that can deliver top-notch, professional digital audio recordings while sitting comfortably inside the pocket of your jacket.
Opposite to the previous models we've just seen, this field recorder is great for ambiance or personal use and can also be a part of a system thanks to its time code jam/sync. Plus, it'll give you up to 20 hours of operation on a single pair of AA batteries.
If you need a compact solution that can register pro-level sounds, this is a great option to check out.
Lectrosonics was founded in 1971 by Tom Gilmer in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Today, the company headquarters is located just outside Albuquerque in Rio Rancho, New Mexico, USA.
Official website: lectrosonics.com
Founded in Tokyo, Japan, in 1958, Sony is one brand that requires no introduction. Indeed, they have been taking the market by storm from day one in all niches they have invested into. Nowadays, it is widespread to own or have used at least one Sony product in our lives with very positive results.
The field of pro audio is no different; Sony invested in state-of-the-art facilities and the most talented engineers to provide customers with only the best audio recording products in the world and branded the entire section as PRO Sony. Although their solutions are not as spec-filled as Zoom's or Zaxcom's, they created some great, simple field recorders for the users who need a no-frills approach and great sound.
Sony is a brand you can trust; check them out before buying your next portable field recorder.
Notable field recorder: Sony PCM-D10 (link to check the price at Sweetwater)
With its dual three-position condensers on the top and dual XLR inputs on the bottom, this little field recorder by Sony is capable of recording Hi-Res audio at 192 kHz/24 bits. If you want to expand this setup and add to it some more power, you can use the universal connectors in the bottom to add more audio sources which can be recorded simultaneously. Plus, you can analogically dial in the desired volume for each input so you can fine-tune the audio mix going straight to an SD card.
If you need portability, maximum flexibility, and reliability, you have to check the Sony PCM-D10 out; learn more about it here.
Sony was founded in 1946 by Masaru Ibuka and Akio Morita in Nihonbashi, Chūō, Tokyo, Japan. The company is headquartered in Sony City, Minato, Tokyo, Japan.
Official website: sony.com
Sony is also featured in the following My New Microphone article:
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Tascam celebrated its 50th anniversary this year in their Los Angeles, California facility. This company, founded in 1971, is the predecessor of any multitrack portable recorders with its groundbreaking Portastudio line. These were the first multitrack cassette recorders in the world and helped a generation of musicians and producers hone their craft.
Besides its rich past, Tascam is also a restless innovator and one of the first companies to offer portable recorders for field audio. Indeed, their celebrated DR line was the most advanced piece of field recording equipment upon release. Nowadays, the DR line is still one of the go-to field recorders for audio professionals, hobbyists, and audio enthusiasts alike.
Before buying, be sure to give TASCAM a strong consideration.
Notable field recorder: TASCAM DR-701D (link to check the price at Sweetwater)
This unit might be the best companion for any filmmaker. The HDMI input in this device allows you to start the audio and video recording on two separate apparatus at the touch of a single button. Plus, you can cascade several DR-701Ds together and multiply the number of inputs and still sync it all together with the push of a single button.
This feature-filled wonder is housed inside a lightweight, magnesium-alloy chassis that is as durable as easy to carry around. If you need a serious companion for your filmmaking adventures or a standalone amazing field tracker, you can learn more about this unit here.
TASCAM (TEAC Audio Systems Corporation – America Corp.) was started in 1971 by Mr. K. Tani and Dr. Abe of the Japanese TEAC Corporation in Los Angeles, California. Today the company is headquartered in Montebello, California, USA.
Official website: tascam.com
Parent company: TEAC Corporation (Japan)
TASCAM is also featured in the following My New Microphone article:
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Stefan Kudelski founded Nagra at the age of 22 in Switzerland, where he fled with his family escaping the Nazis in Poland. Stefan Kudelski is, for most professionals, the single reason why field recording devices exist today. This is because he invented the Nagra I in 1951, the first-ever field recorder straight to 1/4″ tape that could fit into a bag. Before Stefan's invention, the concept of “field recording” was non-existent.
The company now offers state-of-the-art successors to the original Nagra, Hi-Fi audio equipment, and equipment for law enforcement applications. If you are in search of a field recorder, why not give the pioneers a chance?
Notable field recorder: Nagra Seven (link to check it out at Nagra)
The Nagra Seven is the ultimate field recorder by the company that started it all. It features a rugged, compact design with enough features to address virtually all sonic needs on the go.
To begin with, the dual analog inputs are equipped with the legendary Nagra microphone preamps offering a variety of sensitivities for each microphone type and phantom power. Also, the signal coming from each of these microphones can produce files of 192 kHz, meaning that this is a Hi-Res unit. Finally, the state-of-the-art touchscreen is the perfect user interface to do on-the-fly changes.
The Seven represents the pinnacle of field recording technology and is all you would expect from a company like Nagra.
Nagra was founded in 1951 by Stefan Kudelski in Switzerland as part of the Kudelski Group. The company headquarters is located in Cheseaux-Sur-Lausanne, Switzerland.
Official website: nagraaudio.com
Parent company: Kudelski Group
Nagra is featured in the following My New Microphone article:
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As it is the history of many breakthrough companies in the audio industry, a need was the mother of invention for Jean-Pierre Beauviala. He wanted to make a film about his hometown but couldn't find the right tools to do it. Far from giving up, he ended up creating the tools for a generation of filmmakers. That being said, he never finished the movie.
After founding Aaton Digital, in 1971, in Grenoble, France, he continued to improve on his designs. Eventually, he turned into the digital field, delivering some of the best cameras and field recorders available in the market today.
Five decades of hard work became Aaton Digital's rich heritage and can turn into your competitive advantage as well.
Looking as if it was out of a different realm, this Aaton Digital field recorder is among the best-sounding, most complete platforms in the market to record top-notch audio outdoors.
Don't let the colourful approach deceive you; this is a serious piece of gear that can record and mix up to eight simultaneous tracks while fitting comfortably in a bag. Moreover, the large, colourful touchscreen display is the perfect interface to navigate this vessel right into sonic bliss. Finally, its ergonomic design allows for seamless camera integration and on-the-shoulder operation. You can check the unit's full specs here.
Official website: aaton.com
Aaton Digital was founded in 1971 by Jean-Pierre Beauviala in Grenoble, France, where the company headquarters is still located today.
Founded by Ikutaro Kakehashi in Osaka, Japan, in 1972, Roland is another company that requires no introduction for most musicians in the world. From Roland's utterly famous electronic instruments to their epic amplifiers to digital pianos, there is no spot in the music industry it doesn't have an impeccable reputation.
Field recorders are no different; they are the perfect blend of cutting-edge technology and accumulated know-how from decades of setting the trends in the analog world. If you are looking for a modern solution to timeless problems, Roland may be the best place to start looking.
Notable field recorder: Roland R-07 (link to check the price at Sweetwater)
This state-of-the-art ultra-compact field recorder is the next step for professional musicians on the go.
First, the capability of recording Hi-Res audio pushing one button (or even with a Bluetooth-enabled remote) on a device that can fit in the upper pocket of any shirt is nothing short of amazing. Second, the files can be heard remotely as well, allowing you to check your ideas instantly. Finally, it comes in rugged housing in several different colours you can choose from.
See it in action in this video.
Roland Corporation was founded in 1972 by Ikutaro Kakehashi in Osaka, Japan. The company is headquartered in Hamamatsu, Shizuoka, Japan (moved in 2005).
Official website: roland.com
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2021 marked the 70th anniversary of this brand that has been a common name for cinemagoers for ages. In 1951, brothers Joseph, Irving, Nathan, and Fred Tushinsky created a legend from thin air and high hopes.
By 1957, the company teamed up with Sony and entered the Hi-Fi market. In 1964, Superscope acquired sound legend Marantz and went full-on in the audio direction with expert opinion.
Nowadays, Superscope enjoys a well-earned reputation as being a reliable innovator, capable of delivering the best results at a competitive price. This results from many decades of hard work and relentless dedication; try their products before making any purchasing decisions.
Notable field recorder: Superscope PMR61 (link to check the price on Amazon)
Superscope intended to create a device that could capture amazing audio, stripping it down to the bare minimum in terms of buttons and interface. Moreover, the huge colourful display makes the whole process so intuitive this might be the only device in this list that won't require a thorough reading of its user guide before using it. That being said, top-notch features like automatic input sensitivity, attenuation, and record level settings are a welcome addition to a no-frills approach to field recording.
Official website: superscopetechnologies.com
Superscope was founded in 1951 by Joseph, Irving, Nathan, and Fred Tushinsky. The company headquarters is located in Geneva, Illinois, USA.
October 12th, 1919, Takeshi Yamashita founded Olympus in Tokyo, Japan as a microscope and thermometer manufacturer. To this day, Olympus still holds up to 70% of the global endoscope market with an estimated net worth of 2.5 billion dollars.
The past century saw the company branch out to optics, reprography, and audio, building an impeccable reputation for creating some of the best, most precise, and perfect machines in those fields. Indeed, after pursuing such difficult endeavours in the health industry, Olympus gathered a know-how and precision level that is unmatched by any other brand in this list.
If you are after the best recorder with a surgically precise result, don't hesitate to try out an Olympus.
Notable field recorder: Olympus DS-9000 (link to check the price at B&H Photo/Video)
With revolutionary noise-cancelling technology, this small field recorder is a great way to record ideas on the go. Firstly, the intelligent dual microphones allow you to direct the recording toward the sound source, preventing unwanted external noises from getting into the final results. Secondly, state-of-the-art encryption (256-bit AES) protects your files against any threats. Finally, the shockproof, alcohol-wipe-resistant body comes with an utterly handy optical side switch that can endure any conditions.
If you want the best portable recording device for ideas on the fly, this is a serious candidate.
Olympus Corporation was founded in 1919 by Takeshi Yamashita in Tokyo, Japan, where the company headquarters is still located today.
Official website: getolympus.com
Buying the best audio mixer for your specific applications (studio, field recording, live sound, broadcasting) can be rather complicated. For this reason, I've created My New Microphone's Comprehensive Audio Mixer Buyer's Guide. Check it out for help choosing the top audio mixer for your goals.