Five Best Recording Devices

[vc_row][vc_column column_width_use_pixel=”yes” overlay_alpha=”50″ gutter_size=”3″ medium_width=”0″ mobile_width=”0″ shift_x=”0″ shift_y=”0″ shift_y_down=”0″ z_index=”0″ column_width_pixel=”800″][vc_column_text]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.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row row_height_percent=”0″ overlay_alpha=”50″ gutter_size=”3″ column_width_use_pixel=”yes” shift_y=”0″ z_index=”0″ column_width_pixel=”800″][vc_column width=”1/4″][vc_single_image media=”5501″ media_width_percent=”100″][/vc_column][vc_column column_width_use_pixel=”yes” overlay_alpha=”50″ gutter_size=”3″ medium_width=”0″ mobile_width=”0″ shift_x=”0″ shift_y=”0″ shift_y_down=”0″ z_index=”0″ width=”3/4″ column_width_pixel=”800″][vc_custom_heading]iPhone / iPod / iPad[/vc_custom_heading][vc_column_text]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).[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row row_height_percent=”0″ overlay_alpha=”50″ gutter_size=”3″ column_width_use_pixel=”yes” shift_y=”0″ z_index=”0″ column_width_pixel=”800″][vc_column width=”1/4″][vc_single_image media=”5500″ media_width_percent=”100″][/vc_column][vc_column column_width_use_pixel=”yes” overlay_alpha=”50″ gutter_size=”3″ medium_width=”0″ mobile_width=”0″ shift_x=”0″ shift_y=”0″ shift_y_down=”0″ z_index=”0″ width=”3/4″ column_width_pixel=”800″][vc_custom_heading]iPhone/iPod + external mic[/vc_custom_heading][vc_column_text]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).[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row row_height_percent=”0″ overlay_alpha=”50″ gutter_size=”3″ column_width_use_pixel=”yes” shift_y=”0″ z_index=”0″ column_width_pixel=”800″][vc_column width=”1/4″][vc_single_image media=”5503″ media_width_percent=”100″][/vc_column][vc_column column_width_use_pixel=”yes” overlay_alpha=”50″ gutter_size=”3″ medium_width=”0″ mobile_width=”0″ shift_x=”0″ shift_y=”0″ shift_y_down=”0″ z_index=”0″ width=”3/4″ column_width_pixel=”800″][vc_custom_heading]Zoom H2 / H2n[/vc_custom_heading][vc_column_text]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).[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row row_height_percent=”0″ overlay_alpha=”50″ gutter_size=”3″ column_width_use_pixel=”yes” shift_y=”0″ z_index=”0″ column_width_pixel=”800″][vc_column width=”1/4″][vc_single_image media=”5504″ media_width_percent=”100″][/vc_column][vc_column column_width_use_pixel=”yes” overlay_alpha=”50″ gutter_size=”3″ medium_width=”0″ mobile_width=”0″ shift_x=”0″ shift_y=”0″ shift_y_down=”0″ z_index=”0″ width=”3/4″ column_width_pixel=”800″][vc_custom_heading]Zoom H4n[/vc_custom_heading][vc_column_text]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.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row row_height_percent=”0″ overlay_alpha=”50″ gutter_size=”3″ column_width_use_pixel=”yes” shift_y=”0″ z_index=”0″ column_width_pixel=”800″][vc_column width=”1/4″][vc_single_image media=”5502″ media_width_percent=”100″][/vc_column][vc_column column_width_use_pixel=”yes” overlay_alpha=”50″ gutter_size=”3″ medium_width=”0″ mobile_width=”0″ shift_x=”0″ shift_y=”0″ shift_y_down=”0″ z_index=”0″ width=”3/4″ column_width_pixel=”800″][vc_custom_heading]Roland R-05[/vc_custom_heading][vc_column_text]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.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row row_height_percent=”0″ overlay_alpha=”50″ gutter_size=”3″ column_width_use_pixel=”yes” shift_y=”0″ z_index=”0″ column_width_pixel=”800″][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_custom_heading]And the winner is…[/vc_custom_heading][vc_column_text]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.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row row_height_percent=”0″ overlay_alpha=”50″ gutter_size=”3″ column_width_use_pixel=”yes” shift_y=”0″ z_index=”0″ column_width_pixel=”800″][vc_column width=”1/4″][vc_single_image media=”9383″ media_width_percent=”100″][/vc_column][vc_column column_width_use_pixel=”yes” overlay_alpha=”50″ gutter_size=”3″ medium_width=”0″ mobile_width=”0″ shift_x=”0″ shift_y=”0″ shift_y_down=”0″ z_index=”0″ width=”3/4″ column_width_pixel=”800″][vc_custom_heading]Update – the Sony PCM-M10?[/vc_custom_heading][vc_column_text]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…

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47 Responses

  1. It may come as a shock, but I don’t have a smartphone, ipod, or ipad. I DID, however purchase the Zoom H2n recently to do some carillon recordings. I’d favor the Zoom, even if I did have the other devices, because people recording themselves to critique personally would want the best possible audio reproduction available to a non-pro user. As someone with no audio background, I found the basic feature of the Zoom easy to figure out, and recordings acceptable (given the huge problems of reproducing a carillon!) My only disappointment was NOT the Zoom, but rather in the process of making an audio CD with Roxio Toast (Macs), the software “insisted” on converting the file format to a less accurate one. (The joys of tech!)

    1. I tried the Zoom H2 and it was way too complicated for me to use. The manual is over 150 pages and full of user unfriendly jargon. You have to have serious techno chops to use the thing. Why isn’t there a simple digital recorder for techtards?

  2. I think that the Zoom H4N recorder is the best currently on the market. When researching for portable recorders to record myself practicing and record rehearsals and the occasional performance, the H4N stood out. It easily fits in your gig bag, has decent battery life (and a ac power cable included), and works for many different situations. I’ve enjoyed the sound quality and how simple it can be to record yourself; however, it also has numerous settings, extra features, and options (xlr input for up to 4 recording channels), that it is definitely worth the (comparatively affordable) price.

  3. Sony PCM-M10 period. Blows the Zoom and pretty much everything out there away in every category that matters and the price is great. Not sure why it’s not on this list. Makes me wonder…

  4. While it’s not the most portable thing in the world, to me nothing beats a laptop with a USB mic hooked up. It’s not recording studio quality, but it does well enough to make audition tapes and the ease of using audacity to record and play back can not be beat!


  5. Any chance you know how to hook up an H2N to an iPhone? I want to record video but with better
    sound quality.

    1. Other more savvy folks might have better suggestions, but I believe the “easiest” way to do this is to record from both the h2n and iphone simultaneously and then sync the audio from the h2n to the video from the iphone afterwards.

      1. Thanks, that is what someone else said as well, was just trying to not sync them on the computer as I don’t know how, but I will learn! Then I don’t have to buy another cable or anything either. I will try it today! I bet once I learn how to sync them, it won’t really be hard (hopefully). Thanks for responding so quickly!

    2. I was able to connect my H2n to an iPad with the camera connection cord. You have to set the H2n to be an interface and it will work like a core device. Not sure if there’d be any reason it wouldn’t also work with an iPhone.

  6. These three items are not as portable or cheap as what you have shown, but are super good. Spend about $2000 and have studio-quality recording capability and very compact.

    1. Superscope PSD450 direct to CD recorder (about $1000)
    2. AKG model C214 microphones (two for about $800). You can pay more for better mics! The sky’s the limit here, almost like violins.

    With these, and a mic stand and mic cables, you have fairly portable studio-quality recording setup you can take anywhere there’s electricity. (The Superscope also has battery-operation, but I’ve never used it.)

    3. If you want to plug your AKG mics directly into your laptop (and skip the Superscope recorder), you can buy an Alesis iO2 or iO4 USB mixer/interface for about $75 or $130 respectively.

    You can check out all of this on, too. I have been using 1. and 2. for about 4 years now and making excellent recordings.

    1. Very cool, Reid. Thanks for sharing! I fascinated by, but don’t know very much about recording techniques like mic placement. I know one could probably write an entire book on that subject, but are there any quick and dirty tips or “for dummies”-type resources you might be able to suggest?

  7. What do you think of the ZOOM H-1 V2?

    I have the Roland Edirol for a while (R09) and its OK but I am looking for something more compact and chargeable (my Edirol eats batteries ! ). thanks , Rhona

  8. I have a vocal harmonizing group ready to perform in gigs, My question is this, since technology advances so quickly I am lost as to how to stream mp3’s karaoke accompaniment tracks with device such as an IPhone to power speakers. ? Is there an mp3 player that you might suggest for me to use to have a good strong clear sound to come out of my power speakers without loosing and fidelity of sound. Thanks

  9. I just made an impulse buy of a voice recorder (Olympus WS-821) in the hopes that it will be able to record our LOUD band practices/shows. Now I realize I should have done more research. I havent used it yet, but I’m curious if you have any knowledge on their capability to record loud music well. I bookmarked this page though for my next purchase.

  10. My Mom is 92 years old, plays a Steinway Baby Grand piano in our living room. I want to record her playing. What is the simplest device I can use to do this, regardless of price. I own an iPhone, iPad and desk top Mac and Mac lap top. Please help me. Thanks

    1. iPhone Voice Memo app. Just put the iPhone on the piano experiment with location and I think you will be pleased. I use this method w my Very loud rock band and the internal mike has enough range not to clip. then you can ez share the music pieces with anyone or post on social media in no time. once you are cozy you can try an external mic.

  11. Hi,

    Any suggestions for video recorders for classical guitar? I’ve got a portable audio recorder I’m pretty happy with, though it’s a bit old and starting to get outdated: an older Olympus LS10. As a younger musician on the scene, I’ve been trying to reach out to other medium, and I figured some video for my website or on youtube might be a good place to start.

    1. I think an iPhone will actually do a pretty credible job if you get the lighting right. And if you want to kick things up a bit, an entry level nikon or canon dslr would probably be your best bet.

  12. As someone who regularly records rehearsals at all different volume levels using a Zoom H2n AND I get sent recordings from iPhones of the same rehearsals, the difference in quality is NOT subtle. iPhones sound quite poor in comparison. They serve a utilitarian purpose. You can hear lyrics, melodies and chords, etc. I think of an iPhone as an “emergency” recording option.

    The fidelity, level control, mid-side mics, and features make the H2n an easy choice.

  13. Hi Dr. Noa Kageyama ,

    Another affordable alternative to the Zoom are USB mics. The Yeti Mic sells for $100 and the smaller Blue mics are roughly half the price. These are USB mics that can plug into your favorite recording software on your computer. It’s much easier for me to navigate immediate playback on a program like audacity, as opposed to listening to the playback from a zoom.

    From my experience, the Yeti mic has just as much clarity as the higher end zooms. I’ve been using it for 3 years now, for practice and audition tapes as well.

  14. Well, first of all, these are not the best recording devices. As far as budget recording devices go, the Zoom H2N is certainly a decent choice. The Tascam DR-70D is an excellent recorder if you are looking to get a start in home recording, and is suitable for professional use. The “best” recorders would be a bit more expensive.
    In answer to the question about classical guitar, the built in mics, as well as the m/s capabilities of the Zoom H2N are suitable for classical guitar, but would not compare to the Tascam DR-70D when fitted with a pair of inexpensive Studio Technologies B1 mics or Oktava 012’s.

  15. In looking for a recorder for my musician boyfriend to use while writing songs. It doesn’t have to be studio quality and he has pro tools already, I am just looking for a quality recorder that he can take on the go when inspiration strikes him.

  16. The appeal of just using an iphone for the original purpose is that you can put it on the keyblock on the right edge of the keyboard and record both video and sound. I know the video helps me pick up trouble spots just as readily as the sound does, sometimes picking up a hesitation I wouldn’t notice otherwise. But on those rare occasions I’m actually happy with a run-through I do wish I had recorded it better. So my question is does any of the iphone upgrades would make much of a difference if the iphone is still sitting there on the key block? I’m guessing some of the benefits of an XY microphone arrangement would be moot?

  17. Hi Dr. Noa. Similar to a previous comment, I want to record my husband playing a song he wrote on the piano. I plan to purchase the Tascam iM2 mics, but I only want to record sound, not video. Can you recommend an app that I can add to my iPhone for that purpose?

    Thank you!

  18. Thanks for this article. I also receive your newsletter via email.
    The wind instrument group I play in has found phone recording whether iPhone or high end Android to be pretty much worthless for assessing balance of the group and how we actually sound to people listening. We have tried video cameras, which are a little better and have used an American Audio Pocket Record. The latter has given us the best results, but is a bit hard to use in a practice environment where you want to start up quickly.
    What do you see as the best of these recorders for a wind group that includes trumped, flute, clarinet and sax? The Sony?

    1. Hi Charles,

      Yep, a phone can give you a sense of whether you’re in tune or if you’re rushing, but won’t help much with balance or dynamics or sound quality.

      For what you’re describing, there are a couple ways you could go:

      WAY #1: The simplest solution would be to try a portable recorder like the Zoom H4N ($199) or Zoom H5 ($269), which are basically just upgraded versions of the pocket recorder you’ve already tried. But a) if you’re doing multiple takes, navigating the interface to find the recording you want to listen back to is a bit clunky, tedious, and confusing, and b) I’m not sure what the recording quality is like if you’re taping the group from say, 30+ feet away. Maybe it’d be fine – and I’m sure others would be able to weigh in on this, but I’ve only had experience recording close-up with the H5. And why does the distance matter? That will be more representative of what the audience will be hearing, than what the group sounds like with the recording device 5 feet away.

      WAY #2: To that end, the more complex solution would involve hooking up a standalone mic to a laptop, so you can create an audio recording that better captures the group’s sound and balance from the audience’s perspective a good distance away. However, this would require some extra bits of equipment, like an XLR-to-USB converter/pre-amp (e.g. the Blue Icicle (~$45) or Shure X2U (~$99)), a mic stand or mini tripod of some sort, and an XLR extension cable to go from the mic to the XLR/USB converter. On the plus side, there is good free recording software available for both PC and Mac that’s easy to use, this would give you much more choice over what mic to use, and probably produce a better result at the end of the day, but it’s not as portable a solution, and will take a few minutes to set up.

      And why not a USB mic like the Audio Technica AT2020USB+ ($149) that would plug directly into a laptop? The problem is that USB cables are essentially limited to about 15 feet in length, so you’d have to get an “active” USB cable to ensure enough power gets to the mic beyond 15 feet. But one of my students discovered that this can be a bit hit or miss, as she ran into some problems with the sound dropping in and out when she tried this. Admittedly, this may have been caused by a cheap USB cable, but still, this isn’t an issue when using an XLR extension and an XLR-to-USB preamp/converter.

      Met percussionist Rob Knopper has written about his personal setup here, with a picture to show how it all fits together in practice (the short version is that he uses an Audio-Technica AT4040 ($299) and the Blue Icicle mentioned above, though if on a budget, I’ve also heard good things about the Audio-Technica AT2035 ($149)).

      Probably way more info than you wanted, but hope this helps!

  19. Thanks for this. It is helpful. I started out looking at the Tascam devices as reommended by a shop but then reviews seem to say it has a lot of interferce and Zoom devices seem to be better.

    I wanted to record my playing from a high-end grand piano (for the first time) for practice purpose and there is no plan, at least now, to upload to youtube. Would you recommend H1N, H2N, H4pro or H5? I don’t need anything fancy but would like good quality sound. I will just be sharing these recordings with my teacher / a few close friends. Thanks.

    1. Hi Michele,

      So…if the main purpose of recording is to do lots of recording of short passages, and listening back immediately to then make adjustments during your practice process, even though the setup is more complex, requires more equipment, and there will be a bit of a learning curve, the XLR mic + XLR to USB preamp + laptop combination, like percussionist Rob Knopper describes here is probably your best bet. It’ll be the easiest/fastest way to record and listen back to short passages.

      However, if you would just like to record yourself doing a run-through, to share with teacher/friends, and don’t plan on recording/listening back to short phrases over and over as you practice them, a Zoom device is probably easier. However, you’ll still have to deal with the SD card, and digging through the file system to make sure you select the correct audio file, and transferring the file over to your computer, and then sending it to teacher/friends from there.

      The absolute easiest way to record though (and what I’d probably recommend, even though I haven’t tested this particular device out myself) would be to use something like the Shure MV88, which attaches to your phone directly, and enables you to record from the built-in video recording app or voice recording app, which you can then easily send to your teacher/friends. In terms of recording, playing back, and sharing, this is probably the simplest, fastest, and easiest option.

      In terms of audio quality, that’s a whole rabbit hole you can go down and get lost in. I mean, here’s a great video that compares the Zoom H5 with a range of different “legit” mic setups, which is pretty fascinating to watch. Of course, because YouTube processes the audio, you won’t hear quite the range of differences that the original recordings would reveal, but with headphones on, you can still hear a difference: Recording a grand piano is TRICKY – here’s what I learned..

      And here are a few other videos that compare default iPhone mic sound with the sound of the Zoom H5 or Shure MV88 or various USB and XLR mics.
      Piano: Recording Piano : Shure MV88 Smartphone Microphones for Great Audio
      Harp: Mic comparison – iPhone 11 vs Shure MV88 vs Blue Yeti Nano
      Violin: iPhone 11 Vs ZOOM H5 Vs RODE NT4 – Classical Musician Perspective

      And…a comparison on piano of the Zoom H1, H4n Pro, and H6: Sound Comparisons – Zoom H1, H4n Pro & H6 (XY & MS)
      Hope this helps!


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