The 10 Best Digital Audio Recorders

Updated December 18, 2017 by Ben G

10 Best Digital Audio Recorders
Best High-End
Best Mid-Range
Best Inexpensive
We spent 46 hours on research, videography, and editing, to review the top choices for this wiki. We've lined up the best digital audio recorders out there today and ranked them by taking into account aspects like sonic clarity, storage capacity, battery life and durability in the field. No matter what you're looking to capture, wherever you're at, one of these will do the trick. Most models also offer the convenience of easy file transfer to a computer. When users buy our independently chosen editorial picks, we may earn commissions to support our work. Skip to the best digital audio recorder on Amazon.

10. Sangean Professional

The Sangean Professional is hardly pocket-sized, like many units on our list, but it is feature-rich, with multiple modes. It offers timer-based recording functionality, great for capturing audio from events or programs, and adjustable backlighting on the LCD.
  • charges rapidly
  • 3 recording speeds
  • recordings don't start immediately
Brand Sangean
Model DAR-101
Weight 3.2 pounds
Rating 3.6 / 5.0

9. Tascam 4-Track Portable

With dual recording capabilities that capture a safety track to reduce the possibility of corruption, the Tascam 4-Track Portable is a fine option for any serious audiophile. This unit is equally as suitable for use in the field as in the studio.
  • movable microphone positioning
  • 4 channel recording
  • doesn't last long on battery power
Brand Tascam
Model DR-40
Weight 1.2 pounds
Rating 3.7 / 5.0

8. Olympus WS-853

The Olympus WS-853 offers over 100 hours of both recording time and battery life, at least when storing audio as an MP3. The decent range of playback speed controls also makes it a great choice for someone who might need to transcribe their interviews after the fact.
  • carrying case included
  • calendar search function
  • volume can't get very high
Brand Olympus
Model V415131BU000
Weight 3.2 ounces
Rating 3.5 / 5.0

7. Sony ICD-PX470

The Sony ICD-PX470 can record two types of file format: linear PCM, which is high quality and useful for music, and MP3, which is adequate for lectures or other kinds of talking. It has four presets to optimize audio, and a high-sensitivity microphone.
  • reduces ambient noise
  • integrated memory card slot
  • no rechargeable battery
Brand Sony
Model ICDPX470
Weight 5.6 ounces
Rating 3.7 / 5.0

6. Zoom H4N PRO

The Zoom H4N PRO has the capability to record using both built-in and external microphones, giving it a versatility few others match. Its large LCD screen allows for easy monitoring by its operator, making it great for use while you're on-the-go at a live event.
  • compatible remote control available
  • creates natural sounding recordings
  • slightly unintuitive controls
Brand Zoom
Model H4nPro
Weight 1.7 pounds
Rating 3.9 / 5.0

5. Olympus LS-14

The Olympus LS-14 has a unique three mic system that includes one directional mic on each side and an omnidirectional one sandwiched between them that picks up lower frequency ranges. The result is enhanced sound isolation and high quality recordings.
  • built-in speaker
  • 4 gigabytes of internal storage
  • impressively long battery life
Brand Olympus
Model LS-14 Linear PCM Record
Weight 1.2 pounds
Rating 4.2 / 5.0

4. Roland Studio

With its strong metallic exterior and high quality built-in stereo microphone recording capabilities, the Roland Studio is perfect for the moment when audio inspiration strikes, be it at a concert, on the campaign trail, or home alone.
  • plays both mp3 and wav files
  • built-in tripod mounting socket
  • numerous editing features
Brand Roland
Model R-05
Weight 1.2 pounds
Rating 3.8 / 5.0

3. Sony ICD-UX560

The Sony ICD-UX560 is simple to use, with an affordable price that makes it ideal for college students. It produces clear recordings even from far away, due to its automatic level volume adjustment. It's also incredibly slim, so it can fit in any book bag.
  • works as an mp3 player
  • usb 3 port for computer connections
  • multiple recording formats
Brand Sony
Weight 3.2 ounces
Rating 4.6 / 5.0

2. Zoom H1

The Zoom H1 boasts a stylish, modern aesthetic. It has been designed to provide maximum recording time from a conveniently handheld device. It records MP3 files in a range of 48 to 320 kbps to maximize the amount of audio you can capture.
  • captures radio broadcasts clearly
  • integrated stereo mic
  • 32 gb micro sd card support
Brand Zoom
Model ZH1
Weight 7.2 ounces
Rating 5.0 / 5.0

1. Tascam DR-100mkIII

The Tascam DR-100mkIII features dual battery systems for hours of recording, and two sets of microphones for any type of high quality audio. The latest revision of this high-end model simplifies some of the interface by getting rid of a few extraneous switches and buttons.
  • sturdy aluminum construction
  • clearly indicates ambient volume
  • intuitive design for easy operation
Brand Tascam
Model DR-100mkIII
Weight 1.4 pounds
Rating 5.0 / 5.0

Stereo Recording In The Palm Of Your Hand

In 1981, Brian De Palma took a fascinating film by Michelangelo Antonioni and remade it for American audiences. The original 1966 film, Blow Up, was about a shallow fashion photographer inadvertently capturing evidence of a murder in the background of one of his shots. It's the vaguest hint of evidence that only seems to look more vague as he increasingly blows up the image, seeing less as he works to see more.

De Palma's 1981 film, Blow Out, works on the same premise, but it's an audio recorder that captures the evidence instead of a camera, and the guy at the center of the drama is played by John Travolta before he became a caricature of himself.

That character, instead of being a fashion photographer, is a foley artist, a person who creates and recreates natural and unnatural sounds for use in movies. In the film, we get to see Travolta manipulating the latest mobile field recording equipment that 1980 had to offer, and it's amazing to see how far we've come since then.

The digital audio recorders on this list capture unbelievably clear sound, either from built-in stereo microphones, or through XLR and 1/4" inputs for microphones, MIDI outs, and more. They record, most often, to SD cards, so your storage space is only limited by how much you want to spend on it.

What's more, you can track multiple channels at a time–up to eight recording simultaneously with some models–and re-record on top of these to create multiple layers as you go. However many tracks you do record, there are limiter options, dual recording functions, and a variety of other tools to keep your audio from peaking and keep your signal clean and easy to edit.

If Travolta had had one of these puppies back in '81, well, it would have been a much shorter film.

Tracking Counts, So Count Your Tracks

When I was in bands throughout my middle school and high school days, we had 4-track and 8-track recorders that wrote to cassette tapes. They had enough inputs on them that we could cobble together a decent sounding demo tape to book ourselves some shows, and it always surprised club owners to meet the 13 and 14-year-olds they thought were at least around 18 when they listened to the music. Our ages might have gotten us kicked off of those bills, but the music–and the devices we used to track it–got us in the door.

It was important to us that we could track up to eight microphones at once, since a good drum sound requires at least three or four mics, and we had two guitars, a bass, and vocals to add on to that. If you're looking into digital recorders for music tracking, the more inputs you can work at the same time, the better.

Of course, you can get much smaller, more portable interfaces if you don't need as many tracks, still with the full suite of features.

On the features front, it's a good idea to pick your device based on your specific needs. Sound guys on film sets like the Zoom series quite a bit for its size, simplicity, and reliability, but I've had great times on set with Tascam products and their intuitive dual recording feature. With that feature, which easily toggles on and off on the bulk of their units–your audio gets recorded to two tracks, one of which can be set up to 12 dB quieter than the main audio. This way, if one of your actors screams in the middle of a take, you'll have it clean on the quieter channel.

Bigger isn't always better in this world, so ask yourself how many tracks you need, and what you need them to do to help guide you toward your best choice.

Is Anything Analogue Anymore?

Technically, digital audio recording started long before we had a digital medium on which to store the data. The first digital tape recorders of the 1970s took an incoming analogue audio signal and converted it to a digital binary, then recorded the information back onto an analogue tape. It was kind of like how a mama bird feeds a baby bird. So, you might ask, why bother with the conversion at all?

Well, by systematically assigning binary values to specific wavelengths, it would become much easier to scrub out undesirable frequencies and noises. Where tape captured all the intended and unintended sound making its way into a studio microphone, the digital medium could more easily filter out the sound of that passing train in the background, or the electric buzz of a poorly wired light fixture.

It was the compact disc introduced by Sony and Phillips in 1982 that offered recording artists a digital medium on which to print and store their recordings.

Advancements in computing and digital storage led to the smaller, more reliable storage formats we use today, even as the initial interface–the microphone and mixer–has remained more or less the same.

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Last updated on December 18, 2017 by Ben G

Ben is a writer from California. He mostly dives into film, videogames, and science fiction literature. Also Hello Kitty. He likes Hello Kitty a whole lot.

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