7 Best Field Recorders for Sampling and Foley under $500

Are you trying to record audio and your smartphone just isn’t cutting it anymore? When it comes to capturing accurate audio for interviews, sound effects for foley, or recording a sample to use later when making beats, there are more than a few options to be found for not a lot of cash. 

This is why I created a buyers guide to help you find the best field recorders for sampling.

Before we get into the specifics of each recorder, let’s go over a few things that you should know:

X/Y vs A/B mic placement

 X/Y Mic placement is the most common method that an audio engineer may use to get a strong stereo signal from a close source. This is accomplished by placing two microphones at a 90° angle to each other. A/B Mic placement is when you use two microphones facing the same direction to capture a wider area of sound. This creates a stereo field that is more pronounced than the X/Y array.

Max Resolution

Most field recorders have multiple settings to choose from when recording audio. The lower the resolution, the smaller the file size will be – but we are interested in our audio sounding great! For this reason, I have only listed the MAX resolution that each recorder is capable of.

Wind Screens

I have not gone into much detail with the individual field recorders about how they handle wind because most of them handle it the exact same way – they don’t. With almost any field recorder that you are going to use, you’ll want to also invest in a small wind screen or some type of wind filter. Especially if you plan to be outside sampling all the interesting sounds nature has to offer.

So, let’s get into it, shall we? 


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Here are the 7 Best Field Recorders for Sampling and Foley under $500

Zoom H4n Pro

My own personal choice and a tool I’ve been using for over 2 years for sound design purposes. The Zoom H4n Pro is a great little device for a wide range of recording situations. Thanks to its ultra-low noise floor it can be used in relatively quiet places like recording yourself playing guitar, but because it can also handle a thunderous 140dB SPL before clipping, it can also be used to record an entire band and crowd at a live show. 

A couple features that the H4n Pro boasts include an onboard FX Processor and the ability to use a wired remote control. Zoom also offers an accessory kit for the H4n Pro that includes a wind screen, an AC adapter and more.

Tech Specs

  • Mics: Built-in X/Y Stereo microphones, adjustable from 90° to 120° 
  • Simultaneous Recording Tracks: 4
  • Storage:  SD / SDHC up to 32gb
  • Inputs: 2 XLR/TRS combo connectors
  • USB: 2-in/2-out
  • Max Resolution: 24-bit/96 kHz
  • Power: 2 x AA batteries (up to 6 hours)

For an entry into the handheld recording market, the H4n Pro is a truly wonderful place to start. If you’re looking for a low price point but not willing to deal with the concession of cheaper gear, the H4n Pro is for you.


Zoom H5

The bigger brother of the H4n, the Zoom H5 ups the ante in a few ways to justify the higher price tag; and the first thing you’ll notice is the modular microphone inputs. The H5 comes with a X/Y microphone module, but it can be replaced with any number of microphone modules offered by Zoom. This allows for greater flexibility without having to purchase multiple recorders. Another great feature is the inclusion of phantom power, meaning this recorder can handle many more microphone options through the input XLR/TRS port. Finally, the H5 also has an “Auto-Record” feature that allows it to start as soon as input levels are detected.

Tech Specs

  • Mics:  X/Y stereo microphones (modular inputs)
  • Simultaneous Recording Tracks: 4
  • Storage: SD / SDHC up to 32gb
  • Inputs: 2 XLR/TRS combo connectors
  • USB: 4-in/2-out
  • Max Resolution: 24-bit/96 kHz
  • Power: 2 x AA batteries (up to 15 hours)

If the Zoom H4n wasn’t quite enough for you, the H5 is what you’re looking for. It takes everything that the H4n Pro does and pushes it up a notch, but it doesn’t push the price point up quite as much.


Tascam DR-40X

The Tascam DR-40X delivers a lot of features in a small, affordable package.  Besides the ability to change the direction of the onboard mics from X/Y to A/B, the dual locking XLR/TRS combo connectors also include +48V phantom power. When it comes to control, the Tascam DR-40X supports a wired remote as well as a foot switch for even more versatility. When it comes to features for a low price, you can do much worse than the DR-40X.

Tech Specs

  • Mics:  A/B or X/Y stereo microphones
  • Simultaneous Recording Tracks: 4
  • Storage: SD / SDHC up to 128gb
  • Inputs: 2 XLR/TRS combo connectors
  • USB: 1 x USB Micro-B
  • Max Resolution: 24-bit/96 kHz
  • Power: 3 x AA (up to 17.5 hours)

The Tascam DR-40X is a great little device packed with features for a low price. Most recorders that offer comparable options don’t have a comparable price tag.


Sony PCM-D10

The Sony PCM-D10 is the most expensive recorder in this list, and it also seems to have fewer features than some of the cheaper competitors. So why am I including it? Because what you might lose in options (some of which you might never need or use) you gain in quality. If you’re not trying to save money and instead, trying to capture the absolute best sound for your buck, the PCM-D10 has you covered. Most recorders on the market record up to 24-bit/96kHz, but the PCM-D10 doubles that resolution to 192kHz for maximum sound quality.

Tech Specs

  • Mics:  X/Y stereo microphones (3 positions)
  • Simultaneous Recording Tracks: 2
  • Storage: 16gb internal with SDXC expansion (up to 256gb)
  • Inputs: 2 XLR/TRS combo connectors, 1 x 1/8” TRS 
  • USB: 1 x Type USB-C
  • Max Resolution: 24-bit/192 kHz AD/DA
  • Power:  4 x AA (32 hours

The PCM-D10 is the highest quality on the market for under $500 (barely!) and if you have the budget for it, it’s a no-brainer. This recorder will take your sounds from muddy to crystal clear and give your audio the ‘pop’ you’ve been looking for.


Roland R-07-BK

At first glance that R-07 immediately stands apart from the rest of the recorders on this list. It looks more like an old mobile phone than a handheld recorder. The built-in stereo microphones are internal rather than external, making it ideal for travel – the perfect size to slip into a pocket on the go. Just because it’s small doesn’t mean it’s not powerful, and the R-07 also has the bonus of connecting over Bluetooth to your smartphone or smartwatch.

Tech Specs

  • Mics: internal stereo mic
  • Simultaneous Recording Tracks: 2
  • Storage: microSD/SDHC
  • Inputs: 1 x 1/8”
  • USB: 1 x USB Micro-B
  • Max Resolution: 24-bit/96 kHz
  • Power: 4 x AA (16 hours recording / 30 hours playback) 

If you’re used to smartphones and are a little hesitant about moving to a ‘real’ handheld recorder, the Roland R-07 is for you. Just slip it in your pocket and go!


Olympus LS-12

While being the least expensive on the list, the Olympus LS-12 is billed as an all-in-one, portable recording solution. That’s exactly what it provides, as it offers many features that a musician or student might need such as a built-in metronome and tuner. The LS-12 even has a “Smart Mode” that basically makes all the decisions for you, adjusting the recording levels itself. While this can be a great feature for many, personally I feel like the more control that I can have, the better. It should also be noted that the battery life is finnicky at best and draining at worst. Bring plenty of spare AAs with you if this is your only device.

Tech Specs

  • Mics:  Built-in stereo A/B microphones
  • Simultaneous Recording Tracks: 1
  • Storage:  2gb internal / SD/SDHC up to 32gb
  • Inputs: 1 x 3.5 mm stereo mini-jack
  • USB: 1 x USB Micro-B
  • Max Resolution: 24-bit/96 kHz
  • Power: 2 x AA

If you’re strapped for cash, look no further than the LS-12. It does the job at a really low price point. Just don’t expect to hear the high quality recordings you would be getting from the higher end field recorders.


Olympus LS-P4

Much like the bump up from the Zoom H4n Pro to the Zoom H5, there is a similar bump from the LS-12 to the LS-P4. The two biggest things to take note of here are the microphones and the resolution. The LS-P4 is the only recorder listed here that has a third microphone in the array and because of this it has an expanded low end (down to 20Hz, from 60Hz). The LS-P4 can also record and playback in FLAC format. FLAC format is considered a lossless coding format which allows for smaller file sizes without a loss in quality.

Tech Specs

  • Mics: Tresmic 3-mic array (2 A/B mics + center mic) 
  • Simultaneous Recording Tracks: 1
  • Storage: 8gb internal with microSD card slot
  • Inputs: 1 x 3.5 mm stereo mini-jack
  • USB: 1 x USB connector
  • Max Resolution: 24-bit/96 kHz / FLAC
  • Power: 1 x AAA (up to 39 hours)

If low end is an important part of what you’re trying to capture, the Olympus LS-P4 will handle it better than most recorders on the market. It’s a great choice for maintaining that thump and feel when recording a sample.


Conclusion

As a long time user of The Zoom H4n Pro, I have to say I have never had any issues with it and the quality of the recordings has been fantastic, it’s easy to use and the battery lasts me weeks at a time. It’s also a good budget option at around $200.

Other Resources

Gearing up your home studio? We also have buyer guides on:

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