Topic: Berated by a microphone salesman

The last time I opened my mouth to ask for a suggestion on a good microphone, the owner of a specialty audio store here in Boston gave me this you-poor-schmuck look and just gestured to the shelves of cardboard boxes containing what I assumed to be very expensive, complicated audio equipment. I explained that I just wanted a microphone to use with my digital recorder or computer to record clean narrations for audio slideshows. He offered to charge me for a tutorial. I left.

I just download Soundslides and read through a bunch of posts here. Thought I'd ask for some advice.

My goals for recording: audio slideshow narration and interviews; gathering outdoor ambient sound. I am a working print journalist and my newspaper is slowly trying to produce more multimedia. What I'm trying to do is get excited about multimedia and teach myself through personal at-home projects. Something along the lines of One in 8 Million (New York Times audio-slideshow profiles).

My current equipment: a $100 5-year-old Sony ICD-ST10 digital recorder (great for transcribing interviews; lousy for sound quality). My Dell XPS m1330 laptop.

Should I be looking to buy a quality microphone to use with my Sony recorder and/or computer? Or buy a new recording device/microphone altogether? I'd like to get away with spending $100 or less but would be willing to shell out $200-300 if the quality difference makes it worthwhile.

Thanks for reading the post and for any advice.


Re: Berated by a microphone salesman

I think for a recorder (barely) in your price range I'd recommend the Zoom H2. For your purposes - and mine - this is a great tool. I am not familiar with your Sony and others here can help make recommendations about that and appropriate microphones.

You've come to a very good place for information. You'll see.


3 (edited by mitchellm 2009-11-02 08:13:48)

Re: Berated by a microphone salesman

Obviously the salesman should have treated you much better. But there's probably a reason he reacted the way he did. My guess is if you are on this forum you have a pretty good set of photography equipment. So if someone asked you what they should buy in terms of photo equipment for $300 or less so they could get professional photos you'd chuckle (if only inside).

People tend to treat "getting audio" as cheap or easy or both. It's similar to some people I know who think "getting light" should be cheap and easy. You know the photo part isn't really cheap and it also certainly takes skill. Ditto with audio.

To be fair getting "pro" audio is a bit cheaper than getting "pro" images, but not by leaps and bounds.

And here's another reason the salesman might have been short with you. If you magically have a $200 digital SLR then you know putting a $2000 lens on it won't make the resulting images all that much better. In the described setup it's the camera body that's the limitation. So while there's some flexibility you don't want to create obvious out-of-whackness such as having a great lens on a terrible body, or a terrible lens on a great body.

The same reasoning holds with capturing audio—in this case the microphone is analogous to the photography lens. In your case it seems that you are willing to put a better mic on a pretty poor recording device—it won't work for several reasons, and in fact may result in worse audio. (I'm leaving out lots of details here.)

You are also putting an unrealistically low dollar amount on the audio equipment you want to get. The lowest level of recorder (device with built in mic) you'd want is the Zoom H2 recommended above. Used in the right kind of circumstances it can produce good recordings. But one of the weaknesses of the Zoom H2 is the sensitivity of the mics (in this case oversensitivity). Use a Zoom H2 on a stand next to you sitting down in a quiet room and you've got a decent solution. Where the Zoom falls down a lot is if there is any wind in the situation such as outdoors, or even if you're walking with it indoors (walking does create a kind of wind the Zoom picks up). It MAY be a fine solution for you, but my guess is a better solution given your description above is the small Marantz PMD620. It sells for $399. It's a better device than the Zoom H2 (not a surprise given the price difference), but the main relevant difference for you is that it handles wind much much better. So the more you might audio record outside, walking, etc. the more the 620 would seem to be a better solution.

Both of these devices (Zoom H2 and Marantz PMD620) are like really good point-and-shoot cameras. They aren't pro equipment, but given a savvy user you could still get some great results from them.


Re: Berated by a microphone salesman

Hi american nomad, and welcome to the site.

american nomad wrote:

Should I be looking to buy a quality microphone to use with my Sony recorder and/or computer? Or buy a new recording device/microphone altogether? I'd like to get away with spending $100 or less but would be willing to shell out $200-300 if the quality difference makes it worthwhile.

Definitely get a new recorder.  The pace of improvement in the small recorders over the last 5 years is amazing.  I would try to get the best recorder I could afford, then pair it with the incredibly affordable Nady SP-5 microphone.  Oh, and before anyone yells at me for suggesting a $20 mic, try listening to one (or listen to Richard Koci Hernandez's test here).

Also, get some headphones. Even the cheapest headphones are better than nothing.  It will improve your field recordings immensely.

As for which recorder, that's a tough choice.  You might be able to find good used equipment here and there.  I would recommend any of these recorders (most are above your target price range, but I would look for used equipment if you can find it). I think you'll be amazed by how much better these are than your old Sony.

Zoom H2
Edirol R-09
M-Audio MicroTrack II
Olympus LS-10
Marantz 620
Sony PCM-M10
Sony PCM-D50

Hopefully other folks can pipe in with what works for them.  There are plenty of folks on here that are doing good, clean audio work with less-than-pro gear.



Re: Berated by a microphone salesman

You may be tempted to buy less expensive digital recorders. This isn't a terrible idea (I have used an Olympus DS-2 for awhile) but one thing you'll notice is the artifacts caused by digital compression when recording to compressed formats (.wma, .mp3 ... etc.). These limitations are probably not noticeable listening on PC speakers, but you'll definitely notice them (as will your audience) when you use headphones.

The recorders Joe listed record to uncompressed formats (.wav typically) and have sampling rates high enough to avoid distortion.

I'm by no means an audio expert, but if even I can notice the limitation of the cheaper recorders, it's for real.



Re: Berated by a microphone salesman

Thanks for the great advice everyone. I've been doing my homework and getting more realistic -- reluctantly -- about how much I'll need to spend. The Marantz PMD620 and the Sony PCM-D50 are my top choices. I'm sure I'd be happy with either, even if I did have to buy that stupid furry hat for the Sony. Still, how about one last round of advice? Is the Sony worth the extra cash?

Thanks again!


Re: Berated by a microphone salesman

I would hazard a guess that the difference between the PDM620 and the PCM-D50 is less than the difference between your current gear and either of these. Beyond audio quality, consider the size difference: the 620 is nearly shirt-pocket; the D50 isn't. If the D50's size is OK for you, also consider the PMD 660 and (newer) 661.

In any event, check out the reviews in the "tools" section of transom.org. Plenty of sound samples under various conditions and microphone setups.



Re: Berated by a microphone salesman

American Nomad: Both of those devices are very good. Kevin provided some really good advice. The PMD620 is much smaller. If smallness/portability is the issue then that's the device to go with.

The Sony is probably a better recorder, BUT it's larger (as Kevin noted) and the internal mics are very very sensitive (thus the need for the windscreen). The Sony works very nicely with external mics. Lately I've really liked the AT8010 omni mics for work with portable devices (about $150 extra). However, once again Kevin is providing good advice: if you opt for a device where you'll be hooking up an external mic most of the time then the PMD661 really outshines the Sony (for a variety of reasons). And, as Kevin mentioned, Transom.org provides great information about all of these devices.

I have all three plus more at my work (don't ask why!). For all-in-one portable recording with decent "insensitivity" to wind the PMD620 wins hands down. For a small, good pre-amp to work with external mics: the PMD661 wins hands down. As a tweener (something you'd want portable some of the time, something that will also work well with external mics) the Sony wins. So beyond price the real consideration is the circumstances under which you'll be using the equipment.

For "pure" sound the PMD661 with a good external mic is the best. But my guess is for financial and practical reasons this isn't the best fit for you. Finally, as others have noted, I think you'll find a big improvement in sound quality with any of these devices relative to what you're using now.


Re: Berated by a microphone salesman

I realize the OP may not be looking at this thread any longer but . . .

I've recently seen, and heard, some great things about the new Sony M10 recorder. It's $300, about same size as the Marantz PMD620. Sony has re-configured the mics on this smaller version of the PCM-D1 and PCM-D50. It's probably not as good for recording music, but seems to be great at recording spoken voice. Less prone to plosives and wind noise than the more expensive Sony models. You can find a review at Stephanie Wingfield's excellent website:

10 (edited by Tomass 2012-06-14 00:10:32)

Re: Berated by a microphone salesman

I think in any case you should  buy a new recording device/microphone altogether.. it's worth it and they'll work better and longer)