Best Recording Device? (nominations)

We all know how valuable it can be to record ourselves.

But just because we know something is helpful, doesn’t mean we will act on it. After all, we know we ought to eat more veggies and do more cardio, but that knowledge by itself doesn’t turn us into marathon-running vegans.

At the end of the day, if it’s too inconvenient or time-consuming to do the right thing, we’re probably going to stick with our old habits.

So if we are serious about making a positive change in our life, we have to do more than strengthen our resolve. We must look for ways to make change easier.

Case in point, I had a DAT machine and a nice little microphone. But I almost never used it to record myself in practice sessions. Why? Because between looking for the power cord, finding a blank tape, getting out the microphone, and the annoyance of rewinding and fast-forwarding to find what I wanted, it was too much of a hassle.

What? I just need to suck it up and quit my bellyaching?

Perhaps, but it’s often the little things that get in the way of behavior change.

Choices. So many choices.

Nowadays, with so many dead-simple easy-to-use recording devices out there, there’s really no excuse not to record yourself more often.

But if you go online and search for a digital recorder, you are inundated with choices. Zoom? Teac? Tascam? Sony? Roland? Yamaha? Marantz? Olympus? A specialized microphone for your iDevice? GarageBand on your laptop?

Having lots of choices sounds like a good thing, but paradoxically, too many choices can lead to inaction. Often, we end up choosing nothing rather than risking the wrong choice.

What’s the best…?

So that got me wondering… Based on your experience, what do you think is the best device for recording yourself?

How important is audio quality? How important is convenience? Where does cost factor in?

Is it worth getting a high quality device that can double as a recorder in performance settings as well as in the practice room? Or one device for practice that prioritizes convenience and ease of use, and a more high-end model for performances that puts a premium on quality, but may not be as user-friendly?

Nominate your favorite recording device/setup in the comments below, and tell us what makes it stand apart from the competition. To make your nomination clear, please put it in ALL CAPS. Like, VOTE: ZOOM H4N.

About the “What’s the Best…?” series: This is the second set in a series that asks readers to identify the best tools out there for musicians. I’ll put out a call for nominations on Sunday, and YOU share your favorite tool and why it stands apart from the rest. On Wednesday I’ll report back with the top five recommendations and then you will have a chance to vote on your #1 favorite. For an example, check out five best metronome apps.

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50 Responses

  1. The thing that is going to dictate how well a recording comes out are the placement of the mic, and the mic itself.

    That being said, the Rode NT4 stereo microphone I invested in years ago makes excellent recordings. I record to a Marantz flash recorder, using the preamps on the Marantz.

    Honestly, the Zoom stuff sounds really bad.


    1. The RODE NT4 is amazing. Makes you sound better. I use it with some rack mounted equipment that isn’t particularly convenient, but gives a great sound.

    2. Yeah zoom sucks. Nice fad recorder for the youtube dslr kiddies though. I still have my old marantz cassette tape recorder.

      1. I asked the same questions, and came up with the need to practise live. That is, with video- so I bought a Zoom Q4 that is touted as musicdom’s camera because of the audio mic placement (I presume the same one on the H2,3,4 .
        I just started doing my first music video so time will tell.

  2. Hi,
    I got the Zoom Q3HD, which is already a big improvement, as I only had a huge DAT before, which I couldn’t bring with me to record concerts. But I have the impression, that it’s very difficult to find the right settings for recording piano. “High” is too loud, “Low” not loud enough, “Auto one way down” too unstable for the beginning.
    Here are two examples:

    Audio recordings sound better with my friend’s Zoom H2, also the rec settings are better to adjust.
    For recording my practicing at home I still use my old DAT.

    Vote: Zoom H2

  3. I use the Zoom Q3HD. I like it because it is the only video recorder I have found with studio-quality audio.

    It uses the same microphone as the Zoom H4N, as far as I know. The video is pretty low-quality, but it serves my purposes as a musician. This recorder is very intuitive to use, also.

    For examples, check out any of the first seven videos on my YouTube:


  4. I could relate to your comment about setting up to record pretty much stops one from doing it, because it takes more than 10 seconds to set up. Thats why I now think for practice or recording gigs (when you might listen once or twice), the best recording device is a simple one. A $100 zoom does the job for me. Press the on switch then the record button. That’s it. That’s how you end up actually recording yourself improvising over ii V I.


  5. For ease of use you can’t beat the iPod voice recorder. I’ve used it to record rehearsals (choral, instrumental, vocal), and in students’ lessons (piano). The sound quality is surprisingly good for such a simple setup!

  6. VOTE: Apogee MiC digital microphone ($199)

    I was looking for a good microphone to record my cello at home and came across this product. I’m very happy with the quality of the recordings. You can check out one of my samples to see what I was able to accomplish in my amateur setup in my living room. (Please note that only the cello part was recorded using the Apogee MiC.)

    I think that this microphone only works with iPads, iPhones and Macs.

  7. I use either the ITalk or Soundcloud app on my IPhone. I also have a little external plug-in mic that goes into the headphone jack but, I hardly ever use it.
    Either of these do the job for me. I usually put my phone on my stand if I am practicing at home or, if I am on a gig, it can go almost anywhere.
    You can even upload your ITalk files to soundcloud. From there I might download the soundcloud file to my hard drive, clean it up in Sound Forge and use it for demo purposes, etc.
    I think ITalk is $1.99 and SC is free.

  8. The best recording device is the one you actually use, regardless of the quality of the sound. I have a Zoom and I love it. I’ve had it for a while so it isn’t the latest model. Once I got used to the interface, I found it to be very helpful. I think the newer models are a little more intuitive / user friendly. I’ve recorded from long distances and fairly close up, and I get good quality sound either way. I have also recorded in concert halls when the audience was roaring during the encore and I still got a good take on the music. I would say don’t buy one that is really designed for voice (spoken, not sung) if you really intend to use it for music because you won’t like the sound.

  9. I use GarageBand on my iPad and Mac. The sound quality is not quite comparable to that of a studio, but it is more than enough for home recordings, practice and YouTube. Anyone who hears my iPad recordings is amazed at the sound quality.

    I just set the Mac or iPad on my baby grand, just next to the music rack, and press ‘record’ from the bench. I’m thinking of getting an external mic for more professional quality – but for now, GarageBand handles everything I need!

    So convenient !!!!! If not this I would not record and LISTEN what I played. Zoom and other devices sound too complicated to me….. 🙂 I just need record , stop recording, and listen back IMMEDIATELY after I played an excerpt, not at the end of a long day.

  11. VOTE: ROLAND R-05.
    Not very well known, this is by far the best I’ve worked with. Like a zoom aside from these distinct advantages:
    Faster audio scrolling (you can also listen while fast forwarding, so that silence, for example between two orchestral excerpts, can easily be skipped over).
    Better sound quality on the built in mics. As a tubist I’m always looking for something that captures the low frequencies the best. This device captures all of the good and the bad with much higher fidelity. Really nice to listen to when it sounds good, really clear when it doesn’t.
    Design comes with a remote controll, to pause and stop recordings, make new tracks without getting up.
    I know this won’t get many votes because no one knows of it, but it deserves to be on the list much more than some of the other more popular things.

    1. Actually, I have the R0-5 back when it was the Edirol R0-5, and it is still my favorite to use. Interface is a little clunky and such compared to the newer models, but hey, I’m not gonna spend more for something that already works.

  12. Vote- iTalk for iPhone/ Zoom H2

    For practice sessions, I like to use my phone mostly out of convenience. The iTalk app is super user-friendly: you can listen back immediately and also send to your computer via cloud. The sound quality isn’t amazing, but it’s pretty good! Perfect for when you’re checking in with your playing throughout your practice sessions. I have the free app, but I think there’s a better version for $1.99.

    Anytime I make a recording that isn’t for my ears only, I use the Zoom H2. It does well in a variety of spaces and halls as well as being very user-friendly.

  13. I just bought a mic that I knew a couple other people had, a cheap Zoom H1. I figured that the value of having had several other musicians on various instruments that had field-tested the thing gave me enough data to make it a decent enough decision. People underestimate the value of just getting what someone else has sometimes — it’s not just herd behavior. Real-world testing and someone you know that you can ask questions of is a big selling point for buying something.

    I use it for cheapie “demo” recordings and intonation checking. When the time comes to record my music and even sell it, it will be written for piano, and I have a Clavinova. Line out to line in, boom. Problem solved. I am endlessly grateful that my instrument allows me an end-run around all of these considerations.

  14. I should also say that the Clav allows meto record straight on it just by pressing the “record” button. People that badmouth digital pianos simply do not think through the multiple advantages of having an instrument with recording capabilities built-in. I don’t want to get into the digital-v-acoustic nonsense since I’m tired of that whole topic, but another advantage of recording directly on the instrument is that I can — and intend to — press “record” on my Clav, play stuff, hit “stop,” and then and only then feed the line out into a laptop’s line in, press “play” and just sit there and let the laptop soak up the audio. No concerns about sound quality, whether a jet goes by outside, whether my cat decides to add something to the conversation, whether the washing machine goes into spin cycle at the worst possible moment … 🙂

  15. I am curious about pitch shifters and half speed playback possibilities… had an old tape recorder that did this and was very useful-not quite working as well these days though

  16. VOTE: Roland R-05.

    I bought this device this summer before I went on tour with KOBO TOWN. I recorded one rehearsal then our performance at this year Bardentreffen Festival. The quality is amazing! I have yet however to record myself practising. I am totally guilty of what you have written in this blogpost Dr. Noa. Will make a conscious effort to record myself at least twice this week.

    Thanks again for all you help.



    This stereo condenser mic plugs into the charging port on an iphone and can be used with Tascam’s free recording app. The sound quality is good, and I like that I don’t need to carry around another piece of equipment.

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