Q I’ve been using my Canon EOS 7D with a microphone interface, but I need higher-quality recording to four tracks for an upcoming short film. I can’t afford too many of the high-end pro four- or eight-track recorders, and I haven’t had good luck recording with my laptop. I need something small and lightweight that can record at least four XLR input tracks with decent quality. I need something with decent-quality mic preamps phantom power that won’t break the bank either. What do you recommend?
A There’s no lack of high-quality digital multi-track recorders on the market, but as you’ve discovered, the best units that can record four tracks at once seem to sell in the $3,000 to $4,000 range. While there are solutions available that can record four tracks for a lot less money, like the Zoom H4n, the H4n is limited to two XLR inputs only and lower sampling rates when recording all four channels at once. There are several other four- and eight-track solid-state digital recorders on the market, but many of them are fairly high-dollar items designed for working professionals. For full-time sound professionals, spending many thousands of dollars for a main digital recorder is the norm, but for the indie low-budget filmmaker or those who need four-track audio recording but who may not record sound for a living, $4,000+ is simply out of reach. Fortunately, there are lower-cost alternatives on the market.
Roland (www.roland.com), a company that I have a lot of experience with from my past, makes the R-44, a portable four-track digital audio recorder. I still own an antique Roland GR-300 guitar synthesizer
that I bought back in the 1980s, and I used Roland keyboards and recording gear quite a bit back in the days when I dabbled in the recording studio. In my experience, Roland products always have been reliable and innovative, so I thought the R-44 would be worth checking out to see how it compares to the high-end pro sound recorders I’ve used.
The R-44 fits a unique set of requirements, the main ones being that it records four channels of high-quality digital audio, features four XLR inputs with phantom-powering and doesn’t cost a lot of money in comparison to other brands of four-track digital recorders on the market. Roland obviously saw a gap in the market, and the R-44 is the product they created to address this gap.
A four-channel, solid-state field recorder, the R-44 uses SD/SDHC cards to capture up to four channels of uncompressed audio recorded as WAV/BWF files with selectable bit depths (16-bit or 24-bit) and sampling frequencies (44.1 kHz/48 kHz/88.2 kHz/96 kHz/192 kHz). The unit weighs 2 pounds, 14 ounces, with batteries and measures 63?16×71?4×27?16 inches, compact enough to be thrown easily into an audio or camera bag. The inputs and outputs are just what you’d expect in a typical four-channel digital recorder. All four analog inputs use an XLR/TRS combo connection. These combo connectors are nice because they allow you to use regular XLR connections, as well as 1?4-inch connections, which are typical output you’d receive from a mixing board at a live event. The R-44 also features a coaxial digital I/O, as well as analog RCA outputs for interfacing with other mixers and recorders.
The R-44 is powered by four AA batteries, which are rated to give up to four hours of recording, although this will vary depending on the battery type and the conditions under which you’re recording. A couple of sets of NiMH rechargeable batteries and a AA battery charger won’t cost too much, however, and will allow you to run the R-44 for an entire day without too much cost and hassle. In a pinch, you always can purchase fresh AA alkaline batteries almost anywhere, a nice alternative to the proprietary batteries that some other audio recorders use.
While I’m an advocate of applying audio effects and filters in post rather than during shooting, the R-44 features a nice selection of audio effects. You’ll find the onboard limiter, which helps to suppress sudden peaks in sound from an input source, can be handy for live events when you never know what’s going to happen as far as sudden loud noises. A low-cut filter is included to help prevent things like wind noise or mic-handling noise. Effects such as 3-Band EQ, 6-Band GEQ, Enhancer or DeEsser can be used to improve audio quality. What makes these effects most useful is that they can be applied while recording or you can wait until you arrive back at the edit bay and apply the effects for monitoring/playback. The ability to add effects after recording is a powerful option that’s just the ticket for quick experimentation while recording in the field.