Your Guide to Buying a Used Digital Recorder

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Your Guide to Buying a Used Digital Recorder

Digital recorders are used to record music, vocals, and speech as well as other sounds. Their appeal lies in their functionality and convenience, but recorders vary in features and sound quality.

About Digital Recorders

Digital recorders store audio signals as sequences of numbers, in contrast to analogue recorders which store audio signals as wave forms. Digital recorders typically receive signals from microphones in the same way as analogue recorders, but then the signals are converted to digital using a convertor. The signals are recorded in separate samples, in bits of information, and the number of bits per sample has an effect on sound quality.

Digital recorders differ from analogue recorders in many key aspects. Proponents of analogue recording highlight its natural and warm sound, while proponents of digital point out the clear sound with low levels of noise and interference that is possible on high-quality digital recorders. Despite factors such as the conversion of signals from analogue to digital adding noise, digital recordings tend to have lower noise. The amount of noise that is added to an audio signal during recording is known as the signal to noise ratio (SNR).

Digital recorders typically cover a slightly narrower frequency range than high-quality analogue recorders, from around 20 Hz to 20 kHz. Frequency range depends on recorder quality, with professional-quality digital recorders covering a wider range than those aimed at consumers. Digital recorders are also subject to errors such as quantisation, which causes distortion, and jitter. However, digital recorders also have a larger dynamic range than analogue recorders, meaning that they can faithfully reproduce a wider volume of sounds.

The main appeal of digital recorders is in their functionality and versatility. They tend to be more portable than analogue recorders, with a far greater range of features and functions. Recordings can be stored and processed in various formats, and there is ample scope for being creative and experimenting with sounds.

Choosing a Digital Recorder

When choosing a digital recorder, consider general factors such as cost, quality, recording format, portability, power, design and durability, as well as advanced features and functions.

Cost and Quality

The prices of digital audio recorders, like most electronic devices, continue to drop in line with improvements in technology and increased demand. However, high-quality digital recorders typically cost more than lesser-quality models, so it is often worth paying more if quality is a key issue. However, it is quite possible to pick up decent-quality entry and consumer-level digital recorders at very affordable prices.

Recording Format

Check which file formats the recorder supports. File formats may be uncompressed or compressed and this, and the method of compression, has an impact on sound quality. Uncompressed files and those that use lossless compression do not lose quality as there is no loss of important information. Lossy compressed files, by contrast, can lose quality. Over-compression results in distorted sound. Bear in mind that editing and processing with computer software and online may result in the file being compressed further.

File options include WAV (.wav), BWV (.wav), AIFF (.aif), MP3 (.mp3), AAC (.aac) and WMA (.wma). WAV and BWV are uncompressed formats. AIFF uses lossless compression. MP3 and AAC use lossy compression. WMA may be either compressed or uncompressed.

The audio bit depth or sampling rate is another feature to check. This is the number of bits that each sample can record, and the higher the number of bits, the higher the resolution. CD bit depth is 16 bits, while DVD can be up to 24 bits. 16 bits is sufficient for general use and most purposes, although 24 bit recordings sound better. If the file is to be further processed, it is recommended recordings of 24 bits or more are used.

Portability and Power

There are many models of small, lightweight portable digital recorder available, and these are great if the recorder is to be used mostly while mobile and needs to be carried. They cannot, however, offer the same level of functionality and professional quality as a larger unit.

Check the recorder’s power source and battery life. Some portable digital recorders take rechargeable batteries while some batteries cannot be removed. Battery life is a key concern if the recorder is to be used frequently in the field away from a power source.

Design and Durability

The design of a recorder is important when considering issues such as ease of operation as well as portability. More expensive recorders are typically made of better materials to higher standards with regards to construction and durability than cheaper recorders.

Features and Functions

Features to check out include the microphone pre-amp, inputs and outputs, number of tracks, user interface, and connectivity.

Features and Functions


Microphone pre-amp

Quality of microphone pre-amp is an important consideration, especially if using high-quality condenser microphones. Where possible, test the pre-amps out in person at all volume levels, listening for noise and interference.

Inputs and outputs

High-quality connectors will result in better sound quality. The basic types of connector are XLR, TRS, and mini. XLR connectors are the best regarded. They are balanced connectors designed to cut out interference. TRS are also balanced connectors, but they are easier to remove, whereas XLR connectors can be locked into place. Mini connectors are typically of low quality. They are unbalanced, so interference is more likely, and static can be produced from the connectors dropping out or being moved. Check also the number of inputs. Higher-quality audio recorders typically offer more inputs, giving more flexibility.

Number of tracks

There are two considerations here. The first is the number of tracks. Several digital recorders are multi-track, with the ability to capture several tracks from separate sources which can then be synchronised. Recorders may be able to handle four, eight, sixteen tracks or more. The second consideration is the bit depth for each track. The bit depth for a recorder may be 24 bits, but with more tracks, this bit depth may decrease, meaning a loss of resolution.

User interface

Some digital recorders are more user friendly than others. Reading product descriptions and reviews can be a good way to check out how user friendly a particular model is.


Aspects to consider with relation to connectivity include how the recorder can be connected to a computer or other device, for example, if it uses USB or another type of connection, and the speed of data transfer.

Purchasing a Used Digital Recorder

When purchasing a used digital recorder, it is especially important to read the product description and check photographs, item specifics, and seller feedback and reviews. Reading the product description will highlight any problems, cosmetic damage, missing accessories, or other issues with the product. All digital recorders sold as used should be fully functional, but they may suffer from cosmetic damage.

Check and compare the price with other items, including the same model if possible. Read the seller feedback to ensure they deliver a good customer service and accurately described products.

Find a Used Digital Recorder on eBay

Go to the eBay home page, and navigate through the tabs to the left to the Musical Instruments page. Scroll down, and click on Pro Audio Equipment followed by Recorders. Under Type select Digital Recorder and under Condition select Used. Further criteria can be selected if required, including the number of tracks, brand, and bit depth or sampling rate.

Digital recorders can also be searched for using the search bar at the top of the page. Type in general terms such as “digital recorder” or “digital audio recorder” to bring up general listings. Alternately, type in particular brands or models to bring up more specific listings.


Digital recorders record audio signals in separate samples and store them as sequences of numbers. This is in contrast to analogue recorders which store sound signals as wave forms. Digital recorders tend to produce a cleaner, but arguably less natural, sound. General features to consider when purchasing a digital recorder include cost, quality, portability, power, design, and durability. Cost should be weighed up against quality, and portability, power, design and durability considered with regards to how the recorder is to be used, and how frequently. Portable recorders are great for use in the field, while larger units offer more in terms of functionality and power. More specific features to consider include file format, bit depth, microphone pre-amps, inputs, number of tracks, user interface, and connectivity. Uncompressed and lossless file formats will not result in the loss of important information, whereas lossy files can suffer from a loss of quality. Bit depth corresponds to resolution, and higher bit depths should be chosen if the file is to be processed extensively. Multi-track recorders can capture multiple tracks, but this may affect bit depth for each track. Check microphone pre-amp quality, the number of inputs, and the type of connectors. When purchasing a used digital recorder, check the product description and seller feedback carefully. Digital recorders are valued for their performance as well as their functionality and versatility, and they are capable of producing excellent-quality recordings.

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