Portable audio recorders are not easily replaceable, even as smart phones continue to become more advanced in any many facets. Audio quality is still a huge deal with phones and smart devices as a whole, and sometimes we just need a piece of gear that’s more advanced and equipped to handle capturing real audio with quality feasible enough for movies, songs and more. We’ve been researching and writing about these types of recorders for quite a while, and since our website here is dedicated to microphones, we felt it was at least significantly relevant to give you all a guide on the best portable audio recorders.
Finding the Best Portable Audio Recorder
We have a few bullet points (and questions) to keep in mind when you’re shopping for a portable audio recorder.
- Overall size — Does your portable audio recorder need to fit in your pocket? Or can you get away with a carrying case, in a backpack or bag, etc.? Some are “extremely portable”, while others a bit larger.
- Recording technique / microphone type — Some of these models have microphones built- in to them, without a particular style or method. You’ll have to merely keep the portable audio recorder near your subject like a smart phone. Others have more advanced designs meant to broaden the depth of recording, or even pin-point more towards a specific target.
- Audio recording quality — We do not recommend going lower than 16-bit / 96 kHz. Anything higher is a plus.
- Battery life — Will you be able to switch out the batteries if you need to extend your day? What about charging the audio recorder if it is only rechargeable and doesn’t support AA batteries? Look into each model’s battery life.
- Importance of additional features — Portable audio recorders are sought out for more than just their ‘recording capabilities’. Unless you just want to record some FX, voices or meetings/lectures, see why each stands out from the other. Some come with some fancy features you may like, such as auto recording, multi-track recording, interchangeable microphone capsules, PC support, smart phone control, frequency filters, etc.
The Best Portable Audio Recorders
Up first in our list, the H6 is one of Zoom’s most highly rated and overall best portable audio recorders given its solid audio abilities and high-end features. These include a windscreen, 4 AA batteries, up to 128 GB SD card capability, and two interchangeable recording capsules: the MSH-6 MS and the XYH-6 X/Y. Similar to Zoom’s H5, a big standout of their recorders is the feature of two capsules to allow for added flexibility. Users are free to pick one that best suits their current use or style — the X/Y module (pictured above), which gives a better recording spectrum to capture what’s in front of it with the microphones pointing in different directions, while the MS acts more like a shotgun microphone to pin-point an exact source.
This recorder weighs only 10 pounds for great portability. The actual size may be a bit too bulky to let’s say fit in your pocket, however. More importantly, just as the name suggests, the H6 is like no other stereo track portable recorder as it allows for multi-recording using 6 different tracks. As such, it is possible to layer different sounds and isn’t just a simple voice recorder with one track. All in all, the Zoom H6 is famous for a reason. It’s pretty expensive as compared to others because this does more than just jot down your thoughts or song ideas — it’s used for field recording for films, FX and everything else you can think of in that arena.
When it comes to rugged designs, the Tascam DR-100mkIII is by far one of the best portable audio recorders due to its sturdy, aluminum anodized body. In addition to its sturdy design, this recorder has a professional outlook that blends perfectly in official environments. Performance wise, the DR-100mkIII has 4 built-in mics: 2 cardioid and 2 omnidirectional. It is also possible to input digital signals directly using the S/PDIF input. Its battery life is another one of its key features as it uses 2 power Li-ion batteries with the ability to run the recorder for multiple hours (up to 12 hours at a time). Accessory wise, it includes a USB cable, a soft casing for added protection, and a windsock.
Additionally, the Tascam DR-100mkIII has a wireless remote control for added usability (great for interviews if you’re sitting away from the recorder and want to keep it next to your subject) and gives a lot of Zoom’s models a run for their money. It just doesn’t have an interchangeable capsule feature but if you don’t need to bother with that, this may even be better due to it’s slimmer, more portable size.
This list would be incomplete without a Sony audio recorder. As such, the PCM-D100 makes for a viable choice given its enhanced hardware and software features. At first glance, you’ll notice this microphone features chunkier and bigger electret condenser microphones compared to previous models. The 15mm stereo mics offer heightened audio recording performance for solid audio quality.
What’s more, they are adjustable at 120 and 90 degrees. Another major advantage of using this model is its ability to capture rates of up to 192 kHz. However, most people state that its microphone cannot actually capture peak frequencies but to us it’s been fine. They achieve optimal functionality at 45 kHz.
Nonetheless, other notable features that make this one of the best portable audio recorders include its ability to simultaneously record two formats, automatic power down while idle, 24-bit resolution and a wide range of recording effects such as fade clips, key control, playback tone and sound effects such as bass or jazz. We love the Sony PCM-D100 as the best portable audio recorder for many reasons if it fits within your budget and recording needs.
Here’s another Zoom digital multitrack recorder and it weighs in at a meager 300 grams, thus making it one of the best audio recorders for those really concerned with portability. However, its superiority goes beyond its weight. It has an impressive sound pressure capacity of 140 dB which makes it ideal for extremely high and top heavy sounds and like other Zoom recorders, gives us that X/Y recording technique to cover a wide area of sound capturing. You can also adjust the angle of these mics if you prefer.
It’s finish is made from rubber which gives the H4N added ergonomic value and the interface features a 1.9” backlit LCD and a number of buttons including play, pause, stop, and record. Another notable feature is it’s 3 input models which add versatility. These include 4CH, stereo, and MTR. However, despite its decent resolution range of 24-96 kHz, the Zoom H4N has a relatively longer boot period as compared to most high-end models, but only about 30 seconds which isn’t too big of a deal.
We like this one the best because of it’s small and sleek size. The microphone is actually built-in to the recorder so it’s not going to be as hefty or take up space in your pocket (if you do want to carry it in your pocket like us). It’s about the size of a phone so we just keep it in the same pocket in case we ever have to pull it out and record something really quick on the fly. The Roland R-07 qualifies as one of the best portable audio recorders largely due to its unique blend of modern features which include a 24/96 resolution, Bluetooth support, Android as well as iOS remote control, and scene preset recording configurations.
Let’s talk “portable audio recorder” in a different spin for now. Technically you can carry this around but it’s no where near the size of what others may deem suitable for this guide, but we wanted to stick it in here just in case it was what you were looking for. This 4 track audio recorder features proprietary HDDA mic preamps which are renowned for their high S/N ratio, minimal distortion, and reduced input-referred noise.
What’s more, it can record both BWF and AV files at 48 or 96 kHz. Users can very well record 4 channels simultaneously after which they can mix them down to a single stereo signal. It boasts of a nominal input level of +4 dB, an input impedance of 10 kΩ, a 3.5 mm stereo mini jack used for mi/line and camera inputs, plus widows and Mac compatibility.
Its maximum power consumption is 5.4 watts and weighs in at only 510g. Other notable features that make the Tascam DR-60DMkII one of the best portable audio recorders include the HI+PLUS that allow for optimal input gain [64 dB], phantom power provided by means of the XLR line-mic inputs, TRS/XLR combo jacks, a low-cut filter that minimizes low-frequency noises, and a camera input for enhanced audio monitoring using a DSLR camera. This is more geared towards the pros.
The H5 was mentioned earlier and is another entrant into this list as Zoom continues to dominate the portable audio recorder market. The H5 includes an LD display with back lighting for use even in dark areas. However, this interface also features numerous buttons which can end up confusing novices. Nonetheless, its design is rugged and relatively sturdy. The finish is made from part rubber which not only adds to the recorder’s durability but also allows users to maintain a firm grip on the recorder in all kinds of weather. Additionally, in a bid to minimize handling noise and vibrations, the piece is placed on a shock mounter.
Combined, these factors make the H5 one of the best portable audio recorders for outdoor engagements. Another key attribute of the H5 is that it records audio directly to SDHC or SD memory cards. Therefore, storage space should not be much of an issue. Also, the Zoom H5 features dual mic inputs each of which has a -20 dB pad and phantom power. The only downside is that it might feel a bit bulky due to the thicker rubber design.
We love the Tascam DR-05X as the best portable audio recorder for quite a few reasons. For one, this fits in your pocket, purse or bag pretty easily. It’s great for recording band practice, dictation, meetings and other similar uses. Audio quality here is 24-bit / 96 kHz, and it uses a micro SD to capture recordings. It’s super easy to operate with the record button right there at the tip of your thumb (we sometimes have to record on the fly and this will be useful), and you can also adjust levels, delete bad takes or even add markers with just one press.
Battery life is nice here, and if recording at standard wav at 44.1 kHz, can give us up to about 17 hours. You can also use something called ‘Audio Interface mode’ which allows it to be connected to a PC and used as a voice over, live stream or pod cast tool pretty easily. Lastly, a nice little feature we like of the DR-05x is the ‘auto record function’ to detect sound input signal levels and simply record when it needs to — great for those who are working solo and don’t want to hassle stressing.
Being Zoom’s basic model , the H1n stands out as one of the best portable audio recorders on account of its unique features and solid performance. This handy recorder comes fully equipped with a streamlined body, a mic enclosure for enhanced protection, and a neat matte finish. What’s more, the enclosure allows for added portability ensuring that users can easily carry the recorder around while conducting an interview or the likes. Generally, the H1n has a rugged yet compact design that makes it possible for users to record from any location. The interface is also a step ahead of the rest as it includes one touch buttons, a localized menu setup, and a clear LCD display. Such a straightforward interface setup makes it possible for novices to conveniently use this recorder.
Technically speaking, the Zoom H1n allows up to 120 dB of sound pressure and includes an on-board limiter that makes it possible for users to record all manner of sounds with little to no sound distortion. Another key feature of this handy recorder is the ‘Playback Speed Control’ which facilitates transcribing of inaudible recordings. On the other hands, musicians could also benefit immensely from the A-B repeat function especially during rehearsals or when mastering a specific song. On the flip side, most critics say that its plastic design leaves this recorder susceptible to damage during heavy impact, but we still consider it one of the best portable audio recorders out there as near the end of our list and one of these still hasn’t caught your eye.
Sangean DAR-101 is a long shot as it ends our guide, but it’s designed to meet your every recording need, from amateur interview recordings to professional grade uses. It stands out as one of the best portable audio recorders due to its blend of features and solid sound quality. Top of the list is its multiple recording sources including telephone input, internal mics, and line-in. To add to the mix, the DAR-1010 features external stereo mics which allow users to record local sound using enhanced stereo audio formats.
Other notable features include an internal dual-AGC (Automatic Gain Control), max SD card size of 32 GB, adjustable sound recording levels, and multiple bit-rates including 192, 64, 128 kbps. The Sangean DAR-101 also comes fully equipped with an audio peak indicator, file-browsing system, voice-activated recording, and an efficient rotary menu.
Concluding the Best Portable Audio Recorder
Possessing any one of the best portable audio recorders is a necessity for a variety of professions, especially journalists and musicians. By and large, they are invaluable for anyone with the need to make solid quality recording of interviews, meetings, lectures, etc. These gadgets have been in the market since the 1970’s and have gradually evolved both technically and in terms of physical design.
Back then, they took the form of shabby, minute radios that utilized cassette tapes. At best, they offered average quality sound recordings and required users to continually flip cassette sides in order to create more space for their recordings. Nonetheless, technological advancements have turned audio recorders into state of the art, highly portable gadgets, with enhanced sound quality. There is an extensively wide variety of solid audio recorders to choose from in the current market. But which of these offer the best value for money? And why?