Best Portable Digital Recorders

(Last Updated On: May 26, 2021)
Recording voice via digital recorder.

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.

Portable digital recorders, of course, are far better than the recorder of a smartphone. Since they are designed and dedicated for recording voice, they produce better voice recording quality. Moreover, they come with custom features, more memory space, and their use appear more professional than that of the smartphone.  

Buyer’s Guide: Things To Consider When Buying A Portable Digital Voice Recorder

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.

a) Omnidirectional:

The small handheld digital recorders that use the built-in omnidirectional microphones capture the sound sources from all 360 degrees directions.

b) Bi-directional:

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.

c) Unidirectional:

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.

Microphone Configurations

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

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.

Batteries

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Budget

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

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.

Best Portable Digital Recorders For Recording Live Music & Vocal Contents

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. 

There is a wide range of portable digital recorders in the market today. This makes choosing the right one more difficult, given the myriads of options at hand. To facilitate the choosing process for you, we will discuss here the two best options you have for portable digital recorders for live music:

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links, meaning I may get a commission if you make a purchase through my links, at no extra cost to you. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

1) Tascam DR-70D 4-Channel Audio Recorder

The Tascam DR-70D 4-Channel Audio Recorder is a powerhouse PCM recorder that is equipped with different types of gadgets. It packs a lot of punch and power for live sound recording. It features 4 XLR inputs along with a built-in omnidirectional stereo mic. Every input of this recorder comes with a low-cut filter, individual gain control of up to 64dB, and a limiter.

You can use this digital recorder for television, filmmaking, and web broadcasting amplifications. It lets you record direct ambient sounds. The DR-70D is a perfect companion of the DSLR. It can capture up to 4 tracks of high-quality audio from outside or external sources using its omnidirectional mic. You can use it to route audio from your camera and vice versa. It also allows you to monitor the sound through your headphones.

The Tascam DR-70D comes with strap-friendly handles, along with a tripod mounting socket, plus a camera-mount screw attachment. This digital recorder is compatible with different working styles and setups. Another thing is that this recorder comes with the Dual Recording Mode feature. This feature lets you record a lower level copy of your recording allowing you easy post-production operation. 

The downside of using this recorder, however, is that its battery life is not that great. Thus, you will be needing an extra battery to fully maximize its use.

Pros:

  • Basically got all the features you would need as a singer and musician in a portable digital recorder. It works darn well and is a favorite of many singers and musicians.
  • It is also affordable.

Cons:

  • It will take a bit of time to master its setup, but once you’ve got the hang of it, it will work perfectly.
  • Its battery life, of course, is short.

2) Zoom H4n Pro 4-Track Portable Recorder

Another great option if you are looking for a dedicated portable digital recorder is the Zoom H4n Pro 4-Track Portable Recorder. The Zoom H4N Pro features a 1.9″ LCD that indicates your recording options and various selections. It also features three buttons such as 4CH, MTR, and that of stereo and panel selection. This allows you easy control of this recorder, letting you tinker with the fast forward, recording, play, and reverse features.

The ideal way to utilize this recorder is to use it using a camera or tripod. This is because if you handle it manually, it may also pick up the handling noise. 

This portable recorder weighs around 300 grams making it easy to carry around anywhere. Its body is wrought in rubberized material. It can handle a maximum sound pressure of up to 140dB. This makes this portable recorder great for recording and listening to heavy EDM and heavy metal sound.

Another feature of this digital recorder lies in the fact that it is easily adjustable to the appropriate angle for setting it directly to the directional range of the sound you want to record. Moreover, it comes with a 0.125-inch stereo out which you can use to connect it to the DSLR camera. It also comes with an earphone or headphone input port.

Pros:

  • Comes with awesome features, considering its less than $200 price. It is a high-fidelity recorder that provides four tracks.
  • It is portable and offers clarity of onboard mics. It also supplies its own phantom power to the mic.
  • It is easy to use with a low learning curve.
  • It also features a karaoke mode that lets you sing to a background track.

Cons:

  • It has a limited recording capability without an SD card. So, you need to purchase an SD card.
  • Its USB necessitates a mini-USB cord.
  • You would need rechargeable batteries to get this thing going if it is not connected to your computer.

3) 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.

Pros:

  • Very compact choice that is easy to use with its internal mics. It delivers good sound and will always come in handy if you need to record something quickly.

Cons:

  • It will be complicated to record from your plug-in mics and guitar.


4) 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.

Pros:

  • Portable audio recorder that is versatile enough with its four microphones that let your record a wide range of sounds.
  • It has long-lasting batteries that could last up to 20 hours of use.
  • It is easy to use and is user-friendly.
  • You can use this recorder as a microphone for your smartphone and computer.
  • It has excellent DAW compatibility. It is compatible with ShortCut, Audacity, and other DAWs.

Cons:

  • Its durability is suspect, due to its having a plastic body.
  • Out of the box, you won’t get any Mini-USB cable and SD card.
  • It will take a bit of time to get used to its toggle switch.

5) 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.

Pros:

The H2 shows a remarkable improvement over the H1 when it comes to battery life. The H1 drains quickly, while H2 does not show any such issue.

  • When it comes to USB support, you can quickly change the SD card of the H2 recorder. Moreover, you can install things into your H2 recorder by simply connecting it to your computer.
  • Compared to the H1, the H2 is much easier to use.
  • The H2 features a metronome that is not present in the H1.

Cons:

  • The recorder doesn’t record continuously, according to some users.
  • Moreover, some users say that they need to replace the batteries every after two months.

6) 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.

Pros:

  • Quality sound and good sensitivity to vocal recordings.
  • This voice recorder also only activates recording when it senses audible sound. This allows it to conserve memory space and does away with soundless passages.

Cons:

  • Its display screen is a bit dim and challenging to read.

Conclusion

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 Tascam DR-70D, Zoom H4n Pro, TASCAM DR-40, and Zoom H2n.

However, you can go for the low/mid-range recorders (Zoom H1, Sony ICD-UX533 and Dictopro X100) if you use it for general recording purposes such as lecturings, interviews, casual music/singing demo, and other general recording applications.


FAQs About Portable Digital Recorder

As you search for the best portable digital recorder, it would be good to be cognizant of the frequently asked questions about digital recorder that you may be asking likewise:

What Are The Differences of Smartphone Recorder & Portable Digital Recorder?

The thing is the contemporary smartphones that you would usually use have their voice recorder. Yet, this voice recorder does not have the specialized features that make the portable digital recorders different. The portable digital recorders come with features like the four-channel recording tracks with 2 XLR/TRS, ports for dedicated mics and headphones, line and phone outputs, larger memory, and many other features that can make your recording of high quality.

Is A Portable Digital Recorder Easy to Use?

Since the portable digital recorder is specifically designed for recording voice, it is customized for easy use. You only need to tap on the record button to begin recording. It is also easy to pause or end recording. Moreover, it lets you transfer files with ease using its USB port. It also comes with advanced features that you can easily master using its manual.  

Are More Expensive Digital Recorders Better?

The price of digital recorders, of course, is only one of the indicators of the quality of a portable digital recorder. However, more often, the cheaper portable digital recorders come with basic features like basic mics and are devoid of the more sophisticated features of the more expensive ones.

Final Words

Most portable digital recorders come with the basic features that would enable their users to record voice or sound immediately. The high-end portable digital recorders, on the other hand, come with specialized features. It would be good to know which features you would often need when shopping around for the ideal digital recorder. If you are on a budget, however, you can still choose a less expensive recorder and there are plenty to choose from when it comes to budget-friendly digital recorders.

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