This year, I fully implemented two digital mixers into my setups: the Mackie DL806 for my ceremony rig and the Behringer X Air XR12 for my reception rig. And while these digital mixers will record internally on either my iPad or via a USB drive, I still carry along a portable recorder in my gig bag. And you should, too; I believe it is an essential item that every mobile DJ should have on hand.
This past Saturday, I was running sound for a Hindu ceremony and for reasons unknown to me, the bartender – who was late to set up his station and did so during the ceremony; how rude! – accidentally pulled the plug on my extension cable and I temporarily lost power to my ceremony rig. I was pissed! Not only did this cause the background music and all microphones to cut out, but it also stopped the internal recording on my Mackie DL806 mixer. Fortunately, I setup my portable recorder as a backup source by the stage, and since it runs on batteries and has a mic built-in, it covered for me just fine.
Maybe you’re still running an analog board and don’t have the ability to internally record; or perhaps you are in the hallways at Mobile Beat and you run into Redfoo and need something to record a custom drop with; or maybe you show up for your set at the club that evening and want to record it; or perhaps you need something that is quick and easy to setup while out and about – such as recording a message from the Father of the Bride’s to his daughter for playback during the Father/Bride dance. There’s plenty of reasons why it’s nice to have a portable recorder on hand; so with that said, here’s three great portable recording options that I would recommend for any mobile DJ:
Budget Friendly – Tascam DR-22WL | Link: Amazon.com
At $99, this is a great recorder – if you feel you don’t need anything too fancy. I’ve owned a prior generation model – the DR-05 – and it did a great job. Fortunately, with this updated model, Tascam has made some significant improvements. The preset scene dial makes configuring the DR-22WL for different applications a breeze, and the input dial on the bottom makes adjusting the input levels on the fly easier than ever before. And I love the Wi-Fi capabilities: not only can you transfer the files to your computer wirelessly, but you can also control the Tascam anywhere in the vicinity via the Android or iPhone app.
The only cons I have with the Tascam DR-22WL is that the stereo condenser microphone is built-in – therefore, NOT interchangeable – and one is limited to recording either via the line-in OR built-in microphone. So, unfortunately, no ability to record on both options simultaneously. Also, it doesn’t come with a travel case – but that’s nitpicking. If your recordings needs are simple, this portable recorder will do just fine.
Best Bang for Your Buck – ZOOM H4N PRO | Link: Amazon.com
While it doesn’t have the Wi-Fi features that the Tascam has, there’s a reason the Zoom H4N is the best selling portable recorder at $199. In addition to the built-in stereo condenser microphone – which to my ears, and in my opinion, is vastly superior to the Tascam recorder – the Zoom H4n also allows for two XLR or 1/4″ inputs. If you are looking to record multiple sources as once – for example, a two-person podcast-style interview – the ZOOM H4N is a great pick.
Built for the road, it’s rugged and a carrying case is included. The only cons I’ve found with the H4N was the inability to change the microphone capsule, as well as the rather short battery life – only about 5-8 hours of use before I had to insert new batteries.
Tony’s Preferred Option – ZOOM H6 | Link: Amazon.com
This is the portable recorder I carry with me to my events, and is the GOLD STANDARD portable recorder of choice by many broadcast, sound, and video professionals. The recording quality is unrivaled, and the ability to change out the microphone capsule – it comes with two different options by default – to the capsule that best suits one’s application is MONEY. At $399, it is an expensive option – and additional capsules will set you back even more – but the H6 makes the H4N obsolete, in my opinion. The ability to have total recording control over EVERYTHING is awesome, the built-in features and options are plentiful, and the H6 allows for flawless multi-tracking: up to six channels can be recorded simultaneously. For simple recording applications, that’s overkill, but for the number of different applications I use it for, it’s perfect.
Setup out of the box is a breeze, and the learning curve is minimal. The battery life for me has been anywhere from 15-20 hours and the 128 gb storage space is plentiful. With multiple events per weekend, it allows me to essentially “set it and forget it”; that’s one less thing to worry about while performing.
Now, if you have the available rack space, here are two rack-mountable recorders that I’ve used and would happily recommend to any mobile DJ:
Budget-Friendly Rack-Mount Option – Gemini DRP-1 | Link: Amazon.com
Now, I know that the word “quality” isn’t typically associated with Gemini, but hear me out: I’ve owned two of these and never regretted buying them for a second. One was installed in my recording studio in my office, and it produced day in and day out. Many of my old mixes were recorded with it, as well as mixes I did for radio broadcast. I’ve since sold it off, and you’ll know why in a second. The second DRP-1 I owned was installed in my ceremony rig, and until my recent transition to the Mackie DL806, recorded over 200 ceremonies flawlessly for me. It’s now in a production rack for my A/V rental company. It doesn’t have a ton of bells and whistles, but at $135, the DRP-1 is simple to setup and is a great option for those with simple needs.
Tony’s Preferred Rack-Mount Option – TASCAM SD-20M | Link: Amazon.com
The SD-20M has all the bells and whistles and is the recorder I feature in my recording studio. Replacing my Gemini DRP-1, it produces a crisper, cleaner recording file for me to do some post-production magic with. I recorded my last mix for radio broadcast on the SD-20M and even the program director commented on how clean the master file sounded.
If you need a rack mountable recorder, this is my pick. Make it yours, as well.
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