Voice recorder technology first appeared on iPods back in 2003, when Belkin released the original Voice Recorder for iPod. Since then, additional full-sized iPod and nano models have offered basic voice recording capabilities, using software that Apple included in the devices’ firmware. All you needed was one of several microphone-laden accessories from Belkin, Griffin, XtremeMac, or others.
Then something changed: the iPhone came with a built-in microphone. Yet it didn’t have any voice recording software to take advantage of that feature. Today, less than a month after the opening of the App Store, there are 13 different pieces of voice recorder software—a lot to choose from—so we’ve tested them all, and created this iPhone Gems feature to help you figure out which is best for your needs. You can skip straight to the reviews of SpeakEasy and Note2Self if you want to see our top picks.
Unlike many of the App Store programs, these particular applications are designed specifically for the iPhone, not the iPod touch. The iPod touch does not have a built-in microphone and there are no iPod touch-compatible voice recording accessories available. Further, current SDK restrictions preclude third-party applications from accessing most Dock Connector accessories, so even if an enterprising developer or accessory manufacturer wanted to bring voice recording to the iPod touch, it does not seem that this will be possible unless Apple changes the software.
It should also be noted that the base recording quality of all of the apps that we reviewed was roughly equivalent. A few of the apps we reviewed offered higher-quality recording settings, which resulted in slightly improved fidelity when recording from music sources or from distant sources, such as in a lecture hall. However, for voice recording quality purposes, all of the applications that we reviewed provided acceptable quality with virtually no distinguishable differences.
In terms of space taken up by voice recordings, based on the apps that did provide storage information or transfer of voice memos, you can expect your recordings to take approximately 1MB per minute of recorded audio on average, versus 2.5MB per minute on the iPod 5G’s, classic’s and nano’s low-quality mode. Notably, the numbers are not directly comparable because iPhone recordings are currently made in Apple’s Core Audio Format (CAF) rather than WAV, the format used by iPods. The space consumed will also vary somewhat with applications that provide different quality settings, however with the monaural microphone on the iPhone, there’s no current need to record in stereo fidelity. A near-term iPhone software update is expected to add MP3 encoding as an alternative to CAF for greater compatibility of the recorded files.
Voice Memos ($5) from Verge23 (iTunes Store Link)
Voice Memos is a basic no-frills voice recording application that more or less works for its intended purpose: to record and store voice memos on your iPhone. Starting the application presents a list of existing recordings with a Record button for making a new recording, and a Delete button for removing an existing recording, in an interface very similar to the iPhone’s own Visual Voicemail application.
The interface is simple enough in that it allows you to quickly and easily get started recording new voice memos without a lot of effort. Existing memos are played back by tapping on the saved memo and pressing the small play button which appears to its immediate left. Tapping on the arrow brings up an information screen which allows you to view basic information about the memo, and rename the memo by tapping the Edit button.
Unfortunately, this is where the interface begins to fall apart. When editing an existing voice memo, you can tap on any of the displayed fields, but regardless of which one you tap on, you will be prompted to enter a new title for the memo. To make matters worse, it would appear that each new field actually accesses a different title field. In other words, if you tap on the actual title field, you can rename the memo and tap the Save button to return to the main editing screen. Tapping on another field such as the last modified time will bring you back to the Edit Name screen, but with the old name filled in. Although this is a minor annoyance, we do feel that a bit more attention could have been paid to the UI design on the editing side, particularly for one of the most expensive voice recording apps presently available. Further, during our review testing, we noted that tapping the Record button sometimes failed to actually start a recording. This seemed to occur most frequently immediately after a previous recording had been deleted, but although the problem occurred several times, we could not reproduce it on demand. It is unclear whether this is a deficiency within the app itself or simply the result of the many problems that are currently plaguing the iPhone v2.0 initial release.
Note that this application also provides no method for getting recordings off the device. You can listen to your recordings on the iPhone, or delete them, and that’s about it. Further, you cannot pause while recording, nor append to an existing recording. On the upside, Voice Memos has a very nice interface that Visual Voicemail users will feel comfortable with, and it does what it’s supposed to do with only a couple of minor interface glitches. Unfortunately, the reality is that at the $5 asking price, this is one of the two most expensive voice recording apps on the iTunes Store, and we really would have expected a lot more, particularly compared to the alternatives which are available. iLounge Rating: D.
Voice Notes (Free) from GarSoft (iTunes Store Link)
Voice Notes is another no-frills voice recording app which has the advantage of being free. However, rather than presenting the user with a ready-to-record screen when opening this app, the user is instead presented with a list of existing recordings. When first using this app, this means that the user is presented with a blank slate:
To start a new recording, you must click the plus sign in the top-right corner of the screen. The app then switches to a simplified recording screen where you can give your new recording a name and/or start recording by tapping the Record button. While individual users may have different preferences, in our opinion the goal of a voice recording app should be to minimize the amount of time and number of taps required to actually start a recording, which means priority should be given to the recording interface, rather than the list of recordings. In this case, this app feels much more cumbersome to use than many of the alternatives.
When finished recording, you can edit the name field, tap the Record button again to re-record your clip (note this erases your current recording without warning), or tap the Save button in the top-right corner to save your recording.
Although this app does what is advertised and has the advantage of being free, there are some serious limitations in its current design: there is no way to preview your current recording from the recording screen itself—you must save it and then listen to it from the main screen. There is no way to pause while recording, and tapping the record button a second time will erase your current recording rather than appending to it; there is no prompt to notify the user of this and it’s far too easy to do accidentally, such as while you’re trying to type in a name for the memo. Further, once you have saved a recording, there is no way to rename it—you’re stuck with whatever name you gave it during recording. Lastly, there is no way to get these recordings off of the iPhone.
Even with a free price tag, this app is far too basic and limited at this point for any kind of serious use. iLounge Rating: C-.
VoiceRecord ($1) from Patrick O’Keefe (iTunes Store Link)
Yet another basic voice recording application, VoiceRecord is in many ways similar to the other options we’ve reviewed thus far, albeit a bit more polished. Like Voice Notes, this app has the annoying feature of presenting the user with a list of recordings rather than getting right down to business with the actual recording interface. To begin a recording, the user must tap the plus sign, in this case in the top-left corner of the application.
Tapping the Plus sign takes you to a very nice recording screen, where you must then tap the Record button to actually begin recording. As a nice added touch, a level meter is displayed during recording:
When finished recording, tapping on the stop button saves the current recording and returns you to the list of recordings. By default, all recordings are named with the current date and time. Tapping on a recording presents a list of options to play, rename, or delete the recording.
Unfortunately, VoiceRecorder lacks any of the more advanced features of some of the other voice recorders, such as the ability to pause while recording or append to an existing recording, and no means is provided for transferring the recordings off of the iPhone to your computer. If you can live within those limitations, however, this app works well as a basic voice recorder, and is reasonably priced. iLounge Rating: B-.
SpeakEasy Voice Recorder ($2) from Zarboo Software (iTunes Store Link)
SpeakEasy Voice Recorder is definitely the most polished and professional-looking option among all of the voice recorders that we reviewed, offering more advanced voice recording capabilities within a very attractive user interface. Starting SpeakEasy takes the user to a “Studio” screen with a nice big microphone button to immediately start recording:
Tapping on the microphone takes the user directly to recording mode:
A level meter is displayed to track your audio levels and you can also pause and resume recording by tapping the pause button which appears to the immediate left of the level meter. When finished recording, tap the too-large-to-miss STOP button and you are asked what you want to do with this recording:
Tapping the Save It option provides you with a screen where you can name your recording, add some comments, and assign it to a category. You can also add a photo tag to your recording by tapping the blue image icon at the top-left:
Note the “Mark as Played” button which also appears in the very top-left corner. SpeakEasy marks all recordings as “New” until you have either listened to them, or marked them as played manually.
SpeakEasy also offers a few additional options which are hidden under the iPhone’s main “Settings” application.
From here, you can specify whether you want SpeakEasy to play output via the iPhone’s main speaker or the earpiece, as well as choose from one of five recording quality levels:
In comparison to other voice recording applications, SpeakEasy’s ability to adjust audio recording quality allows for recording performance options for recording musical content or recording in a large room such as a lecture hall. Under these circumstances, the Better quality option yielded noticeably improved results, although little difference could be heard at the Best quality setting in our testing environments. Unfortunately, with no way to actually get the recorded audio files off of the iPhone and into another application, it is difficult to properly analyze and compare the different recording quality settings.
Ultimately, SpeakEasy is a very polished voice recording application with the only serious limitation being the ability to actually transfer your recordings off of the iPhone onto your computer. If this is not a feature that you need, SpeakEasy will definitely address most of your other voice recording needs in a very reasonably-priced package. iLounge Rating: B+.
Audio Recorder ($3) from Peerium (iTunes Store Link)
Audio Recorder is another voice recording application with a slightly unique user interface design and one important additional feature: you can e-mail your recordings either to your own e-mail account or to any contact in your iPhone address book at the tap of a button.
Upon launch, Audio Recorder presents a nicely designed ready-to-record starting screen, with standard stop, play, pause and rec buttons all consistently laid out:
Tapping the Rec button immediately begins recording. A recording level meter is provided, and you can pause and resume recording as needed.
When finished recording, simply tap the Stop button, and the recording will be saved to a recordings list, identified by the date and time of the recording, however you will remain on the recording screen. You can resume recording simply by tapping the Rec button again, and recording will pick up from where you left off.
You can access a list of your recordings by tapping the “Recordings” button in the top-left corner.
In fact, you can even call up past recordings from your list and append to these at any time, simply by tapping on the recording in your list, which will load it into the main recording application, where you can play the recording back, or tap the Rec button to add more to the end. Recording into an existing file always appends to the end of the file, regardless of your current playback position.
Since recording always picks up from the end of the current file, you must start a new recording by tapping the New button located in the top-right corner of the application.
Audio Recorder uses uncompressed Core Audio FIles (CAF), and the recordings when sent out via e-mail appear to be about two to three times larger than files created by other iPhone voice recording applications. Expect about 3MB per minute of audio recording when using this application.
The “Send to Self” and “Send to Contact” buttons will send the current recording as an e-mail message either to your own e-mail address, or to any contact in your iPhone’s address book. For this to work, however, you must first configure your e-mail account settings under the Audio Recorder settings which is buried in the iPhone’s main Settings application:
If you have not configured these settings, you will be reminded to do so. It would be nice, howver, if the Audio Recorder application could simply prompt you for these settings, rather than presenting you with an error message, then requiring you to go and find the Settings screen panel to set them yourself.
Another problem we noted is that it would appear that the application tries to send its e-mails directly to the destination mail server, and therefore can be blocked by certain firewalls. In our testing, we were unable to successfully send a voice recording while on a home Wi-Fi network—which blocks outbound SMTP traffic—although this worked fine over a 3G network once we turned Wi-Fi off. Using an intermediate mail server, or sending voice memos through the actual mail application would likely produce more reliable results.
The only other minor limitation when compared to other voice recording applications is that Audio Recorder provides no way to reorganize, rename, or otherwise annotate your recorded notes. Notes are named with the date and time of the recording, and this cannot be modified. However, it is a matter of individual preference whether this is a feature that is really required in an application whose primary function seems to be collecting voice notes and sending them to an e-mail box for further organization and processing. Given the choice, the ability to get your notes off the iPhone is definitely preferable to naming and categorizing them on the device itself.
The bottom line is that Audio Recorder does an excellent job at a reasonable price in terms of its recording capabilities and user interface, and offers the ability to send your recordings out to either your own e-mail box or directly to another user. It’s crippled mostly by some minor e-mail sending-related limitations that may not affect all users, and can hopefully be addressed in a future release. iLounge Rating: B.
QuickVoice Recorder ($2) from nFinity (iTunes Store Link)
QuickVoice recorder is another relatively basic voice recording application with one useful feature that distinguishes it from the others: nFinity provides a separate application in both Mac and Windows flavors that can be used to transfer your recordings directly onto your desktop computer.
As a voice recorder, QuickVoice is nothing spectacular compared to the other options available. Starting the application yields a listing of your current voice recordings and prominent Record and Play buttons, with additional buttons for editing and deleting displayed in the bottom corners:
To start a new recording, simply tap the Record button, and recording begins immediately.
Unlike most other basic recorders, however, QuickVoice does include the capability to pause and resume your recording at any point—a feature that nFinity advertises rather prominently on its App Store description, and it’s definitely a useful advantage over some of the other basic voice recorders.
Beyond that distinction, however, QuickVoice is unfortunately one of these applications that just doesn’t quite “feel right” on the iPhone. The UI design definitely does not follow the design of other iPhone applications, and can therefore be somewhat non-intuitive. For instance, to edit, play or delete a recording, you must tap on it first to select it, and then select the appropriate button from the bottom of the screen. More importantly, however, a blue dot is used to indicate the currently-selected item—a confusing choice since in just about every other iPhone application, a blue dot is used to indicate a new/unread/unheard item, and normally a highlight bar is used to identify the current item when necessary.
About the only really distinguishing feature of QuickVoice is the desktop sync client, which basically reads the backup files that iTunes creates when you sync your iPhone to retrieve your voice recordings from there. The application can be downloaded directly from the developer’s web site, although it took a bit of digging to actually find—an actual direct link on the App Store page would have been far more convenient. Once installed, running the desktop app simply provides a dialog box prompting you to confirm that you have synced your iPhone with iTunes, and then displays an Import button to bring in the audio files from your iPhone backup:
Clicking the Import button simply copies all of your new voice recordings from your iPhone backup folder into a separate folder on your computer:
QuickVoice recorder works as advertised, and some users will definitely prefer the desktop sync client over the e-mail transfer methods used by other applications, however if this is not a priority, there are slighlty less expensive applications that do a better job on the iPhone interface and provide additional features. iLounge Rating: B-.
Recordifier ($5) from Red Rock Software (iTunes Store Link)
Recordifier is yet another unremarkable voice recording app with a relatively high price tag. The basic features work more or less as you would expect. Start the application, and you’re taken to a screen listing your recordings and providing a “Record” button prominently displayed at the bottom of the screen:
Tapping the “Record” button begins your recording. A level meter is provided, but there is no ability to pause and resume your recording, nor will you be able to append to it once you stop recording. When you’re finished recording, you are taken to a screen where you can assign a name to the recording, play it back, or delete it.
This is also the same screen used when editing an existing recording. About the only distinguishing feature of Recordifier is the ability to choose from two different size/quality settings which can be accessed by tapping on the small “i” icon which appears in the bottom-right corner of the main recording screen:
From this screen, the developers have also provided some useful recording tips, although this appears to simply be a README file, rendered in a font that is almost unreadable on the iPhone screen, although this view does respect the accelerometer orientation so you can also read it in landscape view.
Recordifier lacks most of the advanced features of its best lower-price competitors, such as the ability to pause/resume recordings in progress, or the ability to transfer your recordings off your iPhone and onto your computer. The bottom line is that Recordifier might have been a perfectly reasonable basic voice recorder at a more competitive price, but we expect far more from a $5 voice recording application, particularly when compared to all of the other products out there—a premium price tag should include premium features. iLounge Rating: C.
Recorder ($1) from Retronyms (iTunes Store Link)
Recorder is a reasonably-priced, basic voice recorder that offers the ability to send your recordings out via e-mail, and little else of note. As with almost all of the other voice recorders, starting the application presents you with a list of your current recordings and a very prominent “Record” button:
Recording works as expected, however there is no capability for pausing recording, and no level meter is provided either. Of course, recording is stopped by tapping on the Stop button; the new recording appears in the list of recordings with a generic name of “Memo” and a date and time stamp:
Tapping on a recording from this list will simply play the recording back in place. Pressing the blue arrow takes you to a screen where you can edit the recording name, and see additional information about the file size, length, and date and time recorded:
Hitting the button in the bottom-left corner provides you with the ability to send the current recording out via e-mail. Unlike other applications, however, Recorder uploads your voice message to a hosted web service, and then opens your iPhone Mail app with a boilerplate message containing the link to the actual recording. You can address and edit this e-mail message and then send it out normally:
Recorder is currently the lowest-priced voice recorder that also offers e-mail sending capabilities, although users will want to consider whether the web-hosted service is more desirable than simply sending the voice recordings as direct e-mail attachments. The upside to the web-hosted service approach is that the e-mail itself is much smaller for the recipient, although the voice message must still be uploaded from the iPhone to the hosted server, so there is no data transfer or time savings when sending the recording. However, since the iPhone’s own e-mail application is used to actually send the e-mail message, you may be more successful in sending voice memos using Recorder than with other applications.
Recorder’s lower price offers a trade-off between the advanced recording capabilities of its competition, and is a fair-enough solution for the price-conscious user who simply wants to make simple voice recordings and send them out via e-mail. However, the price difference between this and a more full-featured application is very small. iLounge Rating: B-.
Note2Self ($3) from Web Information Solutions (iTunes Store Link)
Note2Self is a unique entry in the pool of iPhone voice recording apps. Unlike most of the other applications, which are geared toward storing voice notes on the iPhone itself and possibly allowing you to send them out via e-mail, Note2Self takes the opposite approach: its primary purpose is to allow you to quickly take voice recordings and fire them off to your e-mail inbox or any other address you would like, optionally allowing you to save them locally in the process.
Recording with Note2Self is as straighforward as most other apps; start the app and tap the Record button:
However, Note2Self comes with a very interesting twist: in addition to starting a recording in the traditional manner, Note2Self can use the accelerometer in the iPhone to actually start recording when you move the iPhone to your ear and stop recording when you put it back down. In addition, when you hold the iPhone up to your ear, the proximity sensor turns off the screen in the same way as the iPhone does for phone calls. This makes Note2Self an extremely intuitive choice for recording personal voice notes.
In our testing we tried to “fake out” this feature a fair bit to see exactly how it worked, which yielded unpredictable results. However, when used intuitively it works almost flawlessly: simply move the iPhone from a relatively horizontal viewing position to the side of your head to begin recording, and move the iPhone back to its original position to stop recording. The iPhone will respond with vibration feedback to indicate that it has started or stopped recording, as appropriate.
When finished recording, Note2Self will prompt you for what you want to do with the recording, with options to either simply save the note onto the iPhone, e-mail it to yourself without saving a copy, or e-mail it and save a copy:
You can also configure Note2Self to take one of these actions automatically, which when combined with the automatic accelerometer based recording creates a very seamless recording experience. Saved recordings appear in the Notes listing accessed from the button at the bottom of the screen, identified by the date and time of recording:
From this listing, you can listen to your saved recordings or tap on the blue arrow at the right of each recording to send them out via e-mail to either your default e-mail address or to another contact in your address book. Recordings are sent as e-mail attachments to messages sent via the developer’s mail server.
This use of a specific mail server eliminates the need to configure additional e-mail settings beyond your FROM and TO addresses, and avoids some of the firewall restrictions that affect Audio Recorder’s e-mail sending methods, but it has the disadvantage of creating a single point of failure when sending e-mail message out. However, if you are out of coverage, Note2Self will queue up your recordings until they actually can be sent out. These will appear in a “Pending” queue at the top of your saved recording list, and will also be noted on the Note2Self icon from the home screen:
As with some of the other voice recording applications, Note2Self’s settings are buried in the iPhone’s main Settings application.