26 February, 2009

Comparing Digital Voice Recorders

We often get asked to recommend digital voice recorders, and in this post I'll try and describe what the options are for affordable models. We're not going to look at the top end stuff for more professional audio recording.

When choosing a digital voice recorder for recording feedback, lectures, or other learning materials, you are probably looking for a voice recorder that:

  1. Records in a widely used format, so that no time needs to be spent saving between formats. Currently, MP3 is widely supported on people’s computers and portable media players. WMA would probably be OK for most students too.
  2. Allows easy export of files from the voice recorder to the PC.
  3. Records audio at a suitable quality.
  4. Is not going to cost too much to replace batteries.

The two main manuafacturers are Olympus and Sony. Olympus devices tend to record in WMA format and Sony in MP3 or WAV, so if you are set on one format over the other this may direct your search. MP3s will be important if you are wanting the audio files listened to on portable media devices, without you having to convert them before you distribute them. WMA files will work on the current Edge Hill University media server, if you are wanting to use that.

If you want to know the details, Olympus' offerings are divided into Notetakers (the VN and WS series) and Dictation Systems (the DS series). For the VN series you'd be looking at paying between £20 and £40, but with these you'll probably need to convert the file to the format you require. The more expensive devices like the WS (£40-£70) and DS (£90-£250) series are therefore better if you can afford them. In the past in LTD and SOLSTICE we have used DS-30 devices which cost about £85, and I've had the WS-321M (£70) recomended to me too. Sony's ICD series devices include the UX models (£80-£100) which look of interest to us, but which I've never used.

If I was to purchase more devices for academic staff to use, I'd want to spend around £100 and go for the Olympus WS-321M with an external Olympus mic like the ME-51S for office use or a ME-15 tie mic for recording lectures. The WS series seems to me to have a good balance between ease of use, quality of recording and cost. We also know from experience that the DS-30 is a good buy at around £90. If you want to record in MP3 format Sony's ICD-UX80 devices look handy, and they would ideally need an external mic too.

Has anyone else got opinions and advice on digital voice recorders?

[image by jinny.wong]

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1 comment:

focusfinder said...

One of the useful features of the Olympus DS-30 is that the menus and display items can be set to announce themselves (speak). This makes it a very accessible device for blind and partially sighted users.