Call Recorder Roundup II

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Thanks to their compact size and large capacity, voice recorders have endless professional and personal uses. For example, many people keep a small handheld recorder in the car for "jotting down" notes and reminders; and students use them to tape lectures. Retailers rely on phone recorders for training and to monitor customer service. Journalists and lawyers trust desktop models to accurately record interviews and depositions for later transcription.

You have your own reasons for wanting or needing a recording device. But with so many styles available, how do you choose the one that's best for you? Please note that most of the devices I'll refer to in this article are available on the HelloDirect.com web site. Where possible, I'll provide links so you can research them more fully.

First, ask the tough questions

Actually, they're not tough at all, and they're the first step to narrowing the field. Give these some thought before you start shopping:

1. What will you be recording? How much recording time do you want?

2. If you will record telephone calls, what volume of calls do you receive? How many lines do you have?

3. Do you want to edit your recordings (move bits and pieces around, add or delete dialog, etc.)?

4. Are you a gadget person, or would you prefer something with a very short learning curve?

5. Would you like to download recordings to a PC, e-mail them, store them on disks?

6. Will your recordings be transcribed?

7. Will you archive the recordings? Do you need long-term or short-term storage? Do you want to search through past recordings?

The mechanics
For most recording jobs, whether it's taping personal reminders or recording a meeting for transcription, a handheld recorder is ideal. Hello Direct's most popular handhelds are the Olympus and Panasonic microcassette recorders.

Microcassette models are inexpensive and can record in 2 speeds up to 3 hours on a 90-minute tape (the Olympus Standard Recorder, Hello Direct Item #2811, has an extended-play setting that gets 180 minutes out of a 90-minute tape). Digital recorders start with the Olympus DS-330, Item #6777, with a 5.5-hour capacity. The Olympus DS-2000, Item #6087, delivers unlimited recording time with the use of removable memory cards.

Full-sized cassette models such as the Panasonic RQ-L51, Item #6683, are available as well. They're great on desktops and tabletops, and some people perceive the sound quality of full-sized cassettes to be better than that of microcassettes. The RQ-L51 will record up to 3 hours on a standard 60-minute cassette tape. Nonetheless, the smaller microcassette and digital models are the most popular for personal use because they fit into a briefcase, purse, or glove compartment—some microcassette recorders can even slip easily into a shirt pocket.

For convenience, all the recorders that Hello Direct offers are voice-activated, a feature that saves effort and recording space by automatically pausing during breaks in speech. They also restart fast enough to catch the first words in each new segment of speech.

Interface options
The recorders available at HelloDirect.com typically have 4 different interfaces, or add-on feature sets:
Standard: Connects to a single analog line jack OR to any phone's hand receiver jack. Records through the mic. Plays back through the recorder's speaker; not PC-adaptable.
Record/playback: Connects to a single analog line jack OR to any phone's hand receiver jack. Allows you to play recordings back over the phone.
USB: Connects to your PC via the USB port.
Telephone line recording: Standalone recording equipment connects to incoming phone lines and records all calls...and call data...on each line. Also referred to as call recorder/loggers.

The media
Which type of recorder should you invest in: cassette/microcassette tape or digital? Both kinds of recorders offer options like over-the-phone playback, archival storage, and compact size. However, there are significant differences between the two.

Tape
For taping personal notes, class lectures, or dictation for transcription, a handheld cassette recorder like the Olympus Standard Recorder, Item #2811, will serve the purpose. The advantages of tape recorders are that they're relatively inexpensive, the tapes are compact and, if kept away from extreme heat and other dangers, they can serve as permanent storage for your data.

Cassette recorders are easy to operate, too, and don't tend to involve the learning curve that digital recorders often do. HelloDirect.com carries the Panasonic RQ-L51.

The disadvantages of tape: You have to turn them over between sides and start a new tape after 60 or 90 minutes, interrupting the flow of conversation; (see the Olympus S725, Item #6203. It has "auto reverse," so you don't have to stop the recorder and turn the tape over) tapes can be damaged if they're not protected. That means no editing, downloading, sorting or other advanced file-management options.

Digital
Digital recorders offer many conveniences. You can move sound segments from one place to another, insert dialog anywhere, and seamlessly delete sections of any size. Digital files can be downloaded to your PC, e-mailed, copied, changed into text with built-in transcription software and stored on disks or the hard drive.

Variable-speed playback is another convenience offered by many digital recorders. This way, you can speed up or slow down the playback for clarity and easier transcription.

Digital also offers indexing by time, date, file name, etc., which allows you to search using these criteria (rewind and fast-forward are your only options with tape). The easily searchable files also facilitate transcription.

The disadvantages to digital are, of course, higher price and steeper learning curve than cassettes; interfacing with a PC can make troubleshooting a bit more involved.

Making (and taping) the call
For taping personal calls, phone interviews, or other low-volume uses, many handheld recorders (try the Olympus DS-2000, Item #6087) can take telephone adapters, which connect to the phone line, extension, or receiver.

For businesses with complex call-recording needs, such as call centers and customer service departments, a more sophisticated device is required. Lawyers, consultants, and others who charge by the minute for phone time also use these call recorders to simplify billing or as a record of verbal agreements. These specialized devices also offer Caller ID, sophisticated indexing, also available at HelloDirect.com. They cost more than the basic handheld recorders.

High-end recorders and call loggers
Hello Direct offers two kinds of high-end recorders: standalone and PC-based. PC-based means the recorder must be connected to your phone and your PC at the same time. The call data are stored directly on your hard drive. The advantage to this kind of model, for example, the Personal Call Logger, Item #3755, is a lower price than standalone recorders (described below); the disadvantage is loss of portability, because calls are stored on your PC.

Many logging systems record files in their own unique format. There are good and bad aspects to such a setup. The disadvantage is that if you want to e-mail files/recordings, the recipient must also have the logging software in order to play the files. The advantage of unique formats is that files are often compressed so that you can store much more information in a limited amount of space. Since the Personal Call Logger records in standard .wav format, you can send files to anyone you like. Unfortunately, these files are about 7 times larger than compressed files.

Or, if you have a very high volume of calls or you'd rather not use your own hard drive, another product from Digital Loggers, the Web-Network Call Logger, Item #3757, has its own 80 GB hard drive and can record calls from up to 4 phone lines.

Transcription:
An important note: clear, intelligible sound is the key to fast, accurate transcription. If transcription is your goal, be sure to get a high-quality microcassette recorder and use it with a good transcriber (Olympus Pearlcorder T1000 Transcriber, Item #6228, and Olympus Pearlcorder T1100 Transcriber, Item #6229).

For interviews, meetings, phone calls and the like, cassettes and digital recorders will do equally well in terms of gathering the raw data. As I mentioned previously in this article, the advantages of cassette recorders are low cost, easy operation, and durable storage under the proper conditions.

If you want advanced data-management features, digital might be for you. For example, digital recording lets you:

  • search forward and backward instantly, and mark the recording with your own index points, which saves time during the transcription process.
  • move, add, and delete sections of your recording, allowing memos, dictation, and other future documents to be transcribed (using transcription software, purchased separately) in an already revised format.
  • transcribe by downloading-and-editing, reducing the cost of manual-entry transcription.

Plus, digitally recorded files may seem safer, as there's no tape to wear out or break, which can happen when tape is rewound and fast-forwarded over and over.

The Olympus DS-330, Item #6777, is great for transcription. It supports built-in voice-to-text programs (sold separately). The ultimate in easy transcription, they automatically translate voice recordings into text for editing, distribution, or storage, making them efficient tools for physicians and others who need a lot of documents transcribed.

Of course, the simplest and most inexpensive option for transcription is the traditional method: Tape the conversation on a microcassette recorder, pop the tape in one of our transcribers (the Olympus Pearlcorder T1000, Item #6228, and the Olympus Pearlcorder T1100, Item #6229), and type away. Both offer easy foot-pedal operation, binaural headsets, auto-backspace, end-of-tape alarms, quick erase, and more. The T1100 adds an LCD that apprises you of your progress, more playback speeds (the T1000 has two), and the "E-mark" indexing feature, which makes it easy to locate different recordings on the same tape.

Keeping your recordings
There are several ways to store your sound files, depending on the medium you choose. If you use a cassette recorder, then cassettes or transcribed documents (on paper or disk) are your options. Both can last for decades, but searching for specific segments on tape or in a document, especially years down the road, can be a daunting task. If your recordings will be a frequently accessed resource, then consider digital.

Digital recorders let you download sound files to floppy disks, CD-ROMs, or hard drives for permanent storage, and the files can be stored, recalled, indexed, and searched easily for years to come. Your data can be found in an instant, and you can re-listen to a phone call at any time.

Wrapping up
Picking out a voice recorder may seem like a big job indeed—but a basic understanding of the types of features involved makes it easier to determine which way to go. The folks at Hello Direct are ready to help you find the right recorder to meet your needs.