Olympus DM-1 Digital Recorder and MP3 Player

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You've got a lot to do, and you may already carry plenty of tools to do them with—PDA, cell phone, pager. But it's time to make room for one more: the Olympus DM-1 Digital Recorder and MP3 Player. It's sleek and slender and, at a mere 3.1 ounces, it more than pulls its weight with powerful and easy-to-use features: voice recording (with integrated voice activation), indexing, playback, downloading to a PC, MP3 storage and playback, and much more.

And it fits in the palm of your hand. If you're traveling, this pint-sized productivity tool is easy to stash in a pocket, briefcase, or in your carry-on luggage.

It's so easy
Two things make learning to use the Olympus DM-1 simple and quick. First, all the functions operate in the same way, meaning that to turn any function on or off, you press the same buttons in the same order—there's only one pattern to learn. Second, the clear, well-illustrated instructions walk you through each step, so you can get started right away.

It's easy to like the way the DM-1 looks, too, with its sleek shape and matte metallic blue cover, which is slick and modern (and doesn't show fingerprints). The silver-finish buttons are conveniently and intuitively placed, although the small volume wheel is on the top and the ON/OFF switch is on the back.

The DM-1 comes with a slip-in case that secures with VelcroŽ; because it covers the record button, volume wheel, and a couple of other basic command controls, it is useful mostly as protection during storage or transport. Another protective feature is a "hold" function, which keeps the unit from accidentally running if it bumps into something in your pocket, purse or briefcase.

Batteries or the USB connection (see below) give the DM-1 its power; an AC adapter is available separately.

Recording and Playback 101
Recording
A powerful and, frankly, fun little tool for business or personal use, the Olympus DM-1 lets you record notes, meetings, conversations, interviews, and dictation at the touch of a button, then store each voice file in one of the 3 built-in digital folders. You might choose Folder A for personal recordings, Folder B for meeting notes, Folder C for dictation (you can name the folders for easy identification, then rename them later for a new purpose).

The 3 folders hold up to 199 files each, up to the large recording capacity. The included 64 MB SmartMedia card allows 10 hours and 20 minutes in Standard Playback mode, and 22 hours and 10 minutes in Long Playback mode. For even more recording time, add a 16 MB or 64 MB SmartMedia card, both available from Hello Direct.

Running time is displayed on the large LED screen—which is as big as a cell phone screen—during recording and playback. The sound files are stored in the order they're created; for easy organization, they can be labeled and moved from one folder to another.

The DM-1 doesn't allow you to edit within a file (e.g., move segments of the recording from one place to another). However, with the handy indexing feature you can create and delete tags anywhere during recording and playback; because you can put up to 16 tags in each file, it's easy to find important sections with the push of a button. You can also skip past files or folders, delete single files or the entire contents of a folder—just like that.

The record function can be operated manually or switched to Variable Control Voice Actuator (VCVA), which starts the recording when it picks up sound. VCVA assures that you don't miss anything after a break in speech and it saves battery power by not recording during silences.

Playback
The Olympus DM-1 Recorder/Player offers 3 ways to listen to recordings: 1) through the included earbud earphones; 2) through the built-in speaker; or 3) through your PC (see below). I found the sound to be crisp and clear, with almost none of the warbling that sometimes happens with a digital recording. The earbuds are perfect for listening at your desk, on public transportation, or when you need privacy, and they will also come in handy when you need to check the recording during a meeting.

A button adjusts the microphone sensitivity: Use Conference mode for picking up several voices in a room, such as a meeting or group discussion; use the less-sensitive Dictation mode for one-on-one interviews or, obviously, dictation. There's an input for an external mic (not included), which is recommended for recording in very noisy environments.

Getting your PC involved
Sometimes just listening is not enough. The DM-1's PC connectivity, enabled by the included Digital Speech Standard (DSS) software, lets you download recordings to your PC's SmartMedia card for e-mailing, backing up, listening, and storage. (The unit comes with one 64 MB card, and additional 64 MB cards are available, Item #6089. Listening to and storing files on the PC saves space and battery power on the recorder itself, freeing it up for new recordings. With e-mail, you can share files with others who also have the software.

All the software is included and an online help feature walks you through setup and operation. To connect the DM-1 to your PC's USB port (required), use the cable provided; the cable also powers the DM-1, so you don't use up valuable battery life while working with the PC connection. The instruction book takes you through each step of the process.

Listening to music
Now for the even-more-fun part—listening to music. With a USB port and the included MusicMatch Jukebox software, you can download MP3s for listening through a headset or the recorder's speaker. You can download as much as 60 minutes of music on the DM-1's 64 MB SmartMedia card, depending on the amount of information in the music file.

A couple of features assure good sound quality. The first is a built-in equalizer that can be set for rock, pop, jazz, or custom, which lets you adjust the sound levels for the best balance. The DM-1 also utilizes WOW technology, which lets you enhance the surround sound and the bass effect to your liking.

It's also got the custom commands of a CD player: repeat, random, skip, fast forward, and rewind, plus you can label each MP3 and lock it so it can't be erased accidentally. You can even set the alarm to play a file, whether a voice message or an MP3, at any given time—just don't forget to turn that function off before going into a board meeting!

In conclusion
Easy to understand, easy on the eyes, and easy to get hooked on, the Olympus DM-1 Digital Recorder and MP3 Player is a fantastic handheld recorder that can do a lot more than record and play back. To organize, label, download, and e-mail your voice files, and enjoy music, too, just slip the DM-1 in your pocket. Life is good.

And when you're waiting in seemingly endless lines at the airport, this little recorder is the perfect companion. Get work done while you're waiting, or play favorite tunes.

System requirements
The Olympus DM-1 is PC-compatible; at this time there is no Macintosh version available.

Other requirements:
Operating system: Windows 98, 98SE, Me, 2000 Professional
Intel Pentium 200 MHz processor or better
32 MB of RAM
70 MB hard disk space
12X CD-ROM drive
One free USB port
Creative Labs Sound Blaster 16 or 100% compatible sound card
Speaker or headset outlet
SVGA or higher color video display card (minimum resolution 800x600)
Internet connection and web browser (Microsoft Internet Explorer 4.01 or later)