You might think that your smartphone can handle audio recordings, and it can, but not as well as a digital device dedicated to recording audio can. Our best digital voice recorders guide is going to equip you with the perfect device to capture audio with, whether it's for recording lectures or just collecting your thoughts. Most digital voice recorders have a single-button record, so you can capture audio instantly without having to swipe-unlock, load your recording app, set it up, and then record.
The Zoom H6 is good enough for professionals that want the best quality thanks to the high-fidelity microphones and four XLR/TLS inputs on this six-track recorder. The mic controls are easy enough to use with gain variations tracked and EQ settings variable. You get an XY and a mid-side microphone. Everything is recorded to a 128GB SD card
The Olympus WS-852 sound quality is great thanks to dual microphones and a pop-out stand to keep table vibrations to a minimum. A low cut filter and auto adjustments help to make sure audio is consistently high quality regardless of your location. USB connector easily transfers files from the 4GB onboard or 32GB microSD memory. Playback at varying speeds or use voice-activated recording.
The EVISTR mini voice recorder has an omnidirectional microphone making it well suited to varying locations and needs. The memory is on board and at 16GB you can get up to 560 hours worth of audio stored at the lower quality MP3 option. The included USB cable can be used to quickly transfer files to a PC or Mac.
Affordable digital voice recorder
With the Sony ICD-BX140, you get a big screen with lots of data, easy to use buttons, and a compact design with a headphone port for private listening. Quality is decent with a low-cut filter helping cut out wind noise from that mono microphone. The MP3 quality comes in 128 kbps and 192 kbps options with up to 4,175 hours of storage.
The Olympus VN-541PC one-touch recording is ideal for a hurried start. The built-in microphone and 4GB of storage will get you up to 1,570 hours of recording in WMA format. You can transfer files using the USB port, or listen directly with the speaker or headphone jack. The background noise cancellation is a particularly nice feature at this price, making it ideal for coffee shop interviews and class lectures.
What to look for in a digital voice recorder
Beyond audio fidelity, there are myriad other features to consider when choosing a digital voice recorder. When you know what features are available and which ones you need, you have the best chance of finding a quality recorder that fits your budget:
Most digital voice recorders fall under one of two categories: those meant for amateur or casual users and those made for professionals. If you fall under the former category – say, if you’re a student looking to record your professors’ lectures – a simple lower-end model is more than sufficient. There are plenty of recorders that focus on recording audio over creating high-quality audio files.
However, if you want to record your latest album of guitar songs or your voice acting portfolio, it’s critical you invest in a high-end recorder, as they create better sounding audio files. More expensive recorders are more powerful, have more customization options, and sound better during playback.
Smaller voice recorders last about eight hours per charge, depending on what you record and which settings you use. This is more than enough time to record a lecture or a few short audio clips. Most recorders have decent standby capacity as well, so you don’t have to constantly charge them or replace the batteries often.
For light users, storage isn’t really an issue. However, if you record frequently or capture large, high-quality files, you need a device that has lots of internal storage or supports large SD cards. If you buy a recorder with insufficient storage, you’ll have to constantly delete old files, which is a hassle.
Size & Weight
Some of the recorders we tested are small enough to fit in your backpack, purse, or even your front pocket. These small recorders won’t weigh you down should you have to lug them around all the time, and they aren’t conspicuous. However, they are typically lower-end models with fewer features.
Larger recorders are heavier and harder to maneuver, especially if you have microphones plugged into them. Consider how mobile your recorder needs to be and how much storage space you have before you buy.
Ease of Use
Smaller, lower-end recorders are all generally easy to use – spend five or 10 minutes reading their user manuals or tinkering with them, and you can find all the menus and features you’ll probably ever need to use. Higher-end recorders are much more complicated. They have lots more features and usually come with thick user manuals that take quite some time to read. You likely won’t be able to use a professional-quality recorder without first reading a good portion of the manual.
Audio fidelity is the overall accuracy of the sound as represented by the digital recording. The audio fidelity of a digital audio recording largely depends on the sampling rate and the bit depth. Since most people hear with two ears, mono and stereo recording can also affect fidelity.
The sampling rate is the number of times per second audio is recorded. It helps to imagine it like a video camera, which generally takes 24 still-frame images each second. When you view those still frames one after the other in quick succession, you see movement. When these auditory samples are played one after another, you hear intelligible sound.
Most digital voice recorders sample audio with a 44.1kHz or 48kHz rate. The highest-fidelity handheld recorders sample as high as 96kHz. However, humans can’t process sampling rates over 50kHz in a meaningful way, so a 96kHz sampling rate is overdone in most situations.
The bit depth is a measure of the bits of information in each sample. For example, audio recorded on a CD has a bit depth of 16-bits per sample, which is the same as most digital voice recorders. The bit depth determines the amplitude of the sound wave. A higher bit depth means there is a greater dynamic value between the loudest part of the sound wave and the quietest part of the sound wave. Your smartphone records audio at 8 bits per sample, while the highest-fidelity digital audio recorders have 24-bit depths.
The difference in these recordings is the dynamic potential between the loudest sound wave and the quietest sound wave. Imagine recording a roundtable meeting – the person sitting closest to you will sound the loudest, and the person sitting furthest from you will sound the quietest. The bit depth helps interpret how noticeable that volume difference was when you recorded it. As such, it is less important in situations where audio fidelity is not a priority.
In some cases, a lower bit depth with a high-pass filter, which removes unwanted frequencies, is ideal. For example, recording a lecture typically only requires enough fidelity to be able to clearly hear what your professor is saying. In fact, too much fidelity could result in picking up unwanted noise – whispers, chatter, pages being turned, etc.
Mono or Stereo?
Handheld digital recorders either record in mono or stereo. Mono recordings are made on one track, typically with one microphone. This means that when you listen to the track with headphones, you hear an equal mix on the left and right sides. Digital voice recorders that record in stereo must have two microphones, which means they tend to cost more than mono recorders.
The difference between mono and stereo recording is depth. Stereo sound is more true to life because it is how your ears are designed to hear, similar to how two eyes provide vision depth a single eye cannot. For example, if your professor roams around the classroom during a lecture, with a stereo recorder you can identify where they were in the room at any given time. With a mono recording, you only hear fluctuations in the volume of the professor’s voice as they move away from and closer to the recorder.
Most stereo digital audio recorders have their microphones set up in an XY configuration – the microphone on the right is angled to the left side and vice versa. Some allow you to adjust the directions of the microphones so you can record audio with an AB configuration, where the microphones are parallel, or an ORTF configuration, where the microphones are directed away from each other.
Each microphone configuration creates a different stereo image. The XY configuration records sound with the least depth, as the microphones overlap each other. This emphasizes the middle of the mix and is best for recording the main source head on while picking up others on either side. The AB configuration provides more depth by de-emphasizing the center. For the widest stereo image, the ORTF configuration focuses almost entirely on separating the left and the right microphones with very little overlap.