Five Best Recording Devices

We can all use another set of ears in the practice room to keep us honest. But picking the best device for our particular needs is a tricky task, with so many feature-packed devices to choose from. Do we go for convenience? Or sound quality? A mix of both? Or something else entirely?

Earlier this week I asked which portable studio recorders you thought were the best, and you nominated 14 of your favorites. Based on your feedback, here are your top five:

iPhone / iPod / iPad

It’s been said that the best camera is the one you have with you. Similarly, the best practice room companion may be the device you carry around with you 24/7. You probably won’t record your next album on an iDevice, but the sound quality is better than you might expect.The built-in voice recorder app is super easy to use, and if you want to upgrade to a paid app like iTalk Recorder Premium ($1.99) or StudioMini ($5.99) it’ll only set you back a few dollars.

For those using an Android device, Hi-Q MP3 Voice Recorder (Lite) seems to get the job done at a price that can’t be beat (free).


iPhone/iPod + external mic

If you like the convenience and portability of your iPhone/iPod, but want to kick the recording quality up a few notches, you can buy external microphones that plug into the dock connector on the bottom of your iDevice.The TASCAM iM2 (~$60) utilizes a pair of high-quality mics which are comparable to those used in their DR-series of portable studio recorders.

Blue Microphones makes a similar device called the MIKEY (~$100) that is a bit pricier but similarly easy to use.

And if you want to make some higher-quality recordings and are willing to do a tiny bit more setup, the Apogee MiC ($199) comes highly recommended and has gotten rave reviews from folks at Engadget and Wired.


Zoom H2 / H2n

Portable recorders like the Zoom H2n ($160) and the older model H2 have some advantages over smartphones. Longer battery life, higher quality built-in microphones, and the ability to use SD cards which you can swap in and out to expand capacity on demand. Not to mention the ability to plug in a far greater range of external mics if you want to.Readers liked the H2 (and the newer H2n) for its ease of use and the sound quality of recordings, both in practice room settings and in performances.



Zoom H4 / H4n

The Zoom H4n ($230) is a higher-end model than the H2n, with features like XLR input jacks that more experienced musicians will value. It’s also quite popular with videographers who pair this with a high-end DSLR to shoot high quality videos with great audio.If you find yourself trying to choose between a Zoom H2 and H4n, you can compare sound samples on this sound sample site (Thanks Christine!).



Roland R-05

It may not be as well-known as the Zoom brand of portable recorders, but the Roland R-05 ($199) nevertheless garnered a number of nominations from readers who praised the sound quality of the mics and faster audio scrolling to scan through your recordings more quickly.


And the winner is…

Voting was exceedingly tight, but coming out in first place by a hair (i.e. only two votes) was the iPhone / iPod / iPad. Presumably, the undeniable convenience of an iPhone outweighed the mediocre sound quality for the purposes of practice-room recording.

Tied for second were the higher-quality yet affordably-priced Zoom H2n (26%) and the more versatile and full-featured Zoom H4n (26%).

In third place, with 11% of the vote was the iPhone/iPod with external mic attachment.

And bringing up the rear with 7% was the Roland R-05.


Aside from the comment below, I’ve been hearing great things about the Sony PCM-M10 lately (currently ~$210, depending on where you look), and had a chance to play with it a tiny bit. It is compact, has great build quality, sounds pretty great, and for what it’s worth, if I were buying a portable recorder in this price range, it’d be at the top of my list.

Here’s a comparison of the Sony and Zoom H4n with some audio clips, and a thorough and helpful writeup and review of the Sony.


What's the Best Recording Device?

  • iPhone / iPod / iPad (30%, 17 Votes)
  • iPhone / iPod + external mic (11%, 6 Votes)
  • Zoom H2n (26%, 15 Votes)
  • Zoom H4n (26%, 15 Votes)
  • Roland R-05 (7%, 4 Votes)

Total Voters: 57

Loading ... Loading ...

photo credit: Kmeron via photopin cc

Share this article...


Get Free Updates (plus 8 practice hacks)

Sign up below for weekly evidence-based tips on how to practice better, beat performance anxiety, and play up to your full abilities on stage. Plus, I'll send you a 20-page practice hacking guide, with 8 ways to get even more out of your practice time.

No SPAM, hijinks, or shenanigans. Ever.

How Well Do You Know Your Mental Strengths & Weaknesses?

Beyond PracticingFind out your mental strengths and weaknesses in the 7 areas that are hallmarks of top performers. Learn how to develop these into strengths. And discover the keys to consistently performing up to your full abilities in auditions and performances.

Get Started


  1. says

    It may come as a shock, but I don’t have a smartphone, ipod, or ipad. I DID, however purchase the Zoom H2n recently to do some carillon recordings. I’d favor the Zoom, even if I did have the other devices, because people recording themselves to critique personally would want the best possible audio reproduction available to a non-pro user. As someone with no audio background, I found the basic feature of the Zoom easy to figure out, and recordings acceptable (given the huge problems of reproducing a carillon!) My only disappointment was NOT the Zoom, but rather in the process of making an audio CD with Roxio Toast (Macs), the software “insisted” on converting the file format to a less accurate one. (The joys of tech!)

    • says

      I tried the Zoom H2 and it was way too complicated for me to use. The manual is over 150 pages and full of user unfriendly jargon. You have to have serious techno chops to use the thing. Why isn’t there a simple digital recorder for techtards?

  2. says

    I think that the Zoom H4N recorder is the best currently on the market. When researching for portable recorders to record myself practicing and record rehearsals and the occasional performance, the H4N stood out. It easily fits in your gig bag, has decent battery life (and a ac power cable included), and works for many different situations. I’ve enjoyed the sound quality and how simple it can be to record yourself; however, it also has numerous settings, extra features, and options (xlr input for up to 4 recording channels), that it is definitely worth the (comparatively affordable) price.

  3. Jink Welby says

    Sony PCM-M10 period. Blows the Zoom and pretty much everything out there away in every category that matters and the price is great. Not sure why it’s not on this list. Makes me wonder…

  4. David Koch says

    While it’s not the most portable thing in the world, to me nothing beats a laptop with a USB mic hooked up. It’s not recording studio quality, but it does well enough to make audition tapes and the ease of using audacity to record and play back can not be beat!


  5. Sarah says

    Any chance you know how to hook up an H2N to an iPhone? I want to record video but with better
    sound quality.

    • says

      Other more savvy folks might have better suggestions, but I believe the “easiest” way to do this is to record from both the h2n and iphone simultaneously and then sync the audio from the h2n to the video from the iphone afterwards.

      • sarah says

        Thanks, that is what someone else said as well, was just trying to not sync them on the computer as I don’t know how, but I will learn! Then I don’t have to buy another cable or anything either. I will try it today! I bet once I learn how to sync them, it won’t really be hard (hopefully). Thanks for responding so quickly!

    • stub says

      I was able to connect my H2n to an iPad with the camera connection cord. You have to set the H2n to be an interface and it will work like a core device. Not sure if there’d be any reason it wouldn’t also work with an iPhone.

  6. Reid Blickenstaff says

    These three items are not as portable or cheap as what you have shown, but are super good. Spend about $2000 and have studio-quality recording capability and very compact.

    1. Superscope PSD450 direct to CD recorder (about $1000)
    2. AKG model C214 microphones (two for about $800). You can pay more for better mics! The sky’s the limit here, almost like violins.

    With these, and a mic stand and mic cables, you have fairly portable studio-quality recording setup you can take anywhere there’s electricity. (The Superscope also has battery-operation, but I’ve never used it.)

    3. If you want to plug your AKG mics directly into your laptop (and skip the Superscope recorder), you can buy an Alesis iO2 or iO4 USB mixer/interface for about $75 or $130 respectively.

    You can check out all of this on, too. I have been using 1. and 2. for about 4 years now and making excellent recordings.

    • says

      Very cool, Reid. Thanks for sharing! I fascinated by, but don’t know very much about recording techniques like mic placement. I know one could probably write an entire book on that subject, but are there any quick and dirty tips or “for dummies”-type resources you might be able to suggest?

  7. Rhona Broch says

    What do you think of the ZOOM H-1 V2?

    I have the Roland Edirol for a while (R09) and its OK but I am looking for something more compact and chargeable (my Edirol eats batteries ! ). thanks , Rhona

  8. says

    I have a vocal harmonizing group ready to perform in gigs, My question is this, since technology advances so quickly I am lost as to how to stream mp3’s karaoke accompaniment tracks with device such as an IPhone to power speakers. ? Is there an mp3 player that you might suggest for me to use to have a good strong clear sound to come out of my power speakers without loosing and fidelity of sound. Thanks

  9. Kate says

    I just made an impulse buy of a voice recorder (Olympus WS-821) in the hopes that it will be able to record our LOUD band practices/shows. Now I realize I should have done more research. I havent used it yet, but I’m curious if you have any knowledge on their capability to record loud music well. I bookmarked this page though for my next purchase.

  10. Margaret Bynoe says

    My Mom is 92 years old, plays a Steinway Baby Grand piano in our living room. I want to record her playing. What is the simplest device I can use to do this, regardless of price. I own an iPhone, iPad and desk top Mac and Mac lap top. Please help me. Thanks

  11. says


    Any suggestions for video recorders for classical guitar? I’ve got a portable audio recorder I’m pretty happy with, though it’s a bit old and starting to get outdated: an older Olympus LS10. As a younger musician on the scene, I’ve been trying to reach out to other medium, and I figured some video for my website or on youtube might be a good place to start.

    • says

      I think an iPhone will actually do a pretty credible job if you get the lighting right. And if you want to kick things up a bit, an entry level nikon or canon dslr would probably be your best bet.

  12. stub says

    As someone who regularly records rehearsals at all different volume levels using a Zoom H2n AND I get sent recordings from iPhones of the same rehearsals, the difference in quality is NOT subtle. iPhones sound quite poor in comparison. They serve a utilitarian purpose. You can hear lyrics, melodies and chords, etc. I think of an iPhone as an “emergency” recording option.

    The fidelity, level control, mid-side mics, and features make the H2n an easy choice.

  13. says

    Hi Dr. Noa Kageyama ,

    Another affordable alternative to the Zoom are USB mics. The Yeti Mic sells for $100 and the smaller Blue mics are roughly half the price. These are USB mics that can plug into your favorite recording software on your computer. It’s much easier for me to navigate immediate playback on a program like audacity, as opposed to listening to the playback from a zoom.

    From my experience, the Yeti mic has just as much clarity as the higher end zooms. I’ve been using it for 3 years now, for practice and audition tapes as well.

  14. DrDave says

    Well, first of all, these are not the best recording devices. As far as budget recording devices go, the Zoom H2N is certainly a decent choice. The Tascam DR-70D is an excellent recorder if you are looking to get a start in home recording, and is suitable for professional use. The “best” recorders would be a bit more expensive.
    In answer to the question about classical guitar, the built in mics, as well as the m/s capabilities of the Zoom H2N are suitable for classical guitar, but would not compare to the Tascam DR-70D when fitted with a pair of inexpensive Studio Technologies B1 mics or Oktava 012’s.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *