The Best Portable Digital Audio Recorders - Handheld

The Highest Rated Handheld Digital Recorders

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The best ideas are ones that come out from out of the blue. Sometimes musical inspiration comes to us when we're away from our instruments. Having a convenient way to hum a melody from your head or record a quick guitar riff just as you come up with it s a great way to write and remember moments of inspiration.

Jam sessions are also a great way to write songs. Not everyone has a means to record a full band, especially when you're renting a rehearsal space. Having a portable audio recorder lets you have a great quality capture as opposed to mobile phone recordings that can end up distorted from high volumes.

While most people use portable audio recorders for recording live concerts, interviews, podcasts, and field recordings, a great number of the users we've seen in our research are musicians that need a quick, easy to use recording solution for getting ideas off their head and onto record.

Beyond simple convenience, each portable recorder is built differently and the ones that made it onto the top list for this 2021 edition represent the best on the market.

The Best Portable Digital Audio Recorders

Author & Contributors

Raphael PulgarRaphael Pulgar

An audio engineer of 20 years who specializes in rock and metal recordings, he also plays guitar and produces original music for his band and other content creators.

TASCAM DR-05X

90
GEARANK

90 out of 100. Incorporating 1650+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$119
TASCAM DR-05X Stereo Handheld Recorder

The TASCAM DR-05X is an affordable portable recorder with dual condenser mics for stereo or omni recording.

The unit also functions as a 2-in/2-out audio interface with the integrated mics.

It also supports high capacity microSDXC cards for long recording times.

Features

  • Inputs: 1 x 1/8" TRS (mic)
  • Outputs:1 x 1/8" (headphones/line)
  • Built-in Mic: Dual Condenser Mics, Omnidirectional/Stereo
  • Recording / Playback Format: WAV, MP3
  • Storage capacity: microSD (3GB max), microSDHC (32GB max), microSDXC (128GB max)
  • Power Requirements: USB bus power / 2 x AA batteries
  • Battery Life: Up to 17.5 hours of operation from 2 AA batteries
  • Weight: 0.25 lbs.
  • Dimensions: 5.55" (H) x 2.4" (W) x 1.02" (D)

Pros

Users that wanted a simple but great quality portable recorder were delighted at the DR-05X's price point. The built-in mics were noted to be the best quality for the price.

Cons

Not the most user friendly interface, a few noted.

Overall

The TASCAM DR-05X is one of the best value portable recorders in the market today. Get it if you want a great bang-for-buck stereo recorder for mobile recording, jams or archival purposes.

Zoom H1n Handy Recorder

91
GEARANK

91 out of 100. Incorporating 2000+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$120
Zoom H1n Handy Recorder

"Just press record" is one of Zoom's main taglines for the H1n recorder.

Designed to be feature-packed while being as simple to operate as possible, the H1n supports stereo recordings up to 24-bit audio at sampling rates of 44.1, 48, or 96 kHz in WAV and various MP3 bitrates.

Features

  • Inputs: 1 x 1/8" TRS (mic/line)
  • Outputs:1 x 1/8" TRS (headphones/line out)
  • Built-in Mic: 90° XY Stereo Condenser Mics (up to 120dB SPL)
  • Recording / Playback Format: WAV ( 96 / 88.2 / 48 / 44.1kHz), or MP3
  • Storage capacity: microSD/SDHC (up to 32GB)
  • Power Requirements: 2 x AAA batteries / USB 5V DC adapter (sold separately)
  • Battery Life: 10 hours
  • Weight: 0.13 lbs.
  • Dimensions: 1.96" (W) x 1.25" (H) x 5.41" (D)

Pros

Users praise the H1n for the price-to-performance ratio. Others loved how quickly they were able to get their recordings done, especially for creatives that need something that they could record their thoughts with at the push of a button.

Cons

Build quality was not confidence-inspiring for users that mentioned they use the device a lot. The plastic construction was a turn off for some.

Overall

If you need an affordable recorder that gets your ideas down before they're gone, the H1n lives up to its name as a "handy recorder."

Zoom H2N

91
GEARANK

91 out of 100. Incorporating 3200+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$180

The Zoom H2N looks more like a microphone than a recorder.

It can capture different wide-range areas with its 5 built-in microphones and 4 recording modes by turning its dial control.

This unit includes effects such as compression, limiting, and low cut filtering.

Its XY built-in microphone allows two matched unidirectional microphones at a 90-degree angle to capture stereo recording.

The MS (Mid-side) microphone is based on the mid-side technique where one microphone acts as a center channel, while the two "side" microphones create ambiance either adding or subtracting sound waves.

Using both the XY and MS microphone helps record audio from different directions.

Features

  • Inputs: 1 Line/mic in 1/8" stereo jack (with plug-in power)
  • Outputs: 1 Line/headphone out 1/8" stereo jack
  • Built-in Mic: Directional (XY, MS mid mics); Bidirectional (MS mic), 2-channel surround and 4-channel surround
  • Recording / Playback Format: WAV,MP3
  • Storage capacity: Comes with 2GB microSD; Expandable to 32GB
  • Power Requirements: 2 AA batteries, USB (Optional AC adapter)
  • Battery Life: 20 hours
  • Weight: 4.59oz.
  • Dimensions: 2.67" (W) x 4.48" (H) x 1.68" (D)

Pros

This recorder is successfully used in a wide variety of ways which is a testament to its flexibility. Its internal microphone and preamps provide clean and crisp audio quality, and it is quite lightweight. Users consistently praise its longer battery life compared to similar Zoom products. The compressor and limiter features are very handy in preventing sound peaks from clipping. A lot of users commend the ease of use of its rotation switch for different microphone patterns. They also mention useful differences with the different microphone patterns for recording.

Cons

Some users mentioned that the microphone is too sensitive that it picks up unwanted external noises such as winds and breezes - this is a common issue with many types of mics and you need a windscreen if you are recording in windy environments. Others also mention its build isn't sturdy enough since it's made with a plastic casing - it has a battery door that can break when not handled carefully.

Overall

If you want a customizable recorder for professional recording, this is a good choice. Its versatility and flexibility make it a good investment for the long-run.

TASCAM DR-40X

90
GEARANK

90 out of 100. Incorporating 800+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$199
TASCAM DR-40X Handheld Recorder

The TASCAM DR-40X is a handheld recorder that also functions as a 2-in/2-out audio interface.

The built-in mic can be oriented between Stereo AB and Stereo XY for different applications.

Two XLR/TRS combo jacks round out the inputs for a convenient way to record jam sessions.

Battery life is a lengthy 17.5 hours which makes it a great travel recorder.

Features

  • Inputs: 2 x XLR-1/4" combo (mic/line)
  • Outputs: 1 x 1/8" (headphones/line)
  • Built-in Mic: Dual Unidirectional Mics, Stereo AB / Stereo XY
  • Recording / Playback Format: WAV,MP3
  • Storage capacity: microSD (2GB max), microSDHC (32GB max), microSDXC (128GB max)
  • Power Requirements: 2 AA batteries, USB (Optional AC adapter)
  • Battery Life: 18 hours (Alkaline), 16 hours (NiMH)
  • Weight: 0.47 lbs..
  • Dimensions: 2.75" (W) x 6.1" (H) x 1.37" (D)

Pros

The DR-40X receives praise for its built-in mics. Users said that the mics sound great for recording acoustic guitars and orchestral recordings. The built-in reverb was also given praise for sounding natural without any harshness. File transfers were also noted to be fast and painless.

Cons

Some jacks like the headphone out were said to be fragile and prone to failure.

Overall

The TASCAM DR-40X is a great recorder for bands, orchestras and even acoustic guitar. Its built-in condenser mics with different positioning make it a great pick for people who want rehearsals or even full performances.

Zoom H4N Pro All Black - 2020 Model

93
GEARANK

93 out of 100. Incorporating 650+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$250
Zoom H4N Pro Black

(Note: The following listing is for the H4N Pro Black, which supercedes the now-discontinued H4N Pro. The "Black" in the model name refers to an entirely new version, not just a color update).

Like its predecessor, the H4N Pro, the H4N Pro Black lets you record both the stereo input from the built-in mics plus 2 additional inputs via XLR/TRS Combo jacks.

The difference in this new version is an updated preamp with a lower noise floor than its predecessor, an incremental improvement that improves usability for quieter ambient recordings.

The mics can be used in A/B position and X/Y position for flexibility with different sound sources.

With the additional inputs, 4 tracks (1 stereo track + 2 inputs) can be recorded, suitable for performance recordings. You can also use the unit as an audio interface.

The H4n Pro Black also has onboard effects like reverb, compression and limiting.

Features

  • Inputs: 2 XLR/TRS combo jack, Stereo 1/8 plug-in power mic input
  • Outputs: 1 Line/Headphone out 1/8" stereo jack
  • Built-in Mic: XY Stereo
  • Recording / Playback Format:WAV, BWF, MP3
  • Simultaneous Recording / Playback 4 channels (2 stereo or 1 stereo plus 2 mono)
  • Storage capacity: Comes with 2GB microSD card; Expandable to 32 GB
  • Power Requirements: 2 AA batteries (IEC R6)
  • Battery Life: 6-10 hours
  • Weight: 10.37 oz.
  • Dimensions: 2.87"(W) x 6.19(H) x 1.46"(D)

Pros

Like its predecessor, the top praise for the H4N All Black is the build quality and, with the new cosmetic update, its aesthetic. It looks and feels rugged. The 4 channel recording was noted to be useful for room ambiance and field recordings. The XLR combo jacks were noted to be high quality with the updated preamp delivering as promised with a lower noise floor. It still retains the previous version's phantom power that is used to power external condenser microphones. Some ASMR voice artists noticed the lower noise floor for their whisper-quiet recordings.

Cons

Battery life continues to be an issue on this All Black edition.

Overall

If you need a sturdy handheld recorder for field recording, stereo miking with your DSLR or even ASMR recordings, the H4N Pro All Black is a sleek and stylish choice.

Zoom H5

93
GEARANK

93 out of 100. Incorporating 1800+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$300
Zoom H5

The Zoom H5 comes with an interchangeable XY microphone capsule that can be swapped out for other mics and input modules that are sold separately by Zoom.

Similar to the H4N, it provides four-track recording, two mic/line inputs (XLR/TRS), and phantom power.

The unit can also be used as a 4-in/2-out USB audio interface.

It has a 15 hour run time and transport controls on the front.

Other built-in features include a metronome and a tuner.

Features

  • Inputs: 2 XLR/TRS combo jacks, Stereo Mic/Line 1/8" jack with plug-in power
  • Outputs: 1 Line out 1/8” stereo jack,1 Headphone out 1/8” stereo jack, built in speaker
  • Built-in Mic: XY Stereo capsule included
  • Recording / Playback Format: WAV (BWF-compliant), MP3
  • Simultaneous Recording / Playback 4 channel (2 stereo)
  • Storage capacity: Comes with 2GB microSD; Expandable to 32GB
  • Power Requirements: 2 AA batteries, USB (Optional AC adapter)
  • Battery Life: 15 hours
  • Weight: 6.21 oz
  • Dimensions: 2.63"(W) × 5.32"(H) × 1.66"(D)

Pros

Users compliment this recorder's build, interface, and layout of controls. Its immaculate X/Y microphones provide clear and crisp sound quality with low noise. One of the improved features includes the addition of manual dials which make adjusting gain input easy to do on-the-fly. It is flexible and practical for both editing and simultaneous 4-track recording. The wide-ranging frequency response is another quality that is praised by many users, particularly the capture of low-end sounds. It does a good job of picking up sounds from a specific direction with minimal bleeding from other sources. An example of this is in a live setting where some users said it could record the performance at a long distance without too much noise from the audience.

Cons

Several reviewers have claimed the battery life wasn't long enough. The XLR outputs don't have locks so you have to be careful not to pull the plugs out while recording. One user pointed out that it doesn't work well with humid weather, and that it's best to invest in a case.

Overall

If you want a flexible unit with enough inputs for external microphones and a recorder that does simultaneous multi-tracking, then this is a great option for you.

Zoom H6 All Black - 2020 Model

96
GEARANK

96 out of 100. Incorporating 1200+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$350
Zoom H6 All Black Handheld Recorder

At publication time this was the Highest Rated Handheld Digital Recorder - for the second year in a row!

The 2020 Zoom H6 "All Black" model is an update to the long-running H6 series.

Versatile and user friendly, the H6 All Black features an X/Y stereo microphone capsule, six versatile mic/line inputs, and up to 6-track recording.

The modular inputs allow you to use different mic modules as well as use the device as an audio interface.

Features

  • Inputs: 4 x XLR-1/4" combo (mic/line)
  • Outputs: 1 x 1/8" TRS (stereo line out), 1 x 1/8" headphone out
  • Built-in Mic: Modular (includes X/Y mic capsule)
  • Recording / Playback Format: linear PCM Up to 24-bit/96kHz
  • Storage capacity: SD (up to 2GB), SDHC (up to 32GB), SDXC (up to 128GB)
  • Power Requirements: 2 x AA batteries / Li-ion battery (BP-L2) / PS-P520 AC adapter (sold separately)
  • Battery Life: 5 hours (Li-ion battery), 2 hours 45 min (Alkaline), 4 hours (Ni-MH)
  • Weight: 0.64 lbs.
  • Dimensions: 3.15" (W) x 6.02" (H) x 1.37" (D)

Pros

Many reviewers bought the unit primarily for its 6 track simultaneous recording feature and audio interface function. The fast boot speed was also noted as a plus. The gain range was also praised for its low noise even with higher sensitivities.

Cons

Some users were disappointed that the H6 All Black only includes one mic module and lacks the accessories compared to its predecessor. The mini USB connector was also a drawback for some that want to transfer larger files at faster speeds.

Overall

Rather than a total revamp and more than just a re-skin, the H6 All Black takes doesn't mess with a proven formula for a great pocket recording tool.

Zoom H8

93
GEARANK

93 out of 100. Incorporating 275+ ratings and reviews.

Street Price: 

$400
Zoom H8 8-Input Handheld Recorder

Beyond its odd looks, the Zoom H8 is full of features beyond what you'd imagine a handheld recorder to be.

For starters it has 6 simultaneous inputs with a 1 x 1/8" secondary input for a capsule. This makes it ideal for multi input conferences and full bands that want a means to record everything in a multitrack format.

The interchangeable capsule system allows for multiple stereo pickup patterns for close miking or ambient sound recording.

Battery life is also optimized with operation up to 20 hours.

It also functions as a multi-input audio interface for recording on separate tracks on a DAW.

Features

  • Inputs: 4 x XLR, 2 x XLR-1/4" combo, 1 x 1/8" (capsule secondary input)
  • Outputs: 1 x 1/8" (line out)
  • Built-in Mic: Interchangeable Capsule System, XYH-6 Capsule Mic (included)
  • Recording / Playback Format: BWF, WAV, MP3
  • Storage capacity:SD, SDHC, SDXC (up to 512GB)
  • Power Requirements: 4 x AA Batteries / DV DC USB power supply (AD-17 AC sold separately) / USB bus power
  • Battery Life: Up to 20 hours
  • Weight: 0.78 lbs.
  • Dimensions: 1.9" (W) x 4.6" (H) x 6.4" (without capsule), 8.77" (with capsule) (D)

Pros

The Zoom H8 was noted to be a "beast of a recorder", with multiple uses from simple stereo recording to full band production. Many users who originally wanted a simple recorder found that the Zoom H8 was more than capable of handling other creative and production-focused tasks that they chose it instead of buying two separate devices (recorder and audio interfaces).

Cons

Latency for multitrack recording as an interface was reported to be longer than most dedicated audio interfaces.

Overall

The Zoom H8 is a do-it-all wonder for those looking at having one gadget for a multitude of uses. Get it if you're a content creator that needs one gadget for multiple tasks.

Things To Consider When Buying A Portable Handheld Recorder

Uses

Handheld recorders are very convenient to use in many settings such as live performance venues, rehearsals, and even for recording outdoor ambiance. You can use them as stand-alone recorders or capture high-quality audio with your video recordings. They are also used by podcasters for location recording.

Microphones and Polar Patterns

Microphone polar patterns determine how much sound they capture from different directions. Some digital recorders have a built-in omnidirectional microphone that captures all the surrounding sounds from all directions. Some have bi-directional microphones that capture two opposing directions. Others have a unidirectional built-in microphone that only captures sound from a single direction. For example, if you're recording a singer/guitarist and don't want ambient noise then you'll need one with uni-directional mics. A bidirectional mic will allow you to pick up audience sounds and the performer.

Microphone Configurations - XY, MS and AB

Most recorders have a built-in XY configuration. The XY set-up comprises two cardioid microphones angled at between 90 and 135 degrees positioned at the same point to produce a stereo image. This configuration shows the center of the two microphones panned left and right facing directly at the sound source. Sound arrives at nearly the same time reducing phase problems. Another type of configuration is the MS (mid-side) set-up. This includes a cardioid microphone (mid) that faces directly at the source while having a bi-directional microphone (side) that faces left and right. The “mid” picks up the sounds from the source while the “side” picks up sounds from the side. The AB set-up is another optional microphone configuration. This type includes two cardioid or omnidirectional microphones, spaced a few inches apart from each other, and panned in left/right.

Storage Features

Storage capacity should be taken into consideration when looking for a recorder. They are expandable so check which type of storage the one you want uses and you can buy larger amounts of memory for longer recording times. Looking into the types of formats it can record determines whether it can support WAV, MP3, or even both.

Batteries

It is important to know how long the batteries will last when recording to prevent loss of data in the event of power running out. Knowing the type of batteries you need, whether they be rechargeable or replaceable is important. Check whether you need to keep purchasing batteries or if you can use a USB or AC Adapter for charging.

Connections

Having the right amount of inputs and outputs also depends on how you are going to make use of the recorder. Having a USB connector to store your files on your PC is needed for editing and storing purposes too. For convenience, some recorders have separate headphone outputs and line outputs. Some digital recorders act as audio interfaces as well.

Other Features

There are some portable recorders out there with more than the typical 2 stereo channels. Some of them also provide multi-tracking features in which external microphones can be utilized in addition to the built-in microphones. Mid-range priced recorders often have XLR/TS Line inputs for plugging in external dynamic or condenser mics. Optional extra features may include effects such as compression, reverb, and EQ. Some include a metronome and playback tempo change function.

Best Portable Recorder Selection Methodology

The first edition was published in 2017 and the current edition was published on November 9, 2021.

We looked at all highly rated handheld digital audio recorders that are sold by major American retailers and short-listed the the most promising for detailed analysis. We then examined information from over 13,100 sources which included retail store ratings, user and expert reviews, forum posts, and more. We processed that information with the Gearank Algorithm to generate the rating scores out of 100 that we used to narrow down the list to just the highest rated options above. Finally, we provided important information, specifications, and summary reports of noteworthy pros and cons for each of the recorders that we recommended above. For more information about our methods see How Gearank Works.

About the Author and Contributors

Here are the key people and sources involved in this guide's production - click on linked names for information about their music industry backgrounds.

Lead Author & Researcher

Raphael PulgarRaphael Pulgar

An audio engineer of 20 years who specializes in rock and metal recordings, he also plays guitar and produces original music for his band and other content creators.

Aside from endlessly window shopping and watching hours of gear reviews for leisure, he enjoys playing competitive FPS games, MMORPGs and caring for his 5 cats. He is primarily influenced by guitarists like Kurt Ballou and Paul Gilbert. His favorite pieces of gear are his Ibanez RG550RFR, Orange Brent Hinds Terror amplifier and EQD Acapulco Gold fuzz.

Contributors

Denise Azucena: Supplemental writing.
Alexander Briones: Supplemental writing.
Jason Horton: Product research, Editing and Illustrating.

Media

Main/Top Image: By Gearank.com using a photograph of the Zoom H6 All Black.

The individual product images were sourced from websites, promotional materials or supporting documentation provided by their respective manufacturers.

Comments

Our October 2020 update

Our October 2020 update resulted in the following recorders coming off the recommended list above, but you can still see our analysis of them:\

Allo Friends, thanks for your

Allo Friends, thanks for your analysis, very helpful. I am looking for an audio player that give play back the recording of private seminar information without going via internet. I want to listen, and take notes on a keyboard. Thank you very much for recommending me something!

Our recommendations are

Our recommendations are primarily based on music production uses so we can't really help you with that - maybe one of the readers here will have an answer for you.

I am curious why on your

I am curious why on your updated 2018 list you did not include the TASCAM DR-100mkIII as one of your options?

It was on our short-list

It was on our short-list however its ratings weren't high enough for us to include it in the recommended list above.

You can see its ratings in the Music Gear Database: TASCAM DR-100mkIII.

There are other much better

There are other much better such as the Sony PCM-D100, PCM-D50 or ICD-SX750D

The PCM-D50 and ICD-SX750D

The PCM-D50 and ICD-SX750D might be quite good but they're no longer widely available so they didn't qualify for this guide.

The Sony PCM-D100 was on our short-list, however its ratings aren't high enough for us to recommend it - you can see its rating here.

UPDATE: The Sony PCM-D100 now

UPDATE: The Sony PCM-D100 now has higher ratings compared to most other options and it was added to the recommended list above for our December 2019 update.

The Roland R-26 was on our

The Roland R-26 was on our short-list but didn't quite rate high enough to make it into our recommendations - it was very close though and you can see it's Gearank rating in the Music Gear Database.

Q.

Q.
Greetings.
"I am totally blind. Does any of those recorders have some voice guidance built in?"
So they can be accessible for us as a blind community.
Example.
(Olympus LS 100)

:d

I have 2 questions. Can I

I have 2 questions. Can I overdub multiple guitar and bass parts one at a time? Can I plug the handheld recorder directly into monitors?

All of the multitrack

All of the multitrack recorders above, the ones that list the number of Simultaneous Recording/Playback channels, allow you to record additional parts.

All of the ones that have a line out listed in the specifications will drive powered studio monitors.

Today we removed the Roland R

Today we removed the Roland R-05 Wave/MP3 Recorder from out recommended list above due to it no longer being available from several major music gear retailers.

If you would like to read what we said about it, then you'll find it at: Roland R-05 Meta-Review.