A few years back, I had the pleasure of meeting up with one of our clients. As we were having coffee he asked me if he could record our conversation; as a journalist, he sees stories everywhere. He reached into his pocket and got out his iPhone to record the conversation!!! Aghast, I instantly understood why we had a horrid time transcribing his poor audio quality interviews.
I spent the next 5 minutes explaining to him the various advantages a dedicated recording device has over most smartphones (longer battery life, easier to use for recording, extra features focused on recording, and excellent sound quality). And I firmly suggested he acquires a digital voice recorder. For a journalist, an iPhone is not good enough.
Choosing an Audio Recorder
Digital voice recorders are designed for many uses. Some are great at recording dictation, others are built for recording musical instruments. It is important to understand the unique differences among all of the different recorders, and what each one offers in terms of features. What are the top 3 considerations when choosing a digital voice recorder for journalists?
What’s the main purpose of your audio recordings? That’s the first thing you’ll need to consider. If you plan to use the audio recording for broadcast, you’ll need to get a recorder that can record broadcast quality recording. However, if the recording are primarily for personal use (writing posts, articles, and books) then you really don’t need a broadcast quality recording.
2. Portability and Ease of Use
This is an important consideration. Professional digital voice recorder tend to be harder to use (more features and settings) and are bulkier (better microphones, more power). If you are looking for “point and shoot” voice recorder that you can easily carry in your pocket – you’ll need to compromise on the sound quality of the recording.
Again, high end digital voice recorders use a lot of power. For instance the Zoom H4N will drain 2 AA batteries within 6 hours. For journalists that are out in the field for days, you’ll need to stock up on batteries – and remember to replace them frequently. However, professional digital recorders allow you to power them using AC power from any standard wall socket, or a power bank – very useful for those all day conferences.
Here are our top 3 recorders we recommend for journalists.
Best Digital Recorders for Journalists
1. Zoom H1n
The Zoom H1n is an entry level professional recorder that has impressive audio recording features. It can record broadcast quality audio – 96 kHz 24 bit wav, and you can power it using the USB and use it as a USB microphone. But, what I really like about this digital recorder is its design. It’s built like a microphone, so it fits very snugly in your hand. Very handy when you’re out in the field and you want to hold the recorder close to your subject – especially in a noisy environment.
However, there are a few drawbacks with this microphone. First, you’ll need to buy a few necessary accessories that do significantly add to the price of the recorder. You’ll need to get microSD external memory because this recorder does not come with internal memory. It does support microSDHC (upto 32GB) cards. I use the Samsung 32GB EVO Select memory card on my H1n and it works very well.
You should also consider getting the Zoom APH-1n accessory pack. It comes with a padded shell case specifically designed for H1n – the H1n microphones are quite exposed so you’ll need to protect them. You also get a foam windscreen (reduces wind noise), and AC charger with USB cable. You can use the AC charger to power the recorder.
For a thorough discussion of more features, good and bad, of this recorder check out my detailed review. And you can get the Zoom Hn1, the APH-1n accessories pack, and the Samsung 32GB microSD from Amazon.
2. Sony ICD-ux560
If you are looking for “plug and play” no hassles recorder that’s very portable (can easily fit into your pocket) and versatile, look no further than the Sony ICD-ux560. Here’s a detailed review of this recorder, but let me touch on the highlights. For a recorder of its size, it does record amazing sound. Not broadcast quality, but close enough. Power up very quickly, and comes with 4GB internal memory, and it also support the high capacity (128GB) microSDXC cards.
Has an inbuilt battery that’s lasts a very long time and charges very fast. I’ve never had to charge my ux560 because every time I connect it to my computer to transfer the files it instantly charges up. Very impressive. If you are looking for non-broadcast quality voice recorder, get the Sony ICD-ux560. You won’t be disappointed. Buy it now on Amazon.
3. Zoom H4N
The Zoom H4N is a professional quality digital voice recorder that mounts to mic stand or tripod, or directly to DSLR with optional Hot Shoe adapter. Four track simultaneous recording…I really don’t want to list all of its impressive features (including XLR inputs) – that you’d expect in a high end professional voice recorder.
However, my experience is this is a bulky recorder. It’s not something that you can easily slip into your pocket. And like the H1n, you’ll need to buy a bunch of accessories to make full use of this recorder (at a minimum get the APN-4nPro accessories pack and the Samsung 32GB microSD memory card).
I rarely use my Zoom H4N, unless we’re shooting weddings or conferences. I’d recommend the Zoom H4N to one-man-band reporters who need to record broadcast quality audio. And Zoom H4N is very a very affordable digital voice recorder, you’ll get high end professional quality for a fraction of the price! Buy it now from Amazon.
That’s it for this post on choosing the best digital voice recorder for journalists. I’ve recommended 3 recorders that varying features and cost. I hope you see something you like in my recommendations. At the very least I hope they serve as a starting point for your quest to find a recorder that’s right for you. If you have any questions, suggestion, or comments, please share them in the comment section below. And keep us in mind for all of your transcription needs.