Digital recorders better than ever
By Ric Manning
In the old "Mission: Impossible" TV series, Jim Phelps got instructions for his team by listening to a miniature tape player that had two tiny reels of tape.
The gadget looked pretty cool in 1967, but it would be quite an antique today.
In the last "Mission: Impossible" movie, Tom Cruise got his assignment complete with audio, video and self-destructing charge packed into the frame of a pair of trendy sunglasses. A real M:I operative would probably use one of the new models of digital voice recorders. They're small enough to be secretly passed from one spy to another, and their digital memories easily can be erased without the aid of smoke bombs or fireballs.
With no tape-winding motor or other moving parts, the new portable voice recorders are small and lightweight but still have room to capture loads of dictation or conversation.
Digital voice recorders are convenient for recording business meetings or school lectures.
Less-expensive recorders have limited memory capacity and standard features. RadioShack's DR-84 ($25) can hold up to 32 minutes of sound and has a voice-activated on-and-off switch.
Newer and more expensive models can swap files with a personal computer, letting you store audio business notes or e-mail baby's first words to the grandparents. Some models also can play music or audio books, and a few can convert speech to text.
One of the smallest recorders, Sony's SON-ICDMS1 Voice Recorder/Transcriber ($300), is only slightly larger than a pack of chewing gum.
Audio is captured on a removable Memory Stick, which is sold in different capacities. A 16-megabyte (MB) Memory Stick can store up to 965 messages and hold more than two hours of sound.
Users can remove the Memory Stick and slip it into a slot on a Sony computer to move audio files to the PC.
The Olympus DM1 Voice/Music Digital Recorder ($270) combines a personal dictation machine with a portable digital audio player.
The DM1 uses a removable SmartMedia memory card to hold dictation files or MP3 music files transferred from a PC. A 64-MB card can hold about 22 hours of speech or about 10 songs.
Several of Sony's recorders, including the ICD-BP100, can download and play back audio books and newspaper or magazine articles from Audible.com.
The ICD-BP100 ($160) also comes with Dragon Naturally Speaking software. The program will read audio files transferred from the recorder to a PC and transcribe them into text.
The newest Olympus recorder, the DS-330 ($200), can store 155 minutes of speech at its highest-quality setting or 330 minutes at a lower-quality setting in its 16-MB fixed memory.
Like handheld organizers, the DS-330 uses a cradle to communicate with a PC. The cradle's cable plugs into a standard USB port found on both Windows and Macintosh computers.
Other features include voice activation, a security lock to prevent accidental deletions and noise-canceling technology, which helps remove background noise and hiss.