The 9 Best Voice Activated Recorders

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This wiki has been updated 26 times since it was first published in February of 2017. One of these voice-activated spy recorders can ensure that you never miss important content from a meeting, lecture, or interview again, as they are highly portable and ready to go at any time. Many are small enough to fit easily in a pocket or bag, so you don't have to lug around a bulky device. But only use them in places where it's legal to do so, and with all appropriate permissions. When users buy our independently chosen editorial recommendations, we may earn commissions to help fund the Wiki.

1. Sony ICD-UX570

2. Olympus WS-853

3. Sota Surveillance USR-500

Editor's Notes

January 06, 2021:

We removed the Homder Professional, Recjoy Digital and Tensafee Dictaphone, all due to availability issues.

While the Sony ICD-UX533 was still available through some vendors, we were concerned that it may be discontinued – due to it not being available from several major sellers and no longer appearing on the company’s website – so we replaced it with two alternative Sony offerings: the Sony ICD-PX470 — a great budget pick that runs on AAA batteries; and the Sony ICD-UX570 — a top-end model that offers three recording modes for different environments, and a handy quick-charge function that can get you an hour of recording time with just three minutes plugged in.

Our last new addition was the Olympus WS-853, which caught our eye with several slick features, including a built-in kickstand to help reduce interference via vibrations, and speed control functionality that lets you listen back at half time or double time.

July 05, 2019:

Part of the difficulty in putting together a list such as this is not knowing whether the user has potentially nefarious uses in mind for the device. While these machines are excellent for journalists, students, and anyone hoping to log stray thoughts, they can also be used to catch cheaters, protect against false allegations, or just plain snoop. The latter three purposes may or may not be moral, but in most places they're illegal, so don't take the chance.

If you insist on something inconspicuous, the Recjoy Digital is hard to beat. There's nothing to give away its true purpose, so no one needs to know just how forgetful you are. Of course, since it's actually a pretty good pen, you run the risk of someone walking off with it.

Several of the options on this list have the ability to store massive amounts of data — hundreds of hours of audio. While that certainly allows you to be thorough, it creates lots of information to wade through. If you need that much storage, try to find one that allows you to label your files and easily transfer them to another platform, or at least one that lets you fast forward and rewind.

Being able to quickly find a particular point in your file is especially helpful if you're pairing your recorder with something like a spy camera. You can then quickly match up the video and audio to give yourself a clearer understanding of anything you missed.

Special Honors

Law Enforcement Black Box You can attach this underneath a car seat or desk using its powerful magnets, so you can prattle on hands-free anytime the spirit moves you. Its battery can survive in stand-by mode for 76 days, so don't worry if it takes you some time to think of anything to say.

15 Day Wireless This device comes with a small wireless microphone for times when being discreet is of the essence. This also gives you the ability to listen in two places at once, so you can graduate twice as fast.

Spy Associates Fitness Band Make people think you're concerned with your health rather than simply forgetful with this convenient option. It looks just like a regular fitness tracker, so the only way people will figure out its true purpose is if they catch you speaking directly into it.

4. Sony ICD-PX470

5. Evistr L157

6. Atto Digital Mini

7. Sony Flash ICD-PX312

8. Atto Digital Flash Drive

9. Dictopro X100

Why Use a Voice-Activated Recorder?

This allows you to get great audio without tipping your hand.

If you've never used a voice-activated recorder, you may not realize how versatile they can be, and how much hassle they can save you.

As the name suggests, these devices begin recording audio the minute they register some sort of sound. That way, you don't need to have them constantly running, and you don't have to scramble to turn them on to start recording. This ensures you don't miss anything, while also preventing you from having to slog through a ton of dead air when playing your recording back.

Being able to start the tape remotely makes them tremendously convenient for capturing important information before it slips your mind. You don't need to sprint out of the shower, hunt down your tape recorder, and fumble with getting it set up — distractions which could cause you to lose your train of thought. Instead, you can just start talking, with no interruption to your work flow.

That's a big reason why college students love them. You don't have to try to force yourself to be awake and alert for your 8 a.m. class — you can let the recorder do that for you. Or, if you're the over-achieving type, you can pay attention in class and then use the tape to improve your study session later on.

And of course, they can help you spy on people. If you suspect your nanny is mistreating your kids, or that your spouse might be stepping out on you, hiding one of these can give you a ton of information you wouldn't have gotten otherwise. This isn't always legal (more on that later), but if you just want the info for your own piece of mind, it's an easy way to know for sure.

Even better, since many of them look like everyday objects (like flash drives or wristwatches), you can set them up in prominent places without anyone being the wiser. This allows you to get great audio without tipping your hand.

You'll be tempted to ditch that manually-operated recorder once you realize how much more convenient a voice-activated model can be. Plus, they let you feel like James Bond — well, James Bond if he needed to remind himself to order more Post-It notes, that is.

What to Look For in a Voice-Activated Recorder

Buying a basic recorder is easy. You just find one that captures audio, and you're done.

Voice-activated recorders, on the other hand, require a little more forethought.

Your decision will mainly depend on what you're using it for. If you just need something to jot down ideas with, then just make sure it has good range and won't be in your way. If you're trying to be sneaky, though, you'll want something that's sneaky-looking. Take the time to find one that will blend in with its surroundings, because if it doesn't, using it will be a waste of time (and may force you to explain to an angry spouse why you're trying to spy on them).

We recommend humming the Mission: Impossible theme song during the hiding process.

Decide how much audio you need to capture as well. Some can hold massive amounts of data — as much as 8 GB in some cases — but when it comes to data storage, bigger isn't necessarily better. Think about whether or not you'll be able to sift through that much audio when you need to.

Some have noise filters that can cut through any clamor in the background, which can be a godsend during transcription. After all, you don't want to assume that you recorded your professor, only to get home and discover that your device only captured those frat guys a few rows behind you arguing about who was more hungover.

Think about how you'll listen to the files after you capture them. Many have headphone jacks, so you can play the audio right off the device, while others let you transfer the files to your phone, mp3 player, or computer. Make sure that your recorder is compatible with whatever your preferred listening method is.

There's an assortment of bells and whistles that you can find on certain models. Some have high-definition LCD screens, others can play music, and still others contain alarms and other notification sounds. You don't necessarily need any of those things, but they can come in handy.

Once you've found one that meets your criteria, the only thing left to do is find the right place to stash it. We recommend humming the Mission: Impossible theme song during the hiding process.

Are They Legal?

If you're planning to buy one of these things so that you can listen in on private conversations surreptitiously, you should know that doing so might not be legal.

Also, keep in mind that even if it is legal for you to record those conversations, they're likely not going to be admissible in court.

The laws vary from state to state, but generally speaking, it's against the law to record someone without their knowledge in private. It's OK to record if both parties consent, or at least are aware that the recording is taking place, but that can defeat the purpose if you're trying to catch a troublemaker in the act.

There are one-party consent states, in which only one person involved in the conversation needs to give consent in order to legally record it. However, it's pretty much universally illegal to secretly record a conversation you're not personally involved in — so if you're trying to snoop on your spouse and their lover, you're going to have to break the law to do so.

Also, keep in mind that even if it is legal for you to record those conversations, they're likely not going to be admissible in court. Don't expect to play your recording at a dramatic moment in the trial — using these recorders as spy gear should pretty much only be for your own benefit.

As such, they can still be useful, as they can enable you to know when it's time to use more conventional methods to get the evidence you need. Just be very careful, or else you could end up in the clink.

And someone's always listening in the clink.

Will Rhoda
Last updated by Will Rhoda

After deciding that the pen was mightier than the pliers, Canadian electrical contractor William Rhoda abandoned his career and headed back to college, where he majored in marketing and advertising and won a scholarship along the way to earning a diploma in creative communications. His past career landed him a depth of knowledge in tools and hardware, while his current career schooled him in audio, video and camera equipment. During his leisure time, he’s learned lots about outdoor gear, and years of tiresome backyard maintenance have taught him all about pools and hot tubs. His recreational pursuits include rest, relaxation and revolutionary action, and his roommate’s a hairless cat.

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