Handheld recorders continue to remain one of the most popular products ever in the world of audio. And why not? They are efficient and super convenient.
However, this is not to say that it is very easy to find a quality audio recorder that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg. The market is flooded with all kinds of half-baked marketers, with over-exaggerated promises and very few that actually deliver.
The truth is that choosing a good portable audio recorder is actually quite simple. You just need to answer a few simple questions like why you need one or what kind of accessories you’d like to use with your recorder.
In this article, we’ll show you how to use your answers to choose the best device for you. We also have an array of the best portable audio recorders we could find to help you make your best choice. Come with us.
Top 10 Best Portable Audio Recorder Reviews
1 Zoom H6 Six-Track Portable Recorder
The Zoom H6 is a 6-track recorder as the name as already suggests. It is a really versatile device thanks to the 4 XLR inputs it comes with. So, if you need something that will deliver on exceptional audio quality, the Zoom H6 is a great choice.
It comes in a portable size too about the size (and weight too) of a brick. And the solid construction that Zoom put into this recorder is also pretty obvious too. This device will definitely last you even if you need to travel constantly.
The Zoom H6 can record more than 2 hours of exceptionally high quality audio at a time. Of course at the price point of the Zoom H6, you should expect high quality audio. But what impresses us even more is that getting high quality audio is super easy because the mic comes with a fantastic gain.
And talking about the mic, this is perhaps the Zoom H6’s best feature. It comes with two interchangeable mics – a mid-side mic and an XY mic. If you want, you can also get four additional mics each for a specific purpose.
So, yeah, like we said, we’re dealing with some versatile beast here.
Now, to storage… This is where things get a bit disappointing. Creative professionals for whom we feel the Zoom H6 is a perfect match need tons of space. And this device only comes with 2GB.
Anyway, it’s also compatible with SDXCs. Problem is, even though SDXCs can come in sizes up to 2TB, this device can only take SDXCs of 128GB in size.
2 Sound Devices MixPre-3 Portable Multichannel Audio Recorder
Sound Devices isn’t one of the more popular audio brands in the market. Nonetheless, the brand has delivered some high quality products in recent times like the MixPre-6 and the MixPre-3. Today, we’ll be looking at its MixPre-3, a sibling to the MixPre-6.
The way Sound Devices designed this device, it can work as a recorder, a field mixer, and a USB interface all at once. Also, the recorder can operate either using batteries, the mains, or via your computer using a USB.
The MixPre-3 is a 5-track recorder with powerful capabilities. For instance it can iso record (that is not mixed, isolated) its 3 input channels. This it can do alongside a live stereo mix and at an impressive sample rate of up to 96kHz.
Furthermore, when you use the MixPre-3 as a USB interface, it can provide five inputs in total to the computer and two outputs from it. By the way, for iOS and OS X users, this recorder is USB 2.0 compliant. And there’s also an ASIO driver for those who use the Windows OS.
You’ll receive your MixPre-3 package as a bundle with a quick 18-page guide, a battery module (4 batteries), plus a USB cable. Moreover, the USB cable splits the USB-C connector of the MixPre-3 into two USB-A plugs. This is important because one USB-A port won’t be enough to supply the 7.5W power that the device needs.
Finally, the recorder is also well built with die-cast aluminum construction and rubber panels which make the recorder easy to mount.
3 iZotope SP111 Spire Studio
The iZotope Spire Studio is iZotope’s first ever attempt venturing into hardware. And today, we will find out how the company did on this recorder.
The iZotope Spire Studio comes with an impressive software backing it. The built-in mic is studio grade just the same way the two xlr-1/4 inch combo inputs are. Also on the xlr inputs, it’s quite impressive that iZotope fitted them with superior Grace Design preamps.
You’ll also find a built-in battery in this unit which has the ability to power the device for as long as 4 hours of recording. So, the iZotope Spire Studio is a qualified candidate for recording on the go.
And there’s a lot more to be impressed by on the SP111. According to iZotope’s description, this is an audio engineer trapped inside the Spire Studio. And we couldn’t agree more.
The recorder comes with a couple of effects and processing features that help to fine tune audio quality inside the hardware. And, of course, there’s the fantastic integration option that iZoptope included for connecting with your Spire app on iOS devices.
We love the design of this device as well. It’s simple in outlook and yet very rugged. It’s very easy to read any visual feedback from the Spire Studio as the visuals are very legible.
In fact, for those who move around, you don’t have to worry about mal-handling this device. It’s a big boy and can take care of itself okay. The design is super sleek, no protrusions, and it’s also aesthetically pleasing to the eye as well.
4 Tascam DP-006 Digital Portastudio Multitrack Recorder
The Tascam DP-006 is a fantastic recommendation for musicians who always feel inspired to record songs on impulse. It’s a great match for musicians who often need to record on the go as inspiration hits. It operates on batteries, is super compact and, therefore, can easily move with you in your gig bag.
Moreover, this comes with high quality omnidirectional condenser mics which also aids on the spot recording. The Tascam DP-006 Digital Portastudio is really all you need to record your vocals or your guitar on the go.
And there’s no question of audio quality here. Tascam modeled the built-in mics after the DR series after all.
If you want to make your setup even more professional, you can mount this on a tripod.
Furthermore, there are two inputs with quarter inch jacks that allow you to easily hook this up with a couple of external inputs. For instance, you can hook this up with your synth, your guitar, or an external mic.
Basically, you can hook this up with any line-level device at all.
Also, there’s an external cable and this you can use to connect to other sound devices or your iPad.
As for memory, this recorder comes with a 16GB memory and is also compatible with SDHC/SDE cards. You can also easily move your songs out of the device super fast either using your USB 2.0 or our SD card reader.
5 Yamaha PR7 Pocket Recorder
The Yamaha PR7 is a not just a pocket recorder, it is also a pocket-friendly recorder. That is to say that this is one of the best budget options you can get when it comes to portable recorders.
This recorder comes in a really compact size, something that can easily fit into anyone’s pocket. Hence the reason it is referred to as a pocket recorder. It measures at about 4.7 inches in length, 1.4 inches in width, and 0.4 inch in depth.
Besides its size, another feature that makes this device really convenient to us is its USB connectivity. So, it’s a great choice if you’re looking for a recorder for sratchpad recording. And by that we mean recordings such as conducting interviews as a journalist. Or even songwriters who need to quickly record a song on impulse.
Now, we really do wish we could tell you that all this came at absolutely no cost. But we can’t. There are quite a few compromises here, of course.
Now, because of the phone-style carrying case this comes with, it’s quite easy to fit this to a tripod or even your belt. Also in this package, you get a mic-stand adaptor as well as Steinberg’s Cubase AI software.
Lastly, we’ve got to comment on the interface of this device. It’s really simple and elegant too. The black on amber contrast we have on the screen, as well as legible display makes this a joy to use.
6 Zoom H4N PRO Digital Multitrack Recorder
If the Zoom H6 was a bit out of reach for you, here’s another quality recorder from Zoom – the Zoom H4N. It might not come with some of the sophisticated features that the Zoom H6 packs. But when it comes to audio quality, as usual, Zoom does not disappoint.
This device can prerecord, and capture simple audio like interviews and lectures excellently. It also comes with a voice activation function as well.
The Zoom H4N was obviously made with the amateur film makers and musicians in mind. So, some of its features, as you will come to notice, easily reflect that.
We love the unidirectional XY mic on this recorder. It comes with a superior stereo depth but still it doesn’t skimp on quality definition. So, this is a fantastic recorder option if you need something that captures a field recording for film or live performances excellently.
But then again, we’ve got to say here that when it comes to a befitting audio recorder for creative professionals, nothing beats the Zoom H6. Nonetheless, the H6 is also a pretty high end option as well. And so, the Zoom H4N is like the more affordable Zoom H6.
The device comes with four-track recording, but a lower overall versatility when compared to the Zoom H6. Although, both devices actually record at the same bit rate and sampling frequencies which are both high.
Lastly, for amateur filmmakers and podcasters, it might interest you to know that you can hook the H4N to a video camera for audio recording for your film.
7 Tascam DR-05 Portable Digital Recorder
While we recommend the Zoom H6 to creative professionals, we would recommend the Tascam DR-05 to the business professionals. It’s a no-nonsense device that’s super easy to use, and yet delivers audio at an exceptional quality and a very attractive price.
In fact, the Tascam DR-05 is easily one of the most popular audio recorders you can find on online retailing sites worldwide.
Its OTRF mic configuration ensures that the mics deliver on the excellent stereo depth needed for business meetings and conferences.
The Tascam DR-05 comes with two omnidirectional mics, by the way. And as we said earlier, the mics come with an OTRF configuration. So, they deliver on a really wide stereo image.
You’d need this in a board meeting because you’ll need your recorder to clearly separate all voices. That way, you know exactly who said what.
But then again, in this benefit lies a small drawback. This is not an ideal choice if you just need to focus on a single voice rather than many. Plus, the mics don’t come adjustable. So, you have just the XY configuration and this can be quite inconvenient.
Just before we go, let’s talk briefly about Level Align. This is the feature that adds a compression-like filter to your audio on the Tascam Dr-05. With this feature, you’ll be able to even out uneven volumes. And this is just another reason this is great for boardroom meetings.
8 Olympus LS-14 Linear PCM Digital Voice Recorder
The Olympus LS-14 is a pretty simple device to use. It seems the manufacturers decided to simply focus on delivering an easy to use device that captures high fidelity audio.
This recorder comes with four modes which form the centers around which operations revolve.
There’s the tuner mode which pretty much works like a regular guitar tuner. It might not beat your regular tuner apps, but having this feature built-in anyway remains highly commendable.
Then there’s also the Smart Mode which keeps your recording nearly idiot-proof. There’s a 30 second soundproof period where the recorder sets the recording levels appropriately.
It’s a great feature and we only wish that it could also record during sound check. You know, just in case you have to begin recording immediately.
Then there’s the manual mode which hardly needs explanation.
And lastly, there’s the Quick Mode which allows you to jump straight into recording if you don’t have the patience. Well, in practice, we do not see how this would be particularly useful. But since it’s not hurting anybody, we can hardly complain.
This device does not come with so many bells and whistles as you might find on any of the Zoom devices. The only things you’d find here by way of extra features include the tuner, metronome, and built-in speaker.
Nevertheless, we’re still quite impressed by the Olympus LS-14.
9 Sony PCM-M10 Portable Linear PCM Voice Recorder
The Sony PCM-M10 comes with a couple of great features except a 48V phantom power (just in case you’re asking). We will be taking a quick look at these features in a bit.
First of all, let’s talk about the quality of built-in mics here. They are one of the primary reasons we love the Sony PCM-M10. They are pretty quiet and offer a decent level of quality.
Since they are omnidirectional, they pick up ambiences very easily. But then again, your recording might not feel as open or wide as say an XY or MS pair of mics. All the same though, these mics are actually quieter than a couple of recorders we have seen.
This requires a startup time of about 7 seconds alongside a real record level dial. So, you only need about 10 seconds to begin recording whatever captures your fancy at the moment.
In build, this is a small unit but it’s relatively heavy. And the body seems to be made of plastic too but don’t worry, the plastic seems quite solid nonetheless. And there’s a metal frame too, so there’s that.
In fact, a customer happened to mistakenly drop this through 13 feet on to concrete and it still survived!
Now, we were really thrilled to learn that you can turn off all the LEDs on the interface of the recorder. From the red Record to the backlight. This is great when you need to record discretely as one would need to stare real hard to know that you’re recording.
10 Tascam DR-100mkII 2-Channel Portable Digital Recorder
And we round off this review with the rugged, high end, super capable Tascam DR-100. It comes with real cutting-edge features, some of which we will be going through in a bit. You can rest assured that this will give your first-class recording on demand.
This is a very versatile unit especially when you talk about the types of microphones here. The recorder has both Cardiod and Omnidirectional mic pairs. And in addition to these, there are still additional XLR condenser mic inputs as well which makes this really versatile.
So, altogether, this is an ideal recorder for interview, music and professional recordings.
With its USB 2.0 port, you’ll be able to rapidly transfer your files either to your PC or any other device for further processing.
Now, as for the interface… It does come with many buttons. But if you consider it, it’s much more preferable than having to scroll through loads of options before getting the right one. So, we think this was a really smart move on Tascam’s part making the host of features on this device easy to access.
In build, this device is solid, so your investment is protected. This will last you. And thanks to excellent ergonomics, this is very easy to carry around without stress.
And lastly, for powering, you have the option of choosing between a rechargeable battery (Li-ion), AA batteries or an AC adapter.
Portable Audio Recorder Buying Guide
We did mention to you earlier that choosing a portable audio recorder is as simple as answering a few simple questions. Let’s show you how:
Why Do You Need The Audio Recorder?
Getting the best audio recorder for your intended use does not always translate into spending hundreds of dollars. Sometimes, the solution you need is actually a low end device. Look at these two scenarios for instance…
If you want record sound FX in the field for projects like films, interviews or a song, then you’ll need something with a relatively high resolution.
On the other hand, if you need the recorder for simpler tasks like rehearsals or voice memos, then you know that a high quality isn’t an absolute necessity. So, in cases like these, you can skimp on quality and save the extra bucks instead.
As you can see, the “best” is more contextual than absolute.
What’s Your Budget?
Generally, portable audio recorders are usually inexpensive. And even if you need something high quality as you discovered from answering the first question, it hardly crosses the $200 mark.
“Hardly” not “never”…
How Much Memory Do You Need?
There are portable audio recorders that accept external memories like a SDHC card or a microSD card. Others do not.
You’ll need to be sure of how much space your device will be capable of supporting before deciding on anyone. You’ll also need to be sure of how much the device itself can support. Pretty much like what you do when looking at the specs for a new smartphone.
When searching, you’ll find that some recorders will come with really large internal memories. And others would be compatible with any sized microSD card as well.
How Many Tracks Do You Want To Record At The Same Time?
Portable audio recorders come with different audio recording capabilities. For instance, some can record only one track at a time. And then there are some that record multiple tracks at a time. sometimes two, other times three or even four at a time.
It depends on what you want.
Now, if you won’t be needing more than one or two channels, then it’s pointless spending the extra on recorders with more channels.
Which Is More Important To You – An Internal Mic Or An External One?
Whichever you choose – internal or external mic – there are advantages. Internal mics are very convenient and you won’t have to bother with extra pieces here and there.
But as your skills get more advanced, convenience might be less important to you. You might prefer having an external mic since you’ll be to tweak the configuration of the mic the way you want.
What Extra Features Do You Wish To Have?
Although they may be smaller in size than regular recorders, portable audio recorders can pack some really nice, high end qualities.
Some of them come with filters, slow-mo playback, LCD screens, and effects. And, of course, it’s entirely up to you. But, of course, the more features you want, the more you should be willing to spend.
What Accessories Would You Need?
There are all kinds of accessories you can use with a portable recorder. From carrying bags to windscreens, to tripods, to pooper stoppers, the list is long. It all depends on the needs and personality of the user.
While some might only need a tripod, others might need more.
Thankfully, some recorders actually come in a bundle and at a value price too.
It was kinda like a tug of war in our hearts deciding between the Zoom H6 and the Tascam DR-100. In our opinion, these two are equally professional, high end devices with loads of benefits.
But after everything, we had to settle for the Tascam DR-100 over the Zoom H6 for the following reasons.
One, the Tascam DR-100 is far more pocket-friendly than the Zoom H6, especially since both devices deliver nearly the same quality.
Also the battery power of the Tascam DR-100 is something else. This device can successfully go on recording for 9 hours straight! The Zoom H6, on the other hand, delivers only 2 hours.
And then again, this comes with both Cardioid and omnidirectional mics unlike the Zoom H6 that’s just omnidirectional.
So, you see, while we were hard-pressed, the Tascam DR-100 is obviously the clear winner. But as a very close second, we also recommend the Zoom H6.