A guide to buying a voice recorder

A voice recorder is a handy gadget and serves many purposes whether you're a student taking notes in class, a professional transcriber or a journalist doing exhaustive interviews. There are different models sold in the market to suit every need and budget. But how can you choose the right device to buy? What features should you look for when getting a voice recorder?

Practical advise

1. Digital versus cassette recorders

One of the first questions to ask yourself is whether you need a digital voice recorder or a Dictaphone, the sort that runs on cassettes. Both have their advantages and disadvantages.

Dictaphones are cheaper and you can record audio files for as long as you want provided you have enough blank tapes. Digital voice recorders, on the other hand, are portable and lightweight. But when you run out of memory, you are not able to continue the task.

2. Purpose and needs

A student taking notes in class does not need a device with endless features and functions while a professional transcriber will probably need a model with better functions.

3. Audio quality and recording time

Audio quality matters when doing certain jobs such as transcribing the minutes of meetings, conferences, and interviews. Digital recorders have three recording levels; high quality, long play and short play.

Cassette recorders have two settings; a high and low one. For best recording, a low setting is usually recommended because a high setting will pick up all sorts of noises in the background. Recording mode is either long play or short play.

Bear in mind that most shops put the longest recording time of a voice recorder. Note that the higher the audio quality is, the shorter the recording length becomes. Calculate the recording time as half of the total length to get the real taping capacity.

4. Features

Consider digital voice recorders that respond to voice cues and start recording when it hears your voice. This is a great feature when you want to cover every aspect of a conversation or just muse your thoughts aloud.

Get a feel how easy or difficult it is to manipulate the devices such as presence of large or sliding buttons. It should also be possible to insert recordings in between a recording. Think whether a time stamp matters to you, a feature that's useful for locating parts of a recording.

Other suitable features for both types of devices include a battery level indicator, built-in speakers, a microphone with clip, earphones for not disturbing others during playback, and rechargeable batteries. A USB plug for digital recorders is also practical.

5. Storage

Digital voice recorders allow you to store files in the device itself or transfer them to an external device and a computer. In addition, an SD card slot is usually included for memory expansion.

Which one is the best?

Choosing between a Dictaphone or a digital voice recorder is a matter of personal preference. Both types have their pros and cons. A cassette recorder gives you more autonomy in recording while a digital recording device is convenient for transferring and managing files. Narrowing your selections to a few models with the above criteria in mind will help you decide which one suits your needs best.

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