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Before You Buy a Digital Voice Recorder

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A woman using a smart phone
Kohei Hara/ Stone/ Getty Images

Digital voice recorders can be indispensable business tools, whether you need to dictate letters or memos or record meetings, conferences, interviews or lectures. Modern digital voice recorders are compact, light, and can record hundreds or even thousands of hours of high quality digital audio that can be easily transferred via USB to a personal computer for permanent storage and/or transcription. 

Smartphone or Dedicated Recording Device?

Choosing a digital recorder comes down to evaluating your needs and selecting the device that has the required capabilities. The first decision will probably be whether or not a dedicated recording device is a requirement - most high-end smartphones/tablets have apps that can be used for digital voice recording and transcription.  For example, Apple iPhone 4S and later models include cloud-based text to speech dictation.  If your voice recording needs are occasional a smartphone app should suffice.

For more heavy duty voice recording needs, a dedicated recording device has the following advantages:

  • More battery life - Some digital voice recorders have a battery life of 48 hours or more.    In addition, some dedicated devices use normal batteries so spares can be carried.

  • Ease of use – dedicated one-press record/pause/stop/play.

  • Additional features – voice activation, variable-speed playback, track-marking.

  • Sound quality – Some of the more expensive dedicated devices (such as the Olympus LS-100) are essentially miniature recording studios, capable of making concert-hall sound quality recordings using high fidelity directional microphones and multi-track stereo technology. Some even have triple microphones to record simulated 3D sound as well as built-in editing and voice-over capability.  

Recording Time

There are digital voice recorders that boast of over 1000 hours of recording time. General recording time numbers for digital voice recorders, however, always have to be taken with a grain of salt. The higher the quality of the recording, the fewer hours of recording time will be available. If you plan to use automatic voice recognition software for transcription, you will want the best quality recordings possible. Stereo and high-fidelity formats require much more storage and will greatly reduce maximum recording time.

Note also that recording time is directly related to memory capacity. Recorded data is stored in the device’s onboard memory so the more memory the device comes with, the greater the recording time. To extend recording time many devices have memory expansion slots (microSD) that can greatly expand the available recording capacity.

Transcription

If you want to be able to transcribe the voice files you record with your digital voice recorder into text, you will have to have some type of software that will perform transcription such as Dragon Naturally Speaking (available for Windows or MacIntosh computers). Some digital voice recorders come bundled with voice recognition software or their own proprietary transcription software; in other cases, you will have to purchase it separately. You will also have to purchase accessories for your digital voice recorder such as foot pedals and headphones if you want to use manual transcription.

Size and Weight

Compact voice recorders are about the size of a smartphone and can weigh as little as a few ounces.  High quality recording units with additional features tend to be larger and can weigh 10 ounces or more.

 

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