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Digital Voice Recorders

Maci O’Grady

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We are looking to purchase a new digital voice recorder to record our training programs. Here are the recommendations we received.

(Note that this question was also addressed in 2008 and 2003.)

-- Sam Silverstein

I use an iPod with a Belkin Universal Microphone Adapter F8E478 that I plug a lavaliere microphone into. Then I can listen to my programs on the iPod or immediately transfer them to our computer to edit or duplicate. This way you have one piece of equipment that can be used to record and also enjoy music as you travel.

-- Ed Helvey

There are four ways you can consider going.

  1. A digital pocket recorder with internal memory. Several of these are available in the $300 range that give you a USB output to connect directly to your computer.
  2. Mini-Disks -- these are still widely used by the broadcast and print journalists. Very compact, light weight, excellent quality and in the mono mode they will give you about 140 minutes per disk -- digital quality.
  3. Portable CD recorders -- larger, allow a max of 80 minutes record time per CD-R, CD quality and, if you get a professional version, reliable.
  4. Portable, professional compact flash card recorders. Quite frankly, I believe these are the wave of the future. Voice of America is issuing them to all their correspondents, other broadcast journalistic organizations are doing likewise. Excellent digital quality, reliable, no moving parts to break, some take as large as a 1 GB flash card and give hours and hours of high quality digital audio recording time. They also can be plugged directly into the USB port of a computer and the computer will recognize them as another hard drive, thus allowing virtually instant access and very rapid download time. You can also buy a flash card reader that will plug into the USB port for about $20 and use that to download the flash card. The Marantz unit, PMD 670, I think is the best deal -- but it will run you about $700.00 street price from just about any of the top pro audio and music houses in the country.

I currently maintain pro recorders in analog reel to reel, analog audio cassettes, DAT (Digital Audio Tape), CD, Mini Disk and fixed or portable hard drive recording. But, after looking at the entire field of options for high quality, flexible, reliable digital recording, I'm going to be retiring my $2000 portable DAT recorder that has served me excellently for nine years in favor of the Marantz flash card recorder -- for $700. It is less expensive, lighter and smaller then my professional portable DAT recorder, plus it offers me a full array of professional features including XLR professional mic inputs with phantom powering for high quality professional condenser microphones, digital I/O and the USB feature allowing me to download instantly to my computer and save it on my hard drive for editing, instead of downloading at real time either in analog or digital format. As an industry professional who has probably recorded something approaching 10,000 hours of programs of every conceivable type, my money says, this will be the way we'll buy music and spoken word audio programs (and video, too) in the future and that CDs and even SACDs, DVD-As and DVD-Vs will phase out sometime in the next several years. It will take more time for this format to evolve, but digital media that do not require moving parts will ultimately replace the current formats. BUT, this technology is available today for original master recordings.

Here is information on both the Marantz CDR portable recorder and the compact flash card recorder.

You also have the first two options to consider that I enumerated above. But, after you do your research, if you really want to make an investment that will pay for itself and give you a long term ROI, I'd give very serious consideration to going the professional flash card recorder route.

-- David Lee (forwarded from John Bradford, Systems Technician, Maine Public Broadcasting Network)

I would definitely stay away from those mini recorders such as the Olympus you mentioned. Those are designed for dictation and do not provide good enough quality for broadcast. If you are looking for something affordable that will get the job done, I'd suggest one of the following:

The Marantz offers professional (XLR) microphone inputs which is an advantage over the Edirol which has a 1/8" mic jack. The Edirol, on the other hand, offers more choices for MP3 file formats and also features an on-board equalizer and effects processing. Both can transfer files to a computer via a USB connection.

The Marantz is selling for about $500 and the Edirol for about $450. Both use Compact Flash cards which are easy to find and are coming down in price -- a 1GB card can be had for under $100 and will give several hours of MP3 audio and about 90 minutes of linear WAV audio. Both units use standard AA batteries and both claim 4+ hours of record time on a fresh set.

-- Donna Hanson

Gihan Perera from NSAA recommended the following to another Australian speaker recently.

"I use the JNC SSF-11 digital voice recorder, a handy little device that comes with its own telephone attachment for recording from a phone line. It also comes with an in-built mic and lapel mic, and runs on AAA batteries.

"I use it for phone conversations, teleseminars, live interviews, and more. See here for more information."

-- Bill Conerly

I use an Olympus DM-1 with a powered mike from Radio Shack. Everything works great. Lots of capacity -- I think it's 12 hours at high quality. Easy to use, easy to link to computer.

I bought from Bill Johnson of NSA. Shortly afterward, I saw the DM-1 at a major discount electronics company priced exactly the same as what Bill sold it to me for.

-- Jim Donovan

I bought an Olympus DS-1 which I love. I used it for the first time this week. It has several quality/length settings and will record (in lowest quality) up to 22 hours. Since my voice breaks after 21 hours, I'm covered. :-)

Works with my Mac and easily imports into the included software. Cost $147 at Best Buy

-- Fred Gleeck

I've gotten to know the folks over at Marantz.

There are two devices out right now, one is the PMD 670, the other is the PMD 660. I prefer the 670 because of the greater number of features but the other is more portable. Both record directly onto flash cards which make it SUPER easy to create MP3s and CDs.

Once you record, you use a flash memory reader to drag and drop into an editing program. As a Mac guy I use GarageBand, but any program will work.

I've been doing this over 20 years and this is the best solution I've found.

-- Kelley Robertson

I use the Sony ICD-MS515.

-- Stu Needel

Professional/Broadcast quality:

Don't be scared by the name of the category. This is what a professional speaker, trainer, expert needs to capture audio, especially if you plan to make product from it, versus just use for internal purposes, transcription, etc.

In this category, I'd recommend the Marantz PMD 670 portable digital recorder and having just checked, there's an even newer PMD 660 which is their smallest to date with two mics built into the recorder to allow for stereo recording without any external mics (though for best quality, you should ALWAYS use external high quality mics). I have the PMD 670 and it allows for amazing feats in recording. Broadcast quality recordings of anything from speech and dialog to music, concerts, performances, etc. On the logging and documentation, you can record in compressed and lower fidelity formats to allow for very long term recording lengths. All recordings are made on solid state Compact Flash (CF) modules, which are available these days in sizes up to 2 gigabytes (2GB) which allow for the maximum recording capacity. It appears the 660 sells for about a hundred less than the 670, which is amazing considering its smaller size and newer design. If you're familiar with the classic Marantz PMD 200 series cassette recorders, you'll recognize the 670.

I use a very compact and portable CF card reader that lets me copy files recorded directly to my PC through a USB port. You can do it with supplied cable from either recorder, but I find the reader much simpler, especially if recorder and notebook are not sitting in same place. Just pop out the tiny CF card from recorder and insert into reader. Many notebooks today include integrated readers, but in my case, CF is the ONLY format not supported which is why I had to go to external reader.


I always gravitate to Olympus in this category. They make what I think are the best of the breed. The only slight problem is their proprietary format that their digital files are recorded in, assuming that's still the case, requiring conversion if you want them to be readable/playable by people as email attachments, uploaded to websites, etc. They may have resolved problem by now, but if nothing else, Olympus has software to do conversion.

Audio was my first profession and it continues to be a passion and near obsession in my speaking, training, and newly resurrected music career. I've made some significant investments in high-quality audio equipment to support me with my own work and that of my non-profit/community organizations.

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