The Best Digital Podcast Recorders on the Market

The Best Digital Podcast Recorders on the Market

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.

Why Do I Need a Digital Recorder for Podcasting?

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.

Zoom H4n Digital Podcast RecorderThinking 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!

Budget Level Digital Recorders

sony px312 digital podcasting recorderFor 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.

zoom-h1-podcasting-recorderThere 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…

High Quality Digital Podcast Recorders

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.

Roland R-05 digital podcast recorderFirst 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.

Zoom H4n Digital Podcast RecorderThe best option, in my opinion, is 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!

Again, just to give you alternatives, the Marantz PMD 660 is a device toted the world  over by journalists and audio engineers. This one isn’t exactly subtle (it looks more like an old 80s tape deck) but the quality is undoubtable, and you will not go wrong recording your show on one of these devices.

A Question For You

I hope this guide has helped you out if you’re in the market for a podcast recorder, but I’d also love to know what you think. Have you used a digital recorder in the past? What did you think? Let me know what I’ve missed off the list. Look forward to hearing from you!

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26 Comments

  1. I have used the H2N. The one I used did have the ability to accept SD cards, and can easily fit into a larger jacket pocket.

    It was easy for me as someone who is slightly technologically challenged to use and gave amazing audio. Combine this with a relatively low price and it is a great tool for the beginning podcaster.

    Paul

    Reply
    • Thanks Paul – I think you’ve hit the nail on the head there. Zoom has a tendency to create really easy to use bits of kit, which is probably what’s made them so popular around the Podcast-o-sphere. Hope it’s still treating you well!

      Reply
      • hey thanks for the information.
        If i brought the H2n, i am right in guessing that wouldn’t need a buy a mic.?

        Reply
  2. I used to use a ZOOM H2 which was a work horse for numerous episodes. I have since switched to the Tascam DR-40 which is not only great for recording episodes but also great for interviews in the field due to its XLR inputs.

    Reply
    • Thanks for the feedback Rich – great to get some ‘in the field’ confirmations as to the quality of the Zoom H2N.

      I haven’t used the Tascam, but useful to hear that it’s working well for you. I think it’s a similar feature-set to the H4N – I really value the XLR inputs on the H4N too. It just gives you that flexibility to set up a really good quality outside recording studio very quickly. You don’t need anything more than the recorder, two Shure SM58s and a couple of XLR leads. Bingo, top quality recordings.

      Cheers for the feedback!

      Reply
  3. I found out the importance of a recorder after recording my show to audacity and having it crash on me. I need to invest in one badly.

    Reply
    • Definitely Lance – that’s the big thing for me with digital recorders, reliability!

      Reply
      • I purchased the H2N and it is amazing! The build is great and the sound is amazing!

        Reply
  4. Colin – great page – thanks for the info. One question – I already own an Olympus DS-30. Do you know how that compares to the recorders you list here?

    Reply
    • Hi Larry, thanks for the question.

      I actually used a DS-30 a long time ago and found it to be a decent little recorder. As far as I remember, the add-on mic that came with it was good enough for outside recording, and you could plug in an external 3.5mm microphone so you can up that quality significantly if needed.

      The recorder’s certainly comparable to the lower-end ones I list above, and is definitely good enough to get going with. If you can get hold of a good external mic for it it’ll perform just as well as the Roland anyway.

      Hope that helps!
      Colin

      Reply
    • Hi Larry, thanks for the question. I used a DS-30 a while back and found it to be a nice enough little recorder. The internal mic wasn’t the best in the world, as I remember, but it can take an external microphone so could be a good ‘carry around’ device along with a lapel mic for on-the-hoof recording. I think the biggest downside with it was the capacity (only 256MB I think?) and the fact that it records as WMA’s which is windows’ proprietary format. You can always convert to MP3 on the PC, but it’s a step you wouldn’t need with other recorders.

      Hope that helps you compare, and feel free to correct anything I’ve got wrong up there! Haven’t used one quite a few years.
      Colin

      Reply
  5. The Roland R05 is so perfect for me, but it’s a little expensive :/

    Reply
    • Yea, it’s not the cheapest podcast recorder in the world, I have to admit, but it is great quality. If you’re looking for something a little more affordable, the Zoom H1 is really good – a worthy alternative!

      Reply
  6. The Marantz is nice but I use a tasca HD-p2

    Reply
  7. Hi Colin,

    Thanks for writing up this page. It’s most useful.

    I’m interested in starting with the Sony ICD-PX312.
    I’m looking for something to record interviews with a lapel mic, and I have a question: While recording with the mic, can I hook up my headphones and monitor the sound?
    Also, have you tried recording using a splitter and two mics?

    Any comments appreciated.
    Many thanks.

    Reply
  8. I’m finding digital audio recorders to pick too much surround noise. I’d like to maybe use the audio for audio to text. Someone recommended a goose neck mike to a digital portable audio recorder. Thoughts and suggestions?

    Reply
    • Hey,
      I am having the same issue !
      Did you find any good set up ?
      Thanks for you help !

      Reply
  9. Thanks for this! I’m going to start my own podcast and rolled getting the zoom H1 to get started!

    Reply
  10. I’m a writer and use an Olympus WS-853 to record my interviews. I want to start “podcasting” my interviews in the sense where readers can either read my interviews or just listen to it. Is there a mic that I can add to this recorder? Nothing too professional; just so that there is decent quality.

    Reply
  11. How do you record from a group of microphones in a mixer to a recorder?

    Reply
    • Hi Dylan, you’d usually connect your mixer to your recorder with an XLR cable. What mixer and recorder are you using?

      Reply
  12. This is a great article but one thing about the H4n that I found significant is that it does not play well with mixer boards. The inputs to the H4n are XLR or a “pseudo line-in”. The inputs 1 and 2 on the bottom are a special jack that will take either XLR balanced connection OR 1/4″ TS unbalanced connection. 1/4″ connection however is intended to be used with instruments like a keyboard and therefore is a different input than a normal line level input. A normal line level input will be too hot and will cause distortion in your recordings. It is awful really. The solution to this is to put an attenuator in series on each jack however how much attenuation will depend on your mixer. So this gets really complicated and a pain. Why the H4n does not come with a regular “lin-in” input is crazy. My little H2 does. I like the H4n otherwise but if the majority of your recordings will be using a mixer board as your input to your recorder then this is not the best choice in my opinion.

    Reply
  13. Question: I want to do a podcast with 3 hosts. Can i purchase a Zoom H4n and just use a XLR splitter in one of the inputs to get 3 mics to work instead of just 2? If not does anyone know of an alternate way less than $200?

    Reply
    • An XLR splitter is ideal for this purpose yes – the one downside is that both mics running into it are recording on the same audio track though, so it’ll give you a little less flexibility in the editing process. A Zoom H6 would give you more input options, but obviously that’s adding a fair bit to the price, as you’ve mentioned.

      Reply

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About the author: Colin Gray

Colin has been teaching people how to podcast since 2007. He's worked with Universities, businesses and hobbyists alike. He started The Podcast Host to share his experience and to help as many people as possible get into Podcasting. He runs Podcraft, to spread the art of podcasting, and does the Mountain Bikes Apart podcast whenever he can. Who doesn't like to talk bikes, after all!