how digital voice recorders work

How do digital voice recorders work?

As you probably already know, digital voice recorders are small electronic devices that can record sound or speech. They are normally handheld so you have a wide range of options in terms of distance and speaking and recording style.

The recordings start out as sounds coming from your mouth. This is the analog stage. The sound you hear is created when you speak which travels through the air at certain wavelengths. This is all analog.

A digital voice recorder picks up on those sounds and converts them into a digital format. This is then stored in a digital audio file.

You can play it from the digital voice recorder itself or you can export the file to your computer. From your computer, you would have a wide range of software that you can use to listen to the file.

Older voice recording technologies

Fairly recently, voice recorders used audio tape; these are also called tape recorders. The sounds you make, as well as the audio you hear, are stored using magnetic tape.

Digital voice recorders blew away this old technology because they’re able to pack more information in a much smaller space.

Audio tape recorders use magnetic tape which degrade in quality the more you play them.

This is not the case with digital voice recorders. The audio that you stored in digital form 5 years ago is going to sound just as crisp, clear and lively as the day you recorded it.

Digital voice recorders also have a much smaller footprint because it doesn’t have moving parts. Everything is stored on chips. The smaller these chips get over the years, the more compact the footprint of your digital voice recording device will be.

No wonder why writers, bloggers, authors, content creators and other types of content creators prefer digital voice recorders. You can use them to record audio clips, music, office memos, notes, interviews and even novels.

Voice Recorder is also known as digital dictaphones, and can also be used to record high grade music.

How do digital voice recorders work?

Recording sound with digital voice recorders is pretty straightforward and basic. The sound source puts out sound waves, which are then picked up by the microphone. It’s built into these devices.

The sound waves or audio signal is then converted by a unit called ADC (Analog to digital voice converter). This digital information is then stored on a chip inside the recording device.

Digital information, as you probably know, is broken down into zeros and ones. What started out as music or speech is broken down by the ADC into a series of zeros and ones that can be recorded, stored and then retrieved by the voice recorder device.

Once retrieved, we’re able to enjoy it in a form which is in a form that we can use, which is sound or speech.

These unique numbers are also assigned to the file of the recorder. When doing a digital voice playback, the unique numbers are read by the Digital to Analog Converter or DAC.

Once the device successfully reads the digital code, it is then turned into sound which is processed by an amplifier. This creates a sound wave which listeners can readily recognize. It’s either music, sounds or a speech, or a combination of these three.

The basic cooperations of digital voice recorders breaks down to the conversion of air pressure (sound waves into electric current which then are broken down into zeros and ones are digital code and stored on a device).

These codes can be retrieved and converted into sound output.

How voice recorder storage works

Audio and music files at the storage level are indistinguishable from each other. They’re all made of digital codes consisting of a sequence of zeros and ones.

They take up very little space when they’re in digital form. However, once they’re converted from this digital state, there are a wide range of formats they can be converted to.

This is the storage format of audio files. The format has a big role to play in the overall sound quality bitrate per second and other features that can impact the size of the file as well as its overall quality.

Here are just some of the most common different file formats for digital audio recordings:

M4A audio

This digital audio format produces the best audio and sound quality among other compressed audio formats. Its file size is smaller than mp3 files, but its sound quality is superior.

You will be able to maximize your recording time and not take up much space in your digital voice recorder or audio recorder, if you store it in the M4A format.


The MP3 file format is one of the most common file types for both sound and voice recording files. It also adds popularity to its great combination of relatively small file size and higher than average audio recording quality.

Compared to older formats, MP3 files size is smaller. So you can pack a lot more of these files into your digital voice recorders storage space.

It’s not as good as M4A, but it definitely holds its own against older recording formats.

MP4 audio

Generally speaking, people don’t record audio in MP4. This format is primarily used for video files.

Its sound quality is excellent compared to mp3, but it is usually used in conjunction with video. Interestingly though, a lot of voice recorders are offering MP4 audio only format. This is due to the fact that its quality is superior to MP3 and its file size is not too heavy.


FLAC stands for Free Lossless Audio Codec. This is a compressed audio file format that has a bitrate per second which varies depending on the device you use it on.

Many recording professionals consider the quality of this format to be quite good.


Also known as the Windows Media Player audio format. These formats are specially designed for Windows-based machines.

Overall, it makes for great sound and audio quality, although the file sizes can become unmanageable depending on your storage limitations.


One of the newer audio recording formats available, Advanced Audio Coding features higher audio and sound quality due to its specialized coding.

It is an up and coming format that isn’t universally supported. Still, an increasing number of devices are getting on the AAC bandwagon.


Now,this is one of the older audio technology formats. It’s been around for quite some time, and it does produce very high audio playback quality.

Its main downside is its size. You would need quite a bit of storage to adequately store your collection of WAV files.

If your device has a very limited storage capacity, it might not be a good idea to select this format. You may be better off with other more compact audio file types.

What are the advantages of using a Digital Voice Recorder instead of a smartphone app?

While phone recorders and smartphone-based apps can deliver quite a bit of convenience, dedicated digital voice recorder devices offer many beats, smartphone apps and mobile phones on the following factors:

Longer battery life

When you’re using your mobile phone to record your dictations, you’re using an app that pulls from the same battery as your phone’s other applications.

If you haven’t fully charged your phone or you use many battery draining apps, this can be a problem.

You avoid this issue altogether, when you use a standalone digital voice recorder. Its only function is to record your voice, and that’s it.

Compare this with a mobile phone that drains dangerous batteries as you use it for phone calls, taking notes, dictations, playing games, playing music and a wide range of other functions.

The more you use your phone, the more you drain its battery juice. You don’t have that problem with specialized standalone digital voice recording devices.

Better sound quality

Voice recorders are designed for better sound quality. Since digital voice recorders and similar audio devices are intended to record speech and sound for future playback.

You best believe that they record and playback better sound. They do all of this in a pretty easy and intuitive manner.

You click the record button, you can also select race, start, stop, as well as playback is smooth and easy.

Most digital voice recorders or dictaphones have very easy to navigate controls. This is not automatically the case with your typical smartphone voice recorder app.

You not only have to find the right app icon, these apps can differ quite a bit from each other in terms of how they lay out their user interface, and how many features you can access from the apps first screen.

You don’t have any of these problems with the design of the typical digital voice recorder.

Voice recorder controls are easier to access

Voice recorders offer an LED user interface where you can navigate through several layers of intuitive controls to manage or playback your files.

Specialized digital recorders, feature high quality microphones. When you use a mobile phone to record your voice, keep in mind that the microphone you’re speaking to is very small and is primarily designed for making phone calls.

When you look at a typical digital voice recorder, the microphone component is actually much larger and has built in features that cancel out background noise and other distracting sounds.

This is not the case with the typical mobile phone. The noise cancellation features of voice recorders are more sophisticated, and they end up improving the overall sound quality of your recordings in a wide range of situations.

Digital voice recorders are designed with the assumption that you will be whipping out your device in a lot of different social situations and locations, and they especially designed microphones that will record well in these wide ranging circumstances.

Dedicated voice recording devices have built in voice specific features. Voice recorders not only specially tuned to record your voice well, they also include built in editing features that you can use to enhance the quality of the audio files you are recording.

In fact, many of these devices can be activated by your voice. You can command them to start and stop at certain points.

Full format support

Finally, digital voice recording equipment can store your file recordings in a wide range of formats.

If you have a preference for a specific high quality format, there’s a high chance that you will find that safe setting with a digital dictaphone compared to a mobile phone app.

How to transfer files from your digital voice recorder to your computer?

Disconnect your recording device using a standard USB cable. The wire needs to be connected to your computer on the other end.

A prompt will appear. Just follow the prompt to find and set file locations, you can then access and transfer the recording to a specific folder on your computer.

You can also transfer your audio files from your device by using its SD card or flash memory card. Take out the card and put it into an adapter and slip it into your computer.

You can transfer pre recorded files this way, or you can insert an SD or flash memory card until your recorder records the audio and then take out the card and plug it into your personal computer.

How to pick out the right digital voice recorder

When searching for the right device that fits your needs and personal circumstances, pay close attention to the following factors:

  • recording time
  • battery life
  • recording quality
  • microphone quality

It’s important to make sure that you focus on finding a device with a high quality microphone. Even if the gadget you find does an amazing job of storing information and can last a very long time as you dictate into it, it still won’t do you much good if the microphone is substandard.

Start your search with the quality of the mic. The top brands for digital voice recorders are Sony and Olympus, because they feature devices with high quality microphones.

They differ from each other in terms of specific recording features as well as recording capacity and duration and price. But what sets them apart from other brands is the quality of the microphones their models ship with.

Select for volume level recording

When picking among different digital recorders, you need to keep in mind that sometimes you will be recording at different volume levels.

Pick a model that will be able to smoothly record your voice regardless of how loud the background sounds become. It has to be sensitive enough to pick up on your voice but not so sensitive that it amplifies background noise. You also have to consider a voice activation.

You don’t want a device that continues to record dead air. As much as possible, you should pick a device that you can activate with your voice, so you can save its battery life and maximize your recording time.

Based on these factors, the most commonly selected digital voice recorders are these Sony UX533 and the Olympus DS-3500.

These are topnotch, high performance units that can deliver high quality recordings for the long haul.

Why the Sony UX533?

If you’re looking to dictate audio files that will eventually be transcribed, this device has you covered. It’s very easy to use.

Its microphone is sensitive enough to produce quality recordings in a wide range of locations and background noise levels. It is also very light, portable and intuitive.

You can easily whip it out. Do a quick recording as you come across ideas and insights. It’s also pulling audio files from it, which is also a breeze.

You don’t have to jump through many hurdles to retrieve audio files from this device.

Check for Sony UX533 Latest Price and Availability

Why does the Olympus DS-3500 make sense?

I’ve used this device quite a bit and when it comes to a dollar for dollar comparison with the Sony UX 533, this device actually produces the best voice recording. On top of that, it is also quite affordable considering its performance and durability.

It has voice activation features, and its display is very intuitive and simple. But don’t let its simple and easily accessible user interface fool you.

It packs quite a bit of efficiency and file handling features in a tight, compact and simple to use or form.

Check for Olympus DS-3500 Latest Price and Availability

Consider these factors if you want to save money

If you’re looking for more affordable models, you might want to consider Dictopro voice recorders. It is quite well known for its low price point and easy interface.

Many dictopro models are below $50 so it’s not going to burn a hole in your pocket.

Don’t let the low price point fool you though. It comes with a very sensitive microphone. Just how sensitive is its mic? Well, it can pick up sound from as far as 60 feet, that is sensitive.

But, it doesn’t just pick up a random sound, you’re not going to be stuck with noise because it has an automatic noise filtration and reduction system.

On top of that, if you are paranoid about somebody accessing your digital voice recordings, it offers password encryption so nobody can easily access your files.

You can easily store and retrieve information through its USB hardware interface.

The final word on digital voice recorder operations

Digital voice recorders convert sound waves into zeros and ones. But there’s quite a variation in how the different devices made by a wide range of brands do their job.

Pull these all off. What you should look for is a device that works best with how you typically record voice files. Do you need long battery life? Are you looking for the lightest device as possible? Is your budget tight?

Just how much noise do you normally encounter when you record your voice? Do you find yourself getting flashes of inspiration in the most unusual and noise prone places?

These are the kinds of questions that you need to ask when picking out the digital voice recorders. It’s not enough to understand how they work but it’s also equally important to have a good understanding of which device features you should focus on, so you can buy the right device.

The information I’ve shared with you above gives you everything you need to know so you can make a fully informed buying decision.

Featured Image Credit

Microchip PICkit2 rev“Microchip PICkit2 rev” by Uwe Hermann is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

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