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Published Oct. 13, 2021

Handheld voice recorders are essential tools for capturing audio from interviews, lectures, personal memos, and other live sources. The best handheld voice recorders capture this type of audio in clear, intelligible detail; they also tend to be portable, easy to operate, and feature adequate battery life and storage options.

Though they share the same general purpose, handheld voice recorders can vary greatly in terms of recording capability and sound quality. Differences in internal microphones, which bitrates and file formats are supported, as well as other audio-enhancing functions determines whether a handheld voice recorder can deliver the level of audio quality you need for your recording.

In this article, we’ll provide some clarity on what to look for when shopping handheld voice recorders, including which features should be prioritized. We’ll also give specific examples of recorders that are best suited for particular recording environments.

Methodology

As someone who frequently conducts interviews, attends conferences, and is constantly recording and taking notes, I’m fairly well-versed when it comes to handheld recorders. In order to decide which handheld voice recorder was best for a specific type of recording setting or environment, I used a specific criteria based on my years of experience.

  • Audio Quality: Audio quality is the most important feature to look at when considering a handheld voice recorder. Playback should be clear and intelligible and clear and free of unwanted noise.
  • Storage: Storage capacity matters more for some recording applications than others. As someone who does a lot of recording away from the office, I prefer recorders with lots of storage, which usually means a recorder with built-in storage and microSD support. Lots of storage means you won’t have to constantly offload your recorded audio; it also means there’s less chance you’ll run out of space during a recording.
  • Battery Life: Like storage capacity, battery life is one of those features where more is almost always better. In my opinion, 10 hours is the bare minimum for battery life. Anything less and you will definitely run out of juice at some point. It’s inevitable. No one remembers to charge their recorder every time, so having a decent-sized battery matters a lot—especially if you’re recording in the field.
  • Footprint: Almost all handheld voice recorders are inherently portable, so the size doesn’t play as important a role as some of the other factors. Discretion, on the other hand, can be very important, especially if you’re using a recorder to interview people who might not feel comfortable around a conspicuous recording device. For recording scenarios where subtlety might be warranted, I consider both the size and overall design of a recorder to determine whether or not it is discreet enough.

Best Overall: Zoom H1n Handy Recorder

A Versatile Prosumer Recorder

Capture true stereo sound with this compact and easy-to-use handheld voice recorder. Zoom

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Why It Made the Cut: Made by one of the most trusted names in portable recording, the H1n Handy Recorder from Zoom uses onboard X/Y microphones to capture high-quality stereo sound in virtually any setting.

Specs:

  • Storage: Up to 32GB (microSD/microSDHC)
  • Battery Life: Up to 10 hours
  • Audio File Format: MP3, WAV

Pros: 

  • Built-in X/Y mics capture wide-angle stereo in virtually any environment
  • Ruggedized build protects mics from wear and tear
  • Easy-to-read 1.25” monochrome backlit LCD
  • Supports microSD/SDHC cards up to 32GB

Cons:

  • Requires AAA batteries
  • No internal storage

When it comes to portable recording, few names are as trusted as Zoom. The H1n Handy Recorder helps maintain that reputation with its portable design, easy-to-use interface, and powerful mic array that includes two onboard condenser mics arranged in a 90-degree X/Y configuration. That powerful mic array, combined with a high SPL limit of 120 db and the ability to record audio at up to 24-bit/96 kHz resolution in either WAV of MP3 format, allow the H1n to capture clear, phase-accurate audio in virtually any setting.

In terms of design, the H1n features a sleek-yet-durable design that fits naturally in your hand. It can also be mounted on a tripod or stand using the built-in thread or even attached to a DSLR using compatible hot shoe adapter. For operations, the H1n prioritizes ease-of-use and accessibility. Its front panel features an intuitive 1.25” monochrome backlit LCD, as well as quick-and-easy access to the commonly used functions, including one-touch controls for recording and distortion limiter.

Despite its many positives, the H1n lacks both an integrated battery and internal storage. To operate it, you’ll need to supply AAA batteries, which, on the plus side, provide up to 10 hours of use. In addition to the batteries, you’ll also need to pick up a microSD/SDHC card (up to 32GB) to save your recordings.

Best Value:  EVISTR 16GB Digital Voice Recorder

Small Size, Huge Value

Packed with 16GB of internal memory and shockingly good audio quality, this pocket-sized recorder is one of the best deals around. EVISTR

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Why It Made the Cut: Its combination of built-in storage, audio file support, and audio quality, all packed into a tiny form factor, made the EVISTR Digital Voice Recorder the best overall bang for your buck.

Specs:

  • Storage: 16GB (internal)
  • Battery Life: Up to 12 hours
  • Audio File Format: MP3, WAV

Pros: 

  • Records high quality audio
  • 16GB of internal storage
  • Compact design fits easily into your pocket
  • 12-hour battery life

Cons:

  • Small size means small screen
  • No mic jack

Despite its compact form factor, the EVISTR 16GB Digital Voice Recorder offers a large amount of recording features and the best overall value. As mentioned, the EVISTR Voice Recorder is small—small enough to comfortably fit inside your pocket, in fact. Its audio quality, on the other hand, is anything but small. Even in noisy settings, the sound quality is clear and intelligible, with little background noise. In a quieter environment, like a classroom, recordings absolutely shine. Similarly, the EVISTR Voice Recorder comes with 16GB of internal storage, which, again, is a fairly large amount considering the recorder’s size.

In terms of functionality, the EVISTR Voice Recorder features an intuitive and easy-to-use interface that makes operating it a breeze. All of the expected recording and playback features are included, as well as some more advanced features like a voice-activated recording mode and “dynamic noise cancellation.”

The one drawback to the EVISTR 16GB Digital Voice Recorder might be is its lack of microphone jack, though that likely won’t be an issue for most users, and definitely doesn’t compromise the recorder’s tremendous overall value.

Best Handheld Voice Recorder for Students: Sony ICD-UX570 Digital Voice Recorder

Capture Every Word

With three recording modes and enough built-in storage for nearly 160 hours of recorded audio, this voice recorder ensures users will capture every word. Sony

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Why It Made the Cut: Pocket-sized portability, plenty of storage, and a quick-charge features make this recorder a great recording solution for students and other users on the go. 

Specs:

  • Storage: 4GB (internal); Up to 64GB (microSD/microSDHC)
  • Battery Life: up to 27 hours
  • Audio File Format: MP3, LPCM

Pros:     

  • Three recording modes help capture audio in any setting
  • 4GB of internal storage and microSD support
  • Easy-to-read OLED display
  • Fast-charging battery

Cons:

  • OLED display might be too bright for some users

The slim and sleek Sony ICD-UX570 Digital Voice Recorder offers several features that make it an excellent solution for students or those recording in a classroom setting. For example, the recorder’s stereo mics and three distinct recording modes—Normal, Focus, and Wide-stereo—allow users to capture sound naturally, regardless of whether they are in a small classroom or large lecture hall. In addition to its superior sound quality, the Sony ICD-UX570 Digital Voice Recorder also comes with 4GB of built-in storage, which is almost 160 hours compressed audio. And when you’re ready to transfer your recorded audio, simply plug the Sony ICD-UX570 Digital Voice Recorder into any compatible device using the recorder’s built-in USB.

Other student-friendly features include the voice recorder’s compact build, which allows it to easily be carried to and from class, a bright OLED display, and built-in rechargeable battery that can last up to 27 hours. That same battery also supports fast-charging tech, which yields up to 1 hour of recording time off of only a 3-minute charge.

Best Handheld Voice Recorder for Professionals: Zoom H6 All Black Recorder

Perfect for Podcasters

A portable handheld recorder with six mic/line inputs and a swappable X/Y stereo mic capsule that’s perfect for recording podcasts and other live audio. Zoom

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Why It Made the Cut: The Zoom H6 All Black Recorder offers more professional-grade features than any other handheld recorder on the market and is an ideal recording solution for those looking to put some serious muscle behind their production.

Specs:

  • Storage: Up to 128GB (microSD/microSDHC/microSDXC)
  • Battery Life: Up to 20 hours
  • Audio File Format: MP3, WAV

Pros:  

  • Swappable X/Y stereo microphone capsule
  • 4 x XLR/TRS mic/line level inputs
  • Up to 20 hours of battery life
  • Supports microSDXC cards up to 128GB

Cons:

  • Professional-level recorder means it is very costly

The Zoom H6 All Black Recorder is a professional-grade handheld recorder that features swappable stereo mic capsules, versatile 6 mic/line inputs, and support for up to 6-track recording—making it an ideal recording solution for podcasts, musicians, and content creators of every stripe and in any setting.

Despite an innumerable list of recording features, the H6 is incredibly user-friendly. Its front panel is arranged in such a way that it prioritizes the more essential controls, including the transports buttons and the gain control and pad selector for the XLR/TRS inputs. Operations are also made easier thanks to the H6’s full-color LCD display that is angled slightly to give users a constant clear view of the screen.

In terms of file format and quality, the H6 lets you record audio as WAV files up to 24-bit/96 kHz. You can track as MP3 files as well. The H6 records those files to any compatible SD card with up to 128GB of storage.

The H6 All Black handheld recorder is definitely meant for professional setups, which is why it carries such a hefty price tag. The value is actually quite good when you consider the exhaustive list of features it includes, but you’ll want to make certain you actually need those features before dolling out the cash for this high-end recorder.

Best Long-Distance Handheld Recorder: Dictopro X100 Voice Recorder

Long Distance Listening

An ultra-sensitive dual mics allow this digital voice recorder to capture sound from up to 40’ away. Dictopro

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Why It Made the Cut: With two ultra-sensitive mics that can capture high-quality audio from 40’ away, the Dictopro X100 Voice Recorder is an ideal solution for anyone who needs to do some long-distance recording.

Specs:

  • Storage: Up to 8GB (internal)
  • Battery Life: 10 hours
  • Audio File Format: MP3, WAV

Pros:  

  • Ultra-sensitive mics capture audio from up to 40’ away
  • Voice-activated recording
  • 8GB of internal storage
  • Sleek design with color LCD display

Cons:

  • Not always intuitive controls
  • No microSD card suppor8

The Dictropro X100 is a very stylish, pocket-sized recorder that somehow manages to perform just as well as it looks. Two ultra-sensitive microphones with dynamic noise reduction allow the Dictopro X100 to record high-quality sound at distances up to 40’ away, making this recorder especially useful for recordings captured from afar, such as in a lecture hall. You can record those files in either WAV or MP3 format.

Long-distance recording aside, the Dictopro X100 includes several other useful recording features, including a voice-activated function that allows you to record audio without pressing a button. Perhaps not as cool as voice-activated recording, but arguably even more useful is the Dictopro’s 8GB of internal storage, which supports up to 700 hours of recordings.  

Additional features include a headphone and external mic port, the ability to function as an MP3 player, and even an alarm clock—something you rarely see in a handheld voice recorder. One feature that is missing, however, is a microSD card port, which means you’ll have to rely on the Dictopro’s 8GB of internal storage.

Things to Consider Before Buying a Handheld Voice Recorder

When deciding which handheld recorder will best fit your needs, be consider the following:

Audio Quality

Great sound quality is a must. In general, what counts as “great” is audio that’s clear, intelligible, and free of distracting background noise. If you need to record voice memos or lectures, then voice recorders that record at lower bitrates and in compressed formats like MP3 should be up to the task. However, if you need to record in a noisy environment, or a production setting, you’ll want to look at devices that record in high quality formats in order to get great quality sound.

Storage Capacity

A recorder should offer enough storage (either internal or via microSD card) to accommodate how often you record and the type of format you use for your recordings.

Size

Handheld voice recorders are meant to be portable and, to a certain extent, discreet. When shopping for a recorder, be sure to consider the size of a handheld voice recorder to determine how easy it will be to transport and, if it matters, how conspicuous.

Battery Life

All the best features in the world won’t matter much if the voice recorder runs out of battery halfway through a lecture or interview. Check to see that the recorder you want has enough battery life to support your recording scenario. Generally speaking, 10 hours is a good place to start for battery life.

FAQs

Q: Are voice recorders better than phones?

When it comes to recording voice audio, handheld voice recorders do offer some significant advantages over smartphones. The most notable of these advantages is sound quality. Handheld voice recorders are designed specifically to capture voice audio. As such, they include recording capabilities most smartphones cannot compete with, including better internal microphones, greater support for different file formats, noise filtering, and more.

Q: What is the best voice recorder for students?

For most students, the Sony ICD-UX570 Digital Voice Recorder is an excellent choice for a handheld voice recorder. It captures clear, crisp audio in classroom settings, is easy to carry, and its 4GB of internal storage can hold up to around up to 160 hours of audio. On top of that, its battery life is solid, so you won’t have to worry about it dying in the middle of class.

Q: How do I choose a good voice recorder?

At their most basic, handheld voice records all perform the same basic function. To choose a handheld voice recorder that’s good for you, consider how you intend to use it. In general, a good voice recorder should produce clear, intelligible audio, be easy to use, and be portable.

Final Thoughts

The best handheld voice recorder is one that provides great audio quality, plenty of storage (either internal or via microSD card), is portable, and can record in a variety of sound settings. That’s why the H1n Handy Recorder is the best overall choice. Small enough to travel, strong enough to survive the trip, and with enough recording features to capture clear, intelligible audio in virtually any setting, the H1n is likely to be the best voice recording solution for the most amount of people.

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