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Using Hand-Held Recorders to Capture Great Audio

Sony PCM-M10 Handheld Recorder

In a recent post, I noted the surprising quality of sound and video recorded with just a phone. But they still don’t capture the full character of many instruments. As a drummer, it’s especially hard to get a phone to properly record the full spectrum and dynamic range of a very loud and sonically diverse instrument. My other option is to relocate my recording equipment to the basement and set up multiple mics to capture the set with four or five good mics (I have some recommendations for that too, but I’ll save it for another post). By far the quickest thing to do is use a phone to capture the video and the use a high quality hand-held recorder to capture the audio. That’s the technique that I used for a recent project where I added a drum to a cover of Pink Floyd’s song, “Money” recorded by Mat and Sophie of The Distance. I’ve been a fan of their music for a few years and I was thrilled when they asked me to contribute drums to the song.

The process that I used was straight-forward: I set up my phone on a mic stand so it would frame me playing drums vertically. And about 10 feet away I placed my Sony PCM M10 recorder at about four feet off the ground. I received the recorder as a gift from a friend and it’s been a SO valuable for recording rehearsals, random jams and other events that I want to reference later, but don’t want to go through the hassle of working with multiple mics.

I typically put on headphones and listen to the track that I’m playing along with and audibly say “Take 1” “Take 2” etc before I count in and start playing. Sometimes I’ll also add a voice note at the end as an assessment of whether it was a worth keeping or better to toss out. When I have a good recording I head back upstairs and transfer the audio files to my computer very easily with a USB cable and then import both the audio and video files into Adobe Premiere Pro. Premier has a nice feature that syncs the sound of from the video with the higher quality sound from the Sony hand-held.

I should note in the case of Money, I actually imported the audio file into StudioOne first, applied some EQ and reverb, and then used the exported/enhanced audio in my video play-along. I also had the audio track provided by Mat in StudioOne so I could create a decent balance between the drums and their singing and instruments.

The song is complicated to play so it took a bit of practice and several tries, but I was happy that I eventually captured it all in one take so I didn’t need to do any complicated editing between the videos.

The end result sounded quite good. Have a look-listen:

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