Best Portable Recorder

When inspiration strikes, will you be ready? When you have a great idea, will you be able to record it in some way that you will be able to revisit and get back on that train of thought? When you come up with lyrics for a song, or a tune for a song that you’ve been struggling with, will you be ready with pen and paper to put it down somewhere that you won’t forget it? Why worry about the answer to these questions? The solution is close at hand, in the portable recorder.

If you’re the kind of person who needs to have a record of their thoughts, or just the kind of person who would like to be able to record a song on the fly with friends, or at least certain portions of the track that you can do without needing to be in a studio, a portable recorder may be just right for you. They’re a device that is affordable and cheap, and quite useful for almost anyone. Truly, it’s a utilitarian device that you will be glad you have spent your money on. But how are you to buying the best portable audio recorder 2017 has to offer you? Well, that’s a question that deserves come consideration.

Best Portable Recorder – Comparison Table

Before we get too in-depth into what makes a good portable recorder, to say nothing of what is the best portable recorder 2018 has to offer, let’s first take a look at a broad comparison in table form. Here are our top picks for the top portable recorders today.

NameLine(s) inLine(s) outStorage method
Zoom H1 Handy Portable Digital RecorderMini-USB and 3.5mm mic3.5mm headphonesSD cards
TASCAM DR-05 Portable Digital RecorderUSB 2.03.5mm headphoneSD cards
TASCAM DR-40 4-Track Portable Digital RecorderUSB 2.0 + 2 external mic lines3.5mm headphoneSD cards
Zoom H4N PRO Digital Multitrack Recorder (2016 version)Mini-USB and 2 external mic lines3.5mm headphoneSD cards
SONY ICD PX333 Digital Voice RecorderUSB3.5mm headphone4GB internal flash memory and SD cards

This is just a quick overview of a few points that are worth considering for each of these products. Now that we’ve gotten a good introductory look at the entrants for ‘best portable audio recorder for film’, let’s take a more in-depth look at the individual products, shall we?


Zoom H1 Handy Portable Digital Recorder – The Budget Professional Model

Some of you are looking at that device and saying to yourselves ‘that thing is ugly and weird looking’. And you would be right! But I’m more concerned with function than form, as is anyone who actually needs to utilize one of these, and on our quest to find the best digital audio recorder, Zoom has a pair of models worth mentioning. Of course, Zoom is a name well known in in the world of recording. Zoom, in fact, made a boomerang pedal I had for my guitar way back when all the cool kids were using them, and it was a quite well made pedal at that.

Anyway, how does the Zoom H1 stand up? Quite well, honestly. It has two microphones, meaning it records in stereo. The interface, as you can see here, is very simple to work with. It can be hooked up to your computer with the use of a mini-USB line, and it sports a 3.5mm jack for a microphone to come into, as well as another 3.5mm jack to run headphones into if you’re looking to listen to the playback.

It writes data to SD cards, which can be replace on the fly if needed. It runs off of a single AA battery, and that single battery can provide up to ten hours of life, which is great for a single battery, really. If you’re looking to pick up the best digital audio recorder, this is a product you should look into.

  • Very affordable
  • Only needs one battery and gets ten hours of life out of that one battery
  • Can also be powered by the mini-USB
  • The microphones (and their placement) leave a little something to be desired

TASCAM DR-05 Portable Digital Recorder – The Standard Recorder

Let’s be honest here; for the vast majority of those of us out there, we are not going to need to have the kind of portable recorder that goes for two hundred plus dollars or so. It’s just not something that a lot of people who aren’t legitimate musicians need, and honestly, even musicians are a lot more likely to go and record their stuff in a studio after having written it down on paper. These are more solutions for the up-and-coming musician or the thinker who is always on the go.

The TASCAM DR-05 comes with two microphones (as you can plainly see), and it can record in stereo, which is always preferable to recording in monoaural. It records to SD cards that you can switch out on the fly, which is always a plus. It’s a nice and simple package, as you can see, and playing your thoughts or music back to yourself is very simple. It has a USB line in, meaning that you can transfer to and from a PC or MAC, and it has a headphone jack, of course, for those who want to listen to their musings or music on the go. This can be used as a portable recording studio booth or just to record thoughts on the go, and it manages to squeeze a lot of life out of the two AA batteries its run off of.

  • 17 ½ hours of battery life from two AA batteries is almost unheard of. There are phones that don’t get that kind of battery life
  • USB plugs are always fantastic
  • Recording to SD cards is also a great thing
  • Not very advanced, and the mics could be better.

TASCAM DR-40 4-Track Portable Digital Recorder – The Upgraded Standard Model

The DR-40 is basically a much better take on the DR-05 that has some upgrades. To begin with, thee mics that it comes with are much better than the mics on the 05, to begin with, providing some great quality and making it perhaps the best portable audio recorder for podcasts. Then, of course, there’s the fact that the operating system is much improved on in this model.

It has not just the two microphones up on top there; it also has two lines on the bottom for two more external microphones, which puts it squarely in the running for best field recorder for sound design, easily. It also has a USB line in, which can be great for powering it if you’re in a studio or just by a computer and transferring files. As with so many of these products, it records to a SD card, and its 3 AA batteries will give you about 13 hours of life. Not too shabby, all told.

  • 4 lines for microphones, two mics included
  • 13 hour battery life
  • 4-channel recording capabilities
  • Included mics could be a bit more powerful

Zoom H4N PRO Digital Multitrack Recorder (2016 Version) – The High-End Budget Model

Just because you’re buying a portable recorder on a budget doesn’t mean that it has to feel like it is cheap. This may well be the best field recorder 2017 has to offer you (yes, I know it was made in 2016). It comes with 2 included mics (that are plenty powerful) and 2 external microphone lines for additional mics, making it a good portable audio recorder for filmmaking, among other things. It has, as so many do, a 3.5mm line out that will allow you to run headphones to it as well.

It records sound to a SD card, and its 2 AA batteries are capable of providing up to 10 hours of life. Truly, it is a great device, and a portable digital recorder worth purchasing. Also, there’s the fact that it has that Zoom quality to it, which is well worth your money.

  • Four mic lines
  • Great battery life
  • Easy to use OS
  • The microphones are awkwardly positioned

SONY ICD PX333 Digital Voice Recorder – The Simple Choice

Not everyone needs a very complex recorder, especially if they’re just recording things on the fly that they’re going to work out better later. If that’s you, then you’re going to find that for an audio video recorder device, the SONY ICD PX333 may be perfect. It is the only one of the devices here that comes with its very own internal memory, coming with 4GB of flash memory.

It can also write data to microSD cards. Then, of course, there’s the USB line in, which seems to be standard, and the 3.5mm headphone jack that allows you to hear your thoughts via headphones. It uses 2 AAA batteries, and those batteries will give you about seven hours of battery life.

If you’re looking for a simple model, the SONY ICD PX333 is the one that you’re looking for, and you’ll be glad you bought it.

  • Has included internal memory
  • Decent battery life for AAA batteries
  • Very simple to work with (even a child could do it)
  • Not a quick writer
  • May not work with modern PC OS

Best Portable Recorder - Buyer's Guide

How Many Mics Do I Need?

Well, sadly, this is something that I cannot answer for you. If you’re looking to record, for example, two people talking for a podcast, you might find a lot of benefit in getting something that can be run to two external mics. If, on the other hand, you are just looking to record your own thoughts, then you will be fine with literally anything that has an attached mic.

SD Cards Or Flash Memory?

Again, this is something that will just come down to your opinion. If you are looking to record a whole lot of high-quality sounds, then you are going to need to make sure that you get something that can record to an SD card, because the higher quality the recording, the more space it will take up on a card. If, on the other hand, you are looking to record just a few quick clips that mostly consist of you talking about an idea or speaking lyrics into the microphone without intending to use the recording for the basis of a record, you don’t really need to have all that much space, and you will be fine with something like the SONY ICD PX333. Make sure that you don’t end up buying more than you need or want.


So, if you’re looking to find the best portable recorder for your uses, hopefully this list has helped you. You will be glad that you looked into a few reviews, too, when it comes time to make your purchase.

Because we looked at so few products today, I’m not going to go overboard announcing best this or that. What I will say is that, of all the options available, the obvious winner, in my mind, is the Zoom H4N Pro Digital Multitrack Recorder (2016 edition). It works well with modern computers, too, which is a plus.

The best budget option, on the other hand, is the Zoom H1 Handy Portable Digital Recorder. It has a lot of features that you need in a digital recorder, and seems to trim the fat from the list of things that you may want, so if you’re just looking for an entry-level product, this will be a good choice for you. Finally, the simple solution is the SONY ICD PX333, which is so easy to use that anyone can work it. Consider these things when purchasing your very own.