Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Review: Olympus WS-321M Digital Voice Recorder

I bought an Olympus WS-321M Digital Voice Recorder (DVR) in January 2009. I sold it on eBay not much thereafter, and went back to using an Olympus VN-960PC instead. Here is a summary of the reasons for that decision.

The most immediately noticeable advantage of the VN-960PC is the audio volume. It picks up everything and plays it back loud and clear. The WS-321M was much harder to hear. It appears that the latter does not normalize its audio recordings effectively. This, by itself, was such a marked difference as to help me decide which recorder I preferred. The same problem occurred with input from a remote microphone; there was also a problem with distortion of loud sounds. It really felt as if Olympus had taken a substantial step backwards in these regards.
One feature I like on the VN-960PC is that it has a red LED light that blinks when you pause recording. You don't have to read anything; you can tell right away that you didn't accidentally push the wrong button. Speaking of buttons, on the VN-960PC it is much easier to tell, without looking, which button you are pressing. Also, when you do pause the DVR, you can hear a click on the recording on the WS-321M, but not on the VN-960PC - which is distracting if you are dictating something one phrase at a time, as you think through it. And when you start recording with the VN-960PC, it starts recording almost instantly, whereas the WS-321M requires a second or so to get warmed up. It may not sound like much, until you listen back to the things you thought you had captured well on the recorder.
The WS-321M is white, with relatively large flat surfaces. In other words, it looked like it was designed to appear beat-up and dirty. By contrast, I carried the VN-960PC for years, in pockets with keys and such; I dropped it; and after all that it still looked pretty much the same. I did like that the WS-321M boasted long battery life with just one battery. The downside was that, when the battery did die, it did not save as much as it had already recorded, as the VN-960PC does. Instead, whatever you were recording is lost in its entirety if the juice dries up midsentence.
I liked the WS-321M for having the date and time right in the names of the files it was recording. On the VN-960PC, the DVR would record the date and time, and you could see it in the supplied Digital Wave Player software; but if I wanted the date and time to be part of the filename for multiple recordings, the best solution I could figure out was to display those data onscreen, use a program like Aqua Deskperience to capture them, do a directory listing of filenames at the DOS prompt in Windows XP, and then use an Excel spreadsheet to merge the two. Not a pretty sight.
The WS-321M did have the advantage of being more Windows-compatible. I didn't need an adapter cable to transfer recordings from the DVR to the computer (although they did say I was supposed to use the cord they provided), because it was designed with a standard USB connector right inside its case. When I connected the WS-321M to the computer, it appeared as a regular USB drive in Windows Explorer; not so with the VN-960PC. Also, in my limited testing I did not find that connecting the WS-321M to the computer caused the computer to reboot. The VN-960PC did cause that problem. In years of experience, I noticed that this occurred primarily when I had already connected the DVR once since my most recent reboot. That is, after uploading my recordings from the VN-960PC to the computer, I would try not to do so again until after the next reboot. This problem happened on a couple different computers, so I do think it was a problem with the VN-960PC. I also sometimes got an unwanted reboot when I'd had the computer on for a day or more at the time when I connected the VN-960PC to it.
Finally, see my other post if you're thinking about using a DVR to record speech that will then be converted to written text.