Whether you are recording a podcast, capturing lecture notes or working on a music recording, digital voice recorders can make the process much easier than recording into a computer. Digital recorders are available at many price points and have significantly different features and abilities from each end of the price scale.
The recorders listed here are some of the best available and all within the same price range. However, these are not the only recorders available. I also hesitate to list which one is the absolute best because there are so many reasons why you would choose one over another. This list is a great start for your research in finding which one is best for your needs.
First you need to determine what features are important and necessary to you.
- Do you need compressed audio recording? MP3, WMA, etc.
- Do you need uncompressed recording? WAV, PCM, etc.
- Audio quality? MP3 only, or ranges of MP3 compression as well as high quality uncompressed?
- How much memory? Internal memory or not? Which kind of expansion slot? SD, micro-SD, Memory Stick, etc.
- Replaceable batteries, or rechargeable only?
- Voice activation?
- Basic audio editing on the device?
- Computer compatibility? Windows, Mac, Linux?
- Multi-track recording? How many tracks?
- Do you need external microphone inputs? XLR, 1/4" TRS, 1/8" stereo?
- Noise cancellation?
With those thoughts in mind, here are 4 of the best recorders available today.
The Zoom H4n is a four-track recorder with audio jacks for two XLR or 1/4" TRS inputs while sporting two built-in stereo microphones on the unit itself. The XLR jacks also have phantom power for use with condenser mics. All four microphones can record at the same time on four separate tracks. The built in mics are configurable for different recording conditions. There is an SD/SDHC slot which will accept cards up to 32 GB in size. There is no built in memory, but the recorder ships with a 1 GB card which will record between 28 minutes and 17 hours, depending on the quality setting of the recording. The unit also has an external speaker.
There are editing features built in to the recorder which allow you to cut audio to the points you need as well as the ability to convert files from WAV to MP3. The Zoom H4n has built in normalizing which allows you to adjust the various levels of the audio so that one section is not too loud or soft compared to the rest of the recording. There are 50 built-in DSP amp effects for use with guitar and bass: some of which mimic popular amps.
With all the wonderful things to say about the Zoom H4n there is one drawback. Because it is very full featured, being able to step through all of the possible menu options with just a few buttons can cause frustration for a rocket scientist. Thankfully the menu structure is much improved over the original Zoom H4 (as is the overall build quality), but the vastness of these features is still challenging to manipulate with just a few buttons.
Zoom H4n MSRP $500, but can be found for $300. Size is 6.2" x 2.8" x 1.4".
Olympus has had a very good track record in the hand-held voice recorder space. They are popular with doctors and those who do a lot of recording for transcription work. But the Olympus LS-11 is much more than your typical transcription device. It can record up to 48 tracks making it appealing to musicians. It includes 8 GB of memory and has stereo microphones built into the unit. The SD/SDHC slot will accept cards up to 32 GB in size. It can operate 19 hours on one set of AA batteries.
This unit records in WAV, MP3 and WMA formats. The Olympus LS-11 has an 1/8" stereo jack for an external microphone, but does not have phantom power for the use of a studio condenser mic. The size of this unit makes it appealing to use as it is without adding extra mics and cables.
The Olympus LS-11 has an external speaker, but it is inadequate and has received negative reviews. Olympus' comment to one reviewer was that playback was really only intended to be done on a computer. This begs the question, why include the speaker in the first place? With that exception it is a good recorder with some amazing features in such a small package.
Olympus LS-11 MSRP $300, but can be found for under $250. Size is 1.9" 5.1" x .9", by far the smallest in the group.
Roland Edirol R-09HR
Like the Zoom H4n this is an update to a previous version. Roland listened to their customers and updated this popular model of their line of Edirol digital recorders. This is a much simpler recorder to operate than the Zoom H4n, but still retains the high recording quality and many of the same features. It comes with a 4 GB SDHC memory card and is expandable to 32 GB. There are 8 different WAV recording qualities and 2 MP3 levels to choose from while recording.
The built in stereo microphones on the Edirol R-09HR are omni directional mics which make it great for recording a room full of sound. If you are recording a lecture or a podcast where the speakers are sitting around the room you can set this recorder in the middle and pick each up equally well without having to point the microphones to the speaker. This makes it a good choice for recording instrumental gigs and an excellent choice for nature recordings.
The Edirol R-09HR only has one external mic jack, 1/8" stereo. It also has a line-in jack for recording from a mixer. If your interest is in the high quality built in microphones, you will be pleased with the Edirol R-09HR and won't have a need for an external mic.
Roland Edirol R-09HR MSRP $450, but can be found for under $300. Size is 2.5" x 4.5" x 1.1".
The Tascam DR-100 includes four built in microphones (2 omni and 2 cardioid). These are highly regarded as professional quality microphones and are probably the best choice if you are going to primarily use the built in mics, but need the option of external mics on occasion. This recorder has two XLR inputs which can supply phantom power for condenser microphones. Unlike the Zoom H4n the external mic jacks can only accept XLR and not 1/4" TRS inputs. The microphone configuration on the Tascam only allows you to record from either the XLR inputs or the built in microphones, but not both at the same time like you can with the Zomm H4n.
This unit ships with a 2 GB memory card but is expandable up to 32 GB with an SD/SDHC slot. The Tascam DR-100 includes a rechargeable Lithium-ion battery, or can be used with AA batteries. Complaints have been that the built in battery only lasts 5 hours and AAs right at 2 hours. However you can use both together to get 7+ hours of battery life at a time. There is a tripod mount built into the metal body so that the recorder can be set up in a room without being bumped on a table or having to be held by hand.
Tascam DR-100 MSRP $600, but can be found for under $300. Size is 3.2" x 6.0" x 1.4".
While there are many other recorders on the market, these are a good indication of the best recorders and what their features are.
Do you have recommendations for a better recorder? What about certain features that I did not mention that are important to you? Leave a comment below, or, sign up with Info Barrel and write an article of your own.