The 10 best portable recorders to buy in 2021 for field recording, sampling and rehearsals

If the hills are truly alive with the sound of music – you’d best get recording.

Best portable recorders to buy 2021

The outside world is alive with sound: samples from nature longing to be arranged into music, commuters in the metro – perfect for the sound design of that video you’re working on, or maybe even that trash can in the office pantry that happens to be the perfect bass drum.

Having a portable recorder, and making a habit of carrying one around, can be highly practical for producers, sound designers and musicians alike. These days, most of these come with impressive specs that make them capable of handling multitrack recording, baking in effects and even powering your favourite condenser microphones on the go.

If you’re a performing artist or musician, running sound out from the board at a gig into a portable recorder is an easy way to publish live content for your fans. And if you’re a music student, having one of these around during lessons can help you keep track of your studies.

In this list, we’ll explore some of the best portable recorders you can buy in 2021 for all sorts of applications.

The 10 best portable recorders to buy in 2021

  • Zoom H4n Pro
  • Tascam DR-40X
  • Zoom H8
  • Roland R-07
  • Sony PCM-D10
  • Sound Devices MixPre-6 Mk II
  • Zoom H2n
  • Tascam-07X
  • Rode i-XY
  • Your Phone

Zoom H4n Pro

Zoom H4n Pro

A standard in the industry that offers capable recording features in a portable and rugged enclosure, the Zoom H4n Pro is an easy recommendation for those searching for a great all-purpose recorder.

The built-in dual microphones come in an XY configuration, which can be swivelled to widen the field of capture from 90- to 120-degree. You can record in mono, stereo or even in a four-channel mode with the two additional XLR/1/4-inch combo inputs at the bottom. It even supplies phantom power.

Meanwhile, this portable recorder also packs onboard effects such as a compressor/limiter, high-pass filter, reverb and delay, and several amp models for going direct-in with an instrument.

  • Price: ‎£198 / $229
  • Microphones: Dual unidirectional condensers in XY configuration
  • Resolution: Up to 24-bit / 96kHz
  • Inputs: 2x XLR-1/4” combo inputs with phantom power
  • Outputs: 1x 1/8” (line/headphone out)
  • Storage: SD / SDHC card slot (up to 32GB)
  • Other features: Built-in speaker, six-hour battery life (10 hours on stamina mode), built-in effects

Tascam-07X

Tascam-07X

Sporting a compact design at the cost of XLR inputs, the Tascam-07X shoots for portability and does so helpfully without sacrificing quality onboard microphones.

This straightforward portable recorder features dual condensers in an XY configuration that can be swivelled out to widen the recording field. Along with that, the microphones are rated to handle up to 125dB SPL, and the device also features peak reduction, auto level and a limiter to prevent unexpected distortion from happening.

The Tascam-07X also has an impressive battery life, promising over 17 hours of operation with a pair of AA batteries.

  • Price: ‎£110 / $149
  • Microphones: Dual unidirectional condensers in XY configuration
  • Resolution: Up to 24-bit / 96kHz
  • Inputs: 1x 1/8” TRS
  • Outputs: 1x 1/8” (line/headphone out)
  • Storage: microSD (up to 3GB) / SDHC card slot (up to 32GB) / microSDXC (up to 128GB)
  • Other features: Built-in speaker, 17.5-hour battery life, 6x reverb effects

Zoom H8

Zoom H8

Looking like something straight out of a sci-fi movie, the Zoom H8 is an impressive and flexible portable recorder with three “apps” dedicated to the workflow needs of field recording, music recording and podcasting.

It features 10 inputs and can record up to 12 tracks simultaneously at qualities up to 24-bit / 96kHz. Meanwhile, its interchangeable microphone capsules range from the included XY condensers to mid-side and shotgun options. Onboard, there are six XLR inputs, but should you need even more, there’s also an EXH-8 expander capsule that lets you add four additional ones.

There’s also an assortment of onboard processors available, including an EQ, compressor, noise gate, limiter and the option to download amplifier models and other effects via Zoom’s Guitar Lab software.

  • Price: ‎£333 / $400
  • Microphones: Interchangeable (includes XYH-6 dual condensers)
  • Resolution: Up to 24-bit / 96kHz
  • Inputs: 4x XLR, 2x XLR-1/4” combo, 1x 1/8” (capsule secondary input)
  • Outputs: 2x 1/8” (line/headphone out)
  • Storage: SD / SDHC / SDXC (up to 512GB)
  • Other features: Three apps (Field, Music, Podcast), built-in speaker, 20-hour battery life, compressor, limiter, high-pass filter

Roland R-07

Roland R-07

This pocket-sized recorder could be a songwriter’s best friend and has the edge over some of its competitors by offering onboard Bluetooth features that let you control it with either your phone or smartwatch.

The Roland R-07 was designed to be simple to operate and offers over 16 hours of record time from a pair of AA batteries. It’s fleshed out with some useful software features, including a limiter to prevent clipping, plus practice features that let you loop and vary the playback speed without altering its pitch.

  • Price: ‎£333 / $400
  • Microphones: Internal stereo microphone
  • Resolution: Up to 24-bit / 96kHz
  • Inputs: 1x 1/8” (microphone)
  • Outputs: 1x 1/8” (line/headphone)
  • Storage:microSD / SDHC
  • Other features: Built-in speaker, 15-hour battery life, limiter, reverb, Bluetooth connectivity

Sony PCM-D10

Sony PCM-D10

As you can probably already tell, the two-microphone handheld recorder is a popular form factor amongst these devices, so why is the Sony PCM-D10 that much more expensive than its peers? Well, under the hood, it has some extra features.

Its microphone offers three positions, including a forward-facing “zoom” configuration on top of XY and wide-stereo. It also offers a high recording resolution of 192kHz / 24-bit to boot – ideal if you want to slow down recordings for sound design purposes.

Other modern features include Bluetooth connectivity for remote activation and playback, an internal memory of 16GB and a USB-C connector for file transfers and power. The only thing missing, perhaps, is an internal speaker.

  • Price: ‎£530 / $500
  • Microphones: Dual condensers (XY, Zoom, Wide Stereo)
  • Resolution: Up to 24-bit / 192kHz
  • Inputs: 2x XLR-1/4” combo, 1x 1/8” TRS
  • Outputs: 2x 1/8” (line/headphone)
  • Storage:16GB internal, SD, SDHC, SDXC (up to 256GB)
  • Other features: 32-hour battery life (4x AA), limiter, REC Remote app, Bluetooth connectivity

Samson Go Mic

Samson Go Mic

If you’re looking for a way to vastly upgrade your laptop’s recording capabilities for little space and money, the Samson Go Mic is a solid pick. This is a proper condenser microphone packed into a tiny mountable enclosure that offers both cardioid and omni patterns and plug-and-play USB connectivity.

Does it count as a portable recorder, though? Well, with the proper adaptors, you could connect this to your phone to vastly improve its recording quality, so we’d say so. The Go Mic, being a bit older than some of the entries on this list (it released in 2009), comes at a lower price these days. It still holds up decently and could be useful for podcasters, streamers and voice actors working on the go.

  • Price: Lists at £50 / $40
  • Microphones: Condenser with cardioid and omni pickup patterns
  • Frequency response: 20Hz – 20kHz
  • Resolution: Up to 16-bit / 44.1kHz
  • Other features: Plug-and-play, USB cable, carrying pouch

Sound Devices MixPre-6 Mk II

Sound Devices MixPre-6 Mk II

The most substantial offering on this list, the Sound Devices MixPre-6 MK II is a USB interface and SD recorder packed with great specs in a portable package.

This series of devices is renowned amongst field recordists for offering high recording resolution – a maximum of 32-bit float / 192kHz – for exceptional recordings. The MixPre-6 is the mid-sized of the bunch and features four XLR-¼-inch combo inputs and the brand’s own low-noise Kashmir microphone preamps.

Aside from its applications in the studio and the field, the MixPre-6 could be ideal for those working on production shoots regularly, as it has an internal clock to sync with camera timecode. It’s also powerable via four AA batteries or through USB.

The MixPre-6M variant also has software for multitrack recording should you want to go DAWless.

  • Price: ‎£835 / $970
  • Preamps: Kashmir Preamps
  • Resolution: Up to 24-bit / 192kHz
  • Inputs: 4x XLR-1/4″ combo (mic/line), 1x 1/8″ (aux/mic)
  • Outputs: 2x 1/8″ (Stereo out/headphone)
  • Storage: SD, SDHC, SDXC (up to 512GB)
  • Other features: Bluetooth LE Control, Wingman app, adjustable limiter, camera timecode (micro HDMI)

Zoom H2n

Zoom H2n

The H2n is a little different from Zoom’s other handy recorders as its five microphones setup allows you to capture in XY, mid-side or both configurations simultaneously. Stand it upright, and you’ll be able to capture sound from a 360-degree field to four separate channels.

This one could be especially useful for bands: just set it in the centre of your rehearsal room, and you should be able to record your session with enough separation to create practice tracks by isolating each instrument on your DAW.

  • Price: ‎£125 / $170
  • Microphones: Five in-built capsules (XY, mid-side, combination, 2 or 4 channels)
  • Resolution: Up to 24-bit / 96kHz
  • Inputs: 2x 1/8”
  • Outputs: 1x 1/8” (line/headphone)
  • Storage:16GB internal, SD, SDHC (Up to 32GB)
  • Other features: Built-in speaker, 20-hour battery life (2x AA), limiter, low-cut

Rode i-XY

Rode i-XY

The Rode i-XY offers an easy way to turn your iPhone into a capable recorder. As the name implies, this is a stereo microphone that connects via Lightning and mounts to the top of your device. Make no mistake, this is a studio-quality condenser (with a price tag that reflects it too) and offers a full frequency response of 20Hz to 20kHz, a low-cut filter and recording at 24-bit / 96kHz with a companion app. It also comes with a windshield and zip case to take on the go.

  • Price: £160 / $200
  • Microphone: Stereo condensers in XY configuration
  • Frequency Response: 20Hz to 20kHz
  • Other features: Low-cut filter (72Hz), windshield and zip case, Rode Reporter app

Your Phone

Your Phone

When opportunity presents itself, the best recorder you have is the one you have with you – hint: it’s in your pocket. If the name of the game is immediacy, you’re more likely to reach for your phone before your portable recorder. Thankfully, however, most smartphones come with some reasonably dependable internal microphones.

Apple iPhones, for example, feature four MEMS (micro-electromechanical system) microphones on their circuit boards. These are, in simple terms, miniaturised condenser mics. The ones on the iPhone tend to have a relatively flat frequency response between 60Hz and 10kHz. Also, depending on the software you use, you can take advantage of software noise reduction and limiters.

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