If you have decided that you won’t be recording your church podcast directly to a computer, you will need to find another way to record. Good news, digital audio recorders keep getting better and better.
There are a ton of options in this space. What you need depends on two things:
1. The number of inputs you need.
2. How much you are willing to spend.
There are plenty of other differences between the various makes and models but, for portable podcasters, the number of inputs will be a significant factor. The bells and whistles on these devices tend to get better as the price increases. But, for the most part, when the price goes up, so does the quality of the microphone pre-amps. And those, are the most crucial part. To a trained ear, there is a difference in sound quality between the cheapest and most expensive digital recorders. However, even the cheapest ones are likely going to be good enough for most podcasts. I like to start with the best quality audio possible so, spend as much as you can afford.
All of the options listed are true “multi-track” recorders. What does that mean? It means that each of your inputs can record to a separate track. This means that you can adjust the levels, add effects, and edit each track. However, on-site multi-track recording isn’t always fool-proof. If the sources are too close together, you often end up with cross-talk. That means that someone vocals may end up bleeding through to another track. This isn’t the fault of the recorder. It is just that their voice is picking up on someone else’s mic.
Zoom H6 Six-Track Portable Recorder – For portable podcasters with multiple guests.
This is a fantastic device. Four professional XLR connections all with phantom power! For those who aren’t total audio geeks, that means you can plug in up to four condenser microphones (they are the ones that require phantom power to work) via XLR cables. It also features ultra-quiet microphone pre-amps, so no extra noise gets into your recording.
It can record up to six tracks of audio in MP3 or WAV to an SD card. It also has a built-in X/Y microphone capsule. Many podcasters won’t need this, but it sure is handy to have if you want to pick up ambient noise or have a chance to record something cool. These mics are so good that, in a pinch, and in the right space, you could record vocals. These capsules are also interchangeable, so you can switch it out for an optional shotgun mic, a “mid-side” mic, or even an attachment that allows you to connect two more XLR cables.
The only thing I don’t love about this is the price, around $400. But, it is worth every penny.
Zoom H6 Six-Track Portable Recorder $399 (Amazon.com)
Zoom H4N PRO Digital Multitrack Recorder – If two mics are all you need for your portable podcast setup.
If two microphones are the most you will ever need, you can get the magic of H6 for about half the price. You also lose access to all those interchangeable mic capsules, but you still get the X/Y mic.
Zoom H4N PRO Digital Multitrack Recorder – $219 (Amazon.com)
Marantz Professional PMD-706 96kHz 6-Channel DSLR Recorder – A budget option when you need four mics.
I want to love this option, but I don’t have enough information. I laid my hands on my first Marantz back in college when they made the industry standard cassette field recorder. But, I haven’t had a chance to do a thorough review of their digital offerings. And, online reviews for this unit are few and far between.
Going on features alone, this is a fantastic offering for under $300. Like the Zoom H6, the Marantz has four phantom-powered XLR connections.
If you need to plug in 4 microphones, this might be worth giving a try.
Marantz Professional PMD-706 $299 (Amazon.com)
TASCAM DR-40 4-Track Portable Digital Recorder – A portable podcast setup workhorse.
I have been delighted with Tascam’s digital recorder options. I have worked with a number of them and find the recording quality excellent. What I have been less satisfied with are the controls. I find the menus too hard to navigate and important options too difficult to find. But because of the quality and durability of their products, I keep buying them.
This one offers two phantom-powered XLR connections. It also offers a unique built-in microphone setup that switches from X/Y to A/B.
TASCAM DR-40 4-Track Portable Digital Recorder $199 (Amazon.com)