Despite the daily advancements in smartphones, audio recording devices have continued to be the preferred way to capture conferences, voice memos or live music. Handheld recorders, after all, are highly specialized devices. They provide portable and affordable methods to capture high quality audio with minimal setup and knowhow. If you’re in the market for an audio recorder, there are a number of key features to look out for.
Digital vs. Analog
The true difference between digital and analog devices today is how the recorded information is stored. Digital devices have higher audio quality and greater storage capacity on a smaller device. These recorders have a number of settings that can block out noise and increase sound clarity and are presented on a digital screen. Files are displayed much like a classic MP3 player, allowing users to jump immediately to minute and second marks. Sound files made by a digital audio recorders are ready to be uploaded to your computer with many models featuring a choice of file format. All these conveniences come with a more expensive price tag and require some tech savviness to operate.
Analog audio recorders use mini cassettes, recording anywhere from one to five hours. The recorded sound is transferred onto magnetic tape which has to be rewound or sped through to find the correct section. You run the chance of a tape running out during a recording and needing to hastily replace it, but you are saved the mystery of megabits and gigabit record sizes. Even after purchasing the device and multiple cassettes, owners will find analog recorders a less expensive option. Multiple recordings over the same cassette will cause degradation in sound quality, but some users will simply love the tactile organization cassettes offer.
Regardless of digital or analog devices, personal audio recorders are small, measuring less than six inches long and weighing only a couple of ounces. Your audio recorder is a specialized device, helping it remain trim and lightweight. Analog models feature a larger body than their digital counterparts. The smallest options are known as pen recorders because they are housed in the top of a pen. Wireless digital recorders are less compact than a designated portable digital recorder. The smallest option is the mini digital recorder, essentially just a microphone atop a hard drive.
When looking for an audio recorder, one of the more important features will be the sampling and compression rate. This number directly relates to how much memory, or cassette tape, the recording will take up. Most modern audio recorders feature multiple sampling options, allowing you to choose how much space you want the recording to take up based on quality. A high sample rate means the file will pick up all sounds, background and direct input at the cost of record space. These settings are important if you are going to be recording bands or group conversations. In a lecture situation, you would use a very low sample rate, reducing the quality but enabling you to record hours of material. 44 kHz is the minimum requirement for recording spoken dialogue. Anything higher than 96 kHz creates a professional studio quality sound but requires larger storage options. Compression refers to the format the file is stored in. .Wav files are lower quality but take up less space. MP3 and WMA files are the preferred standard but will consume 84 MB per hour of recording, meaning a 1GB hard drive will record roughly 12 hours of audio.
Tracks refer to the layers of sound captured. The most common is stereo, allowing sound to be picked up from two directions. Mono tracks are a single compressed sound clip, decreasing the size of the overall record. It will have muddled quality if capturing more than one speaker. Some models can record up to six tracks at a time.
A high quality microphone enhances record quality but can be difficult to judge without experimentation. All personal audio recorders have a built-in microphone that records at a quality equal to its sampling size. If you are planning to plug in additional mics, be sure the device has the hook ups you require. Adding an external mic will also eat into the recorder’s power supply.
By focusing on what features you need out of your audio recorder, you can greatly narrow down your selection. Many audio recorders still run on AAA batteries which can be convenient for those who forget to charge their devices. If you are planning to upload your files often, consider looking at a model that has a USB or micro-USB port. If you go with a digital option, consider a model with expandable storage, such as a microSD slot. If you plan to take notes or type up the recorded conversation, consider models with slower playback options, such as half speed.
Jessica Kane is a professional blogger who writes about technology and other gadgets and gizmos aplenty. She currently writes for Total Voice Tech, her go to for all professional Dragon products.