Recording Devices For Sessions

Recording Devices For Sessions

I’m looking to buy a decent recording device, mostly for sessions (and occasionally for practice at home). Using my cell phone has been okay, but not great.

Recently went to Long & McQuade to check out what sorts of things were available. One that stood out to me was the Zoom H2N, which seems really good, though I wondered if it might be overkill for a session. They had a more basic model as well, the Zoom H1N.

A thread here from about a decade ago (https://thesession.org/discussions/24844 ) had many people recommend the H2N for sessions. Is this still one of the better devices in the market, at this price range or lower (~$250 CAD)?

Sessions I’ve been to tended to range from 5-15 players, usually dominated by fiddlers, and in descending order of appearance: flutes, concertinas, accordions, whistles, mandolins, uilleann pipes, banjos, and, with usually at least one guitar player per session + sometimes a piano or a bodhran.

I’ve been playing high D & C whistles, and, recently purchased a low D whistle. Will eventually branch out to mandolin, bodhran, and perhaps a few other instruments.

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I’ve switched solely to phone recording, old iPhone with Voice Recorder Pro app, works great, adjustable speed playback, bookmarking, advanced audio edit, direct upload to cloud etc.

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I’ve had the Zoom H2N in the past and found that it had great recording quality for the price and was dead easy to move the files from it to my laptop. Moved on to an H6N that I got for a great price second hand, very happy with it as well.

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I’ve used a Zoom H4n with very good results. A similar model is made by Tascam, which seems to be well-regarded.

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I have the original Zoom H2 and a newer H5 used mainly for video-linked recordings. For sessions or workshops I use the smaller H2.

I’d recommend the H2n over most of the other recorders for two reasons. First, the form factor — it’s designed to be used upright instead of pointed horizontally, which means you can place it upright on a table or on the floor. At home, it fits nicely on a music stand. The second reason is that in addition to the normal front or back side stereo, it can also do a 4-channel "surround" recording using all 4 mics (front and back). This is great for placing the recorder in the middle of a circle of players and getting everything more-or-less evenly, instead of a more directional capture.

I’ve used my phone for recording a single tune, but I think a standalone recorder is better if you’re going for something like an hours-long capture of a full session or workshop. You don’t have to worry about running down the battery on your phone, and I’d place a recorder in spots I wouldn’t risk putting my phone, like on the floor in the middle of a circle of players, or some other spot far from my seated position. Very often, the best place for an audio capture isn’t where you’re sitting, and I don’t like risking my phone in a busy pub by putting it out of reach.

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Just as an aside I think it is good manners to ask the group if they are OK with you recording. Thumbs up for the Zoom H2N - great machine, excellent to use as high quality mic for home recording too.

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Thumbs up to the H2 as well. Amazing mic’ing for the price. Choices of form and sample rate. Today’s memory is so cheap you could afford to put the entirety of a Willie Week in your pocket. At leasted one commercial album was done off of one.

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I’ve got to say, I have a Zoom H4 and have made some great recordings with it, but for session situations these days I just use my phone with the Hi-Q app. The sound quality is fine for recording sessions — much better than the mini-cassette recorder I was using 20 years ago. And: I always have it with me, it starts MUCH faster than the H4 does, it’s pretty easy to tag the file on the phone if I get the chance, it doesn’t chew through batteries like the H4 does, and it automatically uploads the files when it gets a wi-fi signal.

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I have one of the earlier models of Zoom H4, and have found it great for picking up all the instruments when just playing acoustically. The downside is that it only takes no bigger than 2GB SD cards, which are getting harder to find, tho you could still get a good length of recording on one card (40-50 minutes), and I have half a dozen or so of them, so can keep re-using them. I usually upload into Garageband, do a bit of tweaking, then share to iTunes.

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Thank you for the input everyone. Much appreciated.

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Sony ICD-UX533

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I’ve also got a Zoom H4n, very reliable, excellent sound.

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Another device to consider is the Roland R-07. Small form factor and you can control it remotely over bluetooth from your mobile phone. It’s directional though, so misses out on the advantage of surround recording that the H2N provides.

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So the suggestions thus far are:
Zoom H2N, Zoom H4N, cell phone with various apps, Sony ICD-UX533, and Roland R-07.

Things to consider:
Battery life, memory, directional vs. non-directional sound capture, and cell phone accidents/theft.

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Of all the various recorders I’ve used over the past 30+ years, my H2N is tops. It’s the easiest to use and is not obtrusive in a session. Our sessions usually are around a small table and the H2N can sit on the table and it’s 4 microphones record all the instruments well.

There are higher quality recorders available for a lot more money, but none have the ease of this unit.

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I had a Roland Edirol for ages and was meaning to upgrade to the R-05 model when they discontinued it (this is always happening to me) and brought out the R-07. I didn’t want all the wireless capabilities of the R-07 so I hunted around for an R-05 and found an as-new "open-box" model from a store for a good price. I would strongly recommend it if you can find one, if not the R-07 is presumably as good. Uses 2 AA batteries that last a good long time, takes SD cards up to 32GB at least, has lots of features including a configurable slowdown button for learning tunes, top-notch recording quality (WAV or mp3 or both at the same time), and is easy to use. I find it less obtrusive than an H2N (and other models from Zoom and other makers that have mikes sticking out at all angles) and (from the little I have seen of the H2N) it has a less confusing command interface. It’s a bit slow to boot with a 32GB card in it, but it has a prerecord feature which, if I understand things correctly, catches the 2 seconds of a tune before you pressed the record button (!)

Sure it might be overkill for sessions and you could use a lower-end voice recorder which would be considerably smaller and cheaper. OTOH you might be glad of the quality if you keep recordings for future listening (concerts, for example) rather than just for learning tunes heard at a session.

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I use a Tascam DR-05, it’s great for recording band rehearsals and can connect direct through usb socket for editing files. It can record mp3,wav and other files as required.

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I have one of those zoom things. It works fine. You don’t even have to really get that into it to get decent recordings for learning. But the voice memo on my phone is easier to use, so I use that.

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I have had a Zoom H2 since Feb 2008 and used it so many times. Every practice. I sometimes record as mp3 and sometimes as WAV sometimes with two mics and sometimes four.

This is not trad music but recorded last night in a village hall by just plonking it down and turning it on. The mp3 are only 128 so this is very poor quality - I can get much better sound from it. But not too bad - sorry the content is not session music but all I have to hand since I had a computer failure recently. It is a very easy thing and probably one of the best £140 something I ever spent. When it breaks I will buy another. But it hasn’t yet. The screen is quite small but once you get the hang of it I just pop it on the floor and press the button.

https://www.dropbox.com/sh/s70929sawgifkx9/AAAFRr57ggW_J4aOrTegUN1qa?dl=0

Again wrong sort of music - this was a little practice thing. Record to Zoom H2 listen back and play a second part and mix it in Reaper. It’s a handy beast and the sound is not bad at all to my ears (ignore the playing - it was practice AND off genre) https://www.dropbox.com/s/ymgrvf4y4u8s8o5/bernies_tune.mp3?dl=0

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Thanks for the additional input. The Roland and Zoom were most appealing, decided on the latter.