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The Best Voice Recorder Deal
After doing 52 hours of research and testing 12 voice recorders over the past two years (adding four recent models for this update) in real-world settings—a college classroom, a noisy coffee shop, and a quiet office—we’ve determined that the best audio recorder for most people interested in capturing meetings, lectures, dictation, and in-person interviews is the Sony UX560. It recorded the most intelligible audio of all the recorders we tested and offers the most useful collection of features: It’s rechargeable via USB; it has a legible, backlit screen; and its menu system is the easiest to navigate.
We tested four new recorders and have a new main pick, the Sony UX560; a runner-up, the Olympus WS-853; and a budget pick, the Sony PX470. For the first time, we also considered the best smartphone apps for those who do only occasional recordings.
The Sony UX560 is an easy-to-use recorder that provides crisp, clear audio in the most-common recording situations. It recharges via USB and lets you easily transfer files to a computer.
$74* from Amazon
*At the time of publishing, the price was $80.
The Sony UX560 received the highest overall scores from our listening panel, and it has the best combination of features of any recorder we tested. The UX560’s bright, backlit screen makes the display easier to read than the other recorders we tested except the Philips DVT2510, which has a color display. The recorder is also the easiest to navigate, with an intuitive toggle menu to access settings and recordings. Plus, the UX560 conveniently comes with a built-in rechargeable battery, so you won’t need to keep spare batteries on hand (though you will need to bring a charger or wall adapter if you need to charge on the go).
The Sony UX560 ranked roughly the same as two other models in two of the three recording settings. The UX560 did the best in the coffee shop scene: One listener said, “You could hear some background noise, but it never drowned out the speaker.” Of the office test, a listener observed that “this was a calming recording to listen to. You can kind of hear some room interference, but that’s such a minor problem for a voice recorder that it’s barely worth mentioning.
Otherwise this was a pleasant if somewhat filtered recording.” The panel picked the Philips DVT2510 in the lecture recordings, but just by half a point (on a scale of one to three, with three being the highest score), and listeners said that the lecturer still sounded clear on the UX560’s recording. The Sony PX470, the budget pick, barely edged out the UX560 in a quiet office.
A close up of the sony ux560 interface for customizing settings.
Customizing settings on the UX560 is more intuitive than with the other recorders we tested.
The UX560 was the easiest recorder to navigate and use among those tested. It’s intuitive to use out of the box: Pressing the home button leads you to a simple toggle menu where you can record, fine-tune settings, and listen to music (that can be uploaded to the device from a computer) or recordings.
Buttons are clearly labeled, unlike on the Philips DVT2510, and a back button makes menu navigation much simpler than on the Olympus WS-853. The UX560 has a built-in USB 3.0 plug, which can be extended or retracted by sliding a button on the side of the recorder that lets you connect the recorder to your computer to download your recordings.
Once the connection has been made, you can also name files and folders on the device from your desktop—those changes are clearly reflected on the device, something that couldn’t be done with the other picks and might come in handy for long-term organization. The Philips recorder lacks this function altogether; on the Olympus, Anna was able to rename files and folders from her Mac, but the device no longer saw them (the Olympus manual does warn against this possibility).
A looping video of the Sony ux560’s built in usb stick.
With a built-in USB plug, you can recharge the UX560 and easily transfer files to a computer for organizing and sharing.
The Sony UX560’s extra features make an already-great recorder stand out from the rest.
The UX560 also has a rechargeable battery that charges via that USB plug. This means you won’t have to worry about having disposable batteries on hand. The UX560 doesn’t come with a wall charger—you’ll need to use a USB charger or connect the recorder to a computer to charge; if you have a recent Apple laptop or other computer with only USB-C ports, you’ll need an adapter.
With a full charge, you can record for 27 hours in the commonly used MP3 format, or 23 hours at the 560’s highest-quality setting (uncompressed LPCM audio at 44.1 kHz, or “CD quality” audio). Anna recorded for about two hours, and the battery indicator showed that the recorder was still fully charged.
The recorder comes with 4 GB of storage, which allows for roughly 39 hours of recording time using MP3 format at 192 Kbps; that’s comparable to what you get with most of the recorders we tested. A covered but easily accessible microSD slot allows for 32 GB more of storage space if you need more recording hours. The UX560 offers a range of file and recording formats so you can opt for better audio quality or smaller file sizes.
The UX560’s extra features make an already-great recorder stand out from the rest. Choose from a “noise cut” filter (which rolls off both low and high frequency sounds) or a low-cut filter to reduce boomy lower frequencies and rumbly sounds alone. Scene selection presets let you optimize EQ and microphone sensitivity settings for lectures, meetings, interviews, voice notes, and loud and soft music scenarios. VOICE RECORDER DEAL MIAMI BEACH CORAL GABLES
You can mark locations in your recording on the fly, so you can return to them later as you listen, and voice-activated recording can automatically stop you during pauses in conversation. (This feature was on all of the recorders tested, though you’ll probably prefer to manually pause and restart recordings to make sure you’re getting the audio you want.)
Selecting the Clear Voice function during playback helped reduce background noise in our coffee shop and lecture recordings but didn’t make as big of a difference as the noise-cancel feature on the Olympus. The UX560’s other playback options, however, made it overall a better choice than the Olympus for people looking to transcribe interviews or lectures: an A-B Repeat function lets you go back and replay the same section repeatedly, and digital pitch control lets you adjust the playback speed if you need to listen more closely to difficult-to-decipher passages. VOICE RECORDER DEAL MIAMI BEACH CORAL GABLES
The UX560 has a transcription mode that will give you a cleaner interface with fewer distractions while transcribing if that’s something you prefer, but you can still fast-forward, rewind, and adjust the digital pitch control in regular playback mode. Oddly, you won’t be able to use the A-B Repeat to replay the same section repeatedly in transcription mode. VOICE RECORDER DEAL MIAMI BEACH CORAL GABLES
For better audio quality, you can plug in an external mic, though we think that would be unnecessary for most people given the good results we were able to get with the onboard mics in our varied test situations. The UX560 also has a headphone jack for monitoring recordings and listening to playback.
The UX560 is a small, compact recorder that feels nice in the hand, and its matte plastic and sleek design make it look a little less cheap than others that were tested. At just 4 inches tall, 1.5 inches wide, and 0.44 inch thick, the UX560 is the slimmest recorder we tested. It can easily fit into a shirt pocket or in the pocket of skinny jeans, while the other recorders are almost twice as thick and fit better in a purse or bag.
The sony ux560 sitting on top of the sony icd px470, demonstrating their sizes.
The UX560 is half as thick as the PX470, making it easy to fit in a shirt or pants pocket.
Like all of the recorders we tested, the UX560 also comes with a strap loop if you want to add a wrist strap or lanyard; you’ll need to provide your own, though it’s easy enough to find an inexpensive option.
Flaws but not dealbreakers
The screen on the UX560’s fades and eventually shuts off during recording, which is a little disconcerting, but an LED indicates that you’re still recording. This recorder also lacks a convenient erase button, so you’ll need to navigate through its menu to delete recordings.
Runner-up: Olympus WS-853
A hand holding the olympus WS-853 voice recorder.
More storage and longer battery life, lower-quality audio
Although its audio quality isn’t as good as our main pick’s, the Olympus WS-853 has more internal storage and longer battery life.
$70 from Office Depot Deal
If you can’t find the Sony UX560, or its price increases dramatically, we also like the Olympus WS-853 for its superior combination of storage space and battery life, each of which was better than with everything else we tested. The Olympus didn’t do as well as the UX560 in our listening tests, ranking lowest overall for audio quality by our panel, though its recordings are still understandable and it scored well on the lecture test, tying with the UX560. The main complaint from listeners was that the lecture and coffee shop audio samples sounded “tinny.” We also found that the Olympus’s menu system is less intuitive than that of the UX560.
The Olympus’s 8 GB of storage is double that of most of the models we considered, including the UX560, and you can expand it even further with a microSD card. The Olympus boasts 110 hours of battery life when recording in MP3 at 128 Kbps, or about four times as long as our main pick.
A close up of the olympus WS-853 interface showing the internal memory storage.
With 8 GB of internal storage, the Olympus has the most memory of the recorders we tested.
The Olympus has one of the largest screens of the models tested, larger than that of our main pick. The larger screen makes the menus slightly easier to see in daylight, but the Olympus’s screen isn’t backlit, making it harder to use in low-light settings. Navigating the menus is also more difficult than on our top pick. It seemed counterintuitive to navigate using the up and down buttons to access different folders, and to have to press the side buttons twice to select items; it’s also missing a back button. On the other hand, it does have a convenient erase button for one-step file deletion.
As with the Sony UX560, a pop-out USB 3.0 plug lets you easily upload files to a computer and recharge the two replaceable AAA batteries, which takes about 3 hours. The Olympus doesn’t have quite as many high-quality recording options as the UX560, but it still has a range of formats that let you optimize quality or maximize storage space.
It also has a low-cut filter to reduce excess low-end rumble. Although the Olympus doesn’t have a scene setting aimed at recording music like our main pick, it has presets that tailor recording settings for dictation, meetings, conferences, and telephone recordings. Like the UX560, the Olympus has a voice-activated recording setting to automatically stop and start recordings based on volume levels so you don’t have to manually pause if you’re recording a lecture or conversation with lots of breaks.
While playing back audio, the WS853 can compensate somewhat for problems you might have run into while recording: a noise-cancellation setting can reduce overall background hiss (though this comes at the expense of battery life), while a voice balancer setting can even out recordings that were made with the mic sensitivity set too low or high by compressing the overall level for a more even sound (though you might run into increased noise). VOICE RECORDER DEAL MIAMI BEACH CORAL GABLES
The olympus WS853 voice recorder next to its black case.
A neoprene case protects the Olympus from bumps and scratches.
The Olympus is made of shiny plastic and has raised buttons that some people will find easier to use. It’s the only recorder we tested to come with a case—a neoprene sleeve—which is useful for protecting the recorder during storage. VOICE RECORDER DEAL MIAMI BEACH CORAL GABLES
Budget pick: Sony ICD-PX470
A hand holding the Sony ICD-PX470 voice recorder.
If you mainly record in quiet environments
The PX470 is a bit bulkier than our main pick, and its audio quality isn’t as good, but it has a similar layout and navigation system. It does best in quiet settings with minimal background noise.
$80* from B&H deal
*At the time of publishing, the price was $60 deal.
If you mainly record voice memos in your office, or interviews in quiet rooms, you can save some money by choosing the Sony ICD-PX470. While our panel ranked the Sony PX470 lower than the UX560 in overall audio quality, the PX470 did get the highest scores for our interview recorded in a quiet office. It rated poorly in the lecture test, however, as listeners said that background and foreground noises overpowered the speaker’s voice.
If you mainly record voice memos in your office, or interviews in quiet rooms, you can save some money by choosing the Sony ICD-PX470.
The PX470’s menu system is similar to that of the UX560 and has an identical button layout. The screen, however, is smaller, dimmer, and harder to read than the UX560’s. The PX470 is also slightly larger and bulkier—while the UX560 is about the thickness of an iPhone, the PX470 is closer to the thickness of two iPhones. At that size, it’s not as convenient to carry around in a pocket. However, with its larger overall size it may be better for people who have trouble using smaller devices like the UX560 and the Olympus. The PX470 doesn’t look as sleek as the UX560 (as you might expect for a cheaper model).
The PX470 has a battery life of 55 hours, which is longer than that of our main pick, but it doesn’t have a built-in rechargeable battery; it uses AAA batteries. It has 4 GB of storage with a microSD slot if you want to add memory—similar to what you get with our top pick, but less than what you get with our runner-up. It also has a built-in USB 3.0 plug for easy file upload.
The best smartphone apps for occasional recording
iOS pick: Voice Memos
Best for iPhone
Voice Memos is included free with every iOS device, is ad-free, produces high-quality recordings, and is super simple to use. VOICE RECORDER DEAL MIAMI BEACH CORAL GABLES
Buy from Apple Deal
The best voice-recording iOS app for most people—provided your recording environment is relatively quiet—is the one that comes free with your iPhone: Voice Memos. It’s one of the simplest ways to start and stop recording, it’s easy to quickly share your audio files, and it doesn’t include annoying ads like many free apps. Our listening panel thought the voice recordings it captured in lecture and office recordings were understandable, although the app doesn’t do as well in very noisy environments. VOICE RECORDER DEAL MIAMI BEACH CORAL GABLES
Of the lecture sample, audio panel participants said, “Lecturer is clearer, more balanced sound,” and “Lecturer sounded kind of distant, but clear.” Listeners said that the background noise in the coffee shop scene was nearly overwhelming, although they could distinguish the speakers’ voices. Several Wirecutter staffers use this app in their own work and recommended this app for recording in-person interviews and notes.
Voice Memo’s interface has clearly indicated Record, Play, and Done buttons; but it also lets you Trim, Save, and Delete recordings without having to navigate away from its main screen, functions that set it apart from other iOS apps we tested.
That screen also displays a timeline bar and a visual waveform of the recording so you can see when a sound starts and ends, which makes it easier to trim or copy only the sections you need. Other free apps function similarly to Voice Memos, like Voice Recorder, but many require you to upgrade to a paid version to avoid ads. Voice Memos has no ads by default, so its interface is clean and uninterrupted.
Three screenshots of the voice memos interface.
Voice Memos lets you easily trim recordings (left) by tapping the Trim button and then holding and dragging markers to specific locations; the app lists recordings (middle) in a simple list. The third-party Voice Recorder app (right) displays recordings as icons and has annoying ads.
Like all the iOS apps we considered, you can easily share recordings made using Voice Memos via email, iMessage, Slack, Dropbox, Google Drive, iCloud, or any other app or service that integrates with iOS’s Share Sheet. The paid version of Voice Recorder offers a few more cloud storage options, like uploading straight to an FTP or using WebDAV protocols, but we don’t think most people need these features. VOICE RECORDER DEAL MIAMI BEACH CORAL GABLES
Voice Memos displays your recordings in a list; they can’t be organized into folders. While this is slightly frustrating, it’s fairly standard for recorder apps—even the priciest app we tested, Just Press Record, won’t let you rename and organize folders. Recordings are still easy to see and find in Voice Memos’s list (easier than in Voice Recorder’s icon grid), and you can label and name files. Voice Memos doesn’t offer any recording options: You can’t change sample or bit rate or file format. VOICE RECORDER DEAL MIAMI BEACH CORAL GABLES
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