The most basic thing you need for any podcast is a recording device. Pretty simply, to create an audio file, you need to be able to record your voice!
Recording devices take many forms, from really basic dictaphones to full-quality professional audio recorders. Most simply, your computer can act as a recording device – it’s easily possible to record a regular podcast using no more than a laptop and its inbuilt microphone.
But, when you start becoming a bit more professional, looking to improve both your sound and your workflow, a good digital recorder is a vital podcasting tool. Here I’m going to take you through the digital recorder options, from entry level to pro kit. Whatever your Podcasting budget, I’ve got something for you.
Anyone that’s into broadcasting will tell you it’s vital to have at least a simple mobile recording device in your arsenal. Without a recorder that you can carry around, you’ll be stuck at your computer desk for all your podcast creation and, especially with a group, that’s not ideal.
Thinking beyond planned recording sessions, many podcasters will always have a little dictaphone handy when they’re out and about. This is just incase they come across a great guest unexpectedly; you never know when an ideal interview subject will fall into your lap.
I use a digital recorder for a whole load of different purposes, including directly in my studio recording. I record from a mixer right into my Zoom H4n as I find it’s the most reliable method, by a long shot. My other favoured way of getting content, out and about, is through face to face interviews, and you can see in this article how to use a digital recorder to best effect in that context.
How to Choose the Best Podcasting Digital Recorder
It’s worth spending more than the minimum on a recording device – with this type of kit the quality is very dependent on price. Moving above the £50+ mark generally takes you into the range of good quality recorders, and you can spend infinitely more than that it you try.
Professional journalist level kit of this sort sells for £300 or £400 and comes with all sorts of features. I’ll mention one of this sort at the end of the section, but you shouldn’t feel any pressure to jump in at that level.
To get started, just buy what you can afford, or use the equipment you already have available. Better to get started with basic kit than not at all!
For my lower cost device, I use a Sony IC Recorder – shown here. I’ve gone through a few devices in this range, from the UX71 through to the Sony ICD-PX312 now.
This costs around £50 and gives a great quality sound for the price. It has a pretty decent speaker on the bottom so you can listen to your recordings without earphones or a computer. It also has an external microphone socket so you can plug a better quality mic in at a later date if you decide you need the sound quality improved.
There are a few other Sony devices in this range, rising up to around £100, but for another brand, check out the Zoom H1.
The Zoom device is a bit more pricey than the Sony, but has a great quality microphone built-in. No need to upgrade the mic in future with this one. As an added bonus, this one is great for recording music, so if you take the notion…
And similar to the Zoom H1 in price and quality is the Tascam DR-05. This recorder has equally excellent built-in mics and is designed so you can easily access all its controls with your thumb!
Heading up to the £100+ bracket takes you into a range of high quality podcast recorders. Here you get a lot more features in the recorder itself, from level control to on-board editing. And you also tend to get both far better internal microphones, allowing for high quality off-the-cuff recordings.
First in line at this quality level is the eternal Podcaster’s friend – the Roland R-05.
The Roland is about three times the price of the Sony, but I find it a great little recorder. The sound quality, delivered by internal stereo mics, is significantly better than the Sony, and it just offers a far more options when you’re doing your recordings.
The Roland R-05 comes in around £160 on Amazon and would do perfectly for anyone, even approaching professional journalist level.
If you’re looking for an alternative then the honourable mention goes, again, to Zoom. Their 2nd level recorder, the Zoom H2n, is a great little piece of kit, and, as a bonus, it looks helluva cool. The H2n is a little cheaper, normally, than the Roland, but it’s a fair bit bigger in size, so is definitely less portable. It does have much more flexibility in recording style though, thanks to 5 microphone capsules inside. This means you can choose from a number of different recording patterns, so you can record anything from 1 solo speaker up to a group with the best quality possible.
Pro-Level Recording Kit
If money is no object, then you have access to a range of pro-level recorders – all of which offer absurdly good microphones and a big range of on-board editing and tinkering tools.
The best value-for-money option, in my opinion, is still the Zoom H4n digital recorder, shown here. It has an excellent quality set of internal mics, various options for external mics and tons of tools packed within the make your out-of-the-office recording much easier.
The H4n allows you to record using professional level microphones too, offering two XLR connections. You don’t need to worry too much about what that means right now (look here for my podcasting microphone guide), but suffice to say that if bought this recorder, you wont need to upgrade it once you move up to professional levels of recording and other equipment.
This is the journalist level device I mentioned earlier and could be used to prepare a feature for the BBC, if you ever get the chance!
Zoom have a newer yet similar model of recorder, the Zoom H5. This costs a fair bit more, but generally functions in exactly the same way. One main difference however is the recorder’s modular mic system – this lets you remove and replace the built-in mics with various other Zoom capsules.
Tascam have their own pro-level model in the shape of the Tascam Dr-40. This recorder is very similar to the H4n in virtually every way. There’s a noticeably higher noisefloor when working with external mics however, but on the plus side, the DR-40 is easier to use when running in additional equipment such as CD/DVD players and mixers.
We need to mention the Holy Grail of digital recorders too – the Zoom H6. If you have the budget and want to record a plethora of different voices/mics/tracks all at once then this is the best option around at the moment!
Need More Help?
I hope this guide has helped you out if you’re in the market for a podcast recorder.
If you’re wondering about the best external microphone options for plugging into your recorder, be sure to check out our best podcast microphones roundup too.
And if you’re looking more help with choosing the right podcasting equipment, then we’d love to work with you.
Check out The Podcast Host Academy, where we hold regular live Q&A sessions, run a community forum, and offer access to every video course, checklist, and ebook we’ve ever made!