Recorders - If you’re set on Zoom, consider an F4 or F8 over any H series. Better preamps. F4 currently on sale at Sweetwater for $599. However, for $50 more, you could get a new Sound Devices Mix-Pre3. If you think you’ll need more channels, consider the Mix-Pre6. Preamps on F4 will be better than H series. Preamps on Sound Devices will be better still. If you could stretch your budget, I’d pick Sound Devices over Zoom for the following reasons:
- Limiters. Zooms are digital (meaning AFTER the A/D converter). SD uses analog limiters BEFORE the A/D converter. Bottom line - if you have unintended peaks, the SD will handle them much better with far less distortion. I ALWAYS record with limiters on when on location at live events. You never know what’s gonna happen. I’m good at setting levels, but the safety net is important. If you always get sound checks, maybe this is less important. I have gigs where I don’t get good sound checks, so limiters are key.
- Support. I have called SD support a few times when issues cropped up with my 788T. Every time I’ve been quickly connected to a knowledgeable SD engineer who helped me resolve my issue. With Zoom - you’ll not have anywhere near this level of support.
- Sound Quality - it doesn’t get better than Sound Devices. I paid about $8K for my SD 788T with CL-8 attachment. The fact that you can get SD quality now for under $1K is phenomenal.
- Reliability - pros use SD for a reason. They work, are rugged, and reliable.
Another recorder comment - I also have a Roland R-44. It’s a nice recorder. Very easy/simple to use. And i actually use the built in mics for recording some school events my kids are in. However…the sound quality is not on par with my SD 788T. Different league. R-44 isn’t bad, just not as good. Also, my R-44 has digital limiters, which i’ve bumped against from time to time. They do not handle overs as well as the SD analog limiters. You can hear some distortion on the R-44.
tube Preamps - I would not use tube preamps on location. One - I don’t want to have to plug into anything. I’m free of power outlets and all of the headaches that can accompany that (getting clean power, conditioners, finding outlet, more cabling to manage, etc…). Two - SD preamps are very clean (but not sterile) - so no need for external pres. F4 or F8 pres are fine also. Three - tube pres are often used to color the sound (although this often comes more from transformers than the tubes), which is not what I’d want from a classical recording.
Which is more important - mics, pres, converters? Mics are first. Pres second, as long as they’re not too noisy. Converters last. Converters are quite good these days and it doesn’t take a lot of $$$ to get decent conversion. However, mics are different. It generally pays to get more expensive mics.
If you can hold off on buying mics for a while - save up for a used pair of Schoeps with MK5 caps. Versatile as can be omni or card. Sound is fantastic. You’ll never regret having a nice pair of schoeps mics. And they hold their value.
If I had your setup and was looking to plan an upgrade path, I’d do it as follows:
1 - Get an SD recorder. Less headaches with power. Would also eliminate using a laptop and separate interface. Less to carry. Easier to use. AT2020s, while perhaps not ideal, still turn out respectable results. You’d still need laptop, etc… if you used it to be redundant. However, getting at least one recorder off of the power grid helps for stability/redundancy if somebody trips over your power cord (or if breaker blows), the battery powered SD keeps on going. If you bought another recorder down the road, you could ditch the laptop.
2 - Buy a passive mic splitter.
3 - Mics. Get SDCs with a slight HF lift to be used as a main pair. If you could save up for a while, consider a used pair of Schoeps with MK5 caps (benefit of omni and card patterns). If that is beyond budget, consider other small SDCs.
Just my 2 cents.