Three best digital voice recorders

Allen Foster

Songwriters and professional musicians rely on digital voice recorders to quickly capture moments of inspiration that may eventually be crafted into a hit song.

Once you use a digital voice recorder, you will wonder how you ever got along without one. They are relatively inexpensive tools that are invaluable for college students who want to get the most out of a lecture. They are also ideal for leaving yourself little reminders and recording those important business meetings in which a great deal of material is covered.

The following is a brief guide designed to provide you with the essential information you need to make an informed purchasing decision when shopping for a digital voice recorder.

Considerations when choosing digital voice recorders

Key features

Microphone(s): Digital recorders come with either one or two microphones. Higher-end models have two mics facing each other at a 90° angle, replicating the XY recording technique that captures a clear stereo image.

Auxiliary input: Sometimes you might need a higher-quality microphone, something a little better than what came with the device. Or maybe you'd like to record a phone conversation or something from your computer. In that case, you'll need a digital recorder with an auxiliary input.

Voice-activated recording: If your recorder has this feature, it won't start recording until it detects sound at a specified level. This is handy for recording speakers at lectures and meetings.

Automatic recording level: If you're new to digital recording, a device that has automatic recording levels is by far the easiest to work. It isn't perfect, though. A sudden loud noise will nearly silence your recorder for a few seconds, but it will come back after the levels readjust. On the other hand, if you set manual levels wrong, you could ruin the entire recording.

Export files: Some digital recorders can perform minor edits. However, to do anything extensive, or if you just want to back up your data or free up more memory on your device, you are going to need a unit that can export audio files to your computer.

Battery level monitor: This is crucial. It tells you roughly how much power you have left. You don't want to unknowingly run out of power in the middle of recording.

Digital voice recorder prices: Most decent recorders cost between $60 and $125. You can find some budget models as low as $30. Professional devices can cost from $200 to $400.


Q. What's the best file format to use?

A. Unless you need high-quality recordings that will be played back on high-end equipment in professional audio situations, stick to MP3 files. The files take up a fraction of the space, and most people won't be able to hear any appreciable difference in the sound quality.

Q. What's the best way to get a good recording?

A. A recorder isn't magic; it simply documents what it hears. For best results, aim it in the direction of the sound source and place it as close as possible. The more distance between the sound and your mic, the more room noise you will record. If possible, do a test recording first to make sure you're happy with the results. Monitor the device throughout the entire recording session to make sure nothing changes in your setup and the batteries don't fail.

Digital voice recorders we recommend

Best of the best: Sony ICD-PX440 Stereo IC Digital Voice Recorder

Our take: A powerful little recorder that is highly flexible and has an impressive number of features to help you get the best recording in many different situations.

What we like: This digital recorder has numerous buttons for easy access to the main features. A built-in USB, noise filters, expandable memory, and a hold switch (to stave off accidental button presses) make this a remarkably versatile unit.

What we dislike: The lack of a backlit screen can make the recorder difficult to see in lower-light environments.

Best bang for your buck: Dictopro Digital Voice Activated Recorder

Our take: A durable little recorder that is great for taking notes.

What we like: The aluminum body is lightweight but durable. Using the voice-activated feature makes this an efficient tool for recording lectures. The 8GB of internal memory allows the recorder to hold approximately 700 hours of recordings, and the included accessories are a welcome money-saving gift.

What we dislike: The streamlined interface can initially be a little confusing when it comes to accessing certain frequently used functions.

Choice 3: Sony ICD-BX140 4GB Digital Voice Recorder

Our take: A budget-priced digital voice recorder that is impressively versatile and easy to use.

What we like: The recorder has features, such as divide track and a hold switch, that you would only expect to find in higher-priced models. Many of the functions are automatic, so it's easy to master right out of the box.

What we dislike: The lack of computer interface limits the functionality of this unit.

Allen Foster is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money. BestReviews never accepts free products from manufacturers and purchases every product it reviews with its own funds.

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