When I was in college, I recorded a lot of the lectures and found it to be incredibly, incredibly useful. Why? I found the recordings to be a useful learning tool, and used recorded lectures strategically to revisit sections I wanted to reinforce and when preparing for assessments. I was amazed when I listened back how much stuff I didn’t write down!
TL;DR – the best voice recorder for lectures; the Olympus WS-853.

Best voice recorder for Lectures

Best Voice Recorder for Lectures

My friends took the piss a bit during the first year, but a few of them borrowed the recordings after they’d missed a class and soon everybody realized how useful it was to have a recording of the lecture.  By the second year, everyone expected (including the professors), that I’d record the lectures and the few times I forgot to carry or switch on my lecture recorder, they were mad at me!Why college students record their lectures.

Should you Record your Lectures?

Yes. If you’re still on the fence, here’s what recent research has to say on the benefits of recording your college lectures.

Soong et al. (2006) found that 34.51% of the student surveyed used recorded lectures to (re)listen to selected parts of the lectures which they didn’t understand. If the course subject matter is complex and difficult, it may help to listen to a lecture two or three times to help you understand it, especially when you’re reviewing for an exam.

Gosper et al. (2008) found that 79.9% of students felt that recorded lectures made it easier for them to learn. If your professor speaks quickly and you can’t keep up with what they are saying or if you’re not a native speaker, consider recording the lectures.

McKenzie (2008) suggests that recordings of lectures are used primarily as a means by which core information can be effectively made available to students. Thus, “live” lectures can focus on student engagement.  If you find that you are spending a lot of time taking notes and not participating enough in the class discussions, consider recording your lectures.

Williams et al. (2012) reported that the use of lecture recordings had a statistically significant positive direct effect on student performance. If you want to improve your exam preparation and performance, record your lectures!

Traphagan et al. (2009) found that 69% (N=305) of the students surveyed in their study reported that recorded lectures “reduced their anxiety” about the course.  So, if you’re stressed about doing well in a course, record the lectures!

You get where I’m going with this. I strongly recommend that you record your college lectures and whenever possible get them transcribed by our academic transcription services. So what is the best way to record lectures?

Best Way to Record Lectures

1. Equipment

The first lesson I learned when I started to record my college lectures was that no one wanted to listen to a poor recording of a lecture. Getting a good recording is very important. I experimented with a lot of recording equipment and realized that digital recorder were best suited to capturing lectures.

What doesn’t work? Phones, iPads, laptops. These devices have a microphone that is (obviously) built for recording near-field sound only. They don’t work well in a lecture setting. I did experiment with using a USB microphone (the Samson Go Mic is a good one) and connecting it to my laptop. But not all professors allowed me to take my laptop into the lecture hall.

I recommend that you get a small, unobtrusive digital dictaphone – this is the best lecture recorder.  Because it is small, it’ll save your shoulders and arms the extra weight, and will also not distract you, your classmates, or the professor.

Another tip when you’re using a digital recorder to record your lectures. Direct the mic toward the front of the class and place it on a book or soft cloth to damped tapping or scribbling sounds. Also keep the lecture recorder away from phone and other wireless gadget – or you’ll record a lot of static!

2. Location

The closer you are to the professor, the better. Sometimes the professor will allow you to place the lecture dictaphone on the table at the front of the lecture hall. And some of them will even keep checking it to see if it’s still recording (I had some very understanding professors). If you can’t sit at the front, then choose one of the sides so that there are not too many other students around you to dampen the professor’s voice. Also keep the in mind that you if you sit next to someone who’s the flu (especially the freshers who always get the fresher’s flu) all you can hear on your recordings will be coughs and sneezes.

3. Recording etiquette

Your lecture recorder should not be a distraction in the classroom!  Switch off all beeping sounds in the device setting and turn off the back light. Ensure that your devise is unobtrusive and does not make any loud noises or create any distractions.

Ask the professor if it’s okay to record their lecture and also check university policies. Most university have strict policies on how you can use the recordings. Make sure you are not infringing on the parameters set out for the recording of lectures.

Finally, don’t forget to save and label your recording. Most dictaphones will automatically save the recording the moment you hit the stop button, but you’ll need to rename the file with a more appropriate heading. Here’s a schema that work well for me [Course Name][Date]. So Chem 202 – October-11-2012. Import the recording to your computer and share it with your classmates!

Choosing the Best Voice Recorder for Lectures

1. Durability

You want to get a lecture recorder that’s going to last. You don’t want a recorder with shoddy construction with bits of plastic breaking of after a few weeks. My experience is to buy a recorder with a smooth, compact design, they turn out to be the best voice recorders for lectures. Don’t buy anything that has components that stick out – very likely to break off.

2. Memory and Battery Life

Get a recorder that has lots of storage memory – at least 4GB internal memory and an expansion slot for additional memory. You’ll want to record your lectures as a highest bit rate possible and that takes up quite a bit of storage capacity.

Ideally, you want to get a recorder that can recharge the battery via USB. This will cut down on the cost of having to buy batteries and it’s really convenient to simply plug in the recorder into your laptop or PC and let it charge overnight. However, I do recommend that you can a couple of extra batteries in case you ever run out of juice and don’t have time to recharge. And they don’t have to be rechargeable batteries. There are some recorders that don’t allow you to remove/change the battery – avoid them at all costs.

A tip on connecting your lecture recorder to your PC or laptop. Use a cable. This will avoid accidentally breaking off the USB connector when charging or importing the files to your computer.

3. Ease of use

Sometimes you’re going to have someone else operate the device. And you don’t want them to have to press 5 buttons to record the lecture. The recorder should be really easy to use. Avoid recorders with complicate settings and buttons. It should be as simple as hit the record button to record and the stop button to stop the recording. Luckily for you, most digital voice recorders are really easy to use.

Tip: most recorders have a lecture recording setting. I always made sure that I set this recording as default. Also some recorders take a few seconds to boot up (especially if you’ve set it to record to the external memory). So switch on the recorder beforehand and let it go into standby mode. When you are ready to record, simply hit the record button and it should start recording the lecture right away.

Best Recorder for Lectures

Here are the 3 recorders I recommend for recording lectures.

SONY ICD PX333Best voice recorder for lectures

This is the low budget lecture recorder I recommend. The cons: it only records mono mp3, requires 2 AAA batteries (bulkier than the other 2 recorders), can’t charge batteries, and you’ll need to install Sound Organizer (propriety Sony software) to import the lecture files to your computer. Other than that, this is a great recorder. It’s very durable, has low power consumption. It’s small enough not to be intrusive. Great build – dropped mine a couple of times, batteries popped out, and still worked like new. You’ll not find a cheaper, better lecture recorder.   Check price on Amazon.com.

Best voice recorder for LecturesOlympus WS-853

If you have a little bit of more money to spend, I recommend you get the Olympus WS-853. Records stereo mp3s, comes with a rechargeable battery, and 8GB memory; double the recording capacity of the ICD PX333. You’ll not need to install any software to copy the files to your computer. And it’s only ~$10 more  than the Sony ICD PX333! It has Intelligent Auto Mode that automatically adjusts microphone sensitivity. This recorder is your best value for your money. Check price on Amazon.com.

Sony ICD-UX533BLKBest voice recorder for Lectures

A little more expensive than the Olympus WS-853, but it can record and playback in MP3, AAC, WMA, and WAV formats. This means you’re not limited to .mp3 files.  If you want to get a recorder that you can use to recorder high quality recordings, I recommend you get this recorder. If you’re only going to use your lecture recorder to record lectures, this recorder is overkill. But consider it if you plan to record your band, interviews, or focus group discussions. Check price on Amazon.com.



Gosper, M. et al., 2008. Final Report: The Impact of Web-Based Lecture Technologies on Current and Future Practices in Learning and Teaching, Sydney: Australian Learning and Teaching Council.

McKenzie, W. A. (2008). Where are audio recordings of lectures in the new educational technology landscape? In Hello! Where are you in the landscape of educational technology? Proceedings ascilite Melbourne 2008. Retrieved from http://www.ascilite.org/conferences/melbourne08/procs/mckenzie-w.pdf

Soong, S. K. A., Chan, L. K., Cheers, C. & Hu, C. (2006). Impact of video recorded lectures among students. In Who’s learning? Whose technology? Proceedings ascilite Sydney 2006. Retrieved from http://www.ascilite.org/conferences/sydney06/proceeding/pdf_papers/p179.pdf

Traphagan, T., Kucsera, J. V & Kishi, K., 2009. Impact of class lecture webcasting on attendance and learning. Educational Technology Research & Development, 58(1), pp.19–37. Available at: http://www.springerlink.com/index/10.1007/s11423-009-9128-7

Williams, Andrew, Elisa Birch and Phil Hancock. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, 2012, 28(2).

Posted in: Recording.
Last Modified: February 25, 2017

6 thoughts on “Best Recorder for Lectures

  1. Tony Daniel

    Good piece of information for recording lectures. Choosing the right recorder and following the above steps will provide good quality audio. Good quality audio will result in accurate transcription.

  2. Sarah Matthews

    Frequently we receive poor quality audio from the clients. Certainly I will share the above information with my clients. Thank you!

    1. Isaac Post author

      Glad I could help.

  3. Caitlin

    Just ordered the Olympus Digital Voice Recorder WS-853. I will be a freshman in college this upcoming semester and I am trying to prepare myself as much as possible. This is such wonderful information and makes me feel more confident in me getting the most of the lectures. Thank you!

    1. Isaac Post author

      Great! All the best in your freshman year…

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