We can all use another set of ears in the practice room to keep us honest. But picking the best device for our particular needs is a tricky task, with so many feature-packed devices to choose from. Do we go for convenience? Or sound quality? A mix of both? Or something else entirely?

Earlier this week I asked which portable studio recorders you thought were the best, and you nominated 14 of your favorites. Based on your feedback, here are your top five:

Disclosure: In some cases, I’ve linked to the Amazon pages for these devices. As an Amazon affiliate, I’d get a small commission if you happen to buy something through the link. It doesn’t change the price you’d pay, but does help support the site. =) Of course, if something about that makes your spidey senses tingle, that’s ok, just go to Amazon directly without clicking the links, and you’ll be all set.

iPhone / iPod / iPad

It’s been said that the best camera is the one you have with you. Similarly, the best practice room companion may be the device you carry around with you 24/7. You probably won’t record your next album on an iDevice, but the sound quality is better than you might expect. The built-in voice recorder app is super easy to use, and if you want to upgrade to a paid app like iTalk Recorder Premium ($1.99) or StudioMini ($5.99) it’ll only set you back a few dollars.

For those using an Android device, Hi-Q MP3 Voice Recorder (Lite) seems to get the job done at a price that can’t be beat (free).

iPhone/iPod + external mic

If you like the convenience and portability of your iPhone/iPod, but want to kick the recording quality up a few notches, you can buy external microphones that plug into the dock connector on the bottom of your iDevice. The TASCAM iM2 (~$30) utilizes a pair of high-quality mics which are comparable to those used in their DR-series of portable studio recorders.

UPDATE (7-19-2018): The iM2 doesn’t work with the newer iPhones with the Lightning connector.

However, Blue Microphones makes a similar device called the MIKEY (~$100) that is a bit pricier but similarly easy to use. Zoom’s iQ7 (~$100) is also Lightning-compatible, as is Shure’s MV88 (~$150).

Zoom H2 / H2n

Portable recorders like the Zoom H2n (~$160) and the older model H2 have some advantages over smartphones. Longer battery life, higher quality built-in microphones, and the ability to use SD cards which you can swap in and out to expand capacity on demand. Not to mention the ability to plug in a far greater range of external mics if you want to. Readers liked the H2 (and the newer H2n) for its ease of use and the sound quality of recordings, both in practice room settings and in performances.

Since the post was originally written, Zoom has also released an updated version of their entry-level H1 recorder – the H1n (~$120), which has a slightly lower price tag, and is a definite upgrade over your phone’s built-in mic (listen to a comparison with the iPhone here).

Zoom H4n

The Zoom H4n (~$199) is a higher-end model than the H2n, with features like XLR input jacks that more experienced musicians will value. It’s also quite popular with videographers who pair this with a high-end DSLR to shoot high quality videos with great audio. If you find yourself trying to choose between a Zoom H2 and H4n, you can compare sound samples on this sound sample site (Thanks Christine!).

There’s also Zoom’s H5 (~$270) (couldn’t find a great comparison with the H4n, but you can listen to a comparison with the older H1 here). It might not be a significant enough upgrade to warrant ditching an existing H4n, but could be worth a look if you’re still undecided.

Roland R-05

It may not be as well-known as the Zoom brand of portable recorders, but the Roland R-05 (~$199) nevertheless garnered a number of nominations from readers who praised the sound quality of the mics and faster audio scrolling to scan through your recordings more quickly.

UPDATE (7-19-2018): The Roland appears to be harder to find nowadays…I don’t know if it’s still being made.

And the winner is...

Voting was exceedingly tight, but coming out in first place by a hair (i.e. only two votes) was the iPhone / iPod / iPad. Presumably, the undeniable convenience of an iPhone outweighed the mediocre sound quality for the purposes of practice-room recording.

Tied for second were the higher-quality yet affordably-priced Zoom H2n (26%) and the more versatile and full-featured Zoom H4n (26%).

In third place, with 11% of the vote was the iPhone/iPod with external mic attachment.

And bringing up the rear with 7% was the Roland R-05.


Update - the Sony PCM-M10?

Aside from the comment below, I’ve been hearing great things about the Sony PCM-M10 lately (currently ~$210, depending on where you look), and had a chance to play with it a tiny bit. It is compact, has great build quality, sounds pretty great, and for what it’s worth, if I were buying a portable recorder in this price range, it’d be at the top of my list.

Here’s a comparison of the Sony and Zoom H4n with some audio clips, and a thorough and helpful writeup and review of the Sony.

UPDATE (7/19/2018): Unfortunately, the Sony PCM-M10 appears to have been discontinued…

About Noa Kageyama, Ph.D.

Performance psychologist and Juilliard alumnus & faculty member Noa Kageyama teaches musicians how to beat performance anxiety and play their best under pressure through live classes, coachings, and an online home-study course. Based in NYC, he is married to a terrific pianist, has two hilarious kids, and is a wee bit obsessed with technology and all things Apple.

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