Sound Comparison: Pro vs Enthusiast Audio Recorders

Do you need to spend more money to get great sound for your video or film projects? Is a $200 USD Tascam recorder with XLR inputs good enough? Or do you need to move up to a Zoom H6? Or, do you really need to invest thousands in a SoundDevices or Zaxcom professional grade field recorder?

In this episode we compare audio clips from Tascam, Zoom, and SoundDevices recorders so that you can evaluate for yourself.

Scott Vanderbilt kindly pointed out that a very important assumption I made was incorrect: The Sound Devices USBPre 2 and Sound Devices 744T field recorder do not appear to share the exact same preamplifiers (because their specs are different over at the Sound Devices website). The analog to digital converter specs appear to be identical but even so, this does not mean that they are identical. So really we're not comparing a $4400 USD field recorder to a $200 USD Tascam recorder. We're just comparing an $850 USBPre 2 to a $200 Tascam and $400 Zoom. My apologies for the mixup and thanks again to Scott for pointing this out.

Nevertheless, the comparison is still useful to understand how the audio quality differs on these devices at different price points.

NOTE! I am NOT suggesting that if you like the sound of one of the less expensive devices that there is not value in the higher priced device. In the case of the Sound Devices USBPre 2, it has a lot of things that neither the Zoom nor the Tascam have:

  • Far superior build quality that could easily outlast the other two
  • Repairability - Sound Devices has built the USBPre 2 to be repairable. I don't get that impression with the Tascam or the Zoom
  • Far superior metering with 20 segment meters. It is surprising how much this actually makes a difference when it comes time to set your gain and faders
  • Pro outputs (XLR) so that you can send audio to pro cameras
  • Timecode in and out so that it is much easier to sync sound with footage in post, especially on multicam shoots
  • Much more robust powering options, not just mini USB, but also fully metal, hirose 4 pin connectors to hook up bigger, pro quality Anton Bauer and Sony V-mount batteries

So please don't walk away with the wrong impression. I really like the USBPre 2 and will have a review up here on the site in a few days.

The real take away message: Don't wait until you can afford an $800 piece of audio gear to do your passion project. The less expensive recorders can get you the same audio quality. If you're hired on larger productions, of course you would then need to rent or own a pro-level recorder for a lot of reasons other than just sound quality.