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!

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!

3 Best Voice Recorders for Lectures

Voice Recorder ModelEase of UseDurabilityMemoryBatteryRecording File FormatsCost
1. Olympus WS-8528/109/104GB + External MiSd2 AAAMono MP3 OnlyCheck price on Amazon.
2. Olympus WS-85310/109/108GB + External MiSd2 Rechargeable AAAStereo MP3 OnlyCheck price on Amazon.
3. Sony ICD-UX5608/107/104GB + External MiSd1 Rechargeable AAAMP3s, AAC, WMA, lossless WAVCheck price on Amazon.

TL;DRthe best recorder for lectures: Sony ICD-UX560.
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

Step 1: Get the Right 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 recorders 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 – not from someone speaking 5 feet away. 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 – 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 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 dampen tapping or scribbling sounds. Also keep the lecture recorder away from phone and other wireless gadgets – or you’ll record a lot of static!

Step 2: Find the Perfect 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!

Step 3: Beware of Good 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 recording 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.

  1. 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.

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.

  1. 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 complicated 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.

1. Olympus WS-852

Best voice recorder for lecturesFor a low budget interview recorder I recommend the Olympus WS-852. The Olympus WS-852 comes with a built in 4GB flash memory that can record up to 1600 hours of audio. The additional storage slot can be expanded to 32 GB and is compatible with MicroSD flash memory cards. It only records in compressed mp3 format (max 128kbps), which is a major drawback, but has an 3.5 mm mic jack, a stand, and comes with a USB port for easy transfer of the recordings to your PC/Mac – a true bargain! Check Price on Amazon.

2. Olympus WS-853

Best voice recorder for lecturesIf 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 WS 852. You’ll not need to install any software to copy the files to your computer. It has Intelligent Auto Mode that automatically adjusts microphone sensitivity. And it’s slightly more expensive than the WS-852, but this recorder offers you the best value for your money. Check price on Amazon.

3. Sony ICD-UX560

Best voice recorder for lectures
A tad more expensive than the Olympus WS-853, but it can record in MP3 and WAV formats. This means you’re not limited to .mp3 files. Here’s a detailed review of the Sony ICD ux560. 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.

That’s it for this post on how to record your lectures and choosing the best recorder for lectures. I’ve also shared with you by top 3 recommendations for lecture digital recorders. These choices represent my best advice when it comes to choosing a digital voice recorder to recorder your lectures, at a price point of less than $100. A college student is pretty lucky these days, as high quality hand held digital recorder are more affordable than ever.

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. Please let me know if this post was helpful to you in the comment section below. Good luck in college.



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).

16 thoughts on “Best Recorder for Lectures (Updated 2018)

  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…

  4. Sam Jane

    I have two digital recorders from several years ago and I can’t figure out which one of them was best in the lecture setting. I’m not even sure why I have two of them. I’m about to head off to a lecture series and I’m trying to determine which one is the better device to bring. I know they are older models, but any guidance is much appreciated. So, the Olympus DS-30 or the Sony ICD-UX523?

    1. Isaac Post author

      Definitely the Sony ICD-UX523. That’s a really good recorder.
      I’d recommend it on the post, but it was discontinued a couple of years ago…

  5. Jozef

    Thank you Isaac for sharing this.
    Have you also experience with external microphone? Are these 3 recorders able to connect ext. mic?

    1. Isaac Post author

      My pleasure Jozef.
      Yes, all the 3 recorders have a mic input – 3.5mm mic input to be precise.
      External microphones help if you want to get closer to the lecturer.
      Having said that, I never found a need to use a mic – I’d place the recorder right next to the lecture and got very good audio.


  6. Mariaelena Jones F.

    I am a Spanish teacher. I have a student who will be traveling and does not want to miss class. What recorder would you suggest that would provide me with a CD to send to her? Thanks, Mariaelena

    1. Isaac Post author

      Hey Mariaelena,
      The 3 lecture recorders I recommend will output a digital file, which are easier to share than a CD and your student can listen to the lecture using her phone, ipad, computer…or copy it to a usb drive and plug it into a radio, home theater system etc. They’ll have a lot of options…
      You can easily email the digital mp3 file to her or use a file sharing website like wetransfer.com
      I don’t know of a voice recorder that will directly record the audio to a CD. You’d probably need to transfer it to a CD using a CD/DVD writer.

      Not sure if that answers your question.


  7. Raj

    Can you please tell me what yhe maximum distance between student and lecturer can be to have a reasonably good recording of the lecture?
    I am talking about the sony icd-ux 560.

    1. Isaac Post author

      Raj, I’d say 5 feet in all directions and 15 feet when the recorder is placed facing the lecturer. And you’ll have to consider room acoustics, presentation style (does the lecturer move around), obstacles (does the recorder have a clear “line of sight” et al. My advice, play around with the recorder setting (especially the mic settings) and find out what works best for you. And come back and let us know.

  8. Ranieri

    Hi, nice article! I’m 23 italian student of Milan. I like Your article a lot but I have one more dubt about these devices. You Said that it would be better to have a li-ion rechargable battery. But all 3models you suggested are using stilo. I struggle to fine one good recorder with integrated liion battery for mese than 100€.
    May you help me? I don’t really want to buy rechargable aa battery because I may have to recharge them often with the specific recharger…
    Thanks for the effort!

    1. Isaac Post author

      Ranieri, thanks for getting in touch. Love Milan, the duomo is awesome!
      Get the Sony ICD ux 560 (here’s a great review). I comes with a long lasting in built battery. And it’s very easy to charge, even using a phone charger or a battery pack. And it’s only about €80 on Amazon Italy.
      All the best.

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