Digital Audio Field Recorders

For many years the DAT recorder has been standard for both timecode and non-timecode field recordings. Now that Digital Audio Workstations are supporting file standards beyond the 16 bit, 48 KHz limit of DATs, it makes sense to look at other options. I was able to check out 3 cool new recorders at NAB.

Deva V

Zaxcom’s Deva recorder is in essence the grandfather of the hard disk field recorders. There have been others but they are the first to really offer one that has gained widespread use in production sound.

Their latest recorder, the Deva V, which is due “any day now”, is a big improvement over the 4-track, 24 bit, 48 KHz Deva II. The new recorder offers 10 tracks of audio at up to 192 KHz. It also has a touch screen menu which offers much better access to functionality than the few buttons of the Deva II.

In the demo I saw, the Deva V has an on-screen keyboard which allows you to enter text like track name information, and scene and take, which was only previously possible through an external digital mixer with a built-in keyboard. The Deva V also allows you to route any input channel to any record track (or number of input channels to number of record tracks for internal mix-downs). The older Deva II had a similar functionality but the new track matrix screen makes it much easier to see what’s going on. (Ask any Deva II user about their first time with the machine and they will probably admit to multing Input 1 to every record track for a while. It was a common mistake.) The only problem with these on-screen functions is that the screen is quite small so you need a pointer similar to a PDA pen to select many of these functions.

They’ve also added a Firewire port to the device and and optional internal DVD-R. The DVD-R is a smart move away from DVD-RAM. If you’ve read my previous article on the headaches of DVD-RAMs in the Mac, or you’ve experienced it yourself, you know what I’m talking about.

It’s a cool device and I’ve only just touched on some of the new features. It is a bit pricey though. It will set you back about $13,000.

Sound Devices 722 and 744T

These two recorders are very impressive. They are extremely small–a little larger than a VHS tape. They have a very clean and simple interface. According to the reps I talked to at NAB, they are 60 days away from release.

The 722 is a 2-channel recorder, while the 744T is a 4-channel timecode recorder. They both do 24 bit recordings at up to 96 KHz. The 722 has an internal 20 GB hard drive which would give you about 30 hours of stereo recordings at 16 bit, 48 KHz, or about 10 hours at 24 bit, 96 KHz. The 744T has a 40 GB hard drive, so it would give you about the same amount of time but with 4-channel recordings. (Or double the times of stereo.)

It has a Firewire interface, so that when you plug it into your computer, it shows up as a hard drive on your desktop for transferring files. It also has what they call a C-Link interface which allows you to daisy chain multiple recorders together and have them all going into record at the same time with the push of one button.

The price is right on these as well. The 722 will go for about $2600 and the 744T for about $4200.

Fostex FR-2

This is the recorder that impressed me most. It’s about twice the size of the Sound Devices recorders but it is very light. Like the others it records 16 or 24 bit sound files, but it can go all the way up to 192 KHz. It’s only a 2-channel recorder, but there will be a timecode option available later this year. It is also in stores right now.

It only has a USB interface to attach it to your computer and transfer files, so it is not as fast as the FIrewire of the other recorders. However, the $1300 price tag more than makes up for a little extra transfer time.

The one caveat is that it doesn’t have a built-in hard drive. You have to purchase that separately. This is can be seen as a bonus though too. It supports recording to 1.8″ Type II PC Card hard drives. Many of the 5 GB models now go for about $250. The other option is that it supports Compact Flash Type II cards for recording. The same ones used in some digital cameras. The 2 GB cards go for about $400 right now. It is an additional expense, but there are no moving parts. Plus by recording to compact flash, you can pick up a $20 USB compact flash reader and transfer your recordings to your computer without eating up your recorder’s battery time. With a 2 GB card, you can get about 3 hours of 16 bit, 48 KHz stereo recordings or 1 hour at 24 bit, 96 KHz.