audio recorders

Audio Devices

Here are some reviews of different audio recorders that we have gathered from our own experiences and from participants of our workshops.

Olympus WS-300 series dictation recorder ~ $75 - $150

Olympus WS Series Digital Dictation Audio Recorder

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  • Recording Format: WMA (Windows Media Audio)
  • Memory: Built-in 512 MB flash memory
  • Recording Time: Stereo Extra High Quality (ST XQ) 8h, 50min
  • PC Interface: USB Direct 2.0 high speed
  • Sampling Frequency: 44.1kHz
  • Frequency Response: ST XQ 50-19,000Hz
  • Microphone Jack: Mini 1/8" stereo jack
  • Earphone Jack: Mini 1/8" stereo jack
  • Power Supply: One AAA battery
  • Battery Life: Approx. 21 hours
  • Size: 3.7"L x 1.5"W x 0.4"D
  • Weight: 1.7 oz
  • OS Supported: Microsoft Windows

Olympus makes a range of WS Series dictation recorders that are really designed for note taking. Expect a slight "hiss" sound on your recordings. Great for note taking not so much for media production. If you're on a budget, we recommend using a professional microphone. It won't be perfect, but the difference will be dramatic.

Samson Zoom H1 ~ $100

Samson H1 Zoom Audio Recorder

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  • Recording Format: WAV, MP3
  • Memory: Micro SD or SDHC
  • Recording Time: 4 hours at 44.1kHz with 4gb card.
  • PC Interface: USB Direct 2.0 high speed
  • Sampling Frequency: 96kHz/48kHz/44.1kHz at 16-bit or 24-bit
  • Microphone Jack: Mini 1/8" stereo jack, plugin power
  • Earphone Jack: Mini 1/8" stereo jack
  • Power Supply: One AA batteries
  • Battery Life: Approx. 10 hours
  • Size: 2.5 x 4.3 x 1.25"
  • Weight: 3.8 oz
  • OS Supported: MS Windows, Mac OSX 10.5

A great sounding recorder that offers very high quality audio at a great price. The portability is extremely nice for attaching this recorder to a DSLR Video camera to use as a two system audio setup. The only drawbacks are that it uses a mini mic input instead of the higher quality XLR connectors. These inputs are susceptible to interference.

Tascam DR-1 ~ $250

Tascam DR-1 Digital Audio Recorder

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  • Recording Format: WAV, MP3
  • Memory: SDHC
  • PC Interface: USB Direct 2.0 high speed
  • Sampling Frequency: 44.1/48kHz 16-bit 24-bit
  • Microphone Jack: TRS, Plugin Power
  • Earphone Jack: Mini 1/8" stereo jack
  • Power Supply: Rechargable Lithium-Ion
  • Battery Life: Approx. 4-5 hours
  • Size: 2.8"L x 1.1"W x 5.5"D
  • Weight: 7.34 oz
  • OS Supported: Microsoft Windows, Mac OSX

A good recorder at a very good price. It has a "balanced" tip-ring sleeve (TRS 1/4" Stereo Jack) mic input which is just like XLR, except that it's easier to pull it out of the socket by accident. We don't have a lot of personal reports on this device, but on paper it looks like a really good deal. The only possible issue is that it takes special rechargeble batteries that could die in the field. But, they are removable so you can buy several backups.

Samson Zoom H4n ~ $300

Samson Zoom H4 Digital Audio Recorder

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  • Recording Format: WAV, MP3
  • Memory: SDHC card
  • Sampling Frequency: 44.1kHz, 48kHz
  • Channels: 4 channels of audio, two from mic inputs, and two mics built in.
  • Microphone Jack: XLR or TRS, Plugin/Phantom Power
  • Earphone Jack: Mini 1/8" stereo jack
  • Power Supply: Two AA
  • Battery Life: Approx. 4 hours
  • Size: 2.75 x 6 x 1.38"
  • Weight: 1.7 oz
  • OS Supported: Microsoft Windows, Mac OSX 10.4 (10.5 with firmware update)

Likely one of the cheapest (if not the cheapest) recorder that includes XLR inputs. These XLR inputs really lift the quality of the signal from microphones, and to top it off, the inputs double as TRS inputs. The audio quality is also really good, and this recorder is fully capable of field reporting. The Zoom company corrected many of the issues the previous model had, including making a sturdier casing, larger display an better controls.

M-Audio Microtrack II ~ $300

M-Audio Microtrack II Digital Audio Recorder

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  • Recording Format: WAV, MP3
  • Memory: CF Card
  • Sampling Frequency: 44.1kHz, 48kHz
  • Frequency Response: 20kHz - 20,000Hz
  • Microphone Jack: TRS, Plugin/Phantom power
  • Earphone Jack: Mini 1/8" stereo jack, RCA Output
  • Power Supply: Non-remvable rechargeable battery.
  • Battery Life: Approx. 3-4 hours
  • Size: 7.4 x 6.9 x 2.2"
  • OS Supported: Microsoft Windows, Mac OSX

This is a really good sounding recorder that consistently gets great reviews for its ability to capture clear, crisp audio and its inclusion of a TRS 1/4" Stereo Jack. However, this recorder suffers from one fatal flaw: its non-removable rechargeble battery. If this device dies on you in the field, you're pretty much out of luck. However, we have heard of one work-around that many organizations have used: you can charge this device with a mini-USB plug - the same type of plug used on many cell phones. So, this allows you to use a portable cell phone charger and gives you some extra time.

Marantz PMD 620 ~ $400

Marantz PMD 620 Digital Audio Recorder

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  • Recording Format: WAV, MP3
  • Memory: SD/SDHC
  • PC Interface: USB Direct 2.0 high speed
  • Sampling Frequency: 44.1kHz, 48kHz
  • Frequency Response: 20 - 20kHz
  • Microphone Jack: Mini 1/8" stereo jack, plugin/phantom power
  • Earphone Jack: Mini 1/8" stereo jack
  • Power Supply: Two AA batteries
  • Battery Life: Approx. 5 hours
  • Size: 2.5"L x 4"W x 1"D
  • Weight: 4 oz
  • OS Supported: Microsoft Windows

Marantz's higher end PMD 660 is considered the bread-and-butter of audio recorders. The 620 is Marantz's attempt at courting a prosumer market, however this device's first debut was plagued with some issues. The monitor sound in the earphones was delayed from the real sound, which drove operators crazy. Reports are that this was fixed in a firmware upgrade. Otherwise reviews have been good. The 1/8" mini jack is located at the top of the device which makes it easier to use while in a pocket or small bag.

Edirol by Roland R-09 ~ $400

Edirol R-09 Digital Audio Recorder

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  • Recording Format: WAV, MP3
  • Memory: SD/SDHC
  • PC Interface: USB Direct 2.0 high speed
  • Sampling Frequency: 44.1kHz, 48kHz
  • Frequency Response: 20 - 22kHz
  • Microphone Jack: Mini, plugin power
  • Earphone Jack: Mini
  • Power Supply: Two AA batteries
  • Battery Life: Approx. 4 hours
  • Size: 4"L x 2.5"W x 1.18"D
  • Weight: 6 oz
  • OS Supported: Microsoft Windows, Mac OSX

Edirol has always been well known in the audio industry as making some of the top tier equipment, and this model is no different. High quality audio, easy to read LCD displays and plenty of features make this recorder one of the better of the bunch. But, at this price range it lacks some of the features one would typically like to see, like TRS or XLR inputs. However, the mini 1/8" stereo jack is conveniently located at the top of the device, so that it can be used in a pocket or pouch. The built-in condenser eletret mics are touted by the manufacture as superior quality, however in our tests we found that an external hand-held dynamic mic did a much better job hands down.

Olympus LS-10 ~ $300

Olympus LS-10 digital audio recorder

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  • Recording Format: WAV, MP3, WMA
  • Memory: SD card
  • Recording Time: 3hours with 2gb built-in mem, expandable memory.
  • PC Interface: USB
  • Sampling Frequencies: 22.05kHz, 44.1kHz, 48kHz and 96kHz
  • Frequency Response: 20 Hz - 10 kHz
  • Microphone Jack: Mini 1/8" stereo jack, plugin power
  • Earphone Jack: Mini 1/8" stereo jack
  • Power Supply: Two AA batteries
  • Battery Life: Approx. 12 hours
  • Size: 5.17 x 1.89 x 0.88"
  • OS Supported: Microsoft Windows, Mac OSX

This is one of the best audio recorders for its size. It is very highly reviewed, incredibly compact, and performs phenomenally. It comes with 2 gigabytes of built-in memory, but with an SD expandable memory slot. The display is easy to read, and the built-in mic is pretty good considering it's a hand-held. The biggest drawback of course is the price. This recorder will easily put a hole in your wallet, but it's compact nature makes it an attractive option for reporters who may want to use it for both note-taking and clear multimedia audio capture.

Sony PCM D50 ~ $500

Sony PCM D-50 Digital Audio Recorder

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  • Recording Format: WAV, MP3
  • Memory: SD card (not SDHC)
  • Recording Time: 6hours at 44.1kHz with 4gb card.
  • PC Interface: USB
  • Sampling Frequencies: 22.05kHz, 44.1kHz, 48kHz and 96kHz
  • Frequency Response: 20 Hz - 10 kHz
  • Microphone Jack: Mini 1/8" stereo jack, plugin power
  • Earphone Jack: Mini 1/8" stereo jack
  • Power Supply: Four AA batteries
  • Battery Life: Approx. 4 hours
  • Size: 2 7/8" x 6 1/8" x 1 5/16"
  • OS Supported: Microsoft Windows, Mac OSX

This recorder just feels good in the hand. It's aluminum body screams durability, the knobs are incredibly smooth and the buttons are very accessible. While the form factor is the high point of this device, the price doesn't really justify the features when comparing this to other recorders in its price range. It does come with four gigabytes of built-in memory; something that would have probably been more attractive before the price of 2gb of SD memory dropped to under $20. The mini plug is built of metal making it more durable than other recorders with this same jack. This recorder also only records in Stereo tracks. It's a great recorder all around and people who buy it seem to be very happy with its purchase. It has a very loyal following among audiophiles.

Marantz PMD 660 ~ $500

Marantz PMD 660 Digital Audio Recorder

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  • Recording Format: WAV, MP3
  • Memory: CF Cards
  • PC Interface: USB Direct 2.0 high speed
  • Sampling Frequency: 44.1kHz, 48kHz
  • Frequency Response: 16,000Hz
  • Microphone Jack: XLR, phantom power
  • Earphone Jack: Mini 1/8" stereo jack
  • Power Supply: Four AA batteries
  • Battery Life: Approx. 4-5 hours
  • Size: 7.2"L x 4.5"W x 1.9"D
  • Weight: 1.1 lbs.
  • OS Supported: Microsoft Windows, Mac OSX

Currently, one of the most common digital audio recorders used for professional news gathering. Used by almost all of the staff at National Public Radio for field recording, this device pretty much has it all. Two XLR inputs, phantom power, CF card slot and to top it off it uses AA batteries. It's a very simple device to use, and it's really easy to set the audio levels using a knob on the top. It's bulkier than some of the newer hand-held recorders on the market, and it has a very plastic feel to it. The built-in speaker is pretty much worthless, and the built-in mic is very susceptible to handling noise and button presses. The School of Journalism at UC Berkeley purchased about a dozen of these, and we found that the earphone jack has consistently broken on several of these devices. Also, the radio program here at the school has detected high EQ hiss that occurs due to a hardware flaw in the preamp. A company called Oade Brothers will sell these devices with a hardware modification for an extra fee.