Good portable recorders for voice work?

By voice work I mean speech, not signing vocals.

I have Tascam DR-05. It’s pretty good for voice recording, but it captures way too much background noise, which is usually not desirable. It tried it with the official Tascam lavalier microphone (TM-10LB). It’s okay, it’s somehow better at isolating noise, but the overall quality is not nearly as good as built-in microphones. It chops off the lower registers and sometimes sounds like some weird digital compression (it’s an analog artefact of how the sound is recorded, though).

Anyone wants to share their experiences using other portable devices for voice recording? Let’s skip TP-7, because it’s already covered by many posts, it’s expensive and has some obvious issues. There are popular devices like DR-40X, H4n, etc.

Do you use built-in microphones on those things a lot? What’s your experience with lavalier microphones?

You might want to try the Roland R-07. It’s not too expensive, and does pretty well at not picking up a lot of background junk. It’s small enough to fit in a picket (well, a jeans pocket might be a push, but slacks or cargo pants, no problem).

It was my go-to field recorder for a few years, too, and found it very easy to use. It has some cute Bluetooth features you may or may not be interested in.

It’s a little slow to boot, but not as bad as the Sony recorders are (or the Zoom I’ve tried), but it does a good job sipping power when it’s paused.

And yes, I love my TP-7 for that, and no, I wouldn’t recommend it if all you’re doing is voice recording for memos and things; you can do the same thing a lot less, and not be terrified about dropping it all of the time :slight_smile:

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Too much background noise could mean it’s better to look for a microphone and/or acoustic control rather than finding a new recorder? Most of the small recorders come with Omni mics, though some have cardioids. For voice work you’d probably want either a cardioid large (or medium) diaphragm condenser mic (48V) or a very quiet preamp and something like a close dynamic mic like the EV-RE20.

Less than positive comments about Sony are rare in my experience. I have two PCM-M10s and I… don’t need to boot them at all, because I never turn them off. They last aeons on standby with rechargeable AA batteries. But – discontinued. Much beautiful stuff you hear out there has been recorded on the PCM-D50, and if I had the budget I’d go for PCM-D100. Unfortunately, outside of D100, Sony haven’t followed up with a decent portable model, and A10 isn’t one.

Then there’s Sound Devices which work with virtually any microphone. Can be reasonably small unless you’re after tiny. When I need very high quality recording, I go Mic → Sound Devices MixPre-D → Sony recorder via line-in. MixPre3 contains a recorder (but no mics).

On the price efficient end, Zoom’s new Essentials line improves some ubiquitous recorders like the H1 and H4.


I hadn’t thought about recommending a PCM-M10. That’s a good idea. I gave one to my daughter. who said that the battery life was phenomenal. Glad to hear that’s true.

Roland R-07 is an interesting device. The ability to capture inputs from up to 4 of those via Bluetooth is a clever solution for interviews and dialog podcasts. I wonder how much that degrades the audio quality.

I’ve also just learned about binaural earbuds this thing works with (CS-10EM). Clever device in its own right.

Too much background noise could mean it’s better to look for a microphone and/or acoustic control rather than finding a new recorder?

I’m open to suggestions like another lavalier mic. I want the solution to be reasonably portable, though.

I’ve had a setup with AT-2020 and a typical audio interface. The room noise isolation and the quality of voice capture were excellent. The amount of effort to set stuff up and the issues with EM interference from my PC were a bummer.

There is something uniquely appealing in having just one simple device, recording your voice on it in a casual setting, and then uploading it without edits. This is the closest thing to pen-and-paper workflow that can still be shared online. Very similar to the appeal of OP-1 as a portable workstation.

^ quite some very good advice right there. Plug closed headphones into the recorder and listen to what it’s picking up, and move it around, before recording. Placement really helps too. If you have to record in a noisy environment, or a sterile/echoy/minimalist environment with hard surfaces - you’re probably going to need a dynamic mic close up with suitable built in or separate preamp. Relocating to a quiet space without reflections with soft furnishings, rugs, bookshelf’s, sofas etc will minimise background noise.

Anyway I’ve found especially with TE gear that I like the basic Zoom recorders, even the H1n which is super cheap, because it works as a recorder, and it works as a stereo usb microphone powered from the OP-1 Field even. But I wouldn’t recommend its internal mics for your problem solving, and if you’re using external mics you’ll need something with better preamps.

Try a bunch of stuff, borrow or hire or buy from somewhere with easy returns, to help narrow things down.

Good luck :slight_smile:

But yes - I really recommend using headphones to hear what the mics are recording before you start at least. Really helps, with all forms of recording. Listening to the output on headphones before or as you record is like using a mirrorless digital camera. You know what you’re going to get before/as you get it. Setting up and just checking levels then listening to the results afterwards is like using a DSLR (or worse) film camera… it looked ok in the viewfinder but it’s blurry, noisy, or the other subject is out of focus - even though it looked ok in the viewfinder. Can’t see the image until after it’s already been taken.

I DO NOT recommend the Zoom H4N. Sound quality wise its great, but user interface is terrible and it does NOT work as a usb sound card. There is noticeable, non-acceptable amount of latency when used as a usb interface no matter the host device. I learned this the hard way.

Most devices with built in mics are made to capture the whole room which is why you’re getting a lot of background noise. You need to sound treat your room or use an external mic.

The zoom H1n is my go-to portable device. No XLR input but it sounds great (to me) with a good lav mic (that’s positioned well). I actually like the pre amps on it. I use mine for video calls for work and people always comment on my sound quality. I also use it for client work, voice overs etc.

For client work i don’t think a single client of mine has ever commented on the sound quality between my h1n and a lav mic and my expensive mixer with a professional XLR mic. Obviously i can tell the difference but the fact that they can’t makes me feel like i wasted a lot of $ on nicer gear :rofl:

if you with XLR interface, mic wise you should look for something with a hyper cardioid pattern. That will limit background noise a lot. And reduce the need for a well sound treated room

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Sure, but that’s the problem I’m trying to solve. I want to be able to record voice in less than ideal environments.

Looking at the new Tascam lineup (X6 and X8). Tascam is spreading the touchscreen plague now. Very disappointing.

At work we started using the Supertone Clear plugin. It has been really helpful with getting rid of unwanted background noise during interviews when using a standard old omnidirectional lav. Sure, it’s 99 bucks, but that’s cheaper than new equipment but a mile. I like it a lot better than Izotope for most cases.

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I’ve read and watched a bunch of reviews on various portable recorders. The space is a bit weird. I guess most people who want to record their voice with decent quality and without a fuss simply buy a USB microphone and don’t bother with portability. Most people who want portability either don’t care about quality at all, or use professional-grade recorders.

Out of curiosity, do you also use it for recording instruments? How do you work around the lack of TRS 1/4 inputs? Do you just use 3.5mm unbalanced jack? (This is not related to the question I asked in the original post, I’m just curious about the device.)

Not sure if anyone cares, but here is an update.

I’ve never been a huge Sony fan, but the comment about Sony from @eesn inspired my to buy a used Sony ICD-UX570. I also bought a used Rode Lavalier II. Didn’t intend to use them together, but turns out this pairing works way, way better for voice recording that DR-05. Very little noise. Good frequency response. Also, the recorder is tiny and very light. Really neat little device.

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The 2 features of a voice recorder I want the most, that only the TP-7 seems to have, are the instant-on record button and an “analog” rewind / fast forward that has variable speed and you can hear it as it scans. Has anyone seen that combo in another voice/field recorder?

the MixPre has a minijack line-out, and the M10 has an extremely quiet minijack line-in, so yes I use the unbalanced jack. As the units are so close, the unbalanced connection has never been a problem for me. Obvs I keep my cellphone away from both. I think the MixPre-D can be used to record instrument-level signals, but maybe guitar stuff needs double-checking first re impedance etc.