microphone / portable digital recorder comparison part 1


When dealing with recorded sound, technology plays an essential role in nearly every step of the process. While I focus a great deal of attention on acoustic sound, the capturing, editing, processing, compressing and sharing of those sounds, all relies on and is affected by, technology. This is a very general intro and overview to some basic recording technology that I use. The methods used here are definitely not scientific by any means. With a bit of searching you can find more in depth reviews as well as well researched technical analysis of these devices. What’s shown here is just to give an impression. All this equipment is reasonably affordable and can help beginners get a start on working with sound as well as keep artists like myself busy. The main point I feel is accessibility and ease of use.

The two digital recording devices used are an Edirol R-09 and a Sony PCM-D50. The Edirol unit I’ve had for almost 2 years and I can say its a handy little unit that works well for most occasions. One of the main reasons I bought it was to be able to use rechargeable AA batteries so I wouldn’t have to worry about running low on power if I kept extra batteries handy. Its well worth it for the quality and flexibility it offers. The main drawbacks are durability and a weak preamp for mics. The device is pretty much made of plastic. While nothing has broken so far, I’m constantly concerned about how long it will last. As for the preamp it just doesn’t ever seem to have enough power and is a bit too noisy. For this reason I bought a FEL Battery Preamp, a great device for boosting any any signal to line level, including contact mics (to bypass the mic input). I think the revised R-09HR model made by Edirol has improved some of these issues.

The Sony PCM-D50 is still new for me, but immediately I can say it feels much more sturdy than the Edirol and has better quality built-in microphones. This of course makes it slightly larger and more heavy if you’re concerned about portability. For external microphones I’ve used a selection of cheap to mid-level to compare (and also because it’s what I have around). I started with the mics built into the recording units themselves. These are good for general use but you will definitely need to have a few different kinds of mics around for recording specific types of sounds or sound environments. Here’s the breakdown:

  • Audio-Technica AT822 – well made single point X/Y stereo mic, good for general use and capturing close sound sources.
  • Sound Professionals SP-BMC-12 mini-binaural mics with Audio-Technica capsules (discontinued?). I’ve had these mics for over a year and have enjoyed using them. The problem you will notice is that they are not very well matched. The left mic is louder than the right one.
  • Homemade binaural microphones with Panasonic WM-61A capsules. There is a lot of info on the internet regarding these capsules. In short, they are one of the best deals in audio recording, with their open sound and flat response. These binaurals cost me about 7 euros in arts and sound as good as anything you can find up to 150 euros.

The sound clips below are divided into 15 second segments and are repeated twice, once to compare recorders and once to compare microphones. Again this is not done in any scientific manner. I just placed the mics about 1 meter away from the sound source. In this case it was a fire for the oven that heats our house. The high pitched noise is a refrigerator on the other side of the room.

Recorder | mics:

Sony PCM-D50 | built-in mics, Panasonic binaurals, Sound Professionals, Audio Technica AT822 (15 seconds each):

Edirol R-09 | built-in mics, Panasonic binaurals, Sound Professionals, Audio Technica AT822 (15 seconds each):

Edirol R-09 with FEL preamp | built-in mics, Panasonic binaurals, Sound Professionals, Audio Technica AT822 (15 seconds each). note: I think the battery in the preamp was low giving weaker levels than normal:

Mics | recorder:

Built-in microphones | Sony PCM-D50, Edirol R-09 (15 seconds each):

Panasonic binaurals | Sony PCM-D50, Edirol R-09, Edirol R-09 with FEL Preamp (15 seconds each):

Sound Professionals SP-BMC-12 | Sony PCM-D50, Edirol R-09, Edirol R-09 with FEL Preamp (15 seconds each):

Audio-Technica AT822 | Sony PCM-D50, Edirol R-09, Edirol R-09 with FEL Preamp (15 seconds each):

notes: Plug-in power was used on the Sony and Edirol recorder sn all cases. It is possible to change the direction of the built-in mics on the Sony from a 90 degree X/Y pattern to a wide 120 degree L/R pattern. For this test I kept the mics in the X/Y position. All MP3 files are compressed at 160kbps. In the second part I will use recordings of more ambient/environmental sounds.

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