Some time ago, my esteemed O’Reilly colleague David Battino wrote an informative and entertaining review of the Olympus DS-2 digital recorder which inspired me to find out more.
I had already made public my wish for a recorder about the size of an iPod shuffle and David’s article set my head spinning in new directions.
After some swift research I settled on the Olympus WS-200s and Olympus very kindly offered to loan me one to try out.
The WS-200s is a very tiny machine, not much bigger than an iPod shuffle. It’s easy to put into any pocket, even a shirt pocket. I found it fitted well into a side pocket in my camera bag, perfect for toting around.
It’s very much representative of a new approach in digital recorder design, an approach I’m pleased to see the manufacturers considering.
There’s no messing about with docks and cables. Like an iPod shuffle, the WS-200 plugs directly into a USB port and shows up on your desktop. Importing audio files is just drag-and-drop.
It records in WMA format, but EasyWMA is a simple (and free) way of converting the files to MP3 (or WAV, if you’re so inclined).
Powered by a single AAA battery, I used the device pretty solidly for a week and it showed no sign of weakening. The built-in 128MB of Flash memory is sufficient for over 4 hours of recordings at the highest quality setting, and I saw no need to use any of the lower bitrate settings.
What I liked most about this device was the simplicity and portability. It was something I could take anywhere and everywhere without any second thoughts, just throw it in a bag or shove it in a pocket and get going. It talks very happily to Mac OS X 10.4, with no need for drivers or additional software. Plug and play, kids.
The documentation makes no mention of this, but you can even use it as a flash-based drive for storing and transporting files from one computer to another. Audio recordings are kept inside five pre-determined folders, but you can add files at the root level and the WS-200 carries on working happily.
The quality of recordings was good, across a variety of conditions - quiet speech, lone voice singing, and standing in the middle of a crowded street festival. Choral singing distorted the mic at some points, but use of a better microphone might solve that.
Indeed that’s the only thing I’d suggest people do if they’re buying this recorder. It’s so sensitive that the built-in mic picks up the gentlest of finger movements on the body of the device — in other words, your gentle press of the Stop button creates an ugly muffled scratch right at the end of your recording.
I’m planning to purchase a WS-200s of my own just as soon as I can, but I shall probably investigate some small external microphones too, just to get over that minor problem.
Got any digital recorder tips of your own?