Digital voice recorders are the solution for busy business people or anyone with a need to record notes, meetings, presentations, lectures and dictation. For musicians and other professionals, better quality recorders have additional features that, for example, allow them to make high fidelity stereo recordings of concerts. Yes, a modern multifunction device such as the iPhone can provide voice recording functionality, but in comparison with dedicated voice recorders multifunction devices can be limited in recording quality, battery life, audio storage capacity, and may also lack such features as voice activation, index markers, etc.
These top digital voice recorders are loaded with features that will make your voice recording chores a snap. Some come bundled with Dragon Naturally Speaking software which does automatic text to speech conversion to turn your recordings into text. Others, such as certain Olympus models, include sound editing software. All provide easy transfers of voice files to your PC or Mac.
This is CNET's top choice for a professional grade digital voice recorder; reviewer Donald Bell says that it's "an outstanding value for musicians and podcasters who demand professional-sounding results". The Zoom H4n has the ability to record 4 channels at once and its XLR balanced inputs with +48V phantom power let you connect professional microphones to it. Of course, you pay more for professional quality, but at about $350.00 this one is still a bit of a bargain for the features. Auto-record, pre-record, variable speed playback, Hi-Z inputs for recording guitar and bass – this is truly a "do-it-all" machine.
The LS-11 is Olympus' professional-grade audio recorder, and while the bundled Steinberg Cubase LE4 software for PC (48-track audio recording and production software) is of most interest to musicians, you don't have to be a musician to appreciate this Olympus recorder's excellent sound quality. The LS-11 offers 24 bit/96 KHz linear PCM recording and has high-sensitivity and low-noise stereo microphones that "capture every detail and nuance". Two features I really like are the multiple recording formats (you can record and playback in WAV, MP3 or WMA formats) and the 8GB built-in memory and SD/SDHC removable card slot. Con: this voice recorder can be pricey.
What I really like about the Olympus DM-420 is all in the numbers. 533 hours of recording time in LP mode with 2GB internal memory. 51 hours of battery life with USB recharging. This is a lot of voice recording for the price. The icing on the cake is that the Olympus DM-420 handles both MP3 and WMA formats so you can record and play back in either one, lets you use an additional micro SD Card for extra memory, has Voice Guidance to walk you through folder navigation and set-up options and has CD-quality sound. For all the features, the price is a good number, too.
If you really need a lot of storage or just like bells and whistles, this is the deluxe version of the Olympus DM-420. It has all the features that make the DM-420 my top pick for a non-professional grade digital voice recorder; the excellent sound quality, the multiple recording formats, the outstanding battery life, the Voice Guidance. The big extra for the increased price of this model is the 4GB of internal memory, although there are also some frills such as automatic podcast downloading and built-in Variable Control Voice Actuator too. The recorder comes with Olympus Sonority editing software that is both PC and Mac compatible. If you're a gadget lover, this is the digital voice recorder for you.
Sony's ICD-SX712 has a lot of features to make your work easier, such as six recording modes (including the ability to record and play back in MP3 format) , a voice email function, cue/review, track mark and noise cut for clearer speech playback. It also has 2GB flash memory built-in which will give you over 500 hours in recording time and a memory card expansion slot so you can add even more memory if you like, and a dual stereo microphone. And it fits into a pocket or purse. My one beef is the 25 hour battery life. It's not terrible, but there are other recorders that have more. The unit comes with sound organizer software.
This model shares almost all the features of the Sony ICD-SX712. They both offer over 500 hours in recording time and a memory card expansion slot, dual stereo microphone and features such as noise cut and cue/review. It doesn't record in as many formats as the ICD-SX712 and doesn't have as many functions. For instance, it doesn't have a Voice Email function or Add Recording or Correct Dictation functions. On the plus side, it has a little more projected battery life (29 hours compared to 25), has a Direct USB Connector, which attaches the recorder directly to a computer without the need for a USB cable, and is a little cheaper (about $30 less).
My budget choice is the Olympus VN-801PC. For under $50, this Olympus model provides a reliable, long-lasting way to record your ideas and meetings and has some nifty features that you don't expect in a recorder in this price range such as index marking so you can easily find a particular place in a recording and the ability to record and play back in both MP3 and WMA formats. Other than that, this recorder stands out for its up to 843 hours of recording time and its long battery life (up to 51 hours).