Digital voice recorders are the solution for busy business people or anyone with a need to record notes, meetings, presentations, lectures, and dictation. For musicians and other professionals, better quality recorders have additional features that, for example, allow them to make high fidelity stereo recordings. Yes, a modern multifunction device such as the iPhone can provide voice recording functionality. However, compared to dedicated voice recorders, multifunction devices can be limited in recording quality, battery life, audio storage capacity, and may lack features like voice activation and index markers.
The Top 8 Voice Recorders
These top digital voice recorders are loaded with features that will make your voice recording a snap. Some come bundled with Dragon Naturally Speaking software which features automatic text-to-speech conversion. Others, such as certain Olympus models, include sound editing software. All provide easy transfers of voice files to either a PC or Mac.
Zoom H4n Handy Portable
This is CNET's top choice for a professional-grade digital voice recorder. Tech reviewer Donald Bell says that it's, "An outstanding value for musicians and podcasters who demand professional-sounding results."
The Zoom H4n has the ability to record 4 channels at once and its XLR balanced inputs with +48V phantom power let you connect professional microphones to it. Of course, you pay more for professional quality, but at under $250.00 this is still a bargain for the features. This recorder comes fully loaded with auto-record, pre-record, variable speed playback, and Hi-Z inputs for recording guitar and bass. Buy from Amazon
Apple iPad Pro 9.7" 32 GB Wi-Fi Silver Tablet
The newest version of the iPad Pro has the latest generation processor, 32 GB memory, Wi-Fi connectivity, a 9.7" LED Multi-Touch Display and two cameras for FaceTime and HD video recording. For digital voice/sound recording, external microphones will improve the sound quality.
For the iPad/iPhone, there are a number of choices when it comes to voice recording software. Audio Memos is a top-rated choice based on its superb features including the ability to pause, restart and combine recordings, attach pictures to recordings, set markers, and transfer files to the cloud–or send as email attachments. Dragon Dictation allows you to convert spoken words to text that you can edit as required and email or post online. Typically these apps have free "dumbed down" versions–the pay versions have more advanced features.
The LS-100 is Olympus' professional-grade audio recorder. While it is mostly aimed at musicians and broadcasters you don't have to be a musician to appreciate this Olympus recorder's excellent sound quality.
The LS-100 offers 24 bit/96 KHz linear PCM recording and has high-sensitivity and low-noise stereo microphones that "capture every detail and nuance." It has multi-track recording so you can edit up to 8 tracks at a time. It is compact, rugged, and has multiple inputs, headphone output, built-in tuner and metronome, and a 12-hour lithium battery.
What I really like about the Olympus DM-420 is in the numbers. It provides 533 hours of recording time in LP mode with 2GB internal memory and 51 hours of battery life with USB recharging. This is a lot of voice recording for the price. The icing on the cake is that the Olympus DM-420 handles both MP3 and WMA formats so you can record and play back in either one. It also lets you use an additional micro SD Card for extra memory, has Voice Guidance to walk you through folder navigation and set-up options, and has CD-quality sound. For all the features, the price is the right number as well.
The DM-620 is an excellent choice for a non-professional grade digital voice recorder. It has 4 GB internal memory (expandable to 32 GB via a MicroSD card slot), records in 3 formats (WAV, MP3, WMA), and has a 3 microphone system for excellent sound quality. The rechargeable lithium-ion battery gives a long battery life. Voice Actuation allows you to begin recording by voice. The recorder comes with Olympus Sonority editing software that is both PC and Mac compatible. If you're a gadget lover, this is the digital voice recorder for you.
Sony's ICD-SX712 has a lot of features to make your work easier, such as six recording modes (including the ability to record and playback in MP3 format, a voice email function, cue/review, and track mark and noise cut for clearer speech playback. It also has 2GB flash memory built-in which will give you over 500 hours recording time and a memory card expansion slot so you can add more memory. It also has a dual stereo microphone and it fits into a pocket or purse. My one beef is the 25 hour battery life. It's not terrible, but there are other recorders that have more. The unit comes with sound organizer software.
This model shares almost all the features of the Sony ICD-SX712. They both offer over 500 hours of recording time and a memory card expansion slot, dual stereo microphone, and features such as noise cut and cue/review. It doesn't record in as many formats as the ICD-SX712 and doesn't have as many functions.
For instance, it doesn't have a Voice Email function or Add Recording or Correct Dictation functions. On the plus side, it has a little more projected battery life (29 hours compared to 25). It also has a Direct USB Connector, which attaches the recorder directly to a computer without the need for a USB cable, and costs about $30 less.
My budget choice is the Olympus VN-801PC. For under $70 (used), this Olympus model provides a reliable, long-lasting way to record your ideas and meetings and has some nifty features that you don't expect in a recorder in this price range. These features include index marking so you can easily find a particular place in a recording and the ability to record and play back in both MP3 and WMA formats. Other than that, this recorder stands out for its up to 843 hours of recording time and its long battery life (up to 51 hours).