Top Digital Recorders – Guide & Comparison
If you don’t have too much time to look through all the digital recorder reviews out there, this short paragraph will help you find the best digital recorder quickly. Our team has carefully analyzed the most popular devices and we found out that the Zoom H4N PRO model is the one to look at first. It’s a digital recorder that lets you use a lot of features, amongst which the possibility to start recording through voice activation. It has quality microphones, capable of capturing even the smallest sounds. Furthermore, you have the ability to choose what format to record in and thus you have a lot of versatility. If you can’t find this model for sale, try the Tascam DR-40.
Our Top Choice
This device offers some unique features, among which the ability to start recording using voice activation or the pre-record function. The microphones are sensitive enough to capture even the smallest sound sources and they can do that in a stereo format. Because you can record in both MP3 and WAV format, you have the versatility needed to make this recorder work in most situations.
The model needs to compromise in size to accommodate all these features.
Offering 4 tracks of recording, this model is a popular one among professionals, mostly due to the stereo capabilities and advanced features.
Quality recordings are ensured by this model’s two stereo condenser microphones that capture sound in a unidirectional pattern. It’s possible to use the model to record loud events due to the 125 dB threshold that the recorder is capable of handling. Because it has an automatic system that changes the volume of the recording to make it as level as possible, you can record in silent rooms too.
You will have issues if you intend to use the device and an OS system with it.
Using its built-in high-quality microphones, this digital recorder lets you tailor your recordings based on the sound of the room.
This is one of the smallest models out there and it offers all the features needed in a small frame. It’s a versatile device that allows you to record quality tracks whether you’re capturing an instrument or a lecture hall. In terms of design, it has a good look and a body that is very sturdy. Depending on what you intend to do with the recordings, you can set the format to either WAV or MP3 and enjoy the results.
The recorder comes alone, with no bundled pouch or windscreen.
Sony has made small recording devices for a long time and this model shows how good they are at fitting great features in a small and portable device.
8 Best Digital Recorders (Reviews) in 2020
After checking the most useful digital voice recorder reviews and looking at the sales figures, we had an idea of what some of the greatest digital recorders are. Furthermore, we read experts’ opinion and we thus managed to select a top of the most critically acclaimed devices and we’ve showcased them below.
- 1. Zoom H4N PRO Digital Multitrack Recorder Earplug
- 2. Tascam Portable Digital Recorder DR-40
- 3. Sony PCM-M10 Portable Linear PCM Voice Recorder
- 4. Zoom H5 Handy Recorder
- 5. Zoom H5 Four-Track Portable Recorder
- 6. Zoom H6 Portable Recorder with Interchangeable Microphone System
- 7. Tascam DR-05 Version 2 Dictaphone Linear PCM
- 8. Zoom H2n/UK Handy Recorder
- Yearly Guide & Report
1. Zoom H4N PRO Digital Multitrack Recorder Earplug
The Zoom brand is one whose name can be associated with making some of the most sought-after models out there. And this model is no different. It has some great features that allow it to be very performant when recording high fidelity audio for film or music purposes.
Due to traits like voice activation or pre-record, the device is great for recording interviews or lectures too. The recorder uses XY crossed unidirectional microphones that are capable of recording sound of great depth and quality in a stereo format. All these aspects make this Zoom digital recorder a good choice for many purposes.
In terms of formats, you can record in both WAV and MP3 and that will allow you to have the versatility needed. The MP3 is a more compact variant. Having a sound pressure level of up to 140 dB, the recorder is capable of withstanding high volumes without distortion.
Buy from Amazon.com for ($219.99)
2. Tascam Portable Digital Recorder DR-40
For the greatest recording capabilities, the model has two great quality unidirectional stereo condenser microphones. These can be maneuvered in different positions depending on the purpose of the recording process. This allows for a stereo recorded sound.
The sound pressure level maxes out at 125 dB and that means the model is great for recording loud sounds. You can use it to capture a live band, for example. But at the same time, it’s a model that still lets you record the silent lecture halls. Based on the sound source, the volume levels are adjusted automatically.
So if you have great variations in volume, the Tascam digital recorder will take care of them and will reduce the peaks. For meetings or interviews, the “level align” feature can be a saver, pushing up in volume those sounds that can be barely heard.
Buy from Amazon.com for ($179)
3. Sony PCM-M10 Portable Linear PCM Voice Recorder
Being made by Sony, this model provokes people to have high expectations from it, and it delivers. Its small frame makes it very good as a portable digital recorder. Because of being small, the manufacturers had to make sure it can still offer all the features of a good recorder, and it does.
There are many uses for this device, from music composing, recording voice and instruments to recording a lecture. One of the most important aspects of this Sony digital voice recorder is that it’s very tough. It won’t break apart if you drop it. The design is also quite nice, making you proud when taking it out of your pocket.
The microphones are performant and will allow the user to record sounds in the most silent situations. You have the choice of recording in WAV and MP3 formats, depending on how large you want your files to be and how precise.
Buy from Amazon.com for ($459.99)
4. Zoom H5 Handy Recorder
Packing performance in a small frame, this recorder will offer you the portability needed to carry it to all kinds of events. High-quality audio files can be recorded using its internal microphone, but if you aren’t pleased with the results you can add an external microphone to it too.
The body is plastic and it’s sturdy enough to survive drops. The matte black finishing is something that adds a pleasant feel to the design. It has two microphones and they are both protected by a cage that goes around them. That gives an interesting look to the recorder. Being in a crossed configuration, the two microphones are capable of offering stereo recordings.
You will be able to use microSD cards to enhance the device’s storage capabilities. If you want to listen to what you have just recorded, the model has a small speaker to allow you to do that.
Buy from Amazon.com for ($89.99)
5. Zoom H5 Four-Track Portable Recorder
People with smaller hands will love this model, as it offers some great ergonomics and a soft rubber coating that ensure a good grip. But those are not the only people to benefit from it. It’s a device that has been designed to be as easy to use as possible. The controls can be handled with ease and because the volume controls are wheels, they have a traditional feeling.
A rollbar is positioned over these wheels to keep them in good shape for a long time. Once you have recorded everything you wanted, you can use the USB port to download it all on your computer. Or, if you use rechargeable batteries, you can use the USB port to charge them.
The two microphones that this model has, are set in the classic XY configuration, also known as crossed. With a simple LCD display that features bright colors, the information shown by the recorder can be read even in sunlight.
Buy from Amazon.com for ($279.99)
6. Zoom H6 Portable Recorder with Interchangeable Microphone System
This model has been made for those creative musicians that want to record their ideas but are always on the run. While other models can record two tracks at a time, this digital multitrack recorder can impressively hold six at once. And it does that offering high-fidelity microphones capable of capturing all the details in the music.
What’s also impressive is the recorder’s ability to accept up to 4 XLR inputs at once. That means you can connect 4 different microphones or instruments to it. You will also notice that the build quality is great and the construction thus feels sturdy. This makes for a great field recorder. It comes with two microphones of its own, and they are interchangeable.
This bundle comes with everything you need, including studio headphones, 4 batteries, and their charger, a table tripod, and an auxiliary cable. However, the storage capabilities could have been better, as the model only offers 2Gb of internal storage. But the bundle offers a 16Gb memory card.
Buy from Amazon.com for ($362.99)
7. Tascam DR-05 Version 2 Dictaphone Linear PCM
Being one of the most popular models on the market, this model is a common choice among business professionals. That is because it’s so easy to use and it records high-quality audio without a heavy investment.
The microphone configuration is a bit unusual, pointing toward the exterior of the device, but that provides great stereo capabilities, particularly in business meetings. In terms of recording patterns, the microphones are omnidirectional, meaning that they record in all directions, and that is good in rooms where more than one people are talking, or in interview scenarios.
You can choose between WAV, MP3 or BWF formats, depending on how you intend to use the recordings. The BWF format is best employed when you want to synchronize the sound with a video. And if you want to transcribe the recordings and you are impatient, you can change the speed of the playback, without changing the pitch.
Buy from Amazon.com for ($104.99)
8. Zoom H2n/UK Handy Recorder
This is one of the most innovative models and it comes with an impressive microphone, both in terms of capabilities and appearance. It comes with great features and they are all packed in a very compact device. It’s a good model for different activities, including podcasting, songwriting, or actual musical performances.
Having five microphones, all situated under a black metallic mesh, the device is capable of capturing high-quality files. Having all these microphones, you are able to choose between 4 different recording patterns.
You will have the possibility to store all those quality recordings on an SD card with a capacity of 32Gb, and thus you will have hundreds of hours of recording at your disposal. If you aren’t pleased with the initial sound of a recording, you can use the incorporated functions for chromatic tuning or low-cut filtering to make it all sound better.
Buy from Amazon.com for ($169.99)
Yearly Guide & Report
When you choose a digital recorder, you should think about what you want to use the recorder for. Those that are interested in recorders for lectures will have to look at certain aspects. On the other side, some people might want a digital music recorder because they want to produce music. Anyway, here are some of the most important things to consider when purchasing your recorder.
About the microphones
Usually, the more microphones a recorder has, the better it will record. But that’s not always the case. The most important thing to know is how the positioning of the microphones can impact your final recording. And certain recorders are made for a set job, like capturing a single individual or instruments in a single direction.
Others, with different microphones, are made to record a room of people. The recording pattern is what makes the difference. With an omnidirectional pattern, you will be able to record everything around the recorder. But that comes with the disadvantage that all the noises will be heard too.
A cardioid pattern (cardioid coming from the shape of the heart) is best used when the recorder is pointed at a certain person. Recorders that use this pattern almost act like a close-proximity microphone and you will have to move such a recorder from person to person if more people are talking.
The figure eight pattern is great for interviews, where the microphones should only record two sound sources situated opposite of each other. The advantage with these recorders and the ones employing a cardioid pattern is that they ignore the sounds coming from other sources.
You should look for that recorder that allows you to use it in the way you want to. Furthermore, if you need it for more applications, look for a model that has adjustable microphones and that way it will let you modify the polar patterns to accommodate different uses.
But if you want to have better recording sessions in your house, check our guide on home studio mics. You might also be interested in how to choose a good drum mic kit if you intend to record drums.
Storage and recording formats
Of course, you will want a device that lets you record as much as possible without having to constantly stop to transfer or delete files. And depending on what you want to record, you also have to take the file formats into consideration. A format that allows you to capture every sound detail might be too large and you don’t always need that.
However, although some recorders don’t offer too much internal memory, they will offer you the possibility to insert an SD or microSD card in them to boost their storage. Some of them even accept flash drives for that purpose.
Having a device that allows you to store up to 1000 hours of recording time on it is always nice, but you need to take into consideration the format used too. MP3 is a good choice in general if you only want to record audio that will not be used for music or movies.
If you want more freedom with processing the files after you record them, use the WAV format. This type of file is great for musicians, but it’s slightly larger than MP3, on the bad side. A slightly less-used format is the WMA, and this one has the purpose of making it possible for you to use the recordings in Windows Media Player. You will generally find out that recorders offer MP3 and WAV formats.
Settings and editing capabilities
People that have used digital recorders for a long time already know what they want from such a device. However, some users only just start to use recorders, and for them, it’s important that the device is as easy to use as possible. But not just for them. Any user can find himself or herself in the situation in which something needs to be recorded really fast. A good digital recorder allows you to quickly navigate through its options and start recording.
Voice-activated digital recorders make starting the device and capturing sounds a fast process. The volume at which the sounds are captured is also important. While cheap digital recorders allow you to manually change the volume anytime you want, the newest models do that automatically.
Furthermore, some digital recorders have a system that adjusts the sound levels, so that the recording doesn’t have peaks or valleys in terms of volume. You can even set such devices to start recording once a certain minimum sound level has been reached. If your recorder has those capabilities, you can add more diversity to the sounds using a midi controller keyboard. You can also use a synthesizer keyboard for that purpose.
People that want to use a digital recorder for more than just capturing a person talking, are going to look at what editing capabilities the device offers. If you are going to have long recording sessions, it’s useful to benefit from a feature that allows you to split the track, or make notes on it. You might want the recorder to accept a pair of studio headphones so you can produce music.