Review: Olympus VN-960PC Digital Voice Recorder
In an earlier post called Record Your Voice for Fun And Profit, I had mentioned my recent purchase of an Olympus VN-960PC Digital Voice Recorder. My goal was to replace my dead micro-cassette recorder and possibly find an inexpensive solution for recording audio content that I could post on the web and maybe even sell as part of an educational audio series or audio book.
I knew from the product descriptions and reviews that this recorder compresses the audio pretty heavily and stores it in a proprietary format. My hope was, given the narrow dynamic range of spoken voice recordings, with a little tweaking in post production I could get an acceptable quality recording. I figured a close mike would also help by creating a strong input signal.
Digital Recorder Testing Procedure
My test was very simple. I recorded a short clip of myself talking into a low-cost headset (a likely recording scenario) and also into the built-in mike. The recorded was set to its highest quality settings. I also recorded a short clip on my laptop at high quality 48khz 32bit using the headset mike.
I created a processed version of the first two recordings in an effort to improve the overall quality of the sound. (I’m not a sound engineer, so I’m sure it is possible to do a better job with this. Mostly I normalized the levels and adjusted the EQ to boost the low and midtones a bit and roll off the highs where noise seemed most distracting.)
Finally I converted everything to 44khz 128Kbps mono MP3 files for posting on the web.
Listen to the sample audio recordings from the Olympus VN-960PC Digital Voice Recorder
The Olympus VN-960PC Digital Voice Recorder is a very compact and easy to use device. The controls are simple to operate and intuitive. I could start and stop recording, and playback recordings without having to look at the device. This is great for taking notes while driving and during other multi-tasking situations.
The recorder has long available record times (5 hours in HQ mode) and other nice features like voice activated recording that stops during the dead space in a recording without the user having to ride the pause button.
Functionally speaking, I was impressed with the recorder. But my hopes were deflated when it came to the quality of the finished recordings. As the samples make clear, they don’t cut it. They are acceptable for creating free podcasts, etc., but I’d be disappointed if I paid for a recording that sounded like that. It would undermine my impression of the value of the content. I was surprised to find that the built-in mike sounded so much better than the headset.
I think this device will be great for note taking and for snagging unexpected interviews, but my search for a high quality compact recorder goes on (Why doesn’t my Palm Tungsten T5 not have a mike jack and recording software… the previous version did?) In the meantime I’ll be transcoding audio bits through the USB connection on the Vn-960PC. That brings me to a pet peeve.
Everybody and their uncle uses MP3’s for high quality compressed audio. It does a good job of holding the important bits of sound while keeping file sizes low and every audio editing package and player can read and write MP3’s. It drives me a little nuts whenever companies (Sony, are you listening?) insist on proprietary compression formats. Olympus does this for their whole voice recorder line. This means everything must be transcoded as you transfer it to the PC before it’s useful anywhere else. And that brings me to another irritation.
Why must I be forced to install another audio program to connect with the recorder? It should show-up as an external storage device with files and folders. I should be able to plug in to the USB cable and open up a file for playback. Instead, I run more software to handle this one task. Maybe it’s incredibly useful and intuitive for fortune 500 executives and their personal assistants? Not for me!
In spite of these drawbacks, the Olympus VN-960PC Digital Voice Recorder is a nice piece of equipment that works as advertised – I was just hoping for a little more.
If you are taking notes or recording a meeting or lecture, the audio quality is much better than a tape based micro-cassette recorder. The recordings are intelligable and the built in mike does a remarkable job. But, if you have an Ipod or Pocket PC that you carry around anyway, get a microphone adapter and record to that. That way, if you ever need it, you’ll have a clean recording to sell.
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