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on April 24, 2012
I have purchased over 20 of these for field recordings. All 20 have worked right out of the packaging with no problems.

- I love that these will record directly to MP3 so they are Mac friendly.

- Battery life (AAA) on these is quite good.

- Recording quality is great for what it is designed for. If you are looking for awesome quality use the Olympus LS-7 Linear PCM Voice Recorder (142670) but for everyday recording use, this is a great option.

What is it designed for? Classroom use, office use, dictation, and portability usage.

What is it not designed for? Professional recording.

***** UPDATE SEPTEMBER 3, 2012 *****

I have now purchased over 45 of these units. I have not had any failures in any of the units. We have used them with people of all levels of technological abilities and all have picked up quickly. Great little recorder for voice recording.
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on July 16, 2012
UPDATE 3/22/13: I've used this recorder now to make hundreds of audio recordings. Its batteries have gone out many times, due to so much use. Only once did I lose some of the recording, and that only a tiny part at the end. The sound clarity is good, even on the smallest file settings (like 48kbps). Am really surprised. Initial review, follows below the line.
UPSHOT: right now as I type, this is the lowest-priced and best Olympus recorder in Amazon - if you buy it from Amazon. There are other sellers of this unit advertising via Amazon who sell the 702PC for up to twice what I just paid for it (I paid less than $50). So compare prices, here in Amazon. I would have been willing to pay up to $80-90, but why do it if you don't have to?

I fear even the Amazon-sold 702PC won't remain cheap for long; but I feel duty-bound to say all this, after seeing how my older models are selling for 3x more than I paid for them, today here onsite. I made reviews on my other recorders, the WS-110, 960PC, and 1800, here in Amazon, so you can compare. All four models are sitting on my table as I type. 'Mike' did a review after mine here. You might want to read his review, before reading mine. He brings up certain points which aren't wholly relevant to my usage, but might be important for yours. So what he says, I don't cover in this review.

MY USAGE, so you can decide whether to keep reading: I intend to use this unit primarily as a portable storage device, plus to record lectures, make memos; and especially, to do voiceovers for my 'brainouty' Youtube videos.

So: I Just got this 702PC from Amazon. It is my fourth Olympus recorder; I've been using them for years, and all of them still work -- well, on 7/17/2012 the 1800 died because I left the batteries in it for too long. With these recorders, you should remove batteries if you'll not use the unit for awhile. Else the batteries can corrode the contact wires, or the long storage makes the software go crazy. You don't lose your recording if you remove the batteries, for it's all stored on a chip. You only lose the date and time, and maybe some of the other settings for the recorder. But you can't lose, the recordings.

This 702PC has special features the others -- even later models -- don't have.

================= PHYSICALITIES ======================

This unit feels more substantial, comfortable in the hand, versus the other models I have. It is about the thickness, width and heft of three AAA batteries (it holds 2 which ship with the unit), about the height of a CD jewel case. Big, convenient buttons. Optionally big letters on the LCD screen. Too much glare from the face plate. Contrast levels also don't seem to make any difference. Try to pick the lowest size of letters and the lowest contrast to conserve power, especially if you'll record a long lecture.

POWER ON and OFF is a slider toggle on the left side of the machine. Slide it down to turn on, and again to turn it off. Or, slide it up to HOLD and make it go into sleep mode. The screen stays on, when in sleep mode. You bring it out of sleep mode by moving the slider to the middle position. If you do nothing, it shuts down after five minutes, to conserve power.

================ COMPARISON and SALIENT FEATURES ================

This recorder differs from, say, the 710 and 700 models in a few key respects, and that's why I bought this one, rather than those:

1. This recorder has PLASTIC buttons. I got sick of the slick metal buttons on my otherwise-beloved WS-110, with which I've made hundreds of voiceovers for videos.

2. This VN 702PC recorder has a STAND. Yes, you can pop open the stand at the back of the recorder, so you don't have to hold it. So the recorder sits on the table at an angle while you talk. Hands-free. Don't bump the table. :)

3. This recorder has two EXTRA BUTTONS, one for MENU and another for SCENE/CALENDAR. Handy features! MENU makes it easier to handle the recorder options (which are arcanely named), enabling you to scroll (by + and - buttons, with >> side of the wheel, as entry INTO a menu).

4. When you connect the recorder to your computer and rename the files you made, the recorder stores those files AS the date made, still; but the new name given, is retained. You can actually READ THE FILE NAMES in the recorder's calendar, now. So you're no longer stuck with folders and message numbers. Just scroll through the calendar. Also, after you've renamed files, when you scroll through your folders, each renamed FILE is at the very top of the screen! That's a big improvement. Or of course, plug the thing into your computer to see file names, just as you can do on prior USB (usually named 'PC') models, going all the way back to WS-110.

5. This recorder allows a 32GB microSD card, per the manual. The recorder's rubber SD cover is a royal pain; the attachment strap won't move out of the way. So you hold the recorder in one hand, and must use some of the fingers of your other hand to push the rubber cover out of the way, and hope that your remaining fingers can actually insert the card. So for me, that was my pinky pushing the cover away, then with the other fingers, inserting the chip.

But oh, my 16GB micro SD was a joy to insert. Trick is to insert it with the gold contacts FACING you, and INTO the slot (so you're inserting it upside down, relative to the recorder face). Happily, it only will go in that way, and it EASILY goes in that way. So if you're struggling to insert it, and it looks crooked, you've inserted it wrongly. Flip it over so you can see the gold contacts going in FIRST.

Next, and for a few seconds, the screen flashes 'please wait'; then it asks if you want to SWITCH to using the card for memory rather than the interna memory. And of course you DO, so you can just take the card out and put either the recorder's USB cable into your computer; or the card, into your SD reader (I bought the Manhattan reader, see my review here at Amazon).

And here's a bonus: the recording comes out better, and the volume is better, when you record to the SD. I was so shocked and happy. So clearly the sound quality and recording quality are affected by having that SD card. Since SD cards are so cheap (16 GB for three bucks, before shipping, $7 with shipping) -- it's easy and smart to have the card in there all the time. You aren't likely to record 100,000 messages on the recorder in your lifetime; that's the card's supposed duty cycle (lifetime limit before it's likely to go bad). And fast? Even the 'class 4' I purchased was almost instantaneous, versus the typical external hard drive. Awesome stuff.

So you can stick any computer files onto it, up to 32GB or the limit of your card, if less. NOTE: I suspect this same capacity will also pertain to the 710 and 700 models, but their instructions only tell you they tested up to micro 16GB, and only from SanDisk and Toshiba. Bet you can do 32GB with them, as this 702PC allows micro 32GB max.

6. This recorder has a nice thick POUCH, too-short USB cable, and a hole at the bottom through which you can thread a WRISTSTRAP; unfortunately, you must buy the wriststrap from Olympus; they made the hook holes so small, you could only thread string through it. Their straps are not as good as one you could make from a keyring. But their strap hole is too narrow and shallow to allow keyring threading. Still, if you have an old, compartmented zipper wallet lying about, you might be able to stick the USB cord, recorder, pouch and even some microSD's into the wallet, make that your carrying case. Or, use an old leather 100s' cigarette case, like I did. Then attach a strap to that via key ring through the leather. Or, thread a key ring through the pouch loop, and attach a wriststrap (preferably the 'jelly' kind) to the keyring -- the latter will eventually tear through the loop.

7. Users of the 710 and 700 model report that after a short period of disuse, the recorders won't work. I suspect that is a software problem with respect to those two types, so I opted for this VN 702PC model instead. I'll have to wait a few months to see if it also has the same problem. If you bought a 710 or 700, try removing the batteries from the unit for two weeks or more. Also, see if you can use the unit without batteries but plugged into your computer, or plugged into the adaptor mentioned in #8 below. I suspect the problem is like with Windows; sometimes you have to remove all power and wait. For these recorders, the wait might be 10+ days, for Japanese products typically have a storage backup in case of power outage which keeps operational data that long. You can't lose the recordings, but you will lose settings, if there is no power source in the unit; here, that's EXACTLY what you want to happen, NO power source. So take out the batteries, and either immediately try to use the unit from electrical power only, or don't use it at all for maybe two weeks. Then try to use it via the adaptor or computer, but still no batteries. See what happens.

8. The models in #7 offer AC usage, so you're not stuck with batteries. This is done by purchasing an A-514 AC adaptor here in Amazon, filling the unit with rechargeable AAA batteries (two); then, plug the USB cable into the unit; then plug the other end of the USB into the adaptor. You can record while hooked up to the adaptor or the computer. Not sure why the latter is of value, but you can do it. Olympus also says that the unit's rechargeable batteries will recharge while the unit is plugged into your computer. I'm testing both the adaptor and the charging via computer. Can't yet say the results.

=================== CORD and possible AC PROBLEMS ================

The 702PC's manual doesn't say you can recharge from the adaptor, or even that the A-514 works with the VN 702PC. Instead, I learned all that, from Olympus' website, prior to buying; so I purchased the adaptor here in Amazon. I'm not sure it works on this model. I plugged in the AC Adaptor after shutting the unit off. It recognized the adaptor, but keeps on flashing PLEASE WAIT. This happens whether batteries are in the recorder, or not. So if batteries are in it, do they recharge, but the recorder remains unusable? I left it plugged in overnight with AA rechargeable batteries that needed recharging. It did work the next morning. UPDATE, 8/2/12: After writing the above, I stopped using the unit, and just now turned it back on. It works. So it SEEMS to have fully charged.

I'll have to check back with Olympus to verify this, on the 702PC. They were quick to reply, before. Meanwhile, assume the 702PC, unlike later models, cannot operate solely in AC mode when plugged into the adaptor. It also seemed to recharge when I used the Belkin recharger here at Amazon ( ). But it's hard to tell.

The too-short (six inch?) USB is a problem. It does work with my Acer Aspire One AOA150 netbook, but I don't want to overtax the ports when the Acer is operating on batteries. The best way to plug in these recorders, is into a separately-powered USB hub which is an adjunct to one of your external drives or your monitor, since the capacity of the thing is 34GB, with the microSD inserted. It's especially important with a netbook, not to overpower the USB ports with devices that really need their own separate power, like the big external drives now sold.

So if you're hooking up the recorder to a desktop, most desktop USB ports are too high, too low, or otherwise inconvenient; so the recorder's USB must be twisted in order to fit into the port, and/or you must prop the recorder on something, so it will lie flat. However, it will still operate if you use a USB extension cord. Mine came from Amazon; both AmazonBasics meter-long USB extender, and a Belkin six-foot USB extension, worked. Limit is 10 feet total, on passive USB extenders. Else, your transmission will become glitchy, degrade.

RE DISCONNECTION FROM COMPUTER: be sure you first obey the instructions about 'Safe Removal' (a utility on XP systems): you must remove the device first by closing whatever window you used to access it; then click on the Safe Removal utility in your notification area; then (with a great deal of confusion) find what USB port the unit is hooked up to; then select STOP in the computer's dialog box. Be sure the light is off the recorder after you select STOP -- only then can you remove the device. Else, you'll maybe fry it. This is a Win98 holdover hardware rule. It might not be a problem on Win7 machines, you'll have to test it. However, I've never followed those instructions with my WS-110, which has a built-in USB dongle (doesn't need a separate USB cord). After closing the window, I just remove the recorder.

======================== RECORDING FEATURES ======================

Basically, this thing records better than it plays from within its own speaker. Clarity when played back from a computer, is sterling. I use these recorders to record lectures, and they can be inside a pocket, sitting in an open briefcase, and still record well. Test the 'scene' settings in the unit. The 'user' setting is one you can create yourself. Basically, the latter is whatever setting you currently use, when 'scene' is off.

Like other Olympus recorders (thank God they don't much change the interface), you have five folders for recording. So just select the folder with the folder/index key (it cycles from A-E, with the last folder accessed, maybe showing first); then, hit Record button. Suggest you don't record too many memos before labelling them on your PC. The renamed files WILL show up on this unit, that's one of its many advantages over older models. Still, unless you watch a movie while doing computer housekeeping, you don't want to have to listen to and rename, 20 files at a time. :) So when you record, get into the habit of FIRST saying the intended title of your recording, even if only a grocery list. That will save you time.

One of the touted features is 'index', the ability to bookmark certain moments in recording, WHILE recording. Then when you replay, you can skip to the index points. I have no use for that feature, as the fast-forward and rewind help just as much; the unit provides real-time, onscreen elapse of playback or recording, anyway. So I won't review the 'index' function.

=============== RECORDING VOICE QUALITY =======================

* On this model, the default recording setting has a lot of hiss; yet it didn't record the sound of the loud ceiling fan over my head. Default is 'rec level high', meaning high RANGE of sound pickup. So LOW means the RANGE of pickup is limited to near your face. If you put the Voice filter and 'Low Cut' filter ON -- never mind trying to actually understand what they do, it's all in technical jargon and pictures, drat -- those settings reduce hiss, but also reduce sound of your voice. Playback is just fine from the computer, professional quality; but sound is almost inaudible, from the recorder itself.

* Next best setting seems to be DNS. See comment to this review, the commenter says it means Dragon Naturally Speaking; which means, the unit is designed to work with DNS so it will TRANSCRIBE your voice into PRINTED CHARACTERS of your word processor. (WordPerfect version 10 has DNS.) I've not used the feature. But the DNS setting is good quality. (It's the cartoon character speaking to a sheet of paper in the Scene Selection menu; meaning, your recording 'scene' of conference room, meeting, memo, or that sheet of paper.)

* Another good 'scene' selection is MEMO (cartoon character speaking into the recorder). Hiss is removed. The 'User Setting' in 'Scene' just tells you what your settings are. To see them, when you are on 'User Setting', press the >> side of the wheel.

I've not yet tested the other 'scenes' (meeting and conference), but the above two change the TYPE of compression to WMA, rather than whatever setting you chose. I usually prefer MP3 at 192kbps for video voiceovers. This is defeated by the 'scene' selection. File size is smaller, volume is somewhat lower (but fine for PC playback), almost no hiss on the above two DNS and MEMO settings. NOTE: if you're recording for Windows Movie Maker, the wma setting is just fine, that's how WMM will compress the sound. Same is true for many video editors.

In short, the unit's own speaker isn't as good as my earlier models, but it is acceptable. Usually I just plug the unit into my PC, for playback. But if you have powered speakers (ones requiring an electrical outlet, like the Logitech computer speakers here for $10 at Amazon, see my review), you can just plug the stereo jack into the 'ear' of the player, and hear quality sound. Again, it seems the hiss problem is restricted to the speaker in the 702PC itself.

===================== PLAYBACK ============================

There are two ways to change playback speed. One is in your computer, usually a program by Creative (i.e., if you have SoundBlaster). You can set playback speed by reducing or increasing the Hz setting for the recording. Reducing it, slows playback and lowers pitch. Increasing it, increases both. This applies to any recorder, even one without PC connectivity. Simply plug a patch cord into the EAR jack, then into your computer's LINE IN jack, then play. Sound should come out your computer speakers, and you can record it using one of your computer's sound recorder programs (usually you have several within your video or DVD player software, not merely Windows' default Sound Recorder).

The second way to change playback speed, is within the recorder itself: while playing a recording, hit the OK button in the center of the wheel, and then the left << to slow the sound, or the right >> to speed it up. You hear the results right away; speed change is DISPLAYED at point 1 (.1) increments per right or left wheel adjustment. It's a nice improvement over prior models (earlier models just slow down or speed up at fewer set rates). You'll want this feature, especially if you record lectures or record while driving.

VELCRO NOTE: put about .5 inches of soft velcro on the battery door; slide DOWN the door first (it won't detach, which is a mixed blessing). Adding Velcro makes the unit a) easier to hold, less prone to slippage; and b) if you put some harsh velcro on your steering wheel where you want the unit to reside, you can thus attach the unit to the center of your steering wheel, and easily turn it on, record while driving. To do that best, before you start driving: hit the REC button, say a word, then hit REC again to pause recording. That keeps the unit ON; you merely hit the REC button again, to resume recording. Same good manners (and safety) with a cellphone, apply to recording. :)

========================= MANUALS ==========================

Oh my, there are three. The paper manual shipping with the unit covers only some of the features, and is labelled 'Basic'. Stored on the recorder in several languages, is a 'Detailed' manual. It is outdated, but useful, and is in the 'pdf' folder on the unit. Go to Olympus and download the later manual. Search on the model number 702PC to get the download. Frankly, that's the best way to shop for electronic stuff. READ THE MANUAL before you buy. Whatever's wrong will likely become apparent, from reading the manual.
1010 comments157 of 166 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on May 3, 2012
I have used this recorder a few times, outside and in. Several research partners have used it as well. Regardless of the setting or voice tone, the recorder works remarkably well. Whether in labs or outside near heavily used doors, the quality of the recording is great. Better than I ever could have expected. Set-up and of the manner features is a breeze.
11 comment118 of 124 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on April 3, 2012
Purchased the recorder to replace another Olympus I lost recently. Used it every day without any issues. The new recorder is better yet. The voice files can be transferred to my PC. Looking forward to not losing this one and years of great service.
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on June 18, 2012
This little guy is fabulous at catching my lectures! The sound is great! I have no problem listening to my recordings right after class through earphones or even through the AUX outlet in my car!

It was very easy to transfer the recording to my computer. The recorder is pretty easy to use. The index function is pretty handy to help mark important parts of your recording.

I've only used it for one day so far, but if I change my feelings about this recorder I will update my review.
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on July 16, 2012
(If you think this review is too long, you can stop reading at any time. Thank you.)

Update 111212: I originally wrote that this was a 5 star product but I gave it 4 because I was being an Ergonomic Purist. However, after living with the unit for a while now, I'm going to say this is only a 4 star product. I'm just not comfortable trusting this unit. (See next update, below.) If you need absolute reliability, look elsewhere. If you don't need 100% reliability, this unit is fine. Based on my experience with my old Sony recorders, I believe the Sony Digital Flash Voice Recorder (ICD-PX312) is the safer choice. IIRC, it was an Amazon top choice for a while. (And the price reflects that.)

Update 111212: Since Capt'n Dave (is that the Capt'n Dave from Arizona FlyWays? Miss your articles) was so kind to leave a nice comment, I felt I'd better update with this: Had a strange aberration a week ago. I was listening to a recording I had made and for a few seconds into the playback the sound slowed down as if real tape had stretched across the playback head! Really weird.

Also, another time, the battery indicator was showing two bars, but the unit beeped "Low Battery" on me and shut off. That could be a manifestation of using NiMH batteries. (The unit's battery indicator is calibrated for alkaline batteries.) So if you use NiMH batteries, learn to swap out batteries at two bars.

And the internal clock is slow. Or at least I think it is. Whenever I change the batteries, I always have to bring the time up a few hours. Whereas I don't have to do that with the Sony ICD-PX720 Digital Voice Recorder with PC Link. (Even my old Palm Pilot doesn't need to be reset when I change batteries.) A bad time stamp could ruin a case for you if you were in Law Enforcement or similar.

Update 081312: The only potential major flaw is this: It's been reported by YupYup007 with a similar Olympus product, the Olympus 142665 DM-620 SLV Voice Recorder that, if the batteries quit while you're recording, you lose that entire recording. (The DM-620 is a so-called "linear" recorder which can record in PCM format.) That happened to me once with this recorder too. I lost a one hour phone call when the unit started beeping at me while recording and the batteries quit quickly after that. But, after more testing, I haven't been able to duplicate that failure. (I have a hypothesis about that, below.)

Another reviewer found a FAQ on Olympus' website that says you should only lose the last 5 minutes max of any recording when the batteries quit while recording. (I'd supply a link, but Amazon doesn't seem to like that. So drill your way on olympusamerica to Home > Support > VN-702PC > Frequently Asked Questions.)

The FAQ says:

"Q: The batteries ran out while I was recording and now I can't find or play the file. Why?

"A: When a recording session begins, a file is created to contain the incoming audio content. This file remains open throughout the session until the recording is manually stopped. If the recorder lasts longer than five minutes, the recorder will save the audio content at five-minute intervals.

"If the batteries run out during a recording session, only the portion of the recording that has been saved will be available for retrieval. For example, if a recording session is interrupted by power loss at the 37th minute, the audio file of the recording will contain only the first 35 minutes worth of content. The remaining two minutes worth of content is not available because it was never saved to the file. In the case of recordings that are shorter than five minutes, the entire recording will be lost because the file is not able to close due to the lack of power.

"It is crucial to change the battery once the battery indicator shows only one hash mark of power remaining. Removing the batteries while the recorder is in use may also corrupt a file."

Curiously, this important fact is not mentioned anywhere in the manual!

I let the batteries run down a second time while recording, this time on purpose and didn't lose my recording. When I lost my first recording, I was recording in WMA high quality format. Whereas, the second time the batteries quit, I was recording in MP3 at the lowest bit rate. (MP3 files can be split by this recorder. WMA cannot. As you'll read below, the difference between MP3 and WMA might have something to do with lost recordings.) The FAQ doesn't distinguish between losing a recording in WMA or MP3 format, and again, the manual is silent about it.

When the batteries quit, you get one series of 3 quick beeps, and the display says "Low Battery." The unit stops recording when you get that warning. When I did this recording in MP3, 48Kbps, all 16 hours of that instant recording in MP3 were preserved.

Strangely, when I let the batteries recover a bit and recorded some more, the recorder ran for 3 minutes before quitting. But the 3 minute recording, which was less than the 5 minutes stated in the FAQ, was saved, intact. So I'm wondering if the low bit rate makes a difference in what is lost and what is not?

If there is a flaw with losing recordings, it could be very serious. To put this in perspective, you could lose an entire day of recording if, like me, you start your unit in the morning to record whatever might come you way that day. My experience with SONY recorders (below) is they don't lose entire recordings when the batteries quit. (Hey, Olympus. If you know the batteries are going to quit and you know you can't record the last five minutes, how about a firmware update that causes the recorder to gracefully stop recording and save ten minutes before battery failure?)

Ignoring all the above, I'd give this unit 5 stars. The only reason I give the 702PC four stars is because I'm being a super-fussy ergonomically oriented engineer who, through this very long review, hopes to encourage Olympus to make a five star product. But this unit gives the biggest bang for the buck. And, at less that $50, the bucks are right too. [Update 8/16/12 - Now down to $35! Update 7/25/12 - the price has gone down ever since I bought this. (Of course!) Currently at $44 with free shipping, an even better deal!]

As background, I've been using a SONY ICD-P520 for years, now onto a Sony ICD-PX720 Digital Voice Recorder with PC Link. (Wow. I didn't pay $160 for the PX720. That's ridiculous. If you want a SONY, buy the Sony Digital Flash Voice Recorder (ICD-PX312) instead for $50. It has 2GB internal compared to the 1GB of the PX720.) And I tried an RCA VR5320R 1GB Digital Voice Recorder. Which failed. See my 2-star review there, dated July 7, 2012.

I'm going to start by comparing this new Olympus to the SONY PX720. Which is not the best comparison, since other customers buy the newer SONY PX312 after seeing this item.

Both units are about the same size and weight, with the Olympus just a little wider than the SONY. The display on the Olympus is wider too, mostly because their bezel is slimmer than the SONY, giving the screen more real estate.

As far as purely mechanical performance goes, the microphone and the speaker on the SONY are better. In a sample test of one (admittedly not definitive), the mic on the SONY is slightly more sensitive, but you won't notice. Frankly, they probably all use the same electret mic. Could just be Noise Figure variance between devices.

Both have only one mic. One interesting feature of the RCA unit was two mics (not stereo) that could be set phased so they made a strong directional mic. [Update: Since writing this review, Amazon has updated the page to show a chart of other Olympus recorders. The WS-801 and up offer two (phased?) microphones.]

But the speaker output on the SONY is much better. Louder and less distortion at full volume. More bass too. The speaker in the SONY is physically bigger than in the Olympus, which probably makes the difference. [Update: Look at the really tiny speakers on the WS-801 and up. And those units only use one AAA battery, which means less voltage (power) for the speaker. You'll see people complain about the weak audio output in reviews of those units.]

I like the "transport" buttons (Record, Play, etc.) on the newer SONY better than on the Olympus. That's not to say the menus are better on the SONY. They aren't. But as far as hitting "Rec," "Play," and FF and REW, which are the buttons you'll be pressing most on a recorder, the SONY wins.

There's one more thing I really like about the SONY's that Olympus doesn't have. (I read in a review that it used to.) And that's the ability to "preview" audio while you're fast forwarding or rewinding. It's hard to describe what this feature is like - maybe it's like "scrubbing" with audio editing programs. But SONY figured out a way to give you a usable sample of audio while your Fast Forwarding where you can actually tell what's going on. It's like flipping through TV channels at the speed of light with the remote (a guy thing) but still being able to tell what's on TV.

So, with the SONY, if you're having a conversation with someone, and they start shouting, and you want to get to that particular point in a day of recording, say to play for the cops, you can FF until you hear shouting. (FF is adaptive in both the SONY and Olympus, in that it starts out slow and then speeds up as it Forwards. The RCA didn't do that.) Whereas, with the Olympus, you have to know about how long it was into your conversation when the shouting started. (Unless you were smart enough to index the recording when the shouting started. Which, if you're recording clandestinely (check your state's law), you're not going to do.) I will really miss this ability on the Olympus. The Olympus makes up a little for it in that you can increase the speed of playback up to 2x on the fly and set how much the FF button "skips" forward.

Neither the SONY or the Olympus give you a real time display of the real time of a recording. That is, they both know the date and time internally, and they both display the date and time you started a recording, but neither display the "real time" as you play back your recording. So, for example, if you start recording at 8 am, and, at the end of the day, you want to review something from noon, you have to know to FF to 4 hours into your recording to get to noon instead of watching a display that counts to 12 noon. Silly engineers are thinking like computer geeks (showing file time stamps), not users. (It's easy to give the time stamp from a file. A little harder to make a dynamic display.)

Now, focusing on the Olympus, I'll interweave good and bad as I go along.

First, the manual. It comes with a "Basic Manual," which is enough to get you started. If you read the first sentence in the Introduction, they tell you there's an "On-line" manual in the recorder.(It's in one of the folders when you plug the recorder into your computer's USB port.) But who reads the manual?

Well, I do. But I skipped over that sentence because it was in the usual legalese disclaimers in the Introduction. I skipped to "Operation." Then it occurred to me I hadn't seen anything about "scene" or "calendar" (one of the micro-buttons). And that got me thinking there must be an advanced manual somewhere and that's how I finally found it.

You can also find the full manual on the web, although Olympus doesn't tell you where. [Another reviewer said the manual in the recorder wasn't the latest as the online. But I just checked - both are stamped APR1112 on their last page for my unit.]

Also, surprisingly for Olympus, the manual isn't quite fluent English. For example, "The resume function remembers the stop position before the power is turned off." I'm not sure if they mean that the recorder gracefully goes into the Stop mode if you turned the power off while recording. Which you might do. By accident. (Which I'll get to later.) Or maybe they're trying to say you can be playing a two hour recording, power the unit off, and it will remember where you stopped listening when you power back up. Which it does. But I've not been able to find anything called a "resume function" in a menu. (UPDATE: I've found other unclear sentences since then too.)

But this brings up a gripe an Amazonian had with the RCA recorder. What's this thing about powering a voice recorder on and off? Don't you want it "on" all the time, ready to go? It's like trying to remember to slide the safety on a gun. You'll never remember to do that when you're in a rush. (The old SONY is always on. Admittedly, the batteries may not last as long as they could. But we're taking 30 days in standby on the SONY. [Update: The newer SONY PX312 also has a power off switch!) I don't know how long the batteries last with the Olympus just sitting around in standby.

The manual says it's okay to eject the SD card as long as the unit is Stopped. (As opposed to "Off.") So I don't understand the need for "Off." If you're not going to use the unit for a long time, best to take the batteries out so they don't leak anyway. (BTW, on the newer SONY's, if you swap out batteries within a minute or so, you don't have to reset the internal clock. But with the Olympus, you have to mildly update the time.)

The Olympus goes through a very brief boot, like a digital camera. So I guess it really goes on and off. And that brings up my first ergonomic problem.

The power switch is part of the Hold switch.

Now, when you're recording all day, you don't want to bump a switch and have the recorder stop on you. So you slide the Hold switch up. The problem is, the Hold switch is also the On/Off switch. Middle position is on, and spring loaded down is off. But it's very easy to break out from the Hold detent and bounce down to the "Off" position. You have to hold the switch there for a half second to turn the unit off. Which is just long enough to accidentally turn the unit off when coming out of "Hold." It would be a lot better if you had to hold the switch for two or three seconds instead to turn it off. Maybe they can change this with a firmware update. (My unit is FW 1.00.)

If you leave the unit on and don't do anything with it for a while, it puts itself to sleep. That's not the same as "Off." I'll see if it turns itself off at the end of this too-long review.

The unit accepts a micro-SD card. For me, this is a big selling point. It turns out that flash memory wears out after time.

I know a brother who wore out his SONY's, using them to record his full days every day for a couple years. Even if it didn't wear out, the internal flash might fail in some funky mode. The nice thing about an SD card is that you can replace it if it starts to go bad (whereas you can't replace the internal memory on the Olympus) and you can use a data recovery program on an SD card if you need to, whereas you may not be able to recover internal memory.

When I bought this unit, Amazon did an Impulse Marketing thing and offered me a Transcend 8 GB microSDHC Class 6 Flash Memory Card TS8GUSDHC6E card for $7. How can you go wrong?

[The Transcend has "wear leveling" built in and with 8GB over which to distribute bits, this should last a long time. A bonus of a high capacity SD card and wear leveling: I just realized today (Saturday) that I wanted to review something from Wednesday that I had already deleted. Worse, I had already made a couple day's worth of recordings since then. Nevertheless, I was able to undelete Wednesday's MP3 intact by putting the SD card in my computer and using an undelete program on it, because the SD card's wear leveling controller was writing new bits to an unused part of the card.]

So I run the Olympus using only the external memory. (FWIW, there doesn't seem to be much cache memory in the recorder. I wouldn't expect there to be much, if any, cache memory. So, if, like dummy me, you tried converting an audio file on the SD card in your recorder using the USB link, and saved the converted file back on the SD card while you're reading the SD card, you get too many collisions and the converted file won't save. Save to a folder on your computer instead. Or, pull the SD card out of the recorder and put it in a card reader for your computer instead.)

Which brings up another point. The little plastic door on the Olympus that covers the micro-SD card slot looks like it might have about 10 cycles before it fails. So I don't plan to be swapping SD cards in and out. But another advantage of having your recordings on SD is that you could pull it from the recorder and put it in your computer, if, say, you were on a trip and forgot the cute little USB converter cable that comes with the Olympus. (Assumes you have a micro-SD adapter or a micro-SD reader. This one VIVITAR 50-In-1 Card Reader VIV-RW-50has been fantastic.)

A reviewer here complains of the too short USB cable. Yes, it is very short. Frankly, I like it for traveling. For home base, I've already got a long USB cable for my desktop computer continuously plugged in, so plugging in this adapter cable is not a problem for me.

Almost done.

As far as ergonomics go, the display, when in Large font mode, is fairly understandable. Whereas the SONY is a goof. (Still, I'd like to try my hand at designing the perfect ergonomic display. I haven't seen one yet.) I just tried the small font mode the other day. It's somewhat overwhelming, redundant, uses some cryptic icons, but has one interesting feature: a VU meter. So you can get an idea of levels as you're recording. [UPDATE: Since trying small fonts, I've stayed with that display. I like it because you can tell at a glance if you're recording via the VU meter bouncing around. I have my recorder set so the RECORD LED does NOT light during record, so I need some kind of visual indicator that does not draw attention in a shirt pocket.]

There's an interesting "calendar" feature, where you can easily find voice files by day. ("Let's see... I talked to Joe last Wednesday.") Easier than trying to find it by file name, especially since Olympus' file naming scheme is simply the prefix "702" followed by a sequential number. (But if you import a file with a long file name, the Olympus displays that long name in a horizontal crawl, like many small mp3 players do.)

You'll want to put a screen protector on the LCD for scratch protection. (Transparent cellophane tape (i.e. "Scotch tape") works okay in a pinch.)

The unit records in both MP3 and WMA, which is a real plus. No proprietary software needed to connect to your PC. When you plug it in to your computer, you see the usual removable hard drives pop up with MP3 or WMA files and you can drag and drop these files as usual. Contrast to the SONY, which, even tho you can record in MP3, you have to use SONY's software to get to the voice files. (A reviewer says the PX312 doesn't need proprietary software. Just plug and play, same as the Olympus.) And again, with this Olympus, in a pinch, you can pull the SD card out, plug it into a computer, and get to your voice files that way. I presume the same is true of the PX312 when you use an SD card too.

There are a lot of subtleties choosing between MP3 and WMA. You can't divide files recorded in WMA. But WMA will let you record more on the unit. (800 hours vs. 90 at the lowest quality settings on 2 GB.) [UPDATE: There seems to be an inconsistency in the manual. Even tho you can record more in WMA at the lowest audio setting, the manual says you can record more in MP3 in a 4GB file (which is a FAT file limit.) Something doesn't make sense there.] Battery life can be longer running WMA vs. MP3 too. (72 hrs. v. 53.) I prefer MP3 for dividing. With an 8GB card, it really doesn't matter that you can record a maximum of 3268 hours of WMA (136+ days) since you can record 356 hours of MP3. (Lowest quality settings.)

Oh - that "scene" stuff. As best I can tell, these are presets, as seen on some digital cameras. In this case, for example, setting the "scene" for Dragon Naturally Speaking sets the recorder up for the absolute best quality recording. I don't use the scene presets.

The unit also offers some filters to cut out low frequency mechanical noise and a filter to tailor the playback for voice. They work very well. The playback filter is internal to playback on the unit itself. That is, it does not modify the actual file you play back on your computer, which is probably how it should be.

I don't use the Variable Control Voice Actuator (VCVA) but you can set the threshold where it trips. Which is a nice feature.

My hands aren't that big, but the buttons are a bit small and this could be a problem for "fat fingers." Small digital cameras have this same problem. It takes a little dexterity to get to that all important center button in the four way menu in the middle. I think they should have raised the middle button even more than they did.

The Erase button should be on the side, away from your fingers, like it is on the SONY so you can't accidentally hit it. But even if you do, Olympus has two confirmation menus to jump through before the deed is done.

And the Index button on the bottom right shouldn't be raised at all. It's too easy to hit "Index" when all you meant to do was Fast Forward. Were I designing, I would make it so you have to double click the Index button. (Again, maybe something they can change with a firmware update.)

Indexing doesn't carry over to the hard files on your computer. So, if you want to divide a day's worth of audio, you have to do it on the recorder. I don't expect Olympus to do this, but a nice ergonomic feature would be for the unit to put a one second beep surrounded by a half second of silence on each side of an index mark in the audio so you could easily trim using a waveform editor on your computer.

My unit came with a nice sock-like carry pouch, which isn't mentioned in the description. (I'll tell Amazon about it.) But the pouch doesn't come with a neck lanyard or belt clip. I improvised. But it's kind of useless otherwise. It also came with AAA alkalines. But I'm using AAA Rechargeable Batteries 820MAH GP Pre-Charged (8-pk.)SALE !! instead.

Here we are at the end of this review, and the unit still hasn't powered itself off. If I recall, I haven't turned it off since I got and when I wake up in the morning, it's still in standby. (Confirmed. It never turns itself off unless you turn it off or take the batteries out.)

I wonder if the Olympus engineers shouldn't have a setting for Alkaline vs. NiMH batteries? The discharge rates are different, and maybe they should give the Low Battery Warning sooner with the NiMH batteries in case this is the problem with lost recordings?
1717 comments164 of 203 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on February 11, 2013
The recorder worked well until it was time to sync it. Like all electronic devices, it can have gremlins, or in our case, be defective. A quick call to technical support walked us through the standard troubleshooting flip book...

- connect cable to computer
- connect device to cable
- reboot computer
- find device manager and look for device not being recognized

I swapped USB cables, but the problem persisted. They offered to send a new USB cable or we could send it in and wait for the repaired unit to come back. The problem is that we would be looking at losing 3 weeks of school recordings, plus however many it would take for it to be returned (let's call that number 4 weeks).

My suggestion to customer support was that I would get a new unit on my own, move the recordings from the old device to the new and they could then reimburse me when I sent the defective device back. I was rudely informed that they would do no such thing, so I have no incentive to stay with Olympus.

My GF loved the device, but we are going with any other company at this point
1313 comments71 of 87 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on June 14, 2012
I love this recorder is has all the functions that I need my teacher lectures very fast and this give me good quality sound when listening back.
0Comment19 of 21 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on September 10, 2013
I really shopped around before buying this recorder to replace an old, missing-the-battery-cover, discontinued Olympus WS-311M Digital Voice Recorder and WMA Music Player Digital Voice Recorder . I SOOO wanted to love this new one. It does record well, but I continually find myself still preferring to limp along with my old, faultering Olympus. I REALLY miss having a direct USB plug that comes out of the unit itself, why does this one require you to have an extra cable to keep track of? I have enough extra cables to keep track of already. It is also almost twice as heavy and twice as big as my old Olympus. Plus I really hate those tiny micro USB plugs. Also, this unit doe NOT have a back light to enable it to work in night settings without adequate lighting. And my MOST HATED feature, the spring-loaded left-side slide on/off switch. I never know whether I have really turned it on or off (since the screen doesn't light up) and it is super awkward to use with one hand. On a plus note, IF you do have adequate lighting to see the screen, the display text is nice and big for older eyes (why I chose this one). The buttons on the front are easy enough to navigate, but the side on and off switch makes this one stay in the junk drawer most of the time for me. Olympus, if you read this - GO BACK TO A NORMAL ON/OFF SWITCH! and offer a back light! It is way too late for me to return this and I am actually back at Amazon looking for something closer to my old one. Something to note, the reason my old recorder is hard to use is that on that its on/off switch and and record button don't always work as they are supposed to do - when they do, it is perfect for my needs. I think Olympus needs to do some SERIOUS redesigning on their side-control buttons. I'm looking at other brands this time. You just lost me Olympus.
22 comments22 of 26 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on June 19, 2013
I bought both this and the Sony ICDPX312 to compare them. I like the feel of the Olympus much better. The buttons are more intuitive.The location for all the modifications are easier to find and activate. I wish I had bought two Olympus recorders instead of one of each of the top of the line products. I am very happy with this product and if this one ever dies, I will order another one. Great job Olympus!!! To be fair, the Sony recorder does have more features than the Olympus. One useful one in particular is the 't-mark' which allows one to segment a large recording for easy division. So Sony is more diverse, Olympus is more user friendly. But both work really well.
0Comment9 of 9 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse

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