Digital voice recorders and other listening devices can be useful tools. From note taking to covert surveillance, they allow you to capture audio in almost any setting.
These devices also come in a wide variety of designs and sizes, along with various features. This can make finding the right recorder a challenge.
To help you make the right choice, the following guide will break down the top features and uses. Learn how digital voice recorders work, how much they cost, and which features to pay attention to.
Here is your complete buying guide to digital voice recorders and listening devices…
These devices are typically designed for portable use. Personal voice recorders can fit in the palm of your hand. There are also listening devices designed for discreet placement or surveillance.
Regardless of size, the main function is to record audio.
Digital voice recorders can record audio as digital files, which can then be transferred to your computer or phone. Some listening devices even include playback options.
You can use listening devices for a variety of purposes. You can record lectures, conversations, meetings, or record memos to yourself. You can also use them for surveillance or evidence gathering.
Some of these devices can also playback audio, either through headphones or mini built-in speakers. This allows you to playback music, audiobooks, and other audio files that you transfer from your computer.
With advances in smartphones, you might wonder whether it’s worth the money to purchase a separate recording device. But, there are several advantages to using a digital voice recorder instead your smartphone.
The main benefit is the quality of the audio. These listening devices are dedicated to recording audio and often have features designed to deliver superior audio. This includes better microphones and advanced technology that you won’t find on a smartphone app.
Another reason for choosing a digital recording device is the battery life. You likely need to charge your phone daily. When using a digital recorder app, your battery will drain even faster.
Digital recorders often have internal batteries that offer hours of use before they need charging. There are even devices that can record continuously for 24 hours or more.
You’ll also want a separate device if you plan on recording audio in a surveillance situation. For these reasons, a digital recorder offers a better solution for capturing audio.
Digital voice recorders of all sizes and shapes have one thing in common – they feature a built-in microphone that allows you to record digital audio files.
Depending on the device, the audio is either saved onto an internal hard drive, a removable microSD card, or transmitted to a computer or smartphone.
Typically, the audio is stored as an MP3 or WAV file, which is playable from any music player. Whether you have a Windows PC, Mac, or Linux computer, you can transfer your files and play them back.
The actual operation of the device will depend on the design.
Small devices for surveillance use may only have a single on/off button. Others may have a tiny LED screen with an interface that lets you change settings or browse stored audio files.
Searching for voice recorders, you’ll come across hundreds of options. Understanding the key features and how they apply to your needs will help you narrow down your choices.
The primary features to keep in mind as you compare voice recorders include:
The sound quality largely depends on the quality of the microphone. This is also one of the major factors in the final cost of the product.
A high-end microphone will result in a more expensive voice recorder. With a $20 recorder loaded with extra features, you may still end up with low-quality sound.
Though, there are other considerations. For example, noise reduction technology can help improve sound quality when recording outdoors or in crowded environments.
Beyond the microphone and recording technologies, the file format can also impact the quality of the sound…
As mentioned, most listening devices and digital recorders capture audio in WAV or MP3 format. Both are playable on nearly any device.
WAV audio files are uncompressed, which results in high-quality sound, but they also create larger files. This takes up more space on the internal memory, limiting the amount of audio you can record.
You can fit more MP3 audio on these devices. While the audio may not match the quality of a WAV file, you can still capture CD-quality sound.
Some MP3 recorders also have multiple quality settings. They allow you to record at a lower data rate, so you can add more audio, but at a lower quality.
Another file format that you may come across is WMA. This stands for Windows Media Audio. These files will require extra software if you plan on playing the audio back on a Mac or Linux computer.
A decade ago, these devices were often powered by AA or AAA batteries. But, thanks to advances in technology, they are often equipped with internal rechargeable batteries.
A rechargeable battery can offer extended use and can easily be recharged. The most common method of charging is a USB connection. The device will either connect to a computer or a USB adapter.
The battery life will often be listed in the product description or features. Again, consider how you plan on using the device.
If you want to covertly record audio, you will want a device with long battery life. This can range from 4 hours of use to 48 hours or more.
The storage capacity and the type of audio files will determine how much audio you can fit on the device.
You will generally find that listening devices include internal flash memory. This can range between 4GB and 64GB of storage space.
You can also purchase voice recorders with removable microSD cards or find devices that transmit audio to a computer or phone over a WIFI connection.
With a removable microSD card, you are only limited by the maximum supported card size. Most devices will accept up to 32GB or 64GB cards. But, some of the newer voice recorders will work with 128GB cards.
Some listening devices designed for surveillance will transmit the data over a WIFI connection. In this case, you’re only limited by the amount of free space on your computer or smartphone.
Most personal voice recorders will use the first option, with internal memory to hold your audio. The amount of audio you can fit on the device will vary based on the data rate and free space.
For example, a WAV file takes up more space than an MP3 file. With a standard 192K WAV format file, you can fit about 47 minutes of audio per 1GB of free space.
If the device records MP3 format, with a 96K data rate, you can store about 24 hours of audio on 1GB of memory. At a data rate of 128K, you can store closer to 18 hours of MP3 audio per gigabyte.
If the voice recorder has internal storage or a microSD card, you will generally use a USB connection to transfer data. For voice recording devices with a rechargeable battery, the USB connection will also charge the battery.
No additional software should be required to transfer audio. Once connected to your computer, the device should appear as a removable hard drive.
You can then browse, transfer, and delete files from the digital voice recorder or listening device.
You can find listening devices with small LCD or LED displays, letting you browse audio files or change settings. But, if the recorder is built for discreet use, the device is unlikely to have a display.
Instead, the recorder may be concealed in an everyday object, such as a pen, or be designed to fit in your pocket. With discreet recorders, the interface will often consist solely of a function button or an on/off switch.
In addition to the features already discussed, there are other features available on certain listening devices.
One such example is voice-activated recording. This is also sometimes referred to as voice operated recording.
With voice activation, the device will automatically begin recording as soon as any sound is detected. These devices will then pause recording when there is no sound.
Voice activation allows for undercover recording. You can set a listening device in a room and wait for this feature to capture the audio.
Audio transcription is another feature that people often search for. This refers to software that can transcribe your audio files into readable text on your computer. But, this option is not built into personal voice recorders.
For audio transcription, you will either need to find a recorder that comes bundled with transcription software or purchase the software separately.
The cost of the listening device will vary based on the features that you’re looking for. If you want the best sound quality, along with a powerful battery and extra features, you’re going to pay more.
You can pay $60 to $120 or more for a high-end device. But, if you simply want a device capable of recording short memos, you can find options for less than $30.
With the information discussed, you can now start shopping for the right voice recorder.
Start by considering how you plan on using the devices. This will help you determine which features are most important for your individual needs.
Pay attention to the file format. WAV files result in high-quality audio but take up more space.
MP3 files may not provide the same quality. Though, they allow for more audio on the internal memory.
The available memory is also important. More space allows for more audio.
The data transfer is typically handled via a USB connection. If you use a Mac or Linux computer, you may want to avoid WMA files, which are a Windows-based file format.
Also look at the extra features that are available. Voice-activated recording can be useful for discreet operation.
Finally, don’t forget to read digital voice recorder reviews. Reviews will offer more details and insight into how each individual device really works.
Good luck on your search and remember to compare several devices before making your final selection.