Which Sound Recorder to buy? A guide to various indie priced sound recorders in 2017

Wrote up a little guide for people new to this and looking to buy their first recorder as a location sound recordist. And is the way I see the world of low budget recorders is they’re ranked like this (starting from worst/cheapest to best/expensive):

Tascam DR22WL / Zoom H1 (I’d suggest skipping right over this tier of recorders! But hey, my first ever short film I did years ago was with a chinese shotgun running straight into a Zoom H1!! 😮 Shocking but true… everyone starts somewhere!)

Tascam DR60D mk2 (the DR60D mk1, before the mk2 came out, is what I myself started out using for no budget shorts as a budding location sound recordist)

Tascam DR70D (the *minimum* I’d recommend for a location sound recordist, even if you’re just a student / no budget guy. Although in desperate cases, you could scrape by with getting the DR60Dmk2, but doing the opposite and stretching for an F4 is very worthwhile. Certainly, I could travel back in time I’d just have gone straight for the Zoom F4 from the starts! *Except* the F4 didn’t come out until a few years later… you live in a very lucky time with so many wonderful options to choose from!) or Tascam DR680 (these can be found at bargain prices secondhand, which is what I did before I then later on purchased a Zoom F4 once that came out & I spotted an F4 at a good price)

Zoom F4 / Zoom F8 / Sound Devices MixPre6 (I skip right over the MixPre3, as the MixPre6 is very similar yet does so so much more at only a relatively small extra cost. Also I regard the three of F4/F8/MixPre6 as all on broadly the same level to each other, just varying slightly from each other in one area or another that ones might have a small lead over the other one. This is the tier where I’d see you’re now reaching the semi-pro level)

Sound Devices 633 / Zaxcom Maxx / Sanosax SX-R4+ (finally you have now got up to the “industry standard” when it comes to recorders people use for small shoots, especially when mixing from the bag. If you’re doing this full time as your job or hiring someone who is, then likely this is what is being used. Either that or similar gear, or even something better above this)

And if you considering ones priced above those last three…. you’re surely doing this full time as a sound recordist and getting a healthy income from that, so why are you asking us here on Frugal Filmmaker? ha! 😛 But yes, tonnes and tonnes more options exist at the higher end as well!

Finally, if you’re considering something in the budget range within what I just covered, but isn’t one of those that I mentioned, then it probably is *not* a good idea to buy if you’re intending to be a location sound recordist.

Something else only might *maybe* make sense if you’ve got in mind some other purpose for it, such as perhaps you want to record a band in a studio (which has very different needs / constraints), or you’re the rare exception which proves the rule, or you are getting lucky finding some amazingly priced deal which can make an otherwise bad purchase decision then make sense if “the price is right”.

For instance I didn’t include the Roland R88, as I feel it is extremely poor value for money in 2017! However…. there was a time at the end of 2016 when the Roland R88 got a huge price drop because it was being discontinued. Even with that massive price drop, the Roland R88 probably still wasn’t a smart purchase vs the Zoom F8, but the big drop in price at least made the R88 a somewhat competitive option worth mentioning in a round up of all the various choices. However, that sale is now long since ended, and the prices I see on eBay for a Roland R88 is even higher than what you used to be able to buy it new from B&H Photo! Clearly those eBay sellers are dreaming.

Anyway, that was just one example which might have been applicable but isn’t now, so I don’t rule out the possibilities of something like that perhaps popping up again in the future especially if you very keenly look around for secondhand deals. But for over 95% of people reading this, that won’t be applicable, and just stick to going with one of the main ones I mentioned earlier.


Such as my favourite, the Zoom F4:

Set of camera gear for a school to use for teaching filmmaking to young teenage students?

Is basically exactly a year since I wrote my newbie guide to filmmaking gear based around the GH2, so now is a timely time to write a short update?
It is a tribute to the GH2 and Panasonic’s range of cameras as a whole, that they still line up as a very competitive choice even today in early 2016!

Lots more interesting cameras have since come along, such as Sony A6300/RX10mk2, Nikon D5500/D500, & Panasonic G7. But if you want to keep costs down and the max bang for buck then my guide from a year ago still holds relevant the bonus that a year later you can find these secondhand even cheaper than before!

Here is a post I wrote in response to a request about gear for Highschool for their young filmmaking students. Naturally with a limited school budget, and the need to buy multiple gear kits for several student groups to be able to use at once (and not to mention the risk of youth breaking gear!), costs need to be kept under tight control, so my GH2 gear guide still holds very relevant:

A few secondhand Panasonic GH2 is my vote. Dirt dirt cheap, and you get top notch quality from it! Waaaaay better than any Canon APS-C DSLR (heck, people rated a hacked GH2 above a 5Dmk3 even!).

Another thought is several GH1 bodies (nearly as good as GH2, but lacks live HDMI), plus one or two GH2 bodies for when they want to use it with an external monitor (Aputure FineHD VS-2, a quality 1920×1080 screen for dirt cheap!! 😮 Amazing), plus one G6 (or even G7, which some people even prefer over a Gh4! It is better than a GH4 at low light) for when they want 60fps FHD slow motion on a production (or 4K).

Get a few RJ Lens Turbos, and Nikon F mount lenses.


Nikon D5200 is also a solid choice! I own one myself (plus lots of Micro Four Thirds cameras). Again, maybe if you go with Nikon instead consider a mix with several D5200 plus one D5300 for when you want 60fps FHD slow motion on a project.


For audio I’d avoid a Zoom H4n like the plague. (Ditto Canon for a camera body) An H4n or a Canon both “kinda” (but not really) made sense in the very very early days of the HDSLR Revolution (years ago), when there were very few other options. But it makes no sense to buy either today at all.

I’d go instead with a Tascam DR-60D mk2, paired with a cheap Xiaomi USB battery bank (Xiaomi is like the Apple of China!) which I Velcro to the back plus a camera strap around the handles of the Tascam. No need then for a mixing bag! And you’ll be able to run for a looooong time with that set up! (vs the internal AA batteries which get eaten up if you run only on them, but with a USB battery pack you never need to worry about that)

That there is my set up before I upgraded to a Sound Devices 552 (waaaaaaaaay more expensive! But worth it, for me as a semi pro soundie). A Tascam DR-60D mk1 is also worth getting if you find a very cheap deal on it, but improvements in the DR-60D mk2 I feel is worth it. (Tascam DR-70D is also worth a look, but for your school needs is not really worth it the extra XLR inputs)

For microphone, get perhaps one Sennheiser MKE 600? (I have a NTG2 at the moment, which is a solid microphone and I got a good deal on it! But I might suggest going with a MKE600 or perhaps a NTG3 instead) And the rest be HTDZ HT-81 microphones (which is what I started out with years ago, recording into a Zoom H1). Again following my suggestion of having the bulk of the gear being cheap while still decent (HTDZ HT-81) but get one or two nicer pieces (which are still frugal) for use on more important projects which deserve it (or/and for when they’re under closer supervision by you, so they’ll be looking after the equipment). This means they’ll also learn to appreciate the quality difference which can be output from lower end equipment vs better equipment (and also how it can *not* matter… how a HTDZ HT-81 in skilled hands will sound better than somebody clueless on a project using a MKE600).

So that is for outdoor recordings, for indoor you’ll want something else (due to reflective surfaces which will bounce the sound back, not ideal for using a shotgun in). I’m using a Takstar CM-60 at the moment, until I can afford an Oktava MK012. So I suggest you get a few CM-60 for indoor audio dialogue.

For a boom pole I got this:

But I mainly got this because of the FREE SHIPPING, as I live in the middle of nowhere in a small island nation called New Zealand. Sometimes shipping of big bulky items from the USA can be painfully expensive! But if you’re in the USA then there are well priced boom poles with free shipping for you to choose from at B&H / Adorama or Amazon.com

Firmware update for Tascam DR-60D mk1 fixes recording interruptions when running on external USB power packs.

If you have a Tascam DR-60D mk1 and haven’t updated to the latest firmware then dooooo it!

As the DR-60D is battery eating monster, but now with the latest firmware I can put on it a big external battery pack and never worry again about batteries for hours and hours.

As before whenever I powered a DR-60D over USB the recording would halt if the USB power was ever bumped and reattached (which can accidentally happen a lot out in the field!) as a pop up would then show up asking you to select USB power or act as a USB storage device. Which made it practically impossible to use USB power while recording it unless you just left it on a desk and didn’t even breath too hard on it least the cord got bumped slightly (strangely it had never mentioned this issue being fixed in the firmware release notes, so I hadn’t bothered to update mine earlier. But I’d heard it mentioned by another person that the latest firmware fixed this issue so I thought I’d give it a go before tomorrow’s sound job. Now after testing it thoroughly I can say it works! Yay).

Now the pop up box only shows up on the screen for you to select an option for USB if you are not currently recording, thus it doesn’t interfere now with recordings.

Is a very neat and tidy arrangement too, stick a Velcro patch on the back of the battery pack and the other side of the Velcro patch on the rear of the Tascam DR-60D, then I hang the whole thing from my neck using a camera strap attached to the handles of the DR-60D. A very nifty and lightweight arrangement!

I’m using one of these (Xiaomi is a major major brand name in China, kinda like Apple in the USA):