Tech review: The best voice recorder

Tech review: The best voice recorder
Four of the eight devices we tested to find the best. (Wirecutter)

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After 36 hours of research, testing eight different devices in a number of real-world settings and then playing the audio we collected to a four-person blind listening panel to evaluate sound quality, we've determined that the best audio recorder for taping meetings, lectures and interviews is the $100 Sony ICD-UX533. It recorded the most intelligible and truest-to-life sound clips of all the recorders we tested. It's easily pocketable and its intuitive, easy-to-press function buttons combined with a legible, backlit screen gave it the best user interface out of all the models in our test group.

Who is this for?

If you want to record a lecture, meeting or interview, this pick is for you. It's ideal for students, radio journalists and anyone who needs to record meetings for future reference. On the other hand, if you're a musician, a professional podcaster, a radio journalist or if you belong to some other profession that requires the use of a high-quality audio recorder on a regular basis, this pick isn't for you.

How we decided

We found that for $100 or under, it was reasonable to expect a recorder that offers respectable sound quality, an easy-to-read display and simple user interface, at least 4GB of internal memory, the ability to record at multiple bitrates, in multiple formats and to easily transfer files to an Apple or Windows PC. We looked at dozens of recorders with these features and then chose eight for testing. To test the hardware's recording capabilities, we recorded sound in six different real-world environments and then submitted the collected audio to our blind listening panel to decide which device sounded the best.

Our pick

The Sony ICD-UX533 is a compact, capable and easy-to-use audio recorder that provides crisp, clear audio in everyday recording situations.

The $100 Sony ICD-UX533 is our main pick due to its excellent recording quality, useful feature set, great build quality, bright backlit display and easy-to-master user interface. It won over our listening panel by producing clearer, truer-to-life recordings in a wider variety of challenging environments than any other audio recorders we tested.

The ICD-UX533 can record in a number of different file formats and at varying levels of audio quality so users can make the most of the device's 4GB of on-board storage. It can also use a microSD card up to 32GB in size. And because it stores the microSD card behind the battery, there's no chance of losing it. It runs off of a single AAA battery that'll provide roughly 24 hours of power and can recharge via USB if you put a rechargeable battery in it.

We weren't thrilled with the sound quality of its built-in speaker, but it was no worse than the other units we tested. In addition, its glossy plastic shell scratches easily. But overall, it makes better-sounding recordings more easily than every other recorder we tested.

Runner-up (and budget-friendly pick)

The Sony ICD-PX333 is a competent, inexpensive recorder, but it makes only mono recordings.

The runner-up in our listening panel tests was the $52 Sony ICD-PX333, which, thanks to the clear, understandable recordings it made during both rounds of environmental testing, earned almost as much praise from our panelists as our $100 main pick did. The ICD-PX333 is a monaural recorder, which means it neither records nor plays back audio in stereo (although if you plug headphones into it, you will hear audio from it in both ears.). That would be a big deal if you were using the hardware to record music or if you planned to use what you captured for broadcast on the radio or in a podcast. But if you just want to record a lecture, meeting minutes, or personal notes, this shortcoming is tolerable.

It weighs more (it uses two AAA batteries instead of one) than our main pick does, has fewer audio quality settings, and puts its microSD slot on the outside—which means you might lose your card if you're not careful.

This guide may have been updated. To see the current recommendation, go here. The Wirecutter's extensive research and testing is supported by a small commission from the purchases its readers make.