What the best digital voice recorder has

  • Great sound quality. Powerful, adjustable microphones should be built into the unit, with additional jacks for an external mic or an external sound source. WAV file format support offers the best lossless audio quality, though the option to switch to lower-quality MP3 or WMA formats to conserve memory is important, too.
  • Helpful features. Noise reduction, multiple presets for recording in different environments, multi-tracking functions or additional mixing software, USB connectivity for downloading audio files, and timed recording functions are among the useful features found on the best recorders.
  • Ample recording capacity. Recorders should offer upwards of 1 GB of memory standard, either in the form of built-in flash memory or an included memory card. The best recorders offer the ability to expand capacity via a memory card slot, though low-priced recorders may omit that feature.
  • Long battery life. Using lower-quality audio formats prolongs battery life, though recorders should ideally be able to function for at least several hours at their highest-quality setting before running out of battery power.
  • Easy-to-use interface. The physical interface and menu system should be intuitive and easy to operate.

Know before you go

What kind of sound quality do you need? If you plan to record dialogue, sounds or music for broadcasting or other professional purposes, it's worth spending a bit more money for a higher-end recorder. Conversely, you don't need high-end features (such as the ability to record in lossless audio formats) if you only plan to take notes during a class lecture or record rough audio for band practice.

Where will you be using the digital voice recorder? Recording in a concert hall or meeting room is very different from capturing audio outdoors or in quiet spaces. The best recorders have adjustable microphones and effective noise reduction to handle difficult recording conditions.

What are your battery needs? If you plan to take the recorder on long trips or into remote situations where you might not have access to fresh batteries, consider the unit's average battery life on its highest-quality setting and whether it has lower settings you can switch to in order to conserve energy when necessary. Recorders that accept standard batteries, such as AA alkaline cells, will save you the worry of finding an electrical outlet to juice up rechargeable batteries.

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