When you're looking to capture high-quality live music, field recordings for film, or interviews for podcasting and broadcasting, using just any basic recorder -- and even some mid-range models -- simply won't cut it. Professional users demand a high level of audio fidelity and loads of useful features in their digital audio recorders, which is why the Samson Zoom H4n comes out on top amongst audiophiles and pros.
The Zoom H4n's two adjustable microphones can be rotated from 90 to 120 degrees to capture better stereo sound and provide some measure of isolation between multiple sound sources. A pair of quarter-inch and XLR-compatible inputs also let you attach additional mics to get a more dynamic mix. Additionally, the Zoom H4n's four-track overdubbing and layering features greatly extend its usefulness, though they're not quite as robust or flexible as what you find in a stand-alone four-track recorder. The trade-off is that this professional-grade digital voice recorder is a bit too bulky for some users.
A vocal minority of users on Amazon.com argue the similarly priced Sony PCM-M10 (*Est. $250) offers better sound quality and a more portable form factor than the Zoom H4n. Others disagree about the recording quality difference between the two devices, which is arguably top-notch in either case. What is clear, however, is that the PCM-M10 has fewer of the extra bells and whistles that pro-recorder users who gravitate towards the Zoom H4n crave. The PCM-M10 is certainly a more pocket-friendly option, which resonates highly among some users -- and a good pick if you're not looking for those extra functions that make the Zoom H4n shine.
In comparison, the cheaper Tascam DR-05 (*Est. $80) gets the job done well in some cases, though users report having trouble with background noise when recording in certain situations ranging from windy outdoor conditions to extremely quiet indoor settings. Still, it's rated highly among users for its ease of use and generally good sound quality, even if it's not as powerful or feature-rich as the pricier models.