Best Portable Audio Recorder for Podcasts in 2020

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Podcasting on-the-go and out in the field has never been easier. Portable audio recorders (aka field recorder, digital audio recorder, handy record, handheld recorder) are exactly what you need. They have built-in microphones, inputs for external mics (including two XLR/TRS combo inputs), outputs for headphones, and more. 

If you want to get to the core and just want to know the Best Overall Portable Recorder, it’s the – Zoom H4n Pro. 

These portable audio recorders are great when you’re shooting video with your DSLR. You can even skip a computer while out in the field because you can capture audio straight into the audio recorders. Most recorders can record audio on external SD cards up to 32 GB. Depending on how you want to record, the recorders also offer a plethora of menu options to go through to tweak the audio to how you like it.

The biggest difference between the various digital recorders is the audio quality you’re going to end up with. Some will have XLR inputs, so you’re able to connect your XLR mics directly to the recorder. You can connect lav mics or even just the built-in mics on the recorders. 

Why not just use your smartphone to record? You can, but the audio recording won’t sound as good. It’s the same reason you don’t use the phone to record back at your house or studio. You’re going to get different audio quality because each device has its strengths and weaknesses for different purposes.

Let’s get right into it and take a look at the best audio recorders for podcasting in 2020. After the list, we’ll also have a buyer’s guide that gives great tips on what to look out for when choosing your portable digital audio recorder.

Best Digital Recorders for Podcasting

This round-up list will give you the options of recorders to choose from.

Zoom H4n Pro

Zoom H4n Pro

  • #1 Best Seller

  • 4-channel recording up to 24-bit, 96 kHz

  •  X/Y microphones, up to 140 dB SPL

  • Up to +48V phantom power

BEST OVERALL VALUE

Zoom H1n

Zoom H1n

  • Pocket-sized 

  • 90-Degree X/Y stereo mics

  • Newly designed protective mic enclosure

  • Battery life: up to 10 hours

BEST FOR PORTABILITY

Zoom H5

Zoom H5

  • Interchangeable X/Y inputs for other mics

  • 4-channel recording up to 24-bit, 96 kHz

  • Selectable phantom power

  • Record up to 140 dB SPL

BEST FOR PROFESSIONAL

Sony ICD-PX312
Sony ICD-PX312
  • Approx.72 hours of battery life

  • Built-in 2 GB flash memory

  • Expansion up to 32mb microSD

Tascam DR-05X

Tascam DR-05X

  • Dual stereo condenser microphones

  • 2-in/ 2-out USB Interface 

  • Expansion up to 32gb (microSD, microSDHC, microSDXC)

EVISTR L157

EVISTR L157 

  • Voice Activated Recorder

  • 1536kpbs HD Recording Quality

  • Small and extremely lightweight

BEST BUDGET-FRIENDLY

1. Zoom H4n Pro 

Zoom (not the video meeting software) has been around since 1983 and is a leader in creating audio recording equipment. They’ve set the standard with the handheld recorders, especially with their best seller, the Zoom H4n Pro

The H4n Pro offers the best value too at under $200, recording high-quality video. It records up to 4 channels at once and has built-in X/Y microphones that will pick up all sounds in a room. There’re two XLR/TRS inputs with optional phantom power. It will record straight to an external SD card that’s up to 32GB.

There’re also many recording and editing features if you want to do it all on a single device, but we’d still advise using audio editing software

Zoom H4n Pro

Pros

  • Best seller and the standard for portable audio recorders
  • All-in-one features
  • Flexibility with recording

Cons

  • Has a bit of a learning curve for newbies
  • Takes about 10-15 seconds to boot up

2. Zoom H1n

The Zoom H1n is the updated version of the Zoom H1 that includes several improved features.

It comes with a monochromatic display with a backlight for great visibility even in the dark environment. The size of this clean display is 1.25 in. In this price range, it offers awesome audio quality. The battery of this portable recorder last around 10 hours and it requires 2 AAA batteries to get the power.

Some of the key features of this recorder are support for micro SD cards up to 32 GB, file formats are WAV and Mp3, and USB outputs to transfer audio files to your computer easily.

Zoom H1n

Pros

  • Great value for money
  • Excellent portability
  • Bunch of useful features

Cons

  • Bunch of useful features

3. Zoom H5

The Zoom H5 is perfect for those who are looking for a professional-grade digital audio recorder. The H5 is like a big brother to the H4n. There’s also the Zoom H6, but I feel that the H6 is too much for podcasting. The H6 is better for professional music recordings. Many in the film industry also use the H5 and H6.

The H5 also records four channels. With its XLR preamps, you can directly connect microphones and the X/Y condenser mics work great too with this recorder.

One of the key features of this recorder is that the X/Y capsule interfaces are interchangeable which will allow you to use the interchange the X/Y mics with different types of microphones. It uses 2 AA size batteries to power up and lasts up to 15 hours. Similar to the H4n Pro and H6, the H5 does have optional phantom power too with the XLR inputs. 

Zoom H5

Pros

  • Delivers studio-quality sound
  • Extremely durable
  • Features a backlit LCD screen

Cons

  • Price is a bit high

4. Sony ICD-PX312 Digital Voice Recorder

With an affordable price range, the Sony ICD-PX312 can deliver good sound quality. There’s a speaker at the bottom to let you playback your recordings without headphones. It comes with a 2 GB built-in flash memory and it records files in MP3 format. You can also add an extra memory card as it has a micro SD slot for additional storage capacity.

Sony ICD-PX312

Pros

  • Long battery life at approximately 72 hours
  • Few built-in editing functions
  • USB port for easy file transfer

Cons

  • Not very good at reducing background noise capture

5. Tascam DR-05X Digital Audio Recorder

The Tascam DR-05 is a tiny, yet very sturdy portable digital recorder that comes with an under $100 price tag. It’s designed for quick setup and recording, similar to the Zoom H1. You can export audio in two file formats, WAV and MP3. It comes with a 3.5mm port so that you can connect an extra microphone or a headphone to listen to your recordings. It’s good for spoken word and podcast recording, but not much else. 

Tascam DR-05X Digital Audio Recorder

Pros

  • Full day lasting battery power
  • Good for noise reduction
  • Amazing portability

Cons

  • No XLR inputs

6. EVISTR L157 Digital Recorder

It is one of the best cheap digital recorders for podcasting that comes in under $50. So, if you’re just starting out and don’t want to spend too much, the EVISTR digital recorder is a good option. It’s not a professional-grade audio recorder you don’t have to worry about the functionality. You can see the menu buttons are limited when compared to the H4n Pro and others. 

Beginners can operate this easily without too much trouble. To start recording you just need to press the REC button and to stop the record you just need to press the STOP button, that’s all you need to operate this portable recorder.

Thanks to its improved microphone processor, you will get clear and good quality sound. It is powered by a rechargeable battery (800mAh) which will provide continuous support up to 15 hours.

EVISTR L157

Pros

  • Budget-friendly price
  • Good build quality
  • Simple and easy to use

Cons

  • Average sound quality
  • The display size is a bit small

What To Check Before Buying a Digital Audio Recorder?

There are a few things you need to check before buying portable recorders for podcasting. The below list will help you make the best decision on a portable recorder. 

Sound Quality

The quality is the most important item you’ll want to check off.  to check before getting the best digital recorder for podcasting. Quality depends on the settings of the recorder and also on the microphones you are using, whether built-in or external microphones through xlr inputs. 

Almost every digital voice recorder has several audio settings to play around with. It makes sense that the more high-end you go, the more you can customize audio settings. 

The higher the quality is the more memory space it needs to store and also the recording time reduces consequently.

Connectivity

After finishing the recording on the digital recorder, you’ll need to transfer the audio file to your computer to edit and eventually upload it to a podcast hosting site. All recorders will come with either a USB cable to your computer, external SD cards, or most likely both.

Started seeing some portable digital recorders having Wi-Fi capabilities now too, so keep an eye on that if you prefer wireless. I find it pretty easy to just connect a USB cable myself.

Audio File Formats

Keep an eye out for what file formats they’re recording in. It’s usually WAV and/or MP3. The four common file formats – WMA, WAV, MP3, and DSS. 

I usually record in WAV, because it’s lossless and the audio isn’t compressed to make the audio files smaller. The file sizes are larger because they’re uncompressed, but I haven’t had any issues with recording multiple episodes on a 32 GB card like this Sandisk 32GB microSD card.

Talking about SD cards, you’ll want to get on that’s a minimum Class 10 for Video, so you don’t lose the recording due to slow recording data transfers. This SanDisk 32GB Extreme SDXC UHS-I Memory Card is the one I use:

SanDisk 32GB Extreme

SanDisk 32GB Extreme

  • Up to 40MB/s write speeds

  • Up to 90 MB/s read speeds

  • Class (V30) and UHS speed Class 3 (U3) ratings for capturing 4K UHD and full HD video

When I’m exporting the audio files to upload to Buzzsprout or to share elsewhere, I export an MP3 file. MP3 files are what’s used for podcasting as the files will also include the ID3 tags with title, artist name, description, etc. MP3 files will also work on pretty much any audio player and computer OS nowadays. 

WMA stands for Windows Media Audio which is a compressed audio file that is with Windows Media Player on computer. Macs don’t like WMA, so they won’t play this file format without a lot of messing around (I’ve tried, so I know what a pain the whole process was).

DSS stands for Digital Speech Standard and these files need specific software to play on the computer.

Battery Life

The battery is another crucial factor to check on a recorder. Normally, portable recorders start from 6 hours and can go as high as 72 hours. So, depending on how you plan to record, you should select the one that will meet your needs. 

A simple yet really good tip, get yourself some rechargeable batteries like these Powerowl AA batteries on Amazon.

Conclusion

Hopefully, you’ll see a portable recorder that you like from these popular devices. The ones above are in a good range of prices with a built-in mic, condenser microphones, omnidirectional mics, stereo mic, along with a mic input or two to connect XLR microphones to the voice recorder.

Figure out how you’ll be using a recorder, that’ll help with your decision on which one is the best portable recorder for you. As with all audio equipment, think about how you plan to record your podcasts. Not all equipment is the same, so you’ll want to be sure you need certain features.

  1. The Best Portable Audio Recorders

    1. Zoom H4n – Best Overall Value
    2. Zoom H1n – Best for Portability
    3. Zoom H5 – Best for Professionals
    4. Sony ICD-PX312
    5. Tascam DR-05X
    6. EVISTR L157 – Best Budget-Friendly

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