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Gear Roundup: The Top Three Audio Recorders Under $300

Logan Baker

Good audio can make a good video better. Bad audio can make a good video unwatchable. But you don’t have to break the bank to get clean audio.

It’s easy to get caught up in lights, lenses, and . . . oh, I don’t know . . . waiting for the Sony A7sIII, but good audio should always be a priority on every shoot. With the right equipment — don’t forget a microphone — it can be the least of your worries.

Here are a few powerful-yet-affordable audio recorders.

(Note: this post was originally published in April, 2016. It has been updated to reflect market changes.)

 1. Tascam DR-100 Mark III ($399)

Gear Roundup: The Top Three Audio Recorders Under $300 — Tascam DR-100, Mark III

Image via Tascam.

The debate over the best audio recorder currently on the market (at a reasonable price) really comes down to the Tascam DR-100 and the Zoom H5 (see below). The Tascam offers a bit more functionality than its counterpart with its analog controls — like the fun-to-spin control wheel and extra-hard buttons. It also allows you to monitor your audio while simultaneously feeding into another jack for easier syncing.

Overall, the Tascam might be the most expensive option on this list, but it’s also the best.

2. Zoom H5 Four-Track Portable Recorder

Gear Roundup: The Top Three Audio Recorders Under $300 — Zoom H5 Four-Track

Image via Zoom.

While the Tascam DR-100 might be the best audio recording option, the Zoom H5 might be the best deal. Priced competitively below the Tascam, the H5 (basically) offers all the same features but at a slightly lower price.

The Zoom H5 is more versatile with dual XLR and 1/4″ input jacks. While a bit on the bulky side, it’s a rough-and-tumble device that fits well on a camera rig or a belt loop. The onboard microphones capture great room sound in a pinch, but watch out: it will pick up even the slightest wind noise. The best feature, in my opinion, is the detachable microphone, allowing you to add a bigger and better mic. This is a perfect feature for anybody recording in varied situations, like interviews, dialogue, or effects.

(Side Note: The older model, the H4N PRO is still a perfectly viable audio recorder that you can get for around $100 less.)

 3. Zoom H1n Digital Handy Recorder ($119.99)

Gear Roundup: The Top Three Audio Recorders Under $300 — Zoom H1n Digital Handy Recorder

Image via Zoom.

I’ll be the first to admit that I have a soft spot for this little guy. He’s saved my butt more than once as a back-up option — and served admirably as my main audio recorder on some bigger shoots than I’ll openly admit. The Zoom H1n comes in at a paltry $119.99, so I’d even recommend getting more than one.

While obviously not as tricked-out as its H5 brother, the Zoom H1n makes up for its simplicity with its reliability and usefulness. Its greatest feature is its auto-level option (which the H4N lacks) — a necessity for those one-man-band shoots. It also fills in well when you need to record the room, or as a backup placed near a speaker in case your line-feed falters.

Cover image via Tascam.

Looking for more information on production gear? Check out these articles.

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