The email you entered is already receiving Daily Bits Emails!
As a composer, I often have musical ideas that need to be captured immediately. So rather than crank up the entire studio, or even the portable laptop studio, the best and quickest way to make sure ideas don't dissipate into the ether is to use my Android cellphone. Because I save the bulk of money for pro equipment that I won't accidentally lose when I'm spending the remainder of my money in bars, I don't have an iPhone (nothing against Apple; I use a pair of Macs for professional music use).
But a combination of factors—mostly driven by the lack of funds remaining after purchasing recording equipment and alcohol—has kept me using a Samsung Galaxy Ace 2 GT-I8160L still running Android Gingerbread. The phone works, but its recording software leaves something to be desired.
Armed with a budget of zero, I visited the Google Play store and downloaded the top five free voice recording apps, and set up in front of my phone with an acoustic guitar and played the first verse and chorus of Imperial State Electric's "I'll Let You Down," hoping all five apps wouldn't let me down. They didn't.
The app in the top spot earned its place there. Demoing with the 44.1 kHz sample rate gave me a relatively clear sound, as the acoustic guitar's high strings and lower chords remained as discernible as my shoddy vocal performance. Softer moments revealed little to no hiss, and the louder parts didn't break up. There were three inexplicable pops at 7, 10 and 12 seconds in, but otherwise no issues. The file size for a 36-second .wav = 3.5 MB. Get the app
One unique feature worth mentioning is the microphone adjustment feature, which allows users to calibrate their phone's mic. Mine was set to a gain factor of 1.1x. There's also a mic level tester equipped with a graphic horizontal bar, but it shows no dBs, so it's not all that helpful.
With the encoding set to "high quality (PCM)" as opposed to "balanced size/quality (AAC)" or the frightful "small files (AMR)" setting, I left the PCM at the second-highest sample rate of 44 kHz—which they call "CD quality," as opposed to the pointlessly large file size of the top-notch "film quality" of 48 kHz.
I have no idea what film that would be set to, but likely one that was released around 1930, because with all of those specs pitched for some kind of aural orgiastic playback, this app fell pretty flat. The low end was non-existent, and flaunted an EQ that sounded like I was getting grabbed by the nose while playing my guitar from the inside of a cone, with the resulting file run through both an unforgiving high shelf and low shelf EQ. Though I checked the box for the 16-bit PCM to reduce hiss, it did no such thing. The app recorded at a high volume, and while that can be helpful in certain situations, it only served to break up on my louder strumming moments and more aggressive vocal bursts. The file size for a 35-second .wav = 3.1 MB. Get the app
The nice retro cassette graphic interface leaves a space along the tape's label to type a file name and the rest of the settings are as simple as they come: a choice of either .amr (Adaptive Multi-rate) or .3gpp file types, and a box for enabling high quality audio files. Having once used another voice recorder that had only .amr files (which use low bit rates that are painfully reflected in their sound), I opted for the compact and cellphone-ready.3gpp file with the high quality kicked on.
The result? Well, what's the opposite of high quality? It's this. Sounded like an out-of-phase mp3 of an AM radio station recorded over the phone and then re-EQed for extra bass. On the upside: file size for 36-second .3gpp file = 63 kb. Bonus torture: this app really wants you to rate it and also throws ads for other apps at you on exit. Classy. Get the app
Beneath the hood, you don't find too much to this app beyond a changeable skin (black, grey or the appealing wood default setting) and a seven-option switch that goes from "lowest" to "highest" quality without much indication of what those or any choices in between actually amount to. But throwing caution to the wind and seeing just how much I could still cram on to my 32GB memory card, I opted for the best.
While the sound wasn't quite as rich as the Smart Voice Recorder, it was definitely worlds away from the trashiness of Digipom's Easy Voice or the swirly mush of Rabbit's Voice Recorder. And with a 39-second mp3 file size of 316 kb, this seems like the best option for anyone looking to demo a boatload of songs without much space or any real need beyond saving bare-bones references for later. Get the app
With a running clock and a record button, this app is almost too simple in its design. It looks more like you're about to set a time bomb than sing a bass line idea. The app offers a timer (though I don't know what for) and absolutely nothing else worth mentioning.
The 31-second .3gp file was all of 58 kb, but as poor as the sound was—and to the app's credit—the sound did carry more bass than the aberration of Rabbit's Voice Recorder. Get the app
Conclusion: If you've got space on your phone, Smartmob's Smart Voice Recorder is the way to go; if you don't, Lovekara's Super Voice Recorder is an acceptable understudy.