Portable Digital Recorder

There’s Nothing Worse Than

missing out on a recording opportunity because your out in the field. This is easily solved with a Portable Digital Recorder.


OK – so you may be wondering just what one of these gadgets is. These little buggers are excellent tools to have both in and outside your studio.

They are small, battery operated self contained units that typically provide stereo and some as many as 4 tracks of audio recording.

PDR’s are Not all Created Equal

There are several manufacturers of portable digital recorders and NO they are not all created equal. In fact there are varying degrees of sound quality, microphone quality, features/functions, battery consumption and yes even video capability.

There is also a varying price range for PDR’s as is typical with most musical equipment.

Back to the Drawing Board

You guessed it – it’s time to ask yourself some questions again. If you’ve been following LRT you know what I mean. If you have no clue, well do your homework and figure it out.

Asking yourself or others the right questions is always the most important part of putting together your studio and the equipment you will use.

Most of your questions should be based around features as I know that you understand the need for quality sound and understand the built in microphones on PDR’s are part of that sound. If you need a refresher check out my article How to Record Your Own Music.


Skip the Video Feature! Never Never Never waste your hard earned cash on the capability of a portable digital recorder to shoot video! Buy a device for a specific purpose – multi function devices, often times, consist of lower quality individual features.

I’ve tried several and the sound quality is severely compromised but the video is decent to sweet.

My opinion is that the manufacturers offset the cost of the video features with lower end audio components to stay competitive in the marketplace. I bet I’m not too far off and may even be spot on.

Don’t get me wrong – I am not saying that PDR’s with video capture capabilities are junk or that you should not buy them at all.

I am saying, however, that you do not want one with video capabilities for professional audio recording needs – You’ll be unpleased with the sound and the dent in your wallet if you choose that route.

Popular Features

There are some popular or common features on PDR’s. I will list them here with a brief explanation.

  • Built in Microphone – sounds obvious enough but some are well better than others. Also some can be changed from an A-B to an X-Y configuration. Not quite sure what this is – ask me in the comments section below.
  • External Microphone Input – The availability to record with your own mics and cables connected.
  • Storage – most are SD card compatible
  • Multi-track / Mono – pretty common across the board
  • Headphone/Audio Output – Typically 1/8″ stereo

Not So Common Features

Everyone needs to make their mark in the industry and some manufacturers add more features, improved battery life, better sounding mics and so on.

Some of these less common features I listed below for your reference.

  • More Buttons & Knobs – Less Menus to Navigate
  • Phantom Power
  • Long Battery Life
  • Auto Gain / Backup Recording

What’s Left?

Size and Cost.

Although most units hover around a common ground there are some outliers with both size and cost.

What you need to keep in mind is YOUR questions which will revolve around YOUR purpose(s) for the unit you intend to purchase.

Size – Most are nearly the same. The smallest, I find, to small to even work with and the larger ones not any more effective than me brining my portable rig (which is way better).

Cost – a couple hundred bucks into the thousands.

Why Do I Need One

Well, only you can determine if you need one and this stems from your answers to your questions.

I hadn’t purchased my first for many many years and when I did I looked back at all the lost opportunities. All those special moments I wished I had on tape. Moments that could have been used in my songs today or even built into songs.

Now I take mine everywhere – I tried using my smartphone but the sound quality is just not there (or on any smartphone so I’ve found).

I also own one of those PDR’s with video but I use it for a different purpose than quality audio recording. In fact I’ve used a combination of both before but that’s another story for another day.

So do you need one – I would recommend one and I have a few more reasons why.

Bullet points have been working so far today so I’ll stick with them – any complaints let me know 🙂

  • capturing that moment – I’ve already spoken to this.
  • ease of capturing great sound on the go – orchestra or solo vocalist.
  • an extra audio focal point – future articles coming … think ambience in a live setting.
  • candid interviews.
  • sampling – your very own – no copyright woes.
  • did I mention your own samples – this is huge! You never know when you’ll be in the presence of that perfect sound.
  • OK – enough on samples but I figured best to throw it in one more time for those not paying attention – You Know Who You Are!
  • You can utilize this in your studio too – sub mixes and such.

Keeping It Simple For You

I’m a get to the point guy, in a round about slightly storytelling way of course.

Anyway, I won’t spend time writing a book here on any given article at LRT. I will not cover my site with ads and junk or be a sell out. If I trend that way call me out on it please.

What I will do is provide you an engaging experience with minimal distractions but will add pictures now and then. I will give you first hand real life information from my first hand experience (and maybe my dreams once in awhile).

As always I will pass along opportunities or equipment that is fitting for your goals and that I know now that I’d have wished someone had exposed me to throughout my recording career.

With that said I am writing a review on a PDR that I own and will make some comparisons to another I own that has video features.

Important – In effort to streamline your viewing and navigation experience and pleasure I will be moving my reviews from the Review tab up top to the New Review Category in the Left Side menu area. Stay tuned for this.

Check both views out and let me know what you think by leaving me a comment below.

Also comment the questions you have and need answered. I will respond quickly for you! (unless I’m taking a bubble bath – then it may be a bit but still not super long)

For a period of time I will keep both active though you will find my most recent review on the Portable Digital Recorder to the left under the heading Categories and then Reviews – or – just click this link Tascam Digital Recorder Review.



12 thoughts on “Portable Digital Recorder

  1. Hey Eric,

    I also came cross many times in my personal and professional life where i felt a need for recording and you summarized the needs of it exactly in the same manner. I use my smartphone today but like you said, the quality is compromised. I intent to buy one for sure and will focus on getting just for that purpose and nothing else. Will keep checking back for more.

    1. I do use my smartphone for some recordings but not for anything I’d play back for my own pleasure or anyone else’s. 🙂

      Now when I record phone conversations (legal in New York State without notifying the other party as long as the person recording is part of the conversation) like of the cable provider because they are ever so good at screwing me over I would use my smartphone.

      You best bet is to use a high quality device for any recording that you intend to use for more than record keeping.

      Thanks for stopping by LRT and I look forward to hearing from you again. If you have any particular questions let me know.

      ROCK ON!


  2. I’m amazed at the jump in quality of portable digital recorders these days. It seems as though the budget market has improved tenfold in the last decade. I recently purchased a simple zoom recorder for the simple omni capture of an acoustic set I was involved in – the results were astonishing! Great dynamic range and low level noise – great recording!

    1. Thanks for stopping by LRT Chris!

      Portable digital recorders have come a long way in a short time for certain. I too own a Zoom although mine is not adequate for recording for production it does take decent video. Of course my new phone takes better video, go figure.

      PDR’s are getting smaller and packed with more features, some not really needed but still they are there.

      ROCK ON!


  3. This is a really great article for learning about the portable digital recorders. I didn’t even know these existed. You mentioned that most are of a similar size, but exactly what size is it? Are they pocket size, or more like a record player size? I can imagine they’d be a life saver for artists on the road.

    1. Hey Todd thanks for checking out WA and my PDR article.

      For those of you wondering what I’m talking about you can check the article out here – Portable Digital Recorder or my review of the Tascam DR-40 here – Tascam DR 40 4 Track Portable Digital Recorder. These will open in a new tab so you won’t lose your place.

      They are small Todd, and with many things these come in a variation of sizes. The DR-40 (I own one) is about 3 inches wide, 1 inch deep and 6 inches tall. This is an average size PDR – there are some smaller and some larger to quite larger.

      They do work excellent on the road, in the car, in the woods, in the tub (just don’t get it wet) and so on. Never miss a beat or forget a cool lyric you come up with when you have a PDR on hand. The sound quality of the DR-40 is studio quality as well. Way better than using a cell phone to do the job.

      Did you get a chance to check out the DR-40 article I wrote Todd?

      ROCK ON!


  4. Ok, so I understand the importance of a pdr. Any thoughts or ideas on which one to buy? I would like to give it as a gift. Also what kind of price range is available on them? thanks any info would be appreciated. I look forward to hearing from you.

    1. I tried several different makes and models when I purchased mine last year. I went with the Tascam DR 40 4 Track Portable Digital Recorder for several reasons. I wrote a review of the DR 40 that you can find at this link Tascam DR 40 4 Track Portable Digital Recorder

      The link will open in another tab so you don not lose you place here at LRT.

      The price range for a decent PDR starts around 100 bucks and up from there. Yes there are a few that are less than $100 though quality drops of quickly as price is decreased.

      Let me know what you think about the DR 40 review and if you have any questions. Thanks for stopping by LRT, hope to see you back soon!

      ROCK ON!


  5. Hi Eric,

    Thanks for a thorough review of what I should be looking for with a PDR…Actually I had not thought of using once since years ago, when I had the old cassette recrorder thingy (remember those?)…

    Reading through your article brought through to me there is a value in having one still today, and if I can find one that fits in my pocket without too much weight, I would consider buying it. It may be a tool that has been around for years, but is still useful…

    I saw some links to reviews I believe oon the post above, have you done a comparision between the models available? I would definitely be interested in reading about this, especially since you seem to be a subject matter expert!

    Thanks again for putting this article together!



    : )

    1. Thanks for stopping by LRT Dave – glad to meet you.

      Yes I remember those cassette thingy’s. That was awhile ago – I had a couple myself but wouldn’t use them for recording for production. I think you are looking for a different class of PDR – non-professional. This is just a hunch but if I am correct you can find several at a very reasonable price. I have one of these to and use it to take notes, save song ideas that pop out of my head on the fly and so on.

      Mine is a Sony ICD-B600. It takes two AAA batteries and a hard disc that holds a couple/few hours of recording. I think it was about 75 bucks about 10 years ago or so. This unit is smaller than a professional PDR. The ICD-B600 is about an inch wide half an inch deep and 4 inches or so high. There are several of these on the market and can also be picked up at local big box stores and Walmarts and such. I’ve even seen used ones like mine for under 30 bucks on ebay.

      As for professional PDR’s there are also several of those available. They are bigger than non-professional models and typically used for sampling or recording audio for production.

      I have not done a review of all available units on the market but I have done a review on the DR 40 and compared it to my Zoom Q2 HD. You can find that review at the following link:

      Tascam DR 40 4 Track Portable Digital Recorder

      The link will open in another window so you don’t lose your spot at LRT.

      It’s been great chatting with you Dave, I look forward to seeing you back at LRT soon.

      What are your plans for a PDR Dave, maybe I can find a few for you to focus on.

      ROCK ON!


  6. Hi Eric- Your site has come a long way since I last visited just a short time ago. This is a well written and informative post. I know little to nothing about Portable Digital Recorders (PDR’S) but was able to get a basic understanding of the popular and common features and what to look for if I was going to purchase one. Keep up the good work and I look forward to reading more of your posts.


    1. Thank you Tom, I am glad you like how LRT is looking and enjoyed the article.

      PDR’s are not just for musicians although the DR 40 is more than the average consumer may need. I also have a mini PDR, Sony I think, that I use to take notes while driving, record conversations so I don’t have to write while talking and so on. The mini is very useful and goes with me everywhere.

      ROCK ON!

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