There is more to audio than just listening to music and podcasts on your headphones or speakers. Good audio can be a handy tool whether you’re recording video, taking notes in class, or making sure that you don’t miss anything important during an interview. Whatever your intended use case, it’s always a good idea to keep a voice recorder at the ready just in case. These are some of the best voice recorders available right now.
Editor’s note: this post was updated on March 17, 2021, to address an FAQ about USB mics.
Most people should go with the Zoom H1n
One of the most trusted names in portable recording is Zoom. The company has a number of products ranging from intro level recording to professional gear, and the Zoom H1n bridges that gap. You can use it as a microphone for interviews, set it down on a table and just leave it be, or attach a lavalier mic to it thanks to the input on the side.
It features stereo condenser microphones that are protected from damage by the plastic cage surround them, and there are a few basic effects such as lo cut and a limiter you can add right on the recorder as well. It records in 96kHz/24-bit in WAV or MP3 format which is more than enough to get the job done for most people. It also accepts microSD cards and you’ll get about 10 hours of use via two AAA batteries.
Best voice recorder for an interview or a meeting: Sony ICDUX560BLK
Sony seems to be great at just about everything. It already has some of the top-performing active noise cancelling headphones on the market thanks to their top-notch microphones, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that it has a great option for digital voice recorders too. The Sony ICDUX560BLK recorder is a sleek piece of tech that almost looks like a remote control.
Sony ICDUX560BLK voice recorder
It has an LCD display that lets you see how much time is remaining on the memory card and has three recording options. You can switch between wide, narrow, or normal depending on how much of what’s going on you want to hear in the final recording. It accepts microSD cards but also has 4GB of internal storage so if you forget the memory card you can still get what you need.
Mobile video creators should get the Shure MV88+
If you have a smartphone, then you already have a pretty good voice recorder. The problem is that the microphones built into your phone aren’t great, which is why Shure made the MV88+. I’ll admit this pick is kind of cheating since it isn’t technically a voice recorder, but just by adding this mic to your smartphone you can really step up the audio quality of your recordings and just use the tiny supercomputer in your pocket.
Shure MV88+Full Review
The condenser mic can connect to either iOS devices via Lightning or Android devices via USB-C, so make sure to get the correct one for you. You can also use it with Garageband or Filmic Pro for the mobile creators out there. It has multiple polar pattern options and also comes with a mini Manfrotto Tripod. While it isn’t cheap, it’s a great value.
For serious production pick up the Zoom H5
If you’re a little more serious about your gear and how your audio sounds, then pick up the Zoom H5 which gives you some more flexibility when it comes to using it with high-end gear. Not only does the Zoom H5 have some pretty great condenser mics built into the top of it similar to the Zoom H1n mentioned above, but it also has two XLR/TRS combo inputs on the bottom which means you can plug in a pro-level microphone like the Shure SM58 dynamic mic.
You can even independently set the levels for each input. It records onto an SD card that can go up to 32GB and runs off of 2 AA batteries. It can even provide phantom power to a mic if it needs it, though that will drain the batteries quicker. Not to mention that if you really need to, you can plug this into your computer and just use it as an audio interface instead. While that isn’t its first use-case, it gets the job done nicely in a pinch.
Anyone not looking to break the bank should check out the Evistr Digital Voice Recorder
If you’re not looking to spend too much money but still want a dedicated voice recorder, check out the Evistr digital voice recorder. It has 16GB internal memory which is decent, but it also has a voice-activated mode that’s not only convenient but also helps you save space.
Evistr digital voice recorder
It will only record when it picks up sound, for example, when a teacher or presenter is speaking. This is great for two reasons as it will save space, but also automatically remove any dead-space on playback. So if there’s a 30-second pause in a meeting, you won’t have to sit through that 30 seconds of dead air when listening back. It records in MP3 or WAV and can be recharged just by plugging it into a USB port.
Best voice recorders of 2020: notable mentions
- Zoom H4n Pro: This is a favorite amongst beginner audio recordists and indie filmmakers. It can record up to four tracks and offers two XLR-1/4″ combo inputs and an integrated stereo mic, setup in an X/Y configuration. The H4n Pro can record up to 24-bit/96 kHz, and can even act as a 2-in/2-out audio interface with your computer.
- Zoom H6: For $50 more than than the Zoom H5, you get on-board editing controls and the ability to record a maximum of six audio channels. The extra I/O and software tools are especially useful for podcasters looking to consolidate a bulk of their audio workflow into a single, portable device.
What else should you know about voice recorders?
The good news is, many of these digital voice recorders are pretty straight forward to use. Even if you ignore all of the features and specs getting them to record what you need is mostly just as simple as pressing record when you need to. Still, there are some things that you might be wondering about.
How to edit your voice
If you want to get the most out of your digital voice recorder, then you might need to know how to edit your final voice recording. Before you go buying that super-expensive audio editing program your friend recommended, you should first take a look at your recording environment. Obviously, if you’re in a classroom or lecture hall, you don’t really have much control over this. However, you should look for a quiet place to record in when possible. If you’re recording yourself and don’t mind being a little uncomfortable, you’d be surprised how well a blanket fort will get the job done. Another major tip is to leave dead silence for a few seconds before and after your recording. This is called “room tone” and if you remember to do this, most programs will have a way to de-noise your recording with minimal effort. If you want to dig a bit deeper, make sure to check out our full article on how to edit your voice.
Related: Everything you need to record people
Can you use any of these for podcasts?
Absolutely. The great thing about podcasts is that, just like video, the quality of your gear doesn’t matter as much as the content. Good story is everything, and while stepping up your gear will definitely make your podcast sound cleaner that doesn’t mean that it will be any better. While the MV88+ is really just a microphone, using it in conjunction with any voice recording app on your smartphone is a great way to get your podcast off the ground.
What is an audio interface and do you need one?
An audio interface is a tool that lets you connect a microphone to your computer. Your computer most likely only has some type of USB connection, and while that’s perfect for some USB mics most microphones use an XLR connection. It’s this kind of connection that requires an audio interface, as there’s no other way to plug it into a computer. So the answer is that no, unless you have a high-end microphone, you don’t need an audio interface to record your voice with any one of these voice recorders. They all have their own microphones that can be used to record audio. If you think you will have some need for a way to connect an XLR mic to your computer at some point, then you should probably go with the Zoom H5 mentioned earlier as it can also double as a solid audio interface.
What is the best voice recorder app for Android?
Voice recording apps are a convenient way of recording voice notes using the hardware already built into your smartphone. If you’re on Android and are just looking for a basic recorder that won’t require you getting a whole new device, then the best app you scan get is the Easy Voice Recorder. This app utilizes 16-bit PCM and MP4 codecs for high-quality recording and playback. A pro version of this app is also available for people who want to make the most of their smartphone as a voice recorder, available for a one-time fee of $3.99.
Related: Best voice recording apps
What is the best voice recorder app on iOS?
For iOS users, the best voice recorder app is already on your phone: Apple’s Voice Memos. The app’s clean and straightforward design language has made it popular among artists who need to quickly jot down ideas for their next hit single. Of course, there are other options available, such as Rev Voice Recorder, or even Garageband for people who want to record straight into a mobile DAW.
Read next: Best cheap voice recorders
Frequently Asked Questions
If the primary goal you're looking to achieve is the sound quality and you're hoping to not have to buy an XLR microphone to attach to your digital voice recorder, we'd recommend going with a high quality USB microphone, like the Blue Yeti X. The reason the sound quality here will be better than with most digital voice recorders is because of the sheer size of the Yeti X's diaphragm—larger diaphragms are better suited to vocals. In addition, using a proper mic will allow the use of a stand, pop-shield and shock mount to reduce pops and rumble from handling noise. If you want to get serious about recording, however, you should look to upgrade to an XLR mic and an audio interface.
A field recorder refers to a device that primarily records audio from an external sources, such as multiple mic inputs mixed together. On the other hand, voice recorders are devices that rely on its internal microphone to record audio, since its primary use is to record... well... voices. The Zoom H5 is an example of a field recorder that provides you will multiple XLR input options, though it can double as a voice recorder thanks to its internal mic. On the other hand, the Evistr digital voice recorder only has an internal mic, making it a digital voice recorder.
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.