Raise your hand if you know what the picture above is of? Do you know that these little plastic rectangles were used to record shows, in homes, and on radios, all over the world? How far we have come, my friends. Today we’re going to be covering using handheld recorders for podcasting. Today’s handheld digital recorders are capable of recording multi-track studio quality podcasts with the push of a button.
They can also easily fit inside a small backpack or laptop bag, some can even fit in your pocket! The average weight of a handheld recorder is less than a pound. This flexibility gives the podcaster the opportunity to capture an impromptu moment with little effort. With a handheld digital recorder, you can easily have a mobile studio wherever and whenever.
Digital Storage for Your Recorder
The majority of handheld digital recorders have internal storage, and you can add to that storage space by purchasing SD cards and micro SD Cards. SanDisk makes some of the best SD cards on the market and many media professionals routinely use these SD cards. Check out the links above.
These little cards come in a variety of storage sizes, holding data in gigabytes. Fortunately, podcast audio file sizes are relatively small so you don’t have to buy an SD card with massive amounts of storage. It depends on how many tracks you’re recording at once, but for podcasting, if you buy a 16GB SD card you should be able to record 6-8 hours of podcasts before having to unload the card.
Handhelds these days also allow you to transfer your digital recordings to your computer. You’ll need to do this to edit your podcast. By taking your SD card out, you can offload it to a computer drive. You can typically also transfer data to the computer via USB. Helpful hint, never wipe your SD card until you have saved it on your computer.
Handheld digital recorders also give you options for formatting. You can record in WAV (Waveform Audio File Format) or in an MP3 (MPEG Audio Layer III) format. The difference between the two involves uncompressed audio vs compressed audio. The initial difference in the two being the size of the digital recording. To put it down and dirty, consider uncompressed like a club sandwich, tall and fluffy with spaces between each layer, compressed is the same club sandwich but smooshed down so no “fluffiness” remains between the layers.
The standard audio format for podcasts is MP3, but if possible you’ll want to record WAV files, so you get the highest audio fidelity possible, then compress it down to MP3 when you’re ready to publish episodes. You’ll achieve better sounding audio this way. If you record via MP3 format and compress the audio on the way in, then compress it again when finalizing your final mixes, you’ll lose some of the frequency range of the audio because you double compressed it.
Added Benefits to Digital Handheld Recorders
A lot of today’s digital recorders come with XLR inputs allowing you to connect microphones. Below are two really popular handheld recorders for podcasting. We’ve used both of these at The Podcast Haven.
The Zoom H6
The Zoom H6 is an iconic piece of podcasting gear. Originally it was designed as a low budget recorder for TV and Film and later became really popular amongst podcasters. The Zoom H6 is best used for in-person podcasting. It’s compact and lightweight. You can toss this recorder in a backpack along with a couple of microphones and you’ve got yourself a great kit. While the beauty of the H6 is that you don’t need a computer to record a podcast with it, it does also double as an audio interface.
- Four mic/line inputs with XLR/TRS combo connectors.
- Records Wav and MP3.
- Phantom power for all main inputs: +12/+24/+48V.
- Records directly to SD, SDHC and SDXC cards up to 128GB.
- Up to 24-bit /96kHz audio in BWF-compliant WAV or a variety of MP3 formats.
- Multichannel and stereo USB audio interface for PC/Mac/iPad.
The Zoom H4n is the younger cousin of the Zoom H6. It has two XLR inputs, rather than four, thus it’s slightly cheaper than the H6. It also comes with a similar L/R stereo mic as ZoomH6, but it’s not detachable. If you plan on recording podcasts with the L/R mic, just make sure you’re equally centered on the microphone or you’ll start to hear more of your voice in one side of the headphones or speakers. This can be distracting to your listeners. You can sum to mono in post-production, but you’re probably not that advanced, YET.
Powering Your Handheld Recorder
Most, if not all handheld recorders can run on batteries. Battery life in a handheld recorder will depend on a few factors. Your recorder may require AA or AAA batteries or have an internal battery that will need to be charged periodically. If this is the case with the one you have chosen, like your cell phone, you are going to want to make sure the battery does not go under 10% and that you keep it out of extreme heat and cold. These factors will end your internal storage quickly. When using external batteries buy the brands you trust, never go the cheap route, and always have backups.
Types of Podcasts Best Suited for Handheld Recorders
As we move forward building this second pillar for our podcasting foundation, you will see that not all types of recording methods are suitable for all types of podcast formats. Kind of like not all ice cream toppings are good on all types of ice cream. Who wants a scoop of orange creamsicle with a heaping glob of carmel sauce and mint chips? Gag. Handheld recorders are best suited for those podcasters recording solo casts or are recording with multiple people in the same room.
It’s easy to connect microphones, or you can speak into the built-in stereo mic that these recorders come with. If you’re going to speak directly into the stereo mic capsule make sure you’re centered on the mic so that the mic picks up your voice evenly, to the left and right. These little recorders are great if you are using a recording space, like your car, your closet, or someplace in your home. In saying that, they are perfect if you travel a lot and record in different places, unlike some others we will discuss in later posts.
Lastly, handheld recorders are great for those podcasters who are intimidated by recording via computer software. You can usually set up and begin using a handheld digital recorder with little effort by reading the enclosed manual. You can find out other options in The Four Pillars of Podcasting. The e-book available on Amazon, or stick around and read about them here. Heck, why not do both? Seems like a good idea. Now how about lunch? Mmm turkey club and ice-cream.