How To Choose A Voice Recorder

Sep 29, 2009 | Better Audio & Video | 0 comments

A good quality voice recorder is an indispensable part of a researcher’s toolkit. A small, yet critical device for creating quality audio recordings that can be easily replayed and shared later.

Here are some feature to consider when buying a voice recorder:

Sound Quality

Most digital voice recorders come with multiple sound quality settings, for e.g. LP (Long Play – lowest quality), SP (Standard Play – medium quality), and HQ (High Quality – highest quality). Higher levels of quality require more memory and consequently reduce recording time.

If you’re recording the audio for your own listening then even the lowest level of recording may be sufficient (may be). However, if you plan to use the recording to create products (like podcasts or radio clips)  it would be wise to choose the highest level of recording and supplement recording time with additional storage like flash drives and SD cards.


Most voice recorders have built-in microphones, making them completely self-contained recording units. However, built-in microphones capture all sounds indiscriminately – including the sounds made by the recorder  itself – so they’re great for single-speaker audio recorded in a quiet room but not so effective if there’s ambient noise or multiple speakers. They also limit one’s options in terms of positioning the microphone according to the kind of audio being recorded (for e.g. if you’re interviewing someone, you’d have to keep moving the recorder between the two speakers).

Choosing a voice recorder with an external microphone jack is by far the best option. You can then attach a lavalier, unidirectional, or omnidirectional microphone to the device according to the type of audio you plan to record.

Noise Cancellation

You can skip this one if you make your recordings in quiet surroundings. If however you need to record outdoors (for e.g. at a pub, in a conference room, at coffee shop etc.) then a voice recorder with noise cancellation is recommended. Noise cancellation basically means that the recorder will reduce background noise and create a clearer voice recording.

Telephone Adapter

If you’d like to use your voice recorder to record telephonic interviews from a landline, you would need an external adaptor to record like this one  from RadioShack. (If you’re using a smartphone, you can choose one of the many apps available for recording phone calls directly on your phone).

PC Connectivity

In most cases, you would want to eventually transfer recordings from the voice recorder to a computer to edit, share, transcribe etc. All good voice recorders nowadays come with SD card slots, inbuilt USB sticks or ports, and/or WiFi connectivity that will allow you to transfer audio files from the recorder to your computer.

File Formats

File formats are important because:

a) Not all file formats are compatible for playback on every device.

b) Some file formats take up more storage and therefore may reduce recording time.

The four most common file formats are DSS (Digital Speech Standard), WMA (Windows Media Audio), WAV (Waveform), and MP3 (MPEG-1 Audio Layer 3).

DSS files require additional software to play on PCs.

WMA files are compressed files that can be played on the Windows Media Player.

WAV files are high-quality, uncompressed files that are very large.

MP3 files are compressed files that are much smaller than WAV but almost the same quality.

Some recorders create files in proprietary formats that can only be played on the device or using its companion software. If you choose one of those, you may need format conversion software like Switch or WavePad from NCH.

Recording Time/Memory

This varies from product to product. Recorders can store anything from 90 minutes to 20 hours of recording. External storage devices such as flash drives and memory cards can be used to supplement the internal storage of the device.

Recording time depends to the level of quality you choose to record in (LP, SP, HQ, etc). High quality recordings take up more space and reduce recording time. On lower quality settings, your device can record more.

Ideally, you should pick a device that you can supplement with external storage so that you can make longer recordings if needed.

Battery life

The battery life of a voice recorder can be anything between 12 hours to 32 hours. Pick one with rechargeable batteries if you’re a heavy user.

There are many other features that can be considered at the time of purchasing a voice recorder, such as LCD screens, voice playback, folders, size, etc. Extra features also mean extra cost in most cases though, so think about what you need before you buy!

What are the features that you look for in a voice recorder? Leave a comment to let us know!

Also see:

Best Voice Recorders for Interviews and Lectures

Academic Research Transcription Services

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