Modern journalism tools of the trade - digital voice recorder

Welcome to the Dictate Digital Voice blog UK edition. Kicking off this new blog with an article aimed at journalists, old and new, all about an essential tool of the trade, the digital voice recorder.

Stefan Wermuth (twitter @StefanWermuth) a Reuters photojournalist, used a basic digital voice recorder to help write a post on the Reuters blog. Interviewing every day Londoners prior to the Olympics he used a voice recorder to capture their responses to his questions used later as quotes to accompany his amazing pictures in the blog post. Click here for Stefan’s post – London: A great city because of its people

Not to be confused with a digital dictaphone (what is the difference between a voice recorder and a dictaphone?) a digital voice recorder is essential for recording sound bites for either later playback on a website or used in a radio/online report or for reference when transcribing your research into you final piece. Small, lightweight with very high quality recording, digital voice recorders are relatively cheap and won’t break the bank but there are a few key things to look out for when buying a digital voice recorder.

What to look for:

  • Should be Mac & Windows compatible. You may be a Mac or you may be a PC but regardless you may need to use one or the other to get the audio off the recorder to send and file via the internet or for audio playback for transcription while writing your article.
  • Plug and play. This is a must, gone are the days where you need to install proprietary software to retrieve the audio from your digital voice recorder.
  • Make sure it can record in high bit rate MP3 format. Most recorders will support MP3 and also usually WMA (Windows Media Audio) but our recommendation, for compatibility and audio quality reasons to record in MP3 and the higher the bit rate the better (320kbps or 256 kbps if available, no lower).
  • Don’t fall for the “records for hundreds of hours” sales blurb. Just about all digital voice recorders have multiple record modes (I have never understood why other than for marketing reasons). The very low quality audio recording modes can and will record for hundreds of hours, but the audio quality will be shocking as will the audio pickup. The higher quality (like 320 kbps MP3) will record much higher quality audio and audio pickup but will not record for as long. BUT, with most recorders now having gigabites of storage memory is no longer and issue. Remember once you audio is transferred to your computer storage is released back to the recorder.
  • Don’t be swayed by rechargeable batteries. In my experience they are more often than not more painful than they are worth. If you do get a recorder with a rechargeable battery make sure you can also use standard alkaline batteries also, perfect as a backup in case the rechargeable is not fully charged or you forgot to charge.
  • Look for a recorder with fast power on speed. Nothing worse than being at a press conference or needing to grab some audio instantly then having to wait for your recorder to boot.

What we recommend:

We are huge fans of the Olympus range of digital voice recorders. For the journo on a budget the Olympus WS-812 is perfect, for the cashed up journo the Olympus DM-3 or LS-3 would be the way to go.

Olympus WS-812 – around £80

  • Small, lightweight with superb audio pickup.
  • Runs off 1x rechargeable AAA or 1x alkaline AAA
  • Records in PCM (uncompressed WAV (higher than CD quality)), MP3 and WMA audio formats
  • Mac & Windows compatible – plug and play – no software required
  • Instant power on
  • 4Gb of in-built storage expandable via microSD/microSDHC card
  • Using internal storage records for a maximum 33 hours in MP3 256kbps mode; 6 hours in PCM WAV mode; 65 hours in STXQ (high quality WMA mode)
Olympus WS-812 4Gb Digital Voice Recorder - PCM, MP3, WAV

Olympus WS-812 Digital Voice Recorder – 4Gb Memory – Records in MP3, WMA, PCM WAV

The little WS series recorders are superb, their audio pickup is phenominal as are all the mid to high end Olympus recorders. WS series can be picked up at most good electronics stores (PC World, Asda, Dixons, Amazon UK etc).

Olympus LM-3 (approx. £170) or DM-3 (approx. £199)

  • Slightly larger than the WS, about the size of a standard Mars bar but half the width
  • Both have 4Gb of in-built memory, expandable via microSH/microSDHC card
  • Both record in PCM WAV, MP3 and WAV audio formats (LS-3 has higher quality PCM than DM-3)
  • DM-3 uses Li-Ion rechargeable battery only
  • LS-3 uses 2x rechargeable AAA or 2x standard alkaline AAA
  • Both have a zoom mic (more on this below), unbelievable audio pickup would cover you for just about every interviewing/media conference situation
  • LS-3 can cope with audio volume extremes (designed for recording music but works perfectly for voice also)
  • DM-3 should only be used to record voice, won’t cope well with loud music
  • Mac & Windows compatible – plug and play – no software required
  • Upgradeable via Olympus firmware updates, slightly slower power on than WS series

If you have a bit more spare change in your budget then one of these two little beauties should be in your sights. Of the two we tend to lean a bit more towards the LS-3, mainly because 1. it is slightly cheaper than the DM-3, 2. because it is designed to record music its voice recording capabilities cover all volume levels, 3. you can use standard AAA batteries (always keep a couple spare with you). Not generally stocked in the usual high street suspect electronics stores so may need a little more tracking down than the WS series. Give Olympus UK a call to find out where you can find one near you – click here for contact details.

Olympus DM-3 LS-3 Zoom Mic Function Help Explained How To Use

Key with these two are the zoom mics. Zoom allows you to change the width and range of the recording beam from the microphones, for most situations zoom would be set to off or wide (they are the same thing essentially). This is you generic pick everything up setting. But lets say you have a meeting in a cafe or restaurant you need to concentrate the audio on a smaller area and not pickup the hubub in the background then the narrow setting will help. Finally the zoom setting, for the time you are jostled to the back of the press pack at a press statement or media brief. Set the mic to zoom and point it, imagining that it is a laser pointer, towards the speaker and it will pickup everything that your journo mates at the front are recording.

Olympus LS-3

Olympus LS-3 – Digital PCM WAV, MP3, WMA Voice & Music Recorder with Zoom mic

Olympus DM-3

Olympus DM-3 – Digital PCM WAV, MP3, WMA Interview, Meeting Voice Recorder with Zoom mic

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9 Responses to Journalist Tools Of The Trade – Digital Voice Recorder

  1. Ivan says:

    Thank you for comments on olympus ws-812

  2. anthony says:

    What’s your opinion on the “Zoom H2 Handy Recorder” for interviews and or podcasting?

    • admin says:

      Hey Anthony

      Thanks for dropping by and for your comment. I have not had any personal experience with the Zoom products although I do hear about them often. For a while we tried to become a reseller for Zoom on our Australian store but they had an old fashioned view on who could sell their products, limiting mainly to music related businesses. But a by-product of the high quality music recorders is that they are also superb for voice recording. All the Olympus LS products, which too are fantastic at music, also record voice beautifully. So I would say the Zoom and the Olympus LS would be worth a close look at for recording interviews and podcasts.

      I hope that helps.

      Dave
      Dictate

  3. Adam G says:

    Hi, would the DM-3 be suitable for recording a forum of about 30 people?

    • admin says:

      Hello Adam

      It depends, if all 30 people were to speak then it may struggle so you would be best to mix the DM-3 with some ME-33 boundary mics. The best rule of thumb is, if from where you the recorder is placed, you can clearly hear all the speakers then so will the recorder. If not then you will need to spread some boundary mics.

      Thanks

      Dave
      Dictate

  4. Christine Hay says:

    I am questioning whether or not my little Olympus is picking up background rf (from electronics or faulty wiring) in a range that I really can’t hear. Some of my recordings from my computer lab has an unbelievable amount of “noise” that I truly didn’t hear when I was in that room recording. Is that feasible? Almost sounds like several radio stations playing at once just off correct tuner frequency.

    • admin says:

      Hello Christine

      That is not usual. Are you sitting the recorder on or very close to anything that could cause electrical interference? Also, have you set your recorder to record in the highest recording quality? You haven’t mentioned which model you have otherwise I could tell you the format to set.

      Thanks

      Dave
      Dictate

  5. Adam says:

    Hi, I need a handy recorder to record some interviews/vox pops next week, would you suggest getting the WS-812? Will be in a room with people in so high possibility of background noise.

    Thanks

    • admin says:

      Hello

      The 812 (or now the latest model WS-832) would normally be the best choice. As you may suffer from background noise you you be better off with a recorder which has a zoom mic. A zoom mic can narrow down the field of audio pickup, thus ignoring much of the ambient noise. So the WS-833 has a zoom mic function, I would go with that one.

      Hope that helps.

      Dave
      Dictate

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