Review: Olympus DS-40 Digital Voice Recorder

January 7, 2014
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I get asked a lot about what to buy by students in journo classes and I always give my a-professional-is-only-as-good-as-his-tools speech. Owning a professional-grade digital voice recorder with a high-sensitivity microphone is up there with a good wife. There are some things you just don’t trifle with if you’re a professional writer. The Olympus DS-40 has been around since 1991 and I’m pleased to say that their newest version of the old tried-and-true warrior is the voice recorder equivalent of the Kalashnikov AK-47.

Well, here’s the new, slightly updated version. Same warhorse as ever, only now I can easily connect the recorder to my iMac (OS 10.5 and up) via the USB cable, and there it is on my desktop as an external drive. Click on the icon to open it up, pick a folder, click for Quicktime, click ‘Start’ and there’s my voice. No software install hassle of any kind. Problems? Not a one! Well, it costs US$429, but, really, aren’t you worth it? The USB audio transfer speed is about 140mb per minute. That is about five times faster than you get with the cheap alternatives out there.

When you open it up brand-new, you get a DS-40 digital voice recorder, stereo microphone, USB cables, stereo earphones, DSS Player v.7 software, an instruction manual, strap, and two AAA batteries. Buy it and test it. There are Dictation, Conference, and Lecture recording modes, and you can really tell the difference, and learn how each is necessary. Have a friend help you test it at different distances with their head turned away, mumbling, shouting muffled through a wall, etc. It gives you fantastically clear sound pick-up. Real stereo playback on your computer or stereo. If you juice-up properly in advance you can get around 130 hours of recording time and 30-hour battery life. Connect to PC or iPad or iMac to transfer files or download podcasts. You can even store and listen to your favorite music should you be so inclined.

Along with recoding stereo sound from meetings, interviews, and important lectures, the Olympus DS-40 allows you to download and create Podcasts for later listening or sending out for broadcast. The DS-40 offers up to 136 hours of recording time with its 512 MB worth of internal flash memory. The player allows users to set up five voice folders, and each folder can save up to 200 messages. Internal files can be easily navigated on the player’s high-contrast backlit monochrome LCD panel.

Other cool features include a built-in variable control voice actuator (VCVA) function, and a timed recording and alarm feature so you can set up automatic recording and playing. Running on two AAA batteries, the player offers up to 30 hours of continuous playback in the following modes: ST XQ mode (8 hour 40 minute capture time), ST HQ mode (17 hour 20 minute capture time), HQ mode (34 hour 45 minute capture time), SP mode (68 hour 30 minute capture time), and LP mode (136 hour 15 minute capture time). For added user convenience, an optional AC adapter can be used with the recorder. Additionally compatible with Microsoft Windows 2000 Professional operating systems and later, the player measures a pocket-friendly 4.37 x 1.48 x 0.63 inches and weighs in at a scant 2.80 ounces.

A few other notes. The DS-40 still works well without its external microphone. At less than three pounds it’s not particularly heavy, but having run through the streets of Sarajevo avoiding snipers all through 1994 and half of ’95 and repeatedly smashed it into the pavement as I dropped, I appreciate its mostly metal, chromium steel exterior, and the hard, hinged plastic battery door. No joking: This is a hard-core valuable tool of the first order! The mini-USB port is protected by a tethered plastic cover. On the lower right side, there’s a power/hold slide switch. If you forget to turn the DS-40 off, it will enter a Power-Save mode and the display will go blank. Control buttons are well spaced for dictation recording. The LCD screen is backlit in white and easily legible. The speaker is located in the back and packs punch, producing enough volume to be heard in a moving car. Accept no substitute!

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