Olympus DS-4000

28 Jul 2005

Product: Digital voice recorder
Price: €649
Taking audio notes will always have a niche appeal but it’s a niche that may well grow if the process of annotating them is made easier. This is exactly where the Olympus DS-4000 wants to be taken seriously, as a digital dictation tool that enables you to archive, edit and process your recordings on the desktop. But before we get to working with the audio notes, how does the DS-4000 acquit itself at recording them?

Ergonomically it’s a sleek silver tab of technology, reassuringly robust with clearly marked yet discreet control buttons. The fascia is topped of with a square LCD but the real business takes place inside. More than 11 hours of recording can be stored in long play (five in standard) on its 32MB card, accessed by a five-folder system where you can label and allocate an author ID to your recordings.

Some buttons double up in their duties, a tad confusing but much more worrying is the slider control on the side. When listening back it’s all too easy to slide into Record mode, which sits adjacent to Play. Before you know it you have deleted a chunk of what you were hoping to listen to. The close proximity of the controls enables a neat insert facility to overwrite sections of a recording but the downside is that you can inadvertently wipe something you need. Not good.

No such mistakes arise when you deliberately want to erase something. The LCD flashes a file erase warning and you have to hit the orange button a second time to confirm.

Sound quality from the onboard microphone — positioned on the top side next to external mic and earphone sockets — is far from spectacular. There are conference and dictation settings but the tone is not great in either, and gets considerably worse when you switch from standard to long-play mode. Using the DSS (digital speech standard) audio format, the sound is heavily compressed to enable more recording time, suggesting that quantity rather than quality is the main agenda.

To a degree all of these niggles become less important when you transfer recordings over to your computer. Sitting in its cradle the DS-4000 hooks up to your computer via a USB connection. Once the software is installed recordings can be effortlessly downloaded, tweaked, stored, emailed or simply played back with onscreen transport controls.

While it’s all very friendly and intuitive there’s still the nagging concern that the recording quality lets it down. For such a hefty asking price you would expect something a lot more pleasing to the ear.

By Ian Campbell