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Offline deejayen

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Recorder choice
« on: February 22, 2024, 12:16:15 PM »
I'm looking at buying a recorder to record myself singing and playing guitar.  I'd be using a good quality mic (either a dynamic, condenser or ribbon). 

I have the opportunity to buy either a Marantz PMD-661 (Mk1) or a Fostex FR2-LE. 

Both recorders are unmodified, and because I'm in the UK it's unlikely I'd be able to have one of the common mods installed.

Anyway, it would be helpful to know if one of these recorders is a clear winner over the other!

Offline Fatah Ruark (aka MIKE B)

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Re: Recorder choice
« Reply #1 on: February 22, 2024, 03:51:43 PM »
Both of those are fine recorders. I don't think you'll notice much of a difference in sound quality.

I did previously own the Fostex and it was a great little recorder.

Can't say much about the Marantz, but it was a popular recorder among concert tapers. I still see people using them occasionally.
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Offline Gutbucket

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Re: Recorder choice
« Reply #2 on: February 22, 2024, 03:57:04 PM »
Both are capable of doing the job you describe. 

Backing up a bit, first consider your use case. The decision of what recorder to use should start with how you intend to use it.  Neither of those recorders, nor most others used by concert tapers feature over-dubbing capability.  You will be able to record yourself playing and singing along, but that's pretty much it.  If you want to record those two parts separately, add additional parts, double-track things or whatever in combination with what you previously recorded, these recorders are not what you want.  Instead, seek out a multi-tracker machine that capable of over-dubbing.  They come in all sizes from smaller to larger than those two recorders.

The two recorders you mention are/were good 'prosumer' quality early-generation digital flash-memory stereo recorders featuring balanced XLR inputs.  Yet they are also rather dated at this point.  Generally, the cost-benefit ratio for digital recorders has improved dramatically since and unless you've found a particularly attractive deal on them, it may make more sense to look at something newer.

Some important practical aspects are things like what memory the recorder uses. FR2-LE uses Compact Flash as I recall, which is no longer used in new devices, so may be harder and more costly to source (or not, I've not looked).  PMD-661 uses SD cards (SDHC I think?), so easier to source, just wont be able to use larger capacity SD cards than it is capable of handling.  You can typically always use a smaller capacity card.

Pretty sure both supply 48V phantom power, which is generally required to power a condenser mic.  To use a condenser mic into a recorder that does not provide phantom power, you will need something else to supply that, such as a phantom power supply or external preamp that provides phantom, and additional patch cables to connect everything up.  It gets complicated.  Often best to keep it simple and easier to setup and manage with just microphones and recorder.

Dynamic mics, including ribbons, do not use phantom power (some ribbons will be damaged by it), but tend to be less sensitive than condenser mics, meaning they will require more gain to achieve the same recording level. In that case, some lesser quality preamps such as some of what are built in to recorders can get noisy when cranked up to compensate.  Not sure about the internal preamps of those two recorders as I've not used them myself, but most inexpensive modern recorders and multi-trackers will tend to have cleaner preamps and lower noise-floors than recorders produced 15 or more years ago.
« Last Edit: February 23, 2024, 12:51:41 PM by Gutbucket »
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Better recording made easy - >>Improved PAS table<< | Made excellent- >>click here to download the Oddball Microphone Technique illustrated PDF booklet<< (note: This is a 1st draft, now several years old and in need of revision!  Stay tuned)

Offline deejayen

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Re: Recorder choice
« Reply #3 on: February 22, 2024, 04:36:13 PM »
Thanks very much!  That's very helpful and gives me a lot to consider...

I've been mulling over some options for a wee while, but it's hard to decide which way to go!

I do have a home PC with a quality interface and DAW software, but that's located in my small home office, and I would like to be able to record in different rooms or maybe in a different location.

Since buying an acoustic guitar last year I've been doing a bit of singing, and would really only be looking to record simply with a single mic (without overdubs).  I'd import the recording into my DAW to add any EQ or reverb etc.  However, I'd like the recordings to be as good a quality as possible.  I presume you have to go for something like a Nagra 7 for the equivalent quality in a field recorder, and I'm not ready to splurge that much!

I just quite like the idea of being able to set levels, hit the record button and then play.  I've considerd a laptop with an audio interface, and I may end up going that route, but it gets more involved, and there's a bit more to do to (with a mouse and keyboard) to get things rolling.

I haven't made any enquiries, but I've seen a Marantz and Fostex advertised for around £200 and £300 respectively - both apparently un-used.  However, as you say they're both ancient models now (from around 2006 or so).  I think both might need some sort of inline level booster such as a FetHead or CloudLifter when used wth dynamic or ribbon mics.  Both recorders have phantom power (on or off on both inputs).

I had use of a Zoom H4n (not the Pro) but thought it was quite noisy, and it needed a bit of menu-hopping to configure it.

I've thought about a Sound Devices MixPre-3 or 6, possibly with the Musician plug-in, but am not sure about them for some reason.  Also, I'm still thinking that the immediacy of recording with a two-track or mono recorder might suit me.

I've also considered an old Sound Devices 744T, but they're more money, old, and expensive to service, plus the Firewire interface isn't a good option nowadays, and the internal hard drive spec and Compact Flash are also dated.

I've also considered a few options from the Centrance MixerFace R4R to the Zoom R12 touchscreen multi track recorder!






Offline Gutbucket

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Re: Recorder choice
« Reply #4 on: February 22, 2024, 05:30:23 PM »
Sounds like you have it figured out.

The quality of recordings made using the current Sound Devices MixPre and Zoom F series recorders are very, very good (the F-series Zooms are much better than the H-series).  They both feature clean preamps low noise-floors and lots of gain, and can act as USB computer interfaces as well if you want to use them that way.  The sound quality difference between them and high end recorders such as Nagra will be very difficult for many folks to discern.  The more significant difference will be things like feature sets, build-quality, customer service.

Note that all of these machines will have "clean" style preamps.  If you want some euphonic color, get that via microphone choice and/or with processing after transferring the recording to the DAW.

The Musician plugin for the SoundDevices MixPre series recorders seems intended to sort of bridge the gap between these recorders and overdub multitrack machines, but I don't really know much about it.

I would recommend checking out the Zoom F3.  It's not much more than the price you mention at least here in the US (a quick search brings up listings for used at ~$280, new ~$350 USD).  It's small, simple, and features the same very good preamps as the rest of the F-series recorders.  Like the current SD MixPre's it features 32bit-float recording which may be attractive for you in that it eliminates the need to set gains - just plug in the mic, turn it on and roll.  Might be the right answer.  Can also record in traditional 16 and 24bit modes. It is one of the most popular models currently here at TS for concert tapers who need only a simple recorder with two channels.   
musical volition > vibrations > voltages > numeric values > voltages > vibrations> virtual teleportation time-machine experience
Better recording made easy - >>Improved PAS table<< | Made excellent- >>click here to download the Oddball Microphone Technique illustrated PDF booklet<< (note: This is a 1st draft, now several years old and in need of revision!  Stay tuned)

Offline deejayen

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Re: Recorder choice
« Reply #5 on: February 23, 2024, 08:25:18 AM »
Thanks again, Gutbucket.

Yes, the F3 looks quite interesting.  I'll have a read through the manual to see what it can do and if it would be slightly fiddly to operate.  I seem to remember that the F3 can only record in 32-bit float.  I think 24-bit might be a better option for me as I'll set my levels before recording and will have control of them, and the DAW might be happier with 24-bit.

I discovered the other day that the MixPre series can't record in 32-bit float when the Musician plug-in is active.


Offline goodcooker

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Re: Recorder choice
« Reply #6 on: February 23, 2024, 09:17:01 AM »

I do a fair amount of what you describe and if I were required to record in a different room than the room in which my interface and DAW were located I'd probably use a dedicated mic preamplifier (I already have several so this would be easier for me I guess) and a small recorder OR just bite the bullet and save a little more for a Sound Devices Mixpre3.

The Mixpre preamps sound good and with the musician plugin it does more of what you want it for.

Also consider the Tascam DR100 ( I have an MKii modified by the Oade brothers for concert recording but for what you want it for the off the shelf preamp would likely be fine). I listened to a live album that was recorded only with one of these off the shelf no modifications. It's a nice deck and can be had for pretty cheap nowadays.
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Offline deejayen

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Re: Recorder choice
« Reply #7 on: February 23, 2024, 09:44:12 AM »
Thanks very much.

From what I've read in the manual, the F3 can only record in 32-bit float, but it can operate as an audio interface at 24-bit.  I would probably only use it as a standalone recorder, and perhaps 32-bit float isn't an issue, and may even be an advantage in some scenarios.

I have a separate mic pre, but it's mains powered.  If I got into the portable recorder thing then I could buy a battery powered preamp - maybe something like a Millennia HV-35P or HV-32P which have a ribbon mic compatible gain boost.

I'm still dithering between the Marantz and the Fostex.  The Sound Devices is definitely another option, but more expensive.  The DR100 is also an option, but I haven't come across one currently for sale, plus I have a feeling I might prefer the user interfaces of the other two recorders.

The Marantz is obvously a bit smaller than and half the weight of the Fostex (I'm neither here nor there on that) and has an optical input which I may never use, plus a tripod socket which could be handy, although I'd probably just sit the recorder on the floor or on a stand.  The Fostex has mic trim controls, although a bit less preamp gain.  It's larger, but perhaps no more substantial.  The Fostex also requires the CF card to be formatted for a set bit depth and sample rate.  I'm not sure if there's much difference in metering and ease-of-use (ie buttons and menu operation).


Offline goodcooker

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Re: Recorder choice
« Reply #8 on: February 23, 2024, 11:23:50 AM »

Where are you located?
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Oade Warm Mod and Presence+ Mod UA5s || Aerco MP2(needs help) || Neve Portico 5012 || Apogee MMP
SD Mixpre6 || Oade Concert Mod DR100mkii

pocket sized - CA11 cards > SP SB10 > Sony PCM A10

http://www.archive.org/bookmarks/goodcooker

"Are you the Zman?" - fan at Panic 10-08-10 Kansas City
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Offline deejayen

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Re: Recorder choice
« Reply #9 on: February 23, 2024, 12:05:34 PM »
I'm in the UK.

Offline mjwin

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Re: Recorder choice
« Reply #10 on: February 23, 2024, 03:39:05 PM »
I just wanted to chime in here briefly.  I can't speak personally of the Marantz, but  I bought an FR2LE in 2007 to use for nature recording (my main activity). It was a fantastic, reliable recorder with the lowest noise mic preamps of pretty much anything, before or since (EIN=-129dBu).  It cost me around £350 new.  But that was nearly 20 years ago. There's no way that I would pay more than £50 for one now. Honestly. It's a museum piece.

Although the FR2LE makes great recordings, the operational ergonomics are terrible.  There is NO accurate level control as both the main faders and the trims are simple analog pots, with the trims being particularly difficult to align. So it's almost impossible to set predictable levels in advance with any accuracy. Also, most of the other functions are achieved by what I can only call a "1980s keypad" on the top of the unit, some requiring a shift-button press, too.   I should also add that the monitor /playback output distorts at high level. This doesn't affect the recording quality at all, but it doesn't inspire confidence when monitoring, and is a no-go if you want to use the unit for playback.

My FR2LE was replaced back in 2016 with a Tascam DR100 Mk3. This is a much better recorder all round, though not so good for "over the sholder" use.  Now discontinued, its major issue is that it has an internal rechargeable battery for which its hard to find a replacement.

I understand that you don't need fancy features such as overdubbing, as you use a DAW for that,  Since you're a musician, when you're performing you probably want to concentrate 100% on your art, and not be messing with or worrying about level settings.  I would concur with Gutbucket above in that a modern recorder such as a Zoom F3 would seem ideal. It's tiny, rugged and you simply don't even need to think about levels, just hit record. A quick search shows these are available here in the UK for around £270 new. A no-brainer?

Offline deejayen

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Re: Recorder choice
« Reply #11 on: February 23, 2024, 04:16:13 PM »
That's really helpful, mjwin, thanks!

I've just been chatting with my brother and we came to a similar conclusion. 

I'd also been thinking about buying a small interface to use with a laptop, but after thinking it through again that method has a lot of disadvantages for the style of recording I'm planning. 

We discussed the FR2-LE and 661.  Although both units I'm considering are 'new', as you say, they're both ancient.  I read through the Fostex manual, and the button functions with the shift key do look like they'd be a pain.  I had wondered about gain matching both channels if I ever wanted to use a stereo mic.  I've also just read that the headphone amp is particularly bad.  You've definitely steered me away from it!

My brother was saying that a newer unit makes more sense to him, and I can see that's true.  Even the older Sound Devices recorders (eg 7xx series) are 'prehistoric' with their Firewire interfaces and ATA HDD's etc.  He suggested a MixPre - maybe the first version if I wanted a used one, but they're not without drawbacks.

The F3 seems to be rising to the top...

Offline Gutbucket

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Re: Recorder choice
« Reply #12 on: February 23, 2024, 04:38:01 PM »
Since you're a musician, when you're performing you probably want to concentrate 100% on your art

This is a strong argument for keeping the recording operation as simple and easy to use as possible.  Some people are better at doing both things at the same time than others, but its difficult for most to wear two hats at the same time.  It is for me.  Its not operating the recording gear that suffers but getting that last bit of just right out of my own performance that I'm attempting to capture. I'm usually able to get much closer to the performance I envision if I'm not thinking about the recording gear.
musical volition > vibrations > voltages > numeric values > voltages > vibrations> virtual teleportation time-machine experience
Better recording made easy - >>Improved PAS table<< | Made excellent- >>click here to download the Oddball Microphone Technique illustrated PDF booklet<< (note: This is a 1st draft, now several years old and in need of revision!  Stay tuned)

Offline deejayen

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Re: Recorder choice
« Reply #13 on: February 23, 2024, 04:51:19 PM »
Yes, that's the main reason I'm looking for a field recorder type of experience.  With a laptop I'd have to set it up (after carrying it home!) put it on a stand, connect the audio interface and fire it all up.  When recording I'd have to do things like create a project, add tracks, route inputs and maybe name things using the keyboard, all while stretching over while holding my guitar.  The DAW crams a lot onto the screen, and my eyes aren't great, so I'd probably need to put on glasses!  Then there's the potential fan noise.

Obviously, the F3 would still need a bit of setting up, but it seems that once it's connected and powered up you just slide the record button and let the 'tape roll' while concentrating on making music. 

Offline heva

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Re: Recorder choice
« Reply #14 on: February 24, 2024, 08:28:55 AM »
I have an fr2le from 2007, used it a lot - very quiet micpres, very reliable (never missed a single bit); ergonomics are no issue to me, got used to how it works, with tamiya battery runs forever
Also have a dr100mkiii, smaller, micpres good with very accurate control (0.5dB steps), higher samplerates, internal battery very practical

Both (still) very useful imho
« Last Edit: February 24, 2024, 11:18:09 AM by heva »

 

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