Portable Audio Recorders

Updated 12 November 2023

Black Tartan - Jason, Aileen and Hilary
Black Tartan - Jason, Aileen and Hilary


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A long time ago, around 1963, my uncle gave me an old 5.25 inch 2 track tape recorder. I learnt a lot about tape recording and getting good sound reproduction.

I worked at the English Language Institute at Victoria University of Wellington from 1964 to 1968. This was a part-time position to support my university studies. I used tape recorders to record English lessons for the language laboratory. I learnt to record clear speech.

At home, I recorded many English language samples from various radio broadcasts, for use in class as listening exercises. I also prepared music tapes and recorded a few live student concerts.

I recorded the Apollo 8 1968 Christmas trip around the Moon from BBC, VOA and local RNZ broadcasts. Like many people of my generation, lots of recordings were made from radio programs.

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Zoom F2 Field Recorder

Recently I have updated my recording setup. Instead of a 30.5 kg Akai GX-400D PRO Stereo Tape Recorder and a 3.73 kg Uher 4400 Report - Stereo Tape Recorder I now use a 32 Bit Zoom F2 Field Recorder weighing just 56 grams. It records in mono, which suits me as I have lost hearing in my right ear due to a neuroma. With a single microphone there is also little point recording in stereo. An omnidirectional Zoom LMF-2 Lavalier Microphone is provided with the F2.

Currently I use the F2 mainly for live music recording, working with a local band called Black Tartan. At this stage I am still settling on an ideal microphone setup which is unobtrusive, on the stage and near the band. To do a recording I simply turn the Zoom F2 on and press the record button after a short delay. No volume level adjustments are needed. The recordings are an archive rather than a professionally recorded production. They are, however, very nice to listen to.

Zoom F2 Recorder
Zoom F2 Recorder

Rode VideoMicro Microphone

I have tried a few inexpensive microphones. They all have defects. One of the best microphones I have found, so far, is the Rode VideoMicro Microphone.

For music, using the program Audacity, I created a filter curve identical to the published Rode VideoMicro frequency response. Inverting the curve produced a nearly flat frequency response from the microphone. Adjust to taste.

Filter Curve
Filter Curve

Rycote Lyre Suspension Mount

The Rode VideoMicro Microphone comes with a Rycote Lyre Suspension Mount. This mount is quite wobbly, but only because it is not set properly by many users. This is a typical 2-legged stool problem. The third leg is provided by securing the 2.5 mm diameter microphone cable in the notched ring below. The Internet has many reviews showing the incorrect use of this microphone mount.

At the end of this Video from Rode The correct way to clamp the microphone cable is demonstrated. Note that any physical disturbance of the microphone cable is also isolated.

With a 3 mm diameter cable or larger, use a cable-tie to attach a short length of 2.5 mm diameter cable about 60 mm from the microphone plug - photo (1) at right. Once the 2.5 mm diameter cable part is clamped in the notched ring, the microphone is acoustically isolated and mechanically stable. Photo (2) at right shows the microphone and the Zoom F2 recorder mounted on a pocket tripod.

2.5 mm Diameter Microphone Cable Clamping
2.5 mm Diameter Microphone Cable Clamping

Rode VideoMicro II and a Simplified Tripod Mount

Recently I purchased a Rode VideoMicro II microphone which has the more compact Rode Helix mount. The complete microphone assembly fits in my jacket pocket. Microphone tilting can be done by bending the tripod legs.

My pocket tripod is more than 40 years old. Fuji makes something similar for their Fuji Instax cameras.

There is a tab, like a wide pen-clip, for securing the tripod in a pocket. This tab, with the aid of some small O-rings, can hold the Zoom F2 recorder securely in place.

The Rode VideoMicro II microphone base now has additional slots in the top. The supplied TRS cable is conveniently flat and it can be placed in these slots to absorb any excess length.

I do not apply any sound-level versus frequency corrections, apart from some attenuation below 200Hz. The microphone is not pointed at any musician. The off-axis response is slightly lower for the higher frequencies so the bass may need to be reduced to compensate. The higher frequencies sound very good. The need for any compensation depends on the microphone position. For the last recording session no compensation was required.

The maximum sound pressure level (SPL) before distortion is 110 dB for the Videomicro II and 140 dB for the VideoMicro. Along with a slightly reduced bass response the Videomicro should perform better under windy conditions. Otherwise, the VideoMicro II is an improvement in most other respects. Both microphones are worth keeping for a wide range of uses.

Tripod Mounted Zoom F2 Recorder and Rode VideoMicro II Microphone
Tripod Mounted Zoom F2 Recorder and Rode VideoMicro II Microphone

Rode VideoMicro II - Compact Mount

The photo below shows a compact setup. Everything was mounted on a plastic plate. Two tap-washer spacers supported the microphone at the correct height. A 3/4 inch long, 1/4 inch diameter, 20 tpi Whitworth-bolt locked everything in place. Part of a hollow rubber door-stop was glued to the base of the plate. This pointed the microphone slightly upwards. An access hole for the screw was drilled into the door-stop.

Zoom F2 Recorder and Rode VideoMicro II Microphone - Compact Setup
Zoom F2 Recorder and Rode VideoMicro II Microphone - Compact Setup

Rode AI-Micro Compact Audio Interface

The Rode AI-Micro Compact Audio Interface allows a phone or a computer to be used to record sound from one or two microphones. Connectors for all output-to-device options are provided. Microphones can have either TRS or TRRS 3.5 mm phono connectors. There is also a 3.5 mm headphone socket for directly monitoring audio at a convenient volume. The interface can be controlled by software such as Rode Reporter.

I mounted a Rode VideoMicro Microphone on a small tripod. The tripod is placed on a large plastic lid with washers to locate the legs. There is a metal disk under the lid for reinforcement. The tripod is secured to the base with some elastic cord. A foam-plastic base underneath provides acoustic isolation from the floor.

Photo (3), at right, shows the complete assembly. In the background my iPhone is running the two-channel Rode Reporter application. Photo (4) shpws a stereo version.

Rode AI-Micro Compact Audio Interface
Rode AI-Micro Compact Audio Interface

Zoom H1N Field Recorder

I purchased the Zoom H1N Field Recorder at a greatly reduced price. I assume a new model may replace it soon. This recorder is an update to the Zoom H1 Field Recorder. I like the H1N as it is easy to use and it records quality stereo sound. It can also be used as a USB audio interface.

As a self-contained recorder the Zoom H1N can be mounted on a tripod - photo (5), at right.

Zoom H1N Field Recorder
Zoom H1N Field Recorder

If two microphones need to be connected, a splitter cable is required. The two microphones can then be connected as a stereo pair. Two Rode VideoMicro Microphones work well. I also obtained these microphones at a greatly reduced price.

A Rode SC1, TRS - 3.5 mm plug, Splitter Cable is shown below. Two microphone plugs connect to a recorder plug. The black microphone cable plug-tip is connected to the recorder plug-tip. The red microphone cable plug-tip is connected to the recorder plug-ring. An extension will be required on one arm if a wide microphone separation is required.

Rode SC1, TRS - 3.5 mm Plug, Splitter Cable
Rode SC1, TRS - 3.5 mm Plug, Splitter Cable

Sony ICD-PX470 4GB Digital Voice Recorder

I do not own the Sony ICD-PX470 4GB Digital Voice Recorder with built-in USB Notetaker but it seems to be a very useful and practical device. It is also the least expensive recorder discussed here. There are many convenient features, including variable digital playback speeds with a range from 0.25 to 3 times. The recorder can also be used as a music player using the built-in 4GB storage. There is also a slot which can take a micro SD card up to 32GB capacity, giving a total storage capacity of 36GB.


Four options for good audio recording are presented here. Any one of them would be suitable for personal recording purposes. They are not expensive when compared with my old tape recorders.

The Zoom F2 Field Recorder is my current favourite for audio recording. Its simplicity means that, almost always, a good recording is obtained. A good microphone makes that a certainty.

Lastly, I have described some practical ways of improving low-cost sound recording equipment. I would like to thank Aileen, Hilary and Jason of Black Tartan for allowing me to record their music.



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Clamping a 3 mm Diameter Microphone Cable (1) Clamping a 3 mm Diameter Microphone Cable

Covered Rode VideoMicro Microphone Connected to a Zoom F2 (2) Covered Rode VideoMicro Microphone Connected to a Zoom F2

Rode AI-Micro Recording Setup (3) Rode AI-Micro Recording Setup

Stereo Microphones and a Rode AI Micro (4) Stereo Microphones and a Rode AI Micro

Zoom H1N Field Recorder on a Tripod (5) Zoom H1N Field Recorder on a Tripod