Portable Digital Audio Recorder Buying Guide With Reviews

Microphone

Scroll down to view the comparison chart of over a dozen different portable digital audio recorders.

Buying a portable digital audio recorder is a major decision.  The balance between price, features, and quality is a fine line that has many different options to choose from.  There are dozens of different models of portable digital audio recorders, some of which have drastically different sets of features yet sell for roughly the same price.  This easy to read head to head comparison chart and guide to many of the more popular portable digital audio recorders is intended to help potential buyers more easily see these differences and make an educated buying decision.

All of the criteria listed below is important to consider when purchasing a portable digital audio recorder.  While most people only consider size or inputs when purchasing a recorder it is immensely important to also consider things such as how many recording channels the device provides, whether the recorder can use removable media, and how easy it is to make changes to the settings such as the recording quality and other things.

Digital Audio Recorders- Important Features Explained

Removable Media:

Some digital audio recorders are able to use removable memory cards, usually in the form of SD cards, to record audio on.  All of the recorders listed in the chart below allow the user to connect to a computer to download recorded audio to a PC or Mac, but what happens if the card fills up and the user does not have access to a computer to unload it?  This is where removable media is important, and all but one of the recorders in our review provide it.

Recording Channels and Microphone Options:

Being able to carry a single, flexible recording device in a pocket is a great benefit to any musician, but even with the best digital audio recorder it is still important to have options available to use external microphones should the need or desire arise.  All of the recorders in our chart allow for external microphones, but only one provides full size XLR microphone jacks built into the body of the unit.  In terms of recording channels, The Zoom H4n, Zoom H2, and the Tascam DR07 add the flexibility of having four recording channels available when needed.

Size and Usability:

While being small is nice, if a device is too small using the navigation buttons and reading the LCD screen becomes problematic.  The larger the screen and more numerous the buttons the easier it is to switch recording modes or move and delete unneeded audio files.  The readability of the LCD screen is also important, and among the models listed in the chart the Edirol R-09 is the brightest and clearest.

Use the chart below to find the individual audio recorder that you are looking for. Also included in this chart are two desktop style CD burning digital audio recorders that are found on other pages here at MusicEdMagic.

Choose up to six digital recorder models to compare using the checkboxes below.

  Edirol R-09HR Tascam DR-07 Pocketrak CX Pocketrak 2G Zoom H4n Zoom H2 Tascam DR-100
Yamaha C24
Yamaha W24
Zoom H1
Zoom Q3
Sony PCM-D50
Olympus LS-11
Check Price at Amazon

MEdM Rating Not reviewed yet
Not reviewed yet
Read Review at MusicEdMagic Read Our Review
of the Edirol R-09.
Read Our Review
of the Tascam DR-07

Read Our Review
of the Pocketrak CX

Read Our Review
of the Pocketrak 2G
Read Our Review
of the Zoom H4n
Read Our Review
of the Zoom H2
  Coming Soon  
Read Our Review of the Yamaha C24
Read Our Review of the Yamaha W24
Coming Soon
Coming Soon
Read Our Review of the Olympus LS-11  
Pocket/Desktop Pocket Pocket Pocket Pocket Pocket Pocket Pocket
Pocket
Pocket
Pocket
Pocket
  Pocket
Recording channels 2 4 2 2 4 4 4
2
2
2
2 plus video
2
2
Multiple Pickup Patterns No No No No Yes, 90/120/360 Yes, 90/120/360   No
No
No
No
X-Y/Wide Stereo
No
Best WAV Recording Formats 24 bit/ 96kHz 24 bit/ 48kHz 16 bit/ 48kHz 16 bit/ 44.1khz 24 bit/ 96kHz 24 bit/ 96 kHz 24 bit/ 96 kHz 24 bit/ 96 kHz
24 bit/ 96 kHz
24 bit/ 96 kHz
24 bit/ 96 kHz
24 bit/ 96 kHz
24 bit/ 96 kHz
Best MP3 Recording Format 320kbps/ 48kHz MP3 320kbps/ 48kHz MP3 320kbps/ 48kHz MP3 128kbps/ 48kHz MP3 320kbps/ 48kHz MP3 320kbps/ 48kHz MP3 320kbps MP3 320kbps MP3
320kbps MP3
320kbps MP3
320kbps MP3
None
320kbps MP3
Mic setup/coincident pair/etc. side by side side by side coincident pair X/Y side by side coincident pair X/Y coincident pair X/Y Side by side Side by side
XY Coincident Pair
XY Coincident Pair
XY Coincident Pair
XY Coincident Pair
Side by side
Internal Speaker Yes No Yes Yes Yes No Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
  Yes
External Inputs/ Line Level/ Mic Level/ XLR/ Phone Mic/Line Mic/Line Mic/Line Mic/Line Mic/Line/XLR x2/Phone x2 Mic/Line 1/8 inch Mic/Line
1/8 inch Mic/Line
1/8inch stereo line input
None
Stereo Mini Jack
1/8 inch Mic/Line
2x 3.5mm Mic+Line
Phantom Power for External Mics No No No No Yes No No
No
No
No
No
No
No
USB Connectivity Yes w/provided cable Yes w/ provided cable Yes w/provided cable Yes/ Integrated Yes w/cable Yes w/cable Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
Integrated Tuner/Metronome No No No No Tuner/Metronome Tuner/Metronome Yes
Yes
No
No
  No
No
Software Included Cakewalk pyro Audio Creator LE None Cubase AI4 Cubase AI4 Cubase LE None Cubase AI5
Cubase AI5
None
Handy Share, Quicktime
Sound Forge Audio Studeo LE
Cubase LE4
Cubase LE4
Memory/Type 512MB SD Card 2GB SD Card 2GB Micro SD Card 2GB Internal 1GB SD Card 512MB SD Card 2gb SD
2gb SD
2gb MicroSD
2gb SD
4gb internal
8gb internal
8gb internal
Maximum Memory     2GB SD or 4GB SDHC 2GB 32GB SDHC 32GB SDHC 32gb SDHC
32gb SDHC
32gb SDHC
32gb MicroSD
32gb SDHC
Memory Stick Pro
32gb SDHC
Windscreen No Yes Yes No Yes Yes Yes
Yes
No
Yes
No
Yes
Batteries/Supplied AA x 2 / not provided AA x 2 / provided AA x 1/ rechargable Eneloop high performance battery AAA x 1/ rechargable Eneloop high performance battery AA x 2/ not provided AA x 2/ not provided 1x AAA supplied
1x AA supplied
1x AA
2x AA included

4x AA  included
2x AA included

2x AA included
External Power Connector/Supplied Yes/ provided Yes/ not supplied No No Yes/ provided Yes/ provided       No
Yes/ Not Included
Yes/ included
Yes/ Not Included
Plug and Play? Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes   Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
LCD Backlight Yes/ OLED Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes   Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
Variable Pitch Control No Yes No No Yes No   No
No
No
No
Yes
No
Variable Speed Playback Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes No   Yes
Yes
No
No
Yes
No
Included Accessories Wireless remote control included None earbuds, mic stand adaptor, carry bag included soft carry case. mic stand adaptor. earbuds, usb cable included Solid plastic carry case, mic clip adaptor desktop stand, mic clip adaptor,earbuds,stereo Y cable included   Clip-on style mic stand adapter
Wireless remote control, mic stand adapter, USB Cable
No
RCA AV Cable, Soft Carry Case
USB Cable
USB Cable, Lanyard, headphone to headphone cable,
About The Author
Chad Criswell

Chad Criswell is a career music educator working in the Iowa public schools.  His articles have appeared in dozens of publications both online and in print.  He currently serves as the national music technology writer for NAfME's Teaching Music Magazine and has presented sessions at numerous music education conferences including the 2012 Midwest Band and Orchestra Clinic.


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