Perfect voice recorder for fieldwork, interviews, conferences

Finally found the perfect voice recorder with great clarity, space, battery life and other great features

I have tried my hands on four to five voice recorders so far. When I left to India for my fieldwork I was determined to get a good one that matches all my requirements. I will be doing long interviews and attending conferences – so I needed one that has a powerful mic and could record for long durations. When I read or when I work on some topic, I like to record my thoughts as they come. I needed a voice recorder that could contain a large number of folders and something that will allow many files (many voice recorders allow a limited number of files and this can be a disadvantage if I am recording my thoughts or taking notes from a book – I tend to get to the quota rather fast). After some research, I landed on Olympus DS-40 with which I am rather happy.

Large capacity

With five folders that could carry 200 files each DS-40 is very appropriate for my notes and thoughts and for long recordings in conferences.  I just went to a ten day event when I did not have the chance to access my laptop to transfer files from the recorder.  I did several interviews and also recorded the proceedings on several occasions.  At the end of it all, I had used only half the capacity in High Quality (without stereo). In a previous recorder, I had made several small jottings as and when I heard an interesting idea; since the recordings were short, I had some space left, but had run out of files.  The large capacity of DS-40 will almost certainly ensure that I can record without limitations on most occasions.

Recording quality

It has three modes for recording “dictation”, “lectures”, “conferences”. Each of them come with an assortment of recording quality. With over half a gig memory, it allows recording in high quality for over 30 hours easily. With a lower quality, we can record for more than 170 hours! The battery life is also terrific. Further, DS-40 voice recorders carry fantastic features to reduce unwanted noise. I have not tested this feature in a conference so far, but in dictation mode this works wonders. For example, I did some voice recording amidst some noisy construction in wall street and DS-40 managed totally eliminate the noise of machines. I also used it in dictation mode when a train entered in the New York subway; even under crushing noise and the voice recorder managed to capture my voice with just a minimal sound of the entering train.

If one is looking to capture the noise of the environment all we have to do is to change from the dictation mode and cancel various features relating to noise reduction. It also comes with an ultralight stereo jack that we can use to record sound in stereo mode. This though is unlikely to be of any importance to field work and other forms of research.

Indexing & organising

One feature I enjoy a lot is indexing.  When I hear an interesting point being made during an interview or a long conference, I quickly press an ‘index’ button that inserts a bookmark.  One can insert upto 19 bookmarks in each file in this model.  If we open the files in the Olympus DSS Player, it will display little bookmarks as it plays the audio.  We can just skip to the bookmarks to hear the interesting parts of the interview or talk. As far as organising the files go, it is useful to have the beginning and end dates of recording is useful. Beyond this the Player does not provide additional features that make organizing files easier.
On the whole, I am quite satisfied with the instrument and I warmly recommend it if you are looking for a voice recorder.

About Vivek Srinivasan

I work with the Program on Liberation Technology at Stanford University. Before this, I worked with the Right to Food Campaign and other rights based campaigns in India. To learn more, click here.

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