Best Portable Recorders of 2019 – Ultimate Review

A portable audio recorder, also called a digital voice recorder, is a handheld microphone that records and stores audio files. Stereo capsules allow you to record high quality sound from a distance, ideal if you're recording live music, or capturing audio for a film. Some recorders even have XLR inputs for external mics, like the Zoom H4N and H5.

On-the-go devices for recording music and voice are a great asset for both hobbyists and audio professionals. But which one to choose?

If you are looking for the best audio recording that matches all your needs, keep reading to find out more information about portable recordings and which ones are the best on the market. 

Comparison of the Best Portable Recorders

PRODUCT DETAILS
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Zoom H4N Pro

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Zoom H4N Pro

  • Best overall portable recorder.
  • Four-channel recording (24-bit, 96 kHz).
  • Records directly to SD/SDHC cards (maximum 32 GB).
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Zoom H6 Six-Track Portable Recorder

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Zoom H6 Six-Track Portable Recorder

  • Recording for up to 128 GB.
  • Maximum sound pressure input is 122 dB SPL.
  • Multichannel and stereo USB audio interface for PC/MAC/iPad.
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Tascam DR-05

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Tascam DR-05

  • Chromatic tuned.
  • Best for the money.
  • Built-in omnidirectional microphones and mini headphone jack for external stereo microphones.
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Zoom ZH1 H1

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Zoom ZH1 H1

  • Best portable digital recorder
  • Perfect stereo image from stereo X/Y mic configuration
  • Records WAV at 96kHz, 48kHz, or 44.1kHz at either 16- or 24-bit
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Zoom H5

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Zoom H5

  • Best portable multitrack recorder
  • Four-track simultaneous recording
  • Records on SD/SDHC cards of maximum 32GB
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What is a Portable Recorder and What is it Used For?

Whether you are a hobbyist passionate about bird life or you work as a professional in the music or film industry, a portable recorder is the most efficient way to improve the quality of your production. They are extremely popular because they are handheld devices that pack an abundance of customizable settings and options into tiny cases.

They offer improved audio quality compared to traditional recorders and they are increasingly used by professionals due to their advanced options, microphones, additional recording features, and large memory spaces. 

Zoom H4N PRO Digital Multitrack Recorder

Musicians use portable recorders to record their songs or instruments. They come in handy as not everyone might own a full studio, but some of the devices reviewed below do resemble them. Instead of purchasing a good microphone, recording software, and a high-end computer, individuals just go for a fully packed portable recorder. These products are also used in the film industry.

For instance, most cameras have relatively poor audio quality; therefore, professionals use portable recorders to enhance the sound quality of their videos. Lastly, they can be used by non-professionals who want to record meetings, lectures, interviews, etc. Journalists can use them to record their audio material, ensuring that they obtain and keep track of all the important information. 

How to Choose a Portable Recorder

The market for portable recorders has flourished in recent years. However, not all portable recorders have the same features and they are not suitable for any situation. Here is a list of the most important features to look for when deciding what portable recorder to acquire:

Sound Quality

Whether you are an enthusiast or a professional, sound quality is the top priority for a portable recorder. In any situation, the quality of the recording should be really good. If you are recording music or sound for your videos, it is obvious why sound quality should be considered to be of great value.

Why would you pay much attention to sound quality if you use for other purposes? Well, if you are recording interviews or conversations, you are not always able to place the microphone right next to the speaker’s mouth. You need to ensure your portable recorder is strong enough to capture high-quality sounds. 

Size

Portable devices are used on the go, so size definitely matters. A heavy or large recorder might be difficult to utilize in the field. It should be small enough to be put inside your bag or even your pocket, so you can use it whenever you need it. Fortunately, most options today are pocket-sized and extremely featherweight. 

Storage Capacity

Storage capacity is important to pay attention to. Most portable recorders have some (relatively limited) storage capacity, although most of them require you to purchase additional memory cards. However, some portable recorders can support up to 32GB going well over 128GB memory cards. Your purposes should, therefore, define your need for storage capacity. Remember that 1GB is more than enough to record up to 15 hours of audio, but a larger storage capacity means that you do not have to always move your audio files to your PC to make more space.

Quick Take: 
Top 3 Picks

Review of the Best Portable Recorders

Having a portable recorder will allow you to record what you want, when you want, no matter where you are. So let’s take a look at some of the best portable recorders available on the market.

Best Overall:
 Zoom H4N Pro

Zoom H4N PRO Digital Multitrack Recorder

PROS

  • 4 in / 2 out USB audio interface.
  • Less than 120 dBu EIN noise preamps.
  • Ultra-realistic guitar/bass amp emulation.
  • Pristine stereo/four-channel recording up to 24-bit/96 kHz.
  • Compatible with Windows Vista and newer, Mac OS x 10.6 and newer.

CONS

  • 30 seconds booting time.
  • Relatively short battery time.

What Recent Buyers Report

This product is perfect for recording acoustic and electric guitars. Extremely easy to use, this portable recorder is built with high-quality materials and the recordings are extremely realistic. The battery life is quite short, but it can be supplemented by using a power adapter. The product has a good price range and, even though the size is relatively small, the sound is much clearer than other alternatives. 

Why it Stands Out to Us

Zoom H4N Pro is an enhanced, clearer, and closer recording device making use of the newest recording technologies. It has advanced X/Y microphones with natural-sounding preamps and low noise floor. All recordings are extremely natural and realistic, absolutely setting a new gold standard on the portable recorders market. 

The Zoom H4N is the original hero of the portable recorder market, beloved by musicians and indie filmmakers alike. It features slightly improved sound quality compared to the DR05/H1, and a few additional features:

  • 2 XLR Inputs - You can plug in up to 2 external mics, great for filmmakers who need to plug in a boom mic or podcasters who want to use a broadcast mic. You can even record through the built-in mics simultaneously, allowing up to 4 tracks at once, although it all gets mixed down to a stereo track.
  • Audio Interface - Record straight to your favorite DAW (Logic or ProTools) with the H4N acting as an audio interface.
  • Stronger Build - Made out of strong materials with a thick rubber coating.
  • Better Display - Much easier to read the gain levels, and simply to change settings/navigate between menus.

The only real downside is the extra price. You have to question whether the above listed features are worth an extra $100 considering the sound quality is about the same. Personally, I would say yes.

For one, you’ll likely get more years of use out of it, thanks to the stronger build. Secondly, the larger size and smoother controls make it more of a charm to use, something you’ll be grateful for if you use it regularly.

Also important to note: while the H4N advertises that it records up to 4 tracks, it mixes everything down to a stereo file. So you won’t be able to change levels later.

Who Would Use This Most?

The Zoom H4N Pro is useful for anyone who wants to record anything from the Indy 500 to the magnificent song of a hummingbird. The product delivers high quality, even in close proximity, and it can handle up to 32GB of recordings. Additionally, its versatility is enhanced by the adjustable stereo microphones, from 90deg to 120deg. 

Bottom Line

The Zoom H4N Pro is a superb portable recorder that sets the industry standards. Extremely reliable, convenient, and packed with a wide range of features, it is perfect for field recording and recording audio for films. It is highly versatile and customizable, as it has two combo input jacks so you can use your own favorite microphones. 

Zoom H6 Six-Track Portable Recorder

PROS

  • Cubase for audio refining.
  • Dynamic ranges for capturing bassier sounds.
  • Featherweight, versatile, and flexible options.
  • Great audio quality, ability to control the volume.
  • More than 2 hours of exceptionally high-quality audio in one go.

CONS

  • Only 2GB memory.
  • Moderate inline signal handling.

What Recent Buyers Report

The Zoom H6 Six-Track Portable Recorder is a great miniature multi-track recording studio. It is a great buy due to its valuable features and is an extremely complex product, resembling a full studio. The recorder, however, has exposed and unlockable gain knobs for each input, which can be easily moved by mistake out in the field. However, it is perfect for stable and controlled settings. 

Why it Stands Out to Us

The Zoom H6 Handy Recorder is an advanced recorder that uses a complex system of interchangeable input capsules that can be easily maneuvered. It is perfect for live recording or studio music production. Additionally, it has six tracks of simultaneous recording and four microphone inputs. Additionally, it has over 20 hours of operation with alkaline AA batteries. 

Who Would Use This Most?

For either hobbyists or advanced audio pros, this device is extremely easy to use and intuitive. It has clear instructions that allow anyone to set it up and produce high-quality recordings in a very short time. It is also easy to use, thanks to its convenient size and build. 

Bottom Line

Overall, the Zoom H6 Handy Recorder is a great device for live or studio recording; it has complex features that ensure greatest quality and clarity and it has six tracks of simultaneous recording with a capacity of up to 128 GB. It is a great asset for professionals and hobbyists alike. 

Best for the Money:
Tascam DR-05

TASCAM DR-05 Portable Digital Recorder (Version 2)

PROS

  • User-friendly.
  • Lightweight design.
  • Great audio quality.
  • Includes tripod stand mount.
  • Option included to smooth out the level jumps on playbacks.

CONS

  • Short battery life.
  • Might take some time to get used to all features.

What Recent Buyers Report

This product is a very high-quality recorder; however, the company’s customer service for its products is extremely disappointing and the price for fixes and replacements is very high. The device can record four channels at once due to the built-in mics and the XLR mics at the same time. Additionally, you can adjust the angle of the built-in mics so you can capture wider or narrower soundscape. 

Why it Stands Out to Us

TASCAM DR-05 is a high-quality stereo recording with easy-to-use features. It can record in either MP3 or WAV format with up to 96kHz/24-bit high-resolution audio. The mics can handle 125dB SPL with enhanced sensitivity to any detail. It has convenient features, such as peak reduction and quick menu, which makes it the perfect choice of portable recorder, focusing on premium quality of the soundscape. 

This is the lowest price you can pay for a fully professional digital audio recorder -- something you can use for field recordings, interviews, and live music recordings.

First and foremost, the mics are a significant upgrade from the Yemenren, with less noise and a broader frequency range. It records as high as 24-bit, 96kHz, which is better than most users will need. It has an accurate gain meter, smoother controls, and even a 1/8" input for an external mic.

What’s Missing?

The build quality is cheap. If I had a specific budget, I would opt for the Zoom H1 instead; which is virtually identical to the Tascam DR05, but a little more durable.

The DR05 uses SD cards for storage and AA batteries for power. While this can seem like a disadvantage compared to the Yemeren, which has built-in storage and a rechargeable battery, it’s actually much better for professional use. You can always keep extra SD cards and batteries in your backpack, whereas it’s much harder to recharge or unload memory on the go.

Who Would Use This Most?

This is a great buy for beginners. It is accurate and reliable, and its sound quality is up to the industry standard. It can be used without much effort; instructions are clear, and it is easy to set up and start recording. It can be used by musicians in studios or live performances to capture the music without being blurred by a loud audience. 

Bottom Line

TASCAM DR-05 is a premium-quality portable recorder that can be used both by professionals and non-professionals. It has numerous features that offer flexibility and customizability, without compromising on convenience and ease of use. 

Best Portable Digital Recorder:
Zoom ZH1 H1

Zoom ZH1 H1 Handy Portable Digital Recorder (Black)

PROS

  • Single battery.
  • Sensitive mics up to 120dB.
  • Useful for playback and editing.
  • Distortion-free output due to onboard limiter.
  • Useful features such as pre-record, auto-record, self-time.

CONS

  • External line output signal is medium. 
  • Micro-SDHC slot needs careful handling because it is very fragile.

What Recent Buyers Report

Zoom ZH1 H1 delivers high-quality services with only 1-button operation. It has an affordable price and it is an all-in-one pocket-sized recorder. The inbuilt microphones sound great, as they are extremely sensitive, and the noise level is very low. It is assessed as being extremely easy to use and it offers great value for the price. 

Why it Stands Out To Us

Despite the fact that this portable recorder is pocket-sized, it does not compromise on quality and features. It is a high-end device that is now available to everyone, delivers great sounds with elegance, and uses the latest recording technology. It can accommodate up to 32GB microSDHC memory cards, has a low-cut filter, and even has a built-in reference speaker. 

Who Would Use This Most?

This product comes with a plethora of useful features for both beginners and professionals. It can be used in professional studios as it has a built-in mounting joint for tripod mount, or it can be used by beginners and hobbyists to make MP3 and WAV recordings of their favorite soundscapes. 

Bottom Line

All in all, the Zoom H1 Portable Digital Recorder packs a variety of useful features in a small-sized device. It is easy to use and suitable for numerous occasions. The recordings are premium-quality and it is reasonably priced. 

Best Portable Multitrack Recorder:
Zoom H5

Zoom H5 Four-Track Portable Recorder

PROS

  • Small size.
  • Featherweight.
  • Shock absorber.
  • User-friendly interface.
  • Separate volume control for headphone jack.

CONS

  • Complexity of features.
  • Instructions are confusing.

What Recent Buyers Report

The features of this device are complex, yet intuitive after consulting the instruction manual. The audio quality is amazing, despite its tiny inbuilt microphones, which are extremely directional. It has a good dynamic range, as you can have high-quality audio even if the person speaking is off-mic. Overall, this is a great buy. 

Why It Stands Out to Us

This recorder is extremely efficient and delivers high-quality recordings. It has voice-activated recording with a retroactive feature, ensuring that you do not lose a couple of seconds before the recording starts. It is compatible with any OS and there is no need for any special drivers. Lastly, it is highly customizable, though you can also go for default options, maintaining the highest quality of the recording. 

A redesign of the H4, the Zoom H5 has one major advantage: it actually records 4 channels simultaneously. I personally use this as my go-to for live shows, since I can get a stereo feed from the soundboard, and capture the room from the built-in mics. Later, dropping everything into ProTools, I can edit each track individually.

Besides true 4-track recording, the H5 has a few more advantages. It features actual knobs for the gain, which is much nicer than the H4N’s buttons.

The microphone capsule is also removable, and can be replaced with other Zoom mics, like the MSH-6 voice mic, or the SGH-6 shotgun mic, although these must be purchased separately.

Again, the key downside is price. Unless you’re explicitly looking for 4-track recording, or interchangeable capsules, I would opt for the Zoom H4N or H1 instead.

Who Would Use This Most?

The portable recorder is simple to operate, but the numerous features and options available might be overwhelming to new users. Beginners could use this device on default options, as they work well on most settings. The instruction manual can also be very useful in the beginning. It is helpful to audio professionals due to its variety of features. 

Bottom Line

Overall, the Zoom H5 is a great asset for voice and other sounds recordings, although it might not be a great choice for audiophile-level music. It is extremely flexible and customizable, which allows for personalization, but it can also be used with default settings for easy and quick recordings straightaway. 

Digital Voice Activated Recorder, Yemenren 8GB Sound Audio Recorder Dictaphone for Lectures Meetings, USB, Rechargeable, Triple Microphone, Metal Casing

If you’re looking for a handy way to record lectures, meetings, or music demos, the Yemenren Digital Voice Recorder is pretty incredible for the price. Featuring 3 omnidirectional mics, the device specializes in capturing far away voices and sounds.

Everything about this device was made for convenience. It comes with a rechargeable battery, 8GB of internal memory, and built-in speakers that are actually quite loud. It even features voice-activated recording, and timed recording modes, which I haven’t seen in any of the more expensive models.

What’s Missing?

The Yemenren is mainly for users who want to record voice/demos, and play it back straight from the device. Listening to the actual WAV file, it’s clear this is not professional quality. The sound is better than what you’ll get from a cell phone, but still pretty muffled and noisy.

I would also be cautious to use this for field recordings, or capturing the sound on a film set. The volume meters are a bit delayed, so you don’t always have an accurate idea of how hot your mic is.

The device also lacks a gain knob, instead opting for a click wheel on the side. Pushing this and other buttons can result in “click” sounds in your final recording, however. So for the best results, you want to set the gain and leave it alone.

Perks of Getting a New Portable Recorder

Any musician or sound engineer knows that inspiration can strike at any time. So having a portable recorder will serve you greatly. There are a few other benefits, too:

Record Directly to the Device

The main advantage of having a new portable recorder to match your recording needs is that this tiny device packs everything you need. You can save all of your audio recordings on the device, but it also allows you to transfer your recordings to tablets and laptops. 

Portability

These pocket-sized devices allow you to quickly record any sounds, such as interviews, conversations, lectures, songs, and instruments at any time, without missing any valuable information. All you need is to put it in your bag or your pocket before you leave. 

All-in-one

While most portable recorders offer quite intricate features, settings, and options, you can also benefit from a new portable recorder running on default settings so you can start recording straight away. 

Conclusion

Audio recorders are incredibly useful for on-the-go recording of any type of sounds, from music to rehearsal, interviews, conversations, events, and others. There is a wide availability of portable devices on the market, and in this article we sought to introduce the best portable audio recorders, their pros and cons, best features, users’ experiences, and more.

If you're recording music or film audio, and want portable audio that will stand the test of time, the H4N is easily the best option (or the H5 if you want 4 independent channels). If you want something inexpensive that can capture decent audio, the Yemenren is a good move, although I would be cautious about its long-term usefulness.