When I was in college, I recorded a lot of the lectures and found the recordings to be incredibly, incredibly useful. Why? They were a useful learning tool; I used recorded lectures to strategically revisit sections I wanted to reinforce, and when preparing for assessments. I was always amazed, when I listened back to the lectures, how much stuff I didn’t write down!

TL;DR — The 3 best voice recorders for lectures are 1) the incredibly good Sony ICD-ux560, 2) the Sony ICD-PX470 is good budget option and 3) the Olympus WS-853 is an easy to use lecture recorder.

During my freshmen year, my friends took the piss a bit, but a few of them borrowed the recordings after they’d missed a class and soon everybody realized how useful it was to have an audio 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! Go figure!

Summary: Best Voice Recorder for Lectures

Best Voice Recorder for Lectures
Best Voice Recorder for Lectures
  1. Sony ICD-ux560:

    Lightweight and low profile; powers up instantly; amazing sound from distance; records in LPCM (wav) format; 3.5mm mic input with plug-in power; clear, sharp, and crisp LCD screen. Perfect for recording lectures. Stop shopping around and go and buy this beauty from Amazon!
  2. Sony ICD-PX470: 

    If you are looking for excellent lecture recorder on a budget. Very similar to the Sony ICD-ux560, but larger and bulkier. Uses 2 AA alkaline batteries (no USB recharging), no backlight. If you can’t afford the Sony-ux560, this recorder will save you some money. Check current price on Amazon.
  3. Olympus WS-853: 

    8GB internal memory; USB rechargeable batteries. Okay sound recording from a distance – not very loud. Records only in mp3 format. Great if you plan to record a lot of lectures and don’t want to worry about battery life or storage. Buy it now from Amazon.
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. 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 (amazon link) 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. Proximity is king. 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 digital recorders will automatically save the recording the moment you hit the stop button, but you’ll need to use your computer 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. And don’t forget to share the recording with your classmates!

Best-Recorder-for-Lectures
Top 3 Recorders for Lectures in 2019 (from left): Olympus WS-853, Sony ICD-PX470, Sony ICD-ux560

Choosing the Best Voice Recorder for Lectures

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.

I’ve also found that brand recorders: Sony, Olympus, Zoom, Panasonic, Tascam, Roland… last longer than the no-brand cheap Chinese voice recorders. Keep in mind that buying a good recorder is a sound investment. In the future, you’ll probably use your voice recorder to record research interviews (here’s a great post on best voice recorder for interviews), your bluegrass band, or dictations: your voice recorder will do more than record lectures. Buy one that will last.

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.

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, but I tended to mess around with the settings and often got better lecture recordings using custom setting. 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 Voice Recorder for Lectures

Here are the 3 recorders I recommend for recording lectures.

1. Sony ICD-ux560

Best recorder for lectures: ux560
Sony ICD-ux560

Amazing little recorder that’s perfect for recording lectures. Records amazing sound. And you get even better quality sound if you record in the LPCM 44.1kHz format that this recorder supports. 4GB internal memory. If you plan to use it often, get additional memory – compatible with 256GB microSDXC cards (the 64GB microSDXC is enough capacity for most students). With the right settings, works well from a distance (see this post on the settings I recommend). In-built battery…I could go on but here’s a detailed review. Stop shopping around and go and buy this beauty on Amazon!

2. Sony ICD-PX470

Best recorder for lectures: PX-470
Sony ICD-PX470

Great budget recorder. If you are looking for excellent lecture recorder on a budget, this recorder is perfect. Records great sound, not as good as Sony 560, but close enough. And you get even better quality sound if you record in the LPCM 44.1kHz format that this recorder supports. 4GB internal memory. If you plan to use it often, get additional memory – supports microSDHC cards (4 GB to 32 GB). I bought a 32GB microSDHC for less than $10 on Amazon, and it works well with my Sony ICD-PX470. With the right settings, works well from a distance (see this post on the settings I recommend). However, does not recharge batteries, no backlight…I could go on but here’s a detailed review. Buy it now from amazon, you won’t be disappointed.

3. Olympus WS-853

Best recorder for lectures: ws-853
Olympus 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 USB rechargeable batteries (great), and 8GB memory; double the recording capacity of the Sony ICD-PX470. You’ll not need to install any software to copy the files to your computer…here’s a more detailed review. It’s slightly more expensive than the PX470, but this recorder is easier to use and a great self-contained solution for your lecture recording needs. Buy it now from 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 you found this post helpful in the comment section below. Good luck in college.

References

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).

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Tony Daniel
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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.

Sarah Matthews
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Sarah Matthews

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

Caitlin
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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!

Sam Jane
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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?

Jozef
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Jozef

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

Mariaelena Jones F.
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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

Raj
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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.

Ranieri
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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!

Judy
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Judy

Hi! Thanks for the article. I would like to some lectures, but I sit in back of the room and forgetting to take the recorder is a repeated issue… so I need to keep it on me (as opposed to near lecturer) either in a pocket or on a necklace. Would any of these recorders work for distant/obstructed recording? Or would you recommend something else?
As for WS-853 and Sony, they are $7 difference, should I go with the Sony in that case, or is it not match for my need?

Samantha
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Samantha

Thank you so much for this! I’m preparing to purchase a voice recorder in the next few days for a three-hour lecture. Will any of these recorders last that long? Or will I need to keep extra batteries on hand? Also, I’d like avoid any noises that may interrupt the lecture such as beeping (possibly to warn for a low battery), do any of these devices make such sounds?

Thanks!

shalini
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shalini

thank you for the information . i like to transcribe through recorded stuff dose it work if the device is placed inside the bag in the time of lecture . if keeping the device in the bag while recording affects the clarity of lecture then for maximum benefit and clarity which device out of 3 mentioned by u above should i go for please guide .

Tom
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Tom

Hello,
I want to record my teaching classes every day. I was wondering if there was a computer software that can be used to record, say, from 7:30am to 2:30pm every day?

Krutel
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Krutel

Do you have a particular external mic you would recommend?

Todd
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Todd

Hey there! I have a SONY ICD-PX333. It has worked well, but im wondering if I should upgrade to the ICD-UX560 now that I am in nursing school, and it is more important to me. Or if it would even be worth my money? Thanks so much!!

meenu
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meenu

Hi. Great article.

Can I ask your advice on how to turn the LPCM format recordings with the Sony ICD-UX560 into text, hopefully for free?

I need a device I can record conference sessions and transcribe content into a written report.

Ji
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Ji

Hi! Great post! I’m looking to buy a recorder for my classes for ease and I was wondering what would be the big difference between the Sony ICDUX560 and Sony ICDPX470. I noticed the PX470 was cheaper ($45) and it was an amazon choice. What mic would you recommend the most? My classes are huge over 100 student with a good echo from the teacher using the mic and I usually prefer sitting in the middle. Any response and recommendation would be much appreciated. Thank you!

Bobby S.
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Bobby S.

Your review says the Sony 560 is good for recording lectures, but then you told me it’s only good up to 30 feet. Most lectures halls I’ve been in are bigger than that. I have to reach back much more farther back than that. Any suggestions?

Emma-Elizabeth
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Emma-Elizabeth

Hi, just wanted to say that this independent review was interesting and will be of great use this autumn, when I begin university, so thank you! It was very kind of you to share this with us. Thanks again!