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.
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.
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.
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.
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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