The small handheld digital recorders are suitable to be used in the interviews, meetings, presentation recordings, and to record other conversational voice contents. Furthermore, it’s particularly useful for singers, songwriters and composers to record his/her songs and musical ideas whenever the ideas emerged.
It’s small enough for the users to bring them anywhere in the pocket. Thus, the portable digital recorder is a killer recording device that you can use to record your vocal rehearsals, singing voice, musical ideas, outdoor environment, and other audio contents anywhere you go. Let’s review some of the best portable digital recorders on the market.
Things To Consider When Buying A Portable Digital Voice Recorder
1) Microphone Polar Patterns
It dictates the microphone pointing directions of the recorder. And it’s also known as the different sound pick-up directions which include; omnidirectional, bi-directional and unidirectional.
The small handheld digital recorders that use the built-in omnidirectional microphones capture the sound sources from all 360 degrees directions.
If it utilizes the bi-directional microphone, then the digital recorder is made to capture the sound sources from the front and back directions only.
And the unidirectional microphone only pick-up the sound source that is undeviatingly in the front direction of the digital recorder. It will allow the recording sounds more isolated with more clarity. Therefore, it’s more suitable for recording the singer or musician solo performance by blocking out all the unrelated surrounding ambient noise.
The Microphone configurations of the digital handheld recorder are XY, MS and AB arrangements. It depicts the position and direction of the microphone set-up.
a) XY Configuration:
It is a set-up that has two cardioid microphones positioned at the angle of 90 & 135 degrees in order to produce a stereo image. This kind of setup is very good at reducing phase issues while recording.
b) MS Configuration:
It is also known as the “Mid-side” setup, where it has a mid-microphone that points directly to the sound source, and a bi-directional side microphone that points at the left and right sides.
c) AB Configuration:
This AB set-up is the configuration where two omi-directional/cardioid microphones are pointed in the left and right to capture the stereo image of audio recordings.
3) Storage Features
The storage capacity and storage file formats are the most fundamental consideration factors for all the portable recording devices. You should go for the larger storage capacity if you use it for longer recording duration at one-take. And you have to make sure that the type of format the digital recording device supported. And most of the devices will support WAV and MP3 formats.
The memory capacity of the digital voice recorder commonly at 16MB to 2GB storage capacity. Most models have additional memory card slots available for you to expand its memory capacity with the external memory cards.
The battery life and options are equally important when choosing a suitable digital recorder. You should opt for the portable digital recorders that can be used run on the rechargeable batteries if you use it all day long with limited charging time available. And you should make sure whether it’s able to be charged with an AC adapter/USB cable.
5) File Transfer Features
Most recorders use the USB cable for audio file transferring to your PC. And some models will have a direct built-in USB installed in the device. However, some advanced digital recorders are utilizing the Wifi and Bluetooth technology for transferring the audio file to your PC.
6) External Microphones?
Your recordings will be even more flexible and adaptable to any recording environments if you can plug in the external mics into your digital recorder device. Sometimes, the built-in mics will not suitable for all the recording environments and applications. You will need more specialized external mics to capture more quality audio images in different recording purposes and settings.
7) Additional Advanced Features
The advanced sound controlling features will make your recording experience more compelling and enjoyable. The features such as compression, EQ, reverb, speaker playback, multi-tracking, and multiple stereo channels are the features you should be looking for if you intend you opt for the one with extra features.
8) Your Purposes of Using The Voice Recorder
What is your purpose in using the digital voice recorder? The applications are so diverse that which ranged from vocal recording, music recording, interview, meeting, classroom uses, outdoor environment recording and so much more. A single recorder will not fit all applications. Some recorders might be perfectly suitable for a particular application while being very weak for other applications.
If you plan to use it for audio recording in the classroom, interview, vocal and casual singing, those affordable low or mid-range digital voice recorders will be sufficient to deliver good sound quality for these purposes. And you should go for the high-end digital recorders if you plan to use it for more professional sound or music production projects.
9) PC & Mac Compatibility
Most digital recorders sync its audio files to iTunes (Mac) and Windows Media Player (Windows) via the “drag-and-drop” syncing features. Most of them commonly capable of saving the audio file in WAV, MP3 and WMA formats. Just be careful, there are some digital recorders that are only compatible with the Windows.
You have to take all the required fundamental features into consideration when choosing the perfect digital recorder that fits your budget. How many tracks do you need for recording? Do you need a microSD card? How much internal memory capacity you are looking for? All these little things added up to the price tag. What are the features you need
11) Additional Digital Recorder Accessories Required?
There are many digital recorder accessories that you might be probably going to use in recording such as the windscreen, tripod stand, AC adapter, USB cable, case mic clip adapter, auxiliary cable, carrying case and etc. Some recorders will include some of the essential accessories in bundles for discounted prices. If you plan to use the recorder in many applications and recording environments, I would suggest that you should purchase the digital recorder and its accessories in bundles with a more affordable price, instead of buying them one-by-one after that.
Affordable Portable Digital Voice Recorders
1) Zoom H1 Handy Portable Digital Recorder
The Zoom H1 digital recorder is quite user-friendly and packed with many advanced features. It uses built-in 90˚ stereo XY microphones with a stereo 3.5mm selectable mic/line input. You can record the stereo images with the maximum storage capacity up to 32GB via microSD or microSDHC cards. It also comes with the built-in monitoring speaker and line output jack with volume control function. It supports WAV audio (up to 24-bit/96kHZ) and MP3 audio to 320 kbps. It can last for 10 hours of recording time with a single AA alkaline/ rechargeable NiMH battery.
To sum up, the Zoom H1 is very straightforward digital recorders that fit for most of the general applications such as recording singing rehearsals, musical ideas, interviews, and classroom lecturing. For this price point, it is a quality recording device for general uses, unless you are looking for those high-end models.
2) Dictopro X100 – Digital Voice Activated Recorder
The Dictopro X100 is a digital voice activated recorder that uses two sensitive microphones with a dynamic noise reduction feature that you can record the HD quality recordings up to 40ft away.
The Dictopro X100 recorder will start recording when there is sound detected. You can use it as a hidden spy digital recorder if you want to. It does come with an internal memory capacity of 8GB for up to 700 hours of recording duration. Recording formats are in MP3 and WAV formats (up to 1536kbps). Furthermore, it also has the built-in playback speaker installed with the MP3/APE/FLAC playback formats. Its battery can last for 10 hours of recording time.
It’s more suitable for recording the long conversations/interviews, classroom lecturings, speeches that you don’t even need to hit the on & off button frequently during the long recording duration.
Professional/Advanced Digital Voice Recorders
1) Sony ICD-UX533 Digital Voice Recorder
The Sony ICD-UX533 is one of the high-end digital voice recorders that packed with advanced and useful features. And the best part is the operations and navigations are very user-friendly and straightforward without overloaded its screen with those fancy features that you are not going to use.
The Sony ICD-UX533 record and playback its recorded audio files in MP3, WMA, ACC, and WAV formats. It featuring a 4GB of internal memory for up to 1073 hours of recording duration and also come with an additional microSD card slot for expanding its memory capacity via the external microSD card. And it also capable of operating up to 30 hours with a rechargeable battery. Other useful features such as built-in playback speaker, backlit display and built-in direct-connect USB have made the Sony ICD-UX533 one of the portable voice recorders you must take into consideration.
The advanced features I like the most are the 2-element stereo microphone array, noise reduction filter and the higher bit rate recording. Thus, it is capable of recording higher quality stereo imaging with greater clarity. Therefore, it is very suitable for music and vocal recordings to capture every nuance of the targeted sound sources in detail.
2) TASCAM DR-40 4-Track Portable Digital Recorder
The TASCAM DR-40 is the most advanced and high-end portable digital voice recorder that claimed the top spot on our review list. Featuring 4-track recording and playback, adjustable internal microphones that switchable between 90-degree angle XY and left-right AB directions. Its record and playback in WAV, BWF, and MP3 formats. For its connections, It uses 2 XLR/TRS (stereo) combo jack for inputs and 1 Line out 1/8″ stereo jack for output connections.
It does come with a storage memory of 2GB microSD and can be expandable to 128GB. The battery life can last for 17 to 20.5 hours recording time with 3 AA Ni-Mh or Alkaline batteries. The most advanced features are the phantom power, EQ, reverb, low cut filter, chromatic tuner, and optional align.
To sum up, the TASCAM DR-40 is suitable for those professional users who want to record multi-tracks from different directions.
3) Zoom H2n Handy Recorder
The Zoom H2n is a professional and high-end voice recorder packed with lots of advanced and versatile features to adaptable for almost any type of recording environment. It is only a portable voice recorder on the market currently that features 5 built-in microphones and 4 adjustable recording modes (X/Y, Mid-Side/A-B, 2-channel surround, and 4-channel surround).
It also comes with the built-in monitoring speaker, inputs of Line In jack that can support two channels of microphone as well as the mic that require plug-in power (line-level signals). And it also features the Line Out outputs that support stereo line out and a headphone jack with its dedicated volume control. Furthermore, you can even use it as a 2-in/2-out audio interface or USD microphone.
Other advanced features such as Auto Gain, Auto-record, and Pre-record features, plus Data Recovery function, Onboard effects (compression/limiting plus chromatic tuner, low-cut filtering, and metronome), and variable speed playback. Moreover, it can record and playback the audio files in MP3 (up to 320kbps) and WAV format (up to 24-bit/96kHz).
If you are looking for a professional voice recorder that can be used in diverse recording applications, then the Zoom H2n is the one you should go for.
In my opinion, be prepared to spend more than a hundred for a high-end professional digital recorder if you are going to use it for professional usages such as music/sound productions, interview/speech recordings for media uses and vocal/singing recording for musical productions. The recommended professional portable digital recorders are Sony ICD-UX533, TASCAM DR-40, and Zoom H2n.
However, you can go for the low/mid-range recorders (Zoom H1, Dictopro X100) that only will cost you less than a hundred if you use it for general recording purposes such as lecturings, interviews, casual music/singing demo, and other general recording applications.