[bct] Re: Olympus WS320M Review

  • From: "Rick Harmon" <rickharmon@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: <blindcooltech@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Thu, 2 Mar 2006 10:50:24 -0500


I read the same article before buying the 320 and I feel he is just very 
opinionated on the other unit.  I think the 320 is a very good unit and I 
doubt you will be disappointed.  If its good enough for Mary and Larry and 
others here.  Then I can assure you it will be a good unit for you to have. 
BTW that's  just my opinion.



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"The chief handicap of the blind is not blindness, but the attitude of 
seeing people towards them."
- Helen Keller, 1925

----- Original Message ----- 
From: "Eric StevenS" <sseric57@xxxxxxxxxxx>
To: <blindcooltech@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
Sent: Thursday, March 02, 2006 10:41 AM
Subject: [bct] Olympus WS320M Review

I figured since Larry had made this his new pick for best digital recorder
and per Mary's review, I would consider it.  So, poking around for sources
and prices, I came across this review.  Granted, some people aren't happy
with anything and some like to spout just to show their superior knowledge
and that doesn't come across nearly as much when saying positive things,
this may be taken with a grain of salt.  I am not so interested in the
technical specs as I was his description of the quality of fit and finish,
which seemed in some cases at odds with how Mary described it, but also
confirmed a few of her observations.  I have decided this is not a purchase
I want to make without being able to put my grimy little paws on the unit
first, though.

Eric SS

67 of 67 people found the following review helpful:
 Toy, December 1, 2005
Reviewer: An electronics fan
[I came back and edited this review after reading the next guy's more
favorable take on the player. I gave it another chance and... I still don't
like it
much, but it's worth a third star after getting over the shock of its not
being the same quality of the DM20]

For context, understand that I also own an Olympus DM-20 that I am using for
comparison: whereas the DM-20 is the perfect voice recorder, aside from
and transfer speed limitations, the WS-320 looks like a toy by comparison.

#1, claims USB 2.0 speeds, whereas my unit is transferring music at about
20Mb per minute (yes, per MINUTE). Same speed as the USB 1.1 DM20, roughly
been racing them).
#2, The manual claims that you can now put MP3s and your own WMAs in the
Voice folders in order to use fast/slow play, etc. on language-learning
and for music-learning. It won't recognize MP3s in the voice folders, but
you can put WMAs encoded with the standard 9.1 or lower codec in there that
recorded with bitrates of 256kbps or less, mono or stereo, at 22khz or
others (I've only tried 22khz and 44.1). I haven't tried vbr, but it will
not recognize
the "wma voice" codec or acelp.net. Also, You cannot place index marks
infiles other than those recorded on an Olympus recorder--you can transfer
one recorder to another and place index marks, but not add them to files
recorded onyour PC.
#3, there is a lot of hiss in the background when you record, even in STHQ
mode. I don't think this is a defect issue, I think it's a CODEC issue or
hiss from the device electronics getting in as EMI--I don't know, but the
noise knocks it right out for any sort of serious recording. It's close to
same when using an external microphone, more than for the DM20, although
some hiss goes along with analog microphones of course. This reminds me of a
for example. I've tried using a pro-quality studio mic and good headphones
to make sure, which gave less hiss but still more on the 320 than the 20
DM20 mic and codec are pristene by comparison)
#4, compared to the DM-20, HQ quality is much lower than what I was
expecting. HQ on the WS320 already sounds a bit like an answering machine
with digital
background flutter (artifacts) when you hear it on headphones, whereas on
the DM20 I can hear the words to music being played on the stereos of
cars fifty feet away in HQ mode! After looking at the files from both
recorders, I can't really explain the fact that the DM20 files sound clear
digital sheen in the background in HQ mode, and most users won't hear it at
all in normal use) while WS320 files have a pronounced digital sheen. HQ
on both recorders is 44.1khz mono 32kbps. Note that STHQ mode on the WS320
is 64kbps/44.1 stereo, but 64kbps isn't an option in the WMA codec for mono
recording, for whatever Microsofty reason (a better choicefor HQ might have
been 22kHz stereo, which yields precisely the same file size). I'll note
several reviewers on the net complained that the DM20's mic only recorded up
to like 8+ kHz, which some consumers (probably playing anumbers game on
thought was too low; certainly, the WS320's mic captures higher frequencies.
I tested this by holding one recorder in each hand (like a complete dork)
and recording the same voice file simultaneously onto both, then listening
to both files on my HTPC on headphones and looking at them in software. Bear
in mind that virtually all the action for human voice occurs below 2kHz, so
all you're adding for frequencies above that are basically harmonics and
I experience as a sense of airiness. ...And hiss, which is a high-freq
phenomenon. All those extra kHz (that's thousands of Hz, btw) have now to be
into the wma, with the results being (1) that the very same file is about 8%
larger when recorded on the WS320 relative to the DM20, and (2) the
frequencies down below 8kHz all have less bandwidth to play with, and so
sound degraded because of all the extra stuff (hiss...) being compressed
the same bitrate from higher frequencies. That's my story, and I'm sticking
to it. [Tip: I use a lowpass filter of 19 to 19.5 in the LAME.exe MP3
settings to deliver demonstrably richer bass] Finally, the mic level on the
DM20 is much, much stronger than the WS320. "Dictation" mode on the WS320 is
inadequate unless you're playing back the files in a silent room with the
recorder's volume max'ed, and even then it's very low playing back. In both
and conf modes, the DM20 mic makes much LOUDER RECORDINGS!!! The "dict"
setting on the WS320 is unusable in my opinion unless you tend to speak very
into the mic; me, I'm usually muttering into it at 4a.m. On the bright side,
SP mode on the WS320 uses the WMA codec now, and aside from heavy digital
artifacts, the speech itself is intact. The DM20 used a propriatary DSS file
format that was wretched for SP and LP modes.
#5, The plastic housing conducts and amplifies every slight pressure of your
hand on the recorder. It's a constant distraction, and very pronounced. This
is not a problem when using an external mic.
#6, The hold and voice/music switches are now so small and have so
incredibly little travel distance that I literally can't tell with certainty
by touch
when I've pressed a button. Somehow I always manage not to successfully put
it on hold when I attach it to the computer, probably because the switch
back while I'm separating the pieces or plugging it in. These controls are
slightly too easy to move by accident.
#7, The buttons are now too small to operate easily. I have to concentrate
on them to a degree that's distracting, especially record/stop/play. I've
noticed that the recorder seems to shut off after X seconds, whether or not
it's in hold mode. As a result, sometimes I have to hit Rec twice five
apart before anything will happen.
#8, Once you pull apart the battery compartment to expose the usb port,
reattaching the two pieces is a trick. Since the housing is rather flimsy
(ah-hem, the DM20 is all metal), I feel like this is going to either break
one fine day or the ridges that help hold it in place will break or the unit
will begin trying to separate on its own. Maybe it'll last until I'm ready
to call such an event an excuse to upgrade. I use these things hard,no
the thing is so light that I forgot it was in my breast pocket and it fell
onto the pavement, detaching instantly into four pieces (battery
compartment cover, battery, and recorder). The finish scratches easily, btw,
and so I've ended my mental dialogue as to whether or not to keep the unit.
Sliding the two pieces in place isn't always easy, since it has to be lined
up just so; at least for me, it's requiring a new habit of how to do it
I also keep misplacing the battery compartment, but that's just me. Point
being that this is not a "use it hard and don't worry about it" kind of
further reducing its suitability for a research project, etc.
#9, Whereas the DM20 has a hinged door for the battery compartment, the
WS320 has a piece of plastic that pops all the way off, and can do so if you
the recorder the wrong way. It fell off without my noticing while I was
manhandling the two pieces back together and I found the recorder later in
my pocket
with no battery cover. I spent an hour looking for it.

I had no idea there would be such a vast gulf between Olympus' "business"
products like the DS-2 and DM-20 versus these new products that attempt to
in features at a "low" cost. Certainly, buying separate devices for voice
and MP3s might be better, at least until they release a pro lineup to match
specs and boost the transfer speeds somehow. I'm looking at it from a
professional perspective (where $200 is a sensible price), and from the
of voice memos (where $200 is NOT required). This new lineup disappoints me
even for the task of making voice memos while I'm writing, since it's so
and certainly I could never take it into the field for interviews.

I suppose I should also mention the good stuff, right? The MP3 player has
very nice sound quality. I have WOW and 3d on "low," since I usually dislike
things and I'm otherwise a Grado-headphone-wearing audio snob who wouldn't
touch an Ipod. Listening on the ws320 is pleasant. MP3 folders can have two
levels beneath "Music" (e.g., Music\artist\album\title.mp3). The built-in
speaker is very adequate (for voice playback, obviously). One major reason
my "upgrading" from the DM20 is the USB-direct feature: plugging it directly
into the computer without a cable is very, very useful, especially since it
uses standard removable disk drivers like other recorders and so requires no
proprietary drivers or software.

In general, Olympus seems to be the only place to look for quality voice
recorders; however, if voice recording quality is your primary concern, I
think this recorder will ever satisfy you. As for space, the 1GB capacity
only becomes of use for (a) field recording, which isn't a good idea on this
unit, or (b) mp3s. I've rarely filled up my DM20, since I frequently
download the files to my computer for backup and transcription.

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