Sound compression works well on a speaking voice - all three units produced a clearly understandable output even when the speaker was not speaking directly into them and was merely in the same room. All three units also have a setting for conference recording. This picks up more small sounds, but didn't seem to work very well in a pub or train. The sound reproduction is much like a good telephone line.
With all three of these recorders, you need to record at maximum quality to have any chance at voice-recognition by your PC. This means 16 minutes of recording for the D-1000 (with the supplied 2MB card), 66 minutes for the QR240, and 75 minutes for the DS-150. It is voice recognition that makes these units a good idea, beyond being just one more shiny trinket for the boss to carry around.
My personal favourite, and the cheapest of the units, was the Panasonic QR240. It is about the size of a credit card, and recording was extremely simple. It has the longest recording mode (of three options) at 266 minutes. The main control is a wheel nicely situated in one corner - this is a bit like a mousewheel, and much easier to operate than the buttons of the other recorders. The great failing of the Panasonic is its lack of a digital output. The sound quality was marginally beneath that of the Olympus units, too.
Clearly the most upmarket unit here is the Olympus D-1000. It is relatively large, about the size of a small mobile phone, and has additional features like overwrite and partial message erase, index marks during recording, and a replaceable memory card. The recording time with the supplied 2MB card is rather short, and one gets the impression that the manufacturer would like to sell more and bigger memory cards to an enthusiastic public. With an optional accessory, the Miniature Card Reader/Writer, you can read Olympus' digital sound files (.dss) from the card at parallel port speeds.
The Olympus DS-150 is much smaller than the earlier model above, although not quite as handy as the Panasonic. It has a long recording time of 160 minutes, and can output .dss files with the optional USB connector. I found this far preferable to handling the cards from the D-1000, and it shows the rate of advancement in this field. Like the other Olympus, it has an indexing system, which involves putting a signal in the recording in place of sound, allowing quick redirection to the index. Blotting out two seconds of sound recording is rather bad implementation, though.
These machines are a tangible improvement on miniature cassette recorders. However, a small machine like one of these cannot do all the work of dictation, due mainly to the power requirements of processors. But when that aspect is improved, their adoption will hinge more on ease of use at the recording end than a plethora of features or huge capacity. Oh, it's got to be small and cute, too - packaged in a translucent molar with a tiny white LED would be nice.
Price: $599.50; Via Voice software kit $190.85Supplier: Nationwide DictatingPhone: (02) 9313 7666URL: http://olympusvoice.com.auOlympus DS-150 Via Voice KitPrice: $779.35Supplier: Nationwide DictatingPhone: (02) 9313 7666URL: http://olympusvoice.com.auPanasonic RR-QR240 Price: $355Supplier: PanasonicPhone: (02) 9986 7400URL: www.panasonic.com.au