Voice recorders can exceed hundreds of dollars, but you don’t need to spend that to get a good one. Even a cheap voice recorder can get the job done and get it done well. Many of the recorders listed can record lossless, high bit-rate WAV files, giving you plenty of leeway for editing later on. Here are the best voice recorders for less than $100.
Related: Everything you need to record people
Editor’s note: This post was updated on August 12, 2o20, to include links to relevant information.
The best cheap voice recorder is the Zoom H1n
The Zoom H1n, formerly known as the Zoom H1, is the best cheap digital voice recorder. It features unidirectional condenser capsules arranged at a 90° XY stereo recording format. This portable weighs in at just 59g but is heavily feature-packed. You can record a high-quality 24-bit/96kHz WAV file and various MP3 formats.
It has microSD and microSDHC card slots which allow for 32GB of storage. Even if you’re recording lossless WAV files, which don’t compress or “lose” any data and therefore take up more storage, this should be more than enough to get you through an interview or musical recording session (~15 hours of 24-bit/96kHz recording). The microphones can handle up to 120dB SPL loudness levels, so you don’t have to be too concerned about audio clipping. What’s more, Zoom has an integrated low-pass filter for eliminating pops and undesirable low-frequency rumbles.
Other features include a voice-emphasis preset, overdubbing, pre-recording, auto-recording and more. Something that may be beneficial for some and a hassle for others is the external battery requirement, rather than a rechargeable li-ion battery. The Zoom H1n takes two AAA batteries, which is both a blessing and a curse: you can swap new ones in as needed, but it’s a pain to carry them around. Fortunately, it can be powered via 5W USB power, so you can set it up like a USB microphone.
If you’re looking to bridge the gap between amateur and professional, the Zoom H1n is a reliable recorder that does it all for a reasonable price.
What you should know before getting a voice recorder
What do you need a voice recorder for?
Depending on what context you plan to use the recorder in will dictate what kind of recorder you should get. For instance, if you just need something to functionally record audio, say for class notes, a smartphone application may be enough to get the job done. However, if you’re a journalist, you may want something more professional (e.g. the Sony ICD-UX560).
Check out: Best voice recorders of 2020
Additionally, if you intend to record outside or in an unpredictable environment, you may want something with a higher sensitivity so sporadic, loud noises don’t destroy a part of the recording. That’s where you may need to look into the more expensive end of the cheap digital voice recorder spectrum. Regardless, of your use-case, we hope there’s something on this list that suits your needs.
Related: Best microphones for recording
What is bit-depth?
Bit-depth refers to the number of binary digits (bits) encasing data within an audio signal, and the more bits, the more accurately that signal is recorded. Although we’d like to think that 24-bit audio is markedly better than 16-bit audio, from a listening standpoint, the bit-depth increase doesn’t matter. The fact of the matter is that our ears can hardly discern the difference, if at all.
Increasing bit-depth does, however, afford greater flexibility when editing your audio files because it effectively provides more information to play with. If you have a recording that doesn’t sound the way you want it to, a higher bit-depth will make it easier to fix. A larger quantity of data within each audio file means you can eliminate more errors from each individual section of the audio without distorting the overall sound.
If you're going to do heavy editing on your audio tracks, greater bit-depth may be beneficial. Regarding sound quality, anything greater than 16-bit is unnecessary.
A higher bit-depth also minimizes quantization noise, which manifests as a quiet hiss in recordings. However, the difference in quantization noise in 16-bit audio and 24-bit audio is indiscernible. Even if such noise presents itself in your recordings, it can easily be nullified in post-processing.
For the final product, you’ll want to pay more attention to how you compress the file, rather than at what bit-depth it was recorded at. Unless your final track is going to be played back as a lossless WAV file, data is going to be lost during the compression process.
Sample rate refers to how many times per second data is sampled, or how many data points exist per second in an audio file. The human ear can’t perceive more than a 44.1kHz sample rate, and anything greater is just overkill. However, larger files and greater sample rates do afford more flexibility when editing.
Each cheap voice recorder has a maximum sample rate, none of which exceed 44.1kHz. While this may sound measly compared to 384kHz, which the LG V40 supports, it’s absolute overkill. Our ears aren’t sensitive enough to distinguish 44.1kHz versus 48kHz, let alone anything greater. Human hearing sensitivity tops out at 20kHz. This is a best-case scenario, too. Most of us will suffer from some degree of noise-induced hearing loss. If you want to learn more click here, but the main point is this: if your hearing can’t register anything higher-pitched than 22.05kHz, then a 44.1kHz file is plenty.
Need something ultra-portable? Get the Samson Go Mic
The Samson Go Mic is perfect for, well, anyone on the go. Its USB interface makes voice recording silly simple. The package includes the proper USB cable, so you can start recording as soon as you get the microphone. It draws power from your laptop, meaning you don’t have to worry about carrying batteries or charging the Samson Go. The metal stand doubles as a monitor clip, so you don’t have to concern yourself with carrying a mini tripod around. This also makes it a great option for podcast recording.
Samson Go MicFull Review
Don’t let its small size mislead you: this is a capable microphone and can record 16-bit/44.1kHz audio files. While this doesn’t record as much data as the previously mentioned Zoom H1n, it’s more information than the brain can process. Anything greater is overkill.
Related: Best USB microphones
Sony is well acquainted with the consumer audio market, but some may not realize the conglomerate also creates digital voice recorders. This sleek recorder is perfect for situations where you need to be discreet but want audio quality to be better than what your smartphone has to offer. It records both 16-bit/44.1kHz LPCM files and MP3 files.
Its LCD display is crisp and the best looking of the bunch. It informs you of how much space is left on the microSD card. It also lets you visualize any audio markers you create. This recorder is particularly neat because even if you forget a memory card, you can use its 4GB of internal storage for quick recordings. When recording, you may choose between focus and wide mode. The former is good for lectures while the latter is recommended for meetings.
There aren’t many inputs on this cheap voice recorder but it covers the basics: 3.5mm headphone jack and microphone input, which affords added flexibility for recording via lavalier. The rechargeable li-ion battery supports quick charging, so you get one hour of recording from three minutes of charging.
The Tascam DR-05X is feature-packed
The Tascam DR-05X replaces the now discontinued DR-05, and directly competes against the Zoom H1n. Both cheap voice recorders are in a similar price bracket and record up to 24-bit/96kHz WAV high-resolution audio. The two key differences between the two recorders are that Tascam’s model is heavier and bulkier than Zoom’s, and it has a higher sensitivity.
The omnidirectional stereo microphones effectively record ambient sound, and if you want a more acute recording angle, you can always connect an external mic or lavalier. The new model requires two AA batteries which further increases its weight, though it is lighter than its predecessor. That said, the batteries do last for ~17.5 hours when recording the highest quality file format, two-channel 16-bit/44.1kHz WAV. Additionally, the DR-05X now also allows for USB power deliver, so you can plug a USB external battery in and avoid the AAs.
The recorder may be mounted to a camera, and effectively functions as a basic editing station with its auto-tone feature. The Tascam DR-05X still offers great features like auto- and pre-recording. The former automatically begins recording when sounds of a specific loudness are detected, while the latter saves the two seconds before you begin a recording. There are also auto-level and limiter functions to protect you from any excessively loud sounds. If you create a recording but want to overwrite it, that can be done from within the recorder too. New to this model is a non-destructive overdubbing feature, which allows for layering multiple tracks over one another without losing any audio quality on either track.
Suffice to say that this is a remarkably powerful recorder for less than $100.
Don’t spend a dime, or do, with the Hi-Q MP3 app
All of these handheld voice recorders merit being mentioned, but the best cheap voice recorder doesn’t have to cost anything. If you predominantly need a recorder for class notes or casual documenting, a free application gets the job done. Not all free apps are made equally, though; Hi-Q MP3 is one of the best out there. It records 320kbps MP3 files and can record WAV, M4A, OGG, and FLAC (currently experimental).
Hi-Q MP3 Voice recorder
It has useful features like gain adjustment (+/- 20dB) and bit-rate options (MP3 and M4A). You can choose to auto-start recording when the app is opened and which microphone you want to use for recording, if applicable. Additionally, you may record onto your phone’s microSD card, so recordings won’t eat into internal memory. Another perk offered by Hi-Q MP3 that isn’t afforded by many other recording apps is the option to automatically upload new recordings to Google Drive or Dropbox.
The free version limits you to 10 minutes of recording per file, but the premium version can be had for a single payment of $3.99. If you need an excellent recording app for Android, this is the one to get.
Why you should trust us
We respect that audio is both an objective and subjective experience, which is why we combine objective testing and experiential analysis to review products. While we’re always happy to help inform readers of potential products, we strive to educate readers about the inner workings of audio.
This best list is a living document, which will be continuously updated as new products are released. When we highlight a cheap voice recorder here, it’s because it’s a reliable product. That said, nothing is without its faults, which is why we break up our choices categorically. Hopefully, you found something appropriate for your needs. If we missed something, be sure to shoot us an email. For those curious of our ethics policy, click here.
Frequently Asked Questions
Voice recording apps are great for people who prioritize convenience above all else. Whether you need to record a last-minute meeting or song demo, voice recording apps make it quick and easy to jot your ideas down. It is worth noting, however, that most smartphone microphone quality isn't the best, sporting a limited frequency response that fails to capture audio sources in the best manner possible. For the absolute best in audio quality, such as for a published interview or audio sampling, there's no replacement for a good ol' digital voice recorder.