Whether you’re a student, an interviewer, someone who needs to keep track of presentations at the office, or just a person who loves to record their own voice, a digital recorder will go a long way in fulfilling your needs.
Digital recorders are the modern reincarnations of the old tape recorders that were so popular a couple of decades ago. They’re not only smaller and more reliable, but also offer a ton of vital features that make them far better standalone products for audio recording than your average smartphone.
Best Digital Recorders in 2019 Reviewed
Brands that make some of the best digital recorders out there include Sony, Philips, Zoom, Olympus, and more. We’ve handpicked our 5 favorite digital recorders available right now and reviewed them. To help you with your purchase, we’ve also written a buyer’s guide at the end to provide some further insight on digital recorders, so you know what to look out for.
Our Top Pick
Best Digital Recorder Out There
The Sony UX560 has a sleek, slim design and comes with a backlit screen. It has fantastic audio recording quality and comes with a lot of advanced features, including a slidable USB 3.0 plug and integrated battery.
In terms of overall experience, the Sony UX560 is the best performing digital recorder out there.
Affordable Yet Great
The Sony ICD-PX470 comes with a long-lasting 55 hours battery life with two AAA batteries, has a USB 3.0 port for easy file transfer, and gets the job done with lots of features similar to the ICD-PX470 at less than half the price.
Though not quite on the same level as some of the more expensive models, the Sony PX470 is still a great choice for anyone looking to spend less than $50 on a reliable digital recorder.
The Sony UX560 is our top pick for its slim and intuitive design, fantastic recording quality, and a great set of features. This digital recorder has a bright backlit screen that makes it easy to read. The layout of the buttons is intuitive and easy to get around. Navigating through it is a breeze thanks to its toggle menu.
The slim design means you don’t require any external battery for this digital recorder either. Most digital recorders require external batteries, but Sony circumvents that by adding an integrated battery that can be charged easily with a charger. With a full charge, you can record up to 27 hours with a full charge in MP3 format, or 23 hours in the uncompressed LPCM audio format.
Sony adds a built-in USB 3.0 plug into its UX560 model which extends and retracts with a sliding button. This makes the transfer of recordings extremely easy to a laptop or computer. The recorder comes in with 4GB of storage for 39 hours of recording time. You can extend the battery thanks to its microSD slot to up to 32GB.
The recording audio is great, and there are multiple additional neat features such as scene selection features, location marking for your recordings, and voice-activated recording. You can even plug an external mic to the device for even better audio quality.
- Great recording quality
- Packed with great features
- Sleek design
- Bright, clear screen
- Built-in slidable USB plug
- Deleted files isn’t intuitive
- Some users reported the USB port failing
Olympus is well known for making excellent, rugged cameras, but they also make a wonderful digital recorder in the form of the WS-853. It features great storage space and excellent battery life.
The recording quality isn’t quite on par with the Sony UX560, but if you’ll be recording in silent environments like lecture rooms and prefer a slightly cheaper alternative to our top pick, the WS-853 is a great choice.
Olympus offers 8GB of storage space in this digital recorder, and you can expand it further with a microSD card. What’s more, it can record an impressive 110 hours of audio on a single charge using the MP3 format at 128Kbps.
The monochromatic screen on the Olympus WS-853 is one of the largest among digital recorders. However, the screen isn’t backlit, so you might struggle in lower light conditions to read it. Olympus also provides a pop out USB 3.0 plug to easily connect to your computer for file transfers. Like the UX560, there is also a voice-activated mode that automatically stops based on the volume levels of the surroundings.
- Huge integrated storage space
- Fantastic battery
- Good set of features
- Built-in slidable USB plug
- Tinny sound
- Lacks features like dedicated transcription mode and digital pitch control
The Zoom H2N is a popular choice for many because of its compact design and sleek looks. Zoom’s lineup of digital recorders has become one of the most popular in recent times, and that’s because they have certain features that few others possess.
For instance, the Zoom H2N is one of the very few digital recorders to feature five built-in microphones in it. There are also four different recording modes that take maximum use of these many microphones, which makes the H2N versatile enough to be used in concerts, rehearsals, interviews, lectures, office meetings, and more.
The Zoom H2N has no internal memory of its own, so the recordings are stored directly on the memory card. The expandable storage goes up to 32GB for hundreds of hours of recording capacity. The Zoom H2N comes with a 2GB microSD card by default, which is a little conservative in our opinion.
Recording modes include 2 channel and 4 channel stereo recording as well. Additionally, you have onboard effects like compression, chromatic tuner, and low-cut filtering to get the best recording quality possible. There are also more features such as auto gain, auto-record functionality, and pre-record features.
With the Zoom H2N, you can also record 360-degree spatial audio files that can be used with Google’s JUMP VR platform that is also compatible with YouTube. The Zoom H2N uses external batteries. A pair of batteries can record for up to 20 hours.
- Five microphones make this device very versatile
- Great design
- Advanced set of features
- Spatial recording possible that is compatible with JUMP and YouTube
- Not the most intuitive control layout
- Comes with only 2GB microSD, which is disappointing given the price
If you’re looking for an affordable alternative to the UX560 or the Zoom H2N, the Sony ICD-PX470 is a great choice. It follows a similar design concept to the UX560, with a few compromises here and there.
The recording quality can’t match up to its bigger brother, but if you don’t need absolutely crisp, clear recording and just need something that does the job, then the PX470 is a great option.
What you do get though with the PX470 is far superior battery life. It has an impressive run time of 55 hours. However, there is no integrated battery; you’ll have to rely on AAA batteries with this one. The Sony PX470 is also physically larger and bulkier than the UX560. Button layout, however, is intuitive as ever, and the ever-handy slidable USB 3.0 plug is still present for easy file transferring to a computer.
Features such as voice-activated automatic recording, noise cut, and low cut filters, scene options, and more are still integrated into this device. Though it won’t be suitable to record lectures in large lecture halls or bigger classrooms (especially if you’re a backbencher), the PX470 is more than adequate for interviews, office presentations, and voice memos.
- Great value
- Packed with nifty features for the price
- Long lasting battery
- Built-in slidable USB plug
- Thicker and bulkier than more expensive digital recorders
- Audio quality not as great as more expensive models
If you want a digital recorder that feels and functions a lot like a smartphone, the Philips DPM6000 is a great option. It will cost you around $250, but you’re getting a color, backlit LCD panel on it which makes navigation as intuitive as using a smartphone with a few buttons.
DPM stands for Digital Pocket Memo, and the DPM6000 is indeed compact enough to fit in your pocket. It has a very sturdy stainless steel construction which makes it extremely durable. Functionally, the DPM6000 is one of the very few digital recorders to feature DSS or Digital Speed Standard. DDS is a proprietary compressed audio format designed to work with dictation software. This provides more accurate transcription results than standard audio files, making it invaluable to those who need written transcripts of their audio recordings.
The DPM6000 comes with a 4GB microSD card. It also has a removable, special lithium-ion battery that is rechargeable, and Philips is kind enough to provide the buyer with a cable. The voice recording quality of the DPM6000 is fantastic as well, and the features are what you’d expect with a $250 digital recorder.
- Colored LCD screen
- Stainless steel construction makes it very durable
- Great recording quality
- DSS format included
- Menu is difficult to navigate
Obviously, the recording quality is essential to many. It plays a major role in how clear your recordings are. It is true that recording quality is predominantly influenced by the quality of the microphones of any digital recorder.
However, additional factors should also be considered. These include bitrate, additional features such as noise cancellation, low and high cut filters, and much more.
The memory capacity of your digital recorder determines how many hours of total recordings you can make. Bear in mind that recording at higher bitrates or in certain formats will create much larger files, so it’s often not a good idea to always measure the memory in terms of the total number of recordable hours.
Some digital recorders come with built-in memory, while others come with a microSD slot out of the box. Almost all modern digital recorders though give you the option to expand the memory beyond the default capacity, usually either up to a maximum of 32GB or 64GB.
Most digital recorders use a pair of AAA batteries to be powered. However, there are certain recorders (such as our top pick) that have integrated lithium-ion batteries, like smartphones, that can be recharged with a cable.
The battery life provided on a single charge varies greatly from model to model. Battery life is also influenced by the bitrate and format you record at. Digital recorders with backlit displays often have lower battery life than ones without, but the advantages of a backlit panel far outweigh a few hours of extra juice.
The interface of any digital recorder should be easy and intuitive, yet comprehensive and deep. This goes for both the physical interface (the buttons) as well as navigation through the menu of any digital recorder with a display.
How complicated you want your interface and features to be depends entirely on your usage, but if you’re buying a digital recorder instead of using your smartphone, chances are you’re searching for advanced features that give better control to your audio recordings. For this reason, the interface and advanced features become essential for many.
A digital recorder will help you record lectures, interviews, office meetings, voice memos, and much more in a simple and easy way. Digital recorders are dedicated gadgets for recording audio; it’s the only thing they do, and they do it in a much better way than any other device.
Can smartphones be good enough substitutes for audio recording?
While most smartphones offer basic recording and there are even some great apps that give you added control, the design of the microphones in a smartphone and the general fidelity is lacking. Audio quality is average at best. Furthermore, smartphone microphones aren’t designed to clearly pick up audio beyond a few inches from them. Digital recorders, on the other hand, can pick up audio from even 10 to 15 feet away clearly, especially when their microphones are pointed towards the audio source.