In search of an MP3 recorder

I’ve asked this before but I’ll bet things have changed since. I need recommendations for an MP3 recorder that will record in the MP3 format and not require reformatting, that allows me to monitor levels and to use two mics for portable podcasting. As I remember, the Sony minidisk recorders don’t do their voodoo in MP3. An iPod will record in MP3 but (a) you can’t check levels and (b) I have a mini and it doesn’t work there. Oh, and I need it to be very portable and small. Recommendations?

  • von

    I’m thinking of buying this one . It’s more designed for guitar players, but you can hook a mic to it as well. I’d really like to hear what everyone else says. I’d also really like to know what people are using to record their podcasts (beyond a mic and a pc).

  • I’m still not sold on this whole podcasting thing but I’m shocked — shocked, I tell you — that the whole podosphere hasn’t just gone nuts over the Marantz PMD-660, as recommended by my buddy and podcaster extraordinaire Mike O’Connor.

    If these little buggers were around ten years ago, I’d still be doing live music field recordings….

  • I have no advice to give on this matter, but I am interested in making a similar purchase, and I would appreciate it if you would post the consensus candidates that got the most suggestions, and also your experience with the device.

  • Frank

    here’s what you want Jeff…

    easy to use…

  • $500 for the Murantz? I was hoping for something a little, uh, simpler.

  • Frank

    yeah…it is a little pricey…there’s also this

    cheaper, but ya get whatcha pay for.

  • Sean

    A lot of podcasters, including Adam Curry use the iRiver 799 to record in MP3.

  • As the owner of a Sony minidisc recorder, I can say agree you shouldn’t get it (with one admission): They are expensive. The have a user interface from hell — it is the only consumer electronic product I keep stored with a dog-eared user manual. They don’t record to a file format easily transferable to ones computer. But here’s the admission: They provide superior audio quality. I have one — and wish I’d never purchased in — but the sound they capture is rich and I’ve used it in a two-mic interview situation. (However, unless you’re a situation involved music, it’s not worth the hassle IMHO.) By the way, I have a Griffin iMic that I use with my iPod for simple voice recording (mainly dictation-like situations that I later transcribe). For merely voice recordings (not music), I’ve been surprised at how good the sound is. I know that Rafat Ali uses a similar set-up for capturing audio of his interviews and he sometimes posts them as podcasts. However, that’s not a solution that meets your specs.

  • bobdylan

    If you “must” be able to monitor levels, then you must pay.
    500 bucks for that Marantz seems like a nice package.
    Otherwise check out the iRives or iAudio’s.

  • gideon

    Notice that Jeff wants to record in .mp3. He does not want to record in .wav and then convert. I don’t see in the specs for the products above that they do that. (I’m not saying that they don’t record to .mp3, just that the specs don’t explicitly say so.)

  • John Jenkins

    Gideon, the specs for the PMD660 state that it will record 17 hours of .mp3 audio onto a single card.

  • James Fulford

    Jeff, you have a Treo, don’t you? You can use that, with the right software.

  • I purchased the Marantz PMD 660 when they first came out and couldn’t be happier. A little pricey, but lot of recorder for the money.

  • Jay

    Your requirement for two mics is what’s going to force you to pay for something like the Marantz, even though it’s overqualified for your needs in most other ways. Those three-prong mic outlets (XLR’s) require pretty high-end mics, and you’d need to buy two. And that’s your only option if you insist on 2 mics, because the Marantz has only one jack for the more common mini-jack type mics … many of which, by the way, deliver excellent sound quality for speech; don’t worry at all about that issue. In fact, in a quiet environment you’ll be surprised at the fidelity you’ll get just placing the unit on the table and using the internal mics on 2 or 3 people seated within 3 to 5 feet.

    If you can accept using a single mic, and in some situations even use the internal mics, I highly recommend the Edirol over the Marantz. It’s smaller, it’s lighter, it’s less expensive, and for your needs the fact that it has fewer bells and whistles is an advantage. It does show levels (the blurb page doesn’t make that clear but I did more research, it’s definitely part of the display window). Then again, consider that the Marantz has its own speaker and the Edirol requires headphones to listen back.

    I’m your age and have been a professional studio and location recorder all my life, mostly for spoken audio. The biz is only now beginning to deliver quality portable digital recorders than can USB to PC’s … fear of illegal music recording has made most products (like the iPod) hobbled by low sound quality ceilings or clumsy transfer methods. These two products are among the first to break through, and if you continue to wait, I predict you’ll find something closer to your needs and budget. But for now, it’s the Edirol.

  • Gideon

    John Jenkins — Thanks; as you politely note, I was wrong about the specs for the PMD660, which in fact state here that it records in .mp3 format:

  • Hard to find, but I have liked Ibead products, this new 1000 model does mp3 encoding
    (don’t know about level monitoring)
    and with 1.5GB, should get good time. (found it for less than $200)

  • Farshad

    What about M Audio MICROTRACK 24/96 Professional 2-Channel Mobile Digital Recorder.

    – 2-channel WAV and MP3 recording and playback for pro recording
    – immediate drag-and-drop file transfer to PC and Mac via USB 2.0 mini-connector
    – storage via convenient CompactFlash or micro drives
    – separate left and right input level controls with signal and peak indicators
    – professional balanced 1/4” TRS inputs with mic/line switch
    – dual microphone preamps with 48V phantom power for studio microphones
    – MP3 recording: 96 to 320kbps at 32, 44.1 or 48kHz

    Original price: 499$


    399$ at


  • von

    Farshad, what’s the difference between what I posted, and the “Microtrack”?

  • Jay

    Von, the unit you posted is not an mp3 recorder. It’s an interface for connecting microphones and instruments to a computer for recording, but it”s not a recorder itself.

    The Microtrack that Farshad posted is news to me, and it actually looks like a better product than the Marantz. It allows separate recording levels for Left & Right, and looks to be even smaller than the Edirol. BUT, Jeff, as I warned, features like these are pricey, and you’d need to commit to 2 high-end microphones (TRS plugs for mics are more rare than XLR, you may need someone to actually convert the plugs for you). That said, this looks like a damn good product from a reputable company, I might even get one. It just may be way more than you need.

    The iBead looks wrong for you. It lists a lot about its playing and ripping specs but avoids important questions about its recording abilities. It says it has a line input but mentions no mic input at all. And unlike the other products, it shows no info about what sample rates it records at, other than it can record up to 200 hours. That implies a low sample rate and lousy sound quality when recording.

    So, I’d still recommend the Edirol, although springing for that Microtrack and its attendant costs will definitely fulfill all your needs in a first-class way.

  • Farshad

    Jay, I just want to mention that a TRS Mic is included on that, and I think with a small jack we can use a normal Mini (sony) Jack mics. (correct me if not)

  • Jace
    Check out the MicroTrack 24/96 from M-Audio. This puts all of the others to shame.

  • RON


    I’m an amatuer musician with a habit of recording lessons, jam sessions and when allowed, acoustic performances. I have gone the MD then HiMD route (got tired of having to do an analog real-time transfer to WAV so I could edit then convert to MP3, and thought that the supposed hi-speed transfer feature of the HiMD would solve this annoying limitation – – the limitations of the supporting software from Sony make HiMD nearly as frustrating).

    Looking still for a sane alternative, I’ve come across the MicroTrack24-96, but am having difficulty finding information that is first hand user generated, rather than promotional. Any disinterested (i.e., no financial stake involved) users out there that can share opinions/experience with this device? I’d like to achieve at least the sound quality of the MD, and battery life for recording is an important feature as well.

    Thanks for any input.

  • Hi Ron (and all),
    Sounds like I use my mp3 recorder exactly like Ron wants to! I bought an archos jukebox, jbm20. It works great for lessons, but the battery life is pitiful (just a tad over two hours) so when I’m at a music camp and trying to record four classes a day, my camp experience turns into a dash for the outlets between sessions. My friend with the same unit has the same problem. My unit is also wickedly picky about connections to the desktop pc. Often takes several tries to get the desktop to recognize it (on several different desktops, so I think it’s the jbm or the USB cable, not the desktop unit).

    In short, I’m shopping for a new unit. My friends with iRivers are thrilled with them – but they all have the H300 series, and everywhere I’ve looked online for those, they are unavailable (no sign of them on iRiver’s own site – the manuals are still there, but there is no sign of the actual product – looks like they’ve been replaced with a newer model, and it has a significantly shorter battery life by their own numbers – lot nicer LOOKING unit, but that’s not what I’m shopping for!)

    So I’d love any input, too. The Marantz recommended here looks to me like its designed for very high quality recording, but not necessarily a whole lot of hours at a time – I need a lot of hours at a time for when I’m at camp for a week. Quality needs to be good, but doesn’t have to be anything like commercial.


  • The Cowon iAudio X5L 30 GB was recommended to me. It is a nifty-looking gadget, but has no pre-amp. So it’s use for recording acoustic concerts seems limited. Does anyone have any experience with it? I saw one company offers a 9v pre-amp to attach to these mp3 recorders.
    But I’d love to get an M-Audio Microtrack. But where are they? Has anyone actually purchased one?

  • M1

    I think there are a few more things to be taken into account than seem sobvious at the first glance. The price, size, analog real-time transfer to WAV etc.
    ( By the way, you can digitally real-time transfer to WAV from an MD when using an MD deck like Sony MDS-JE510 with optical out and a cheap sound card like the Z-Cyber Nightingale Pro6. It works!!! )

    Well, I`m recording interviews only that means 2 mics, level control, battery power, BIG headphones. The cheapest and best choice for me was the ZOOM MRS-4.

    It records about 60 min on 2 chanels with a 128MD SmartCard and 32kHz with little compression (I think). You can exchange AA batteries or NiCd and also change the SmartCard. There`s a level control, limiter, compressor, some effects, EQ. It has a big connector for BIG headphones (THIS is an advantage over MP3 recorders), and it also has a normal line out. The unbalanced mic ins are very good and the price is just right. You can read the SmartCard in a normal card reader and convert to WAV.

    There is only one disadvantage: It is not as small as an MD or a MP3 recorder but you may carry it around. It even looks more impressive. When I took interviews with an MD the people asked what I was doing. With the bigger ZOOM it is more obvious an I receive more respect. They become more formal when talking and take the interview more serious.

    Now the trick how to convert into MP3. The ZOOM got an analog line out. It is in some ways like a batterie powerd double pre amplifier, mixer and effects device! So I simply connect a cheap MP3 recorder and record in 41.1 kHz stereo 90 minutes. The end quality, if I handle the mics right, is best mono CD quality.

    Well the ZOOM is cheap, the MP3 was cheap too. The mics AKG C1000S and a Rode NT3 and the headphone were expensive. If you chose condenser mics you need some with a battery inside as the ZOOM got no 48V. I got most of the stuff through eBay.

    The only better alternative for my usage would be the M Audio MICROTRACK 24/96. But I really don`t want to spend so much money. Don`t forget to add the price of the mics and headphone.

    I use this audio editor for WAV and by the way I`m using this portal / blog / forum combination

  • exo

    If you like to solder, you also could use an mp3 recorder with line-in with two mics through a selfbuilt mic preamplifier and tiny condenser mics.
    I do that since some time now, and the sound is great (using it with my iriver ifp 380 which lacks storage space though) and my preamps become ever smaller. I simply didn’t find the ultimate package for it yet!

  • Ron

    Hello, again. I posted a question last August (19th), and still have the same questions. At that time the Micro Track 24/96 was not yet released, and I think the Edirol has a newer model (R-9?) since then. I’ve been looking (on line) at these, and the PMD 660, and I’m willing to cough up the cash, but do not want to learn the limitations after the fact (as I did w/ upgrading to HiMD). Again, my needs are (like Cynthia, who posted after me, I also attend a music “camp” that has 4+ hours of instruction sessions/day, and another 2-3 hours of performances, all of which I need to record) reliability, relative ease of use, battery life, memory medium capacity.

    Any folks w/ real-life experience that can provide insights?


  • Hi Ron,
    I still haven’t replaced my Archos JBMM20 – but I’ve done some more research since then and have heard from a couple people who use similar devices.

    The only person I’ve heard from who is unqualifiedly happy with what she is using (and she also uses it for recording rehearsals and music lessons) is using a mini disk recorder. The new ones allow direct connection to the PC (the old ones didn’t) and you can use music editing software to change the format if you want. I’ve just purchased the Cakewalk Pryo program which I’m told will do this type of editing (haven’t tried to use it yet so can’t say firsthand). It’s a cinch to put in tracks with those machines – I’ve used the older ones – and the quality is excellent.

    If I can’t get the glitches in my JBMM resolved soon, I’m strongly leaning twoard the mini disk at this point. Check out The Sony says it has a 10.5 hour battery life for recording, 19 hours for playback.