10 Best Portable Digital Recorders in 2023 [Buying Guide] - Music Critic (2023)

Portable Audio Recorder Buyer's Guide

A sound recorder is a useful device that has many purposes. Most commonly, this product is used for recording lectures, interviews, and music concerts (click here for the how-to guide). Of course, when you want to be able to hear a person's every word, then it's crucial to pick a recorder that captures high-quality audio.

In this guide, we'll answer all the important questions you might have about this device, as well as provide you with tips for buying the best product.

Before we move onto the guide, it's important to refer to the question of smartphones. In the modern age, phones are loaded with advanced technologies that can cause some people to think a sound recorder would be obsolete.

Why would you buy a device to record audio when your phone can do the same job?

The answer is that the quality gulf between the two is enormous. Yes, if you want to record a person speaking directly into a mouthpiece, then a phone will be fine. But for recording lectures or interviews, you'll need a recorder - click here for the study.

Now, let's move on to the all-important buyer's guide. Once you're done, you'll be in a great position to make an informed purchase.

Is a travel sound recorder for you?

If you're wanting to record a lecture, class, interview, or concert, then the answer is a resounding, yes!

This portable device is easy to use, can be stored in your pocket, and captures high-quality audio. You can use it to play your recordings back, either through headphones or an in-built speaker. Some of the best products will allow you to index recordings and easily transfer them to your computer or smartphone.

It can surprise some just how good the audio is. As we have just suggested, if you use your smartphone for recording, then you're not capturing the best quality. There's no need to strain to hear words or for your recording to be ruined by someone coughing or other background noise.

For capturing a voice - or multiple voices - then a sound recorder is the only option, in our opinion. If you're wanting to record music, then this device can also be very useful. It's just important that you select a product that's designed for recording music.

What sample rate should I choose?

To make it as simple as possible, you want the highest sample rate possible. That's because the higher the sample rate, the better the audio recording will be.

It's important to keep in mind that the sample rate tends to be less important once it has reached the 44.1kHz level. Anything below this, and you will notice lower quality. If the sample rate is above this number, then the recording will - of course - be better quality, but you might not notice the difference.

We can recommend any sample rate that is 44.1kHz and above.

(Video) Best Portable Audio Recorders 2022 | Top 10 Best Portable Audio Recorder Buying Guide

Recording time?

The amount of recording time you choose will depend on what you need the device for. If you plan to record several lectures during a day with each an hour or two long, then you'll need longer recording time.

This means that the battery life has to be sufficient for hours' worth of recording. A typical recorder has built-in rechargeable batteries that can offer somewhere between ten and fifteen hours.

If you don't think that this will be enough time, then it's worth investing in a recorder that has dual power options. This means that when your rechargeable batteries run out, you can replace them with AAA or other similar batteries that can be bought cheaply.

You also need to ensure that the device has enough storage space. Some products will just offer their in-built storage capabilities. The amount that it offers can vary widely from 2Gb to 8GB.

Another option is to purchase a recorder that allows you to plug in an SD card. This will increase the amount of storage space. You can also have a spare SD card that you can replace the first one with once it is full.

Built-in microphones or more options?

For most people, the in-built mic in a portable recorder will be sufficient for your needs.

If you want to have more options, however, then you'll want to select a product that has an XLR input so you can plug in an external mic. Some high-end models also offer phantom power for condenser microphones. Another option for a lower-quality mic is a device with a mini-jack input.

Of course, you need to take into account your budget. Having extra ports will cause the cost of the product to rise. So, if you don't think you'll need to plug in extra mics, then don't pay extra for something you won't need.

Support for a USB connection

To be able to easily transfer your files to your computer, then having USB connectivity is a must. It's a feature that you'll find on lots of the most recent portable recorders. Look for a USB port while buying a new recorder as a single connection will help you to transfer files more efficiently.

Don't worry, though. If a device doesn't have a USB connection but it does have an SD card, then you're fine. You can simply remove the SD card from the device and plug it directly into your laptop. If your computer doesn't have the relevant slot, then you'll need to get an SD card reader.

The budget talks

At the end of the day, it all depends upon your budget. You can only spend what you can afford, after all. And as with all technological products, the more you pay for it, the better the quality. But that doesn't mean that there aren't some excellent low-price or mid-range options.

One way of keeping the cost down is to select a product that offers you the essential features you require without any unnecessary extras. It's great having a voice-activation mode or hundreds of hours of storage space. But if you're not going to use these features, then why pay more for them?

Each of the products on our list guarantees quality. Yes, if you buy a budget product, then you won't get premium performance. But the products on our list each represent the best quality in each price range.

Now, we're going to tell you what our ultimate top picks are in each important category and why. Let's get on with it!

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1- Top pick

10 Best Portable Digital Recorders in 2023 [Buying Guide] - Music Critic (1)

Our Top Pick offers a huge amount of quality for a very reasonable price tag. It's no surprise to anyone who has read our reviews that a Tascam product has won this award.

For more than 30 years Tascam has been delivering exceptional audio products to consumers. From speakers to handheld recorders Tascam does it all. And, more importantly, it always does it well.

DR-05 version 2 is an easy-to-use, compact product that records high-quality stereo audio for a very affordable price.

The high-quality sound recording is achieved by a pair of integrated microphones that withstands up to 125dB SPL. Furthermore, one can record sound from 200 feet away without losing any detail. If you want to boost your recording capabilities, then simply add a microphone through the ⅛” stereo input.

The DR-05 is equipped with omnidirectional stereo condenser microphones. These mics record ambient audio from all directions including sound coming directly in front of them. The versatility of the mics makes this recorder effective for a wide range of applications.

The DR-05 can be easily operated with just your thumb. Recording, adjusting levels, and deleting all require a simple press of a button.

It's got lots of great extra features too, such as peak reduction. This mode automatically adjusts the levels so that the recording is more balanced.

You can also add reverb to the recording to make it sound more natural. This effect is useful when recording music or singing too. You also can overdub your recordings easily with a few clicks of a button. That's a great feature if you want to record a backing track then record vocals over the top during playback.

To make recordings more seamless, there is a voice-activation mode. This helps to eliminate long silences, such as during a class or lecture. You just need to set the minimum level for when recordings should start and stop. This can also be done with great ease.

With condenser microphones, a peak reduction mode, and a level-align feature, this is a deserved choice as Music Critic's Top Pick.

2- Premium Choice

10 Best Portable Digital Recorders in 2023 [Buying Guide] - Music Critic (2)We've selected another Tascam product as our Premium Choice. If money is of no concern, then this is the sound recorder for you to go for. It might cost a pretty penny but it offers you so many advanced features that it's worth paying the big bucks for.

The DR-40 by Tascam can take your recordings to a new level. Adjustable microphones, an extended battery life, and four-track recording are just some of the features that it offers.

This recorder is equipped with adjustable unidirectional microphones that can be positioned in both the A-B and X-Y positions. Advanced control over the direction of the mics allows for a wide and clear stereo sound, which translates into professional-quality recordings.

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This product is equally as adept at recording loud audio as it is at capturing quiet sound sources. That's because it features a high-sound pressure design. It's a very effective piece of technology that's perfectly suited to a live music venue or lecture hall.

Nobody likes peaks where the audio is distorted and unlistenable. That's why Tascam has integrated its effective peak reduction mode into this product. Once the signals are peaking too high, then they will be detected and reduced so that you get balanced audio. You can even choose what level you want the peaks to be.

What if you need an external microphone to cover a wider zone? The XLR/TRS stereo inputs in this recorder make it possible to connect a condenser microphone and a PA console line-level output. XLR/TRS ports are made by Neutrik which are highly reliable and trusted by professional audio engineers.

If you're recording multiple voices, such as during a meeting, then you'll enjoy the align feature that's built into this product. It allows for more balanced playback where each voice will be the same volume.

The DR-40 includes a lot of features that other audio recorders don't offer. With unidirectional condenser microphones, a four-channel mode, and reverb effects, this is a premium product that our team can highly recommend.

3- Great Value

10 Best Portable Digital Recorders in 2023 [Buying Guide] - Music Critic (3)This is our Budget Choice, which exemplifies just how much quality you can get for a low price.

From fidget spinners to audio recorders, Aketek manufactures it all. Aketek aims to provide consumer electronics at a price that the masses can afford.

Now let's have a look at this outstanding product and the features that it offers.

The 650HR, multi-functional rechargeable audio recorder by Aketek is an affordable choice that will appeal to everyone from students to journalists.

It's an easy-to-use product that features a user-friendly interface that you don't need to be a tech whizz to master. Just hit the record button and you are ready to go!

In terms of battery life, this product is one of the best. You get twenty hours of continuous recording from a single charge. There's no need to worry about needing to carry spare batteries with you. It also offers you a whopping 7,000 minutes of storage space. You don't need an SD card for this one. There's a USB port for you to easily transfer your files to your PC too.

This product is a crowd-pleaser that will appeal to a wide range of users. With 24 languages available for the user interface, A-B repeat function, and voice-operated/activated modes, this recorder is an absolute bargain.


1 - What is a portable audio recorder?

A portable audio recorder is a device used for capturing sound. It is primarily used to record the human voice. It contains either one or more microphones that will either work unidirectionally or omnidirectionally. The best recorders will include lots of handy features, such as voice-activation modes.

This device can also be used to record music. Some include an XLR input so that you can record vocals for a song. In other cases, you can plug in an instrument.

(Video) 5 Best Portable Audio Recorders in 2023 ( Review & Buying Guide)

2 - How do you use a travel audio recorder?

Just tap the “record” button to start recording.

Press the “stop” button to pause or end the recording.

For transferring files to a PC, simply connect one end of a USB cable to the recorder and the other to the USB port in your computer. Drag and drop files to successfully transfer the files.

Advanced features require different processes depending on the recorder. As with all devices of this type, you'll want to read the instruction booklet carefully so that you know how to operate it correctly.

Be sure to sufficiently charge the recorder before starting the recording.

3 - Does the price of the product affect the quality of the recorded audio?

In short, yes. The more expensive a recorder is, the better the microphones will be that are integrated into it.

If you pick a recorder that has a condenser mic, for example, then the resulting audio will be of professional quality. Budget models won't include mics that can capture such high-level audio.

More expensive recorders will also include features that can be used to ensure the audio recording is balanced. You can even add effects - such as reverb - with pricier models.

It's important to note, however, that manufacturers are still able to offer excellent quality for less. So, if you buy a budget recorder, such as you'll find on our list, then the audio will still be listenable, clear, and balanced. It just won't be as good as if you purchase a premium model.

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