[bct] Re: Olympus WS320M Review

  • From: "Matt Roberts" <blindbiker@xxxxxxxxx>
  • To: <blindcooltech@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Thu, 2 Mar 2006 20:23:52 -0500

I have this recorder and really like it.  I feel it works better than a tape
recorder.  I took it to my volunteer job yesterday because I was going to
have to make recordings on cassette.  I compared the two a cassette recorder
and my Olympus.  What I found was in dictation mode the WS320 picked up a
lot less background noise than the cassette recorder.  I can walk around
with the unit in my shirt pocket and it picks up just fine.
I agree that if you handle the recorder you'll get a lot of noise on the
recording, but you can pause and edit out the noise later.

                              Matt Roberts  

> -----Original Message-----
> From: blindcooltech-bounce@xxxxxxxxxxxxx 
> [mailto:blindcooltech-bounce@xxxxxxxxxxxxx] On Behalf Of Eric StevenS
> Sent: Thursday, March 02, 2006 10:42 AM
> To: blindcooltech@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
> 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 memory 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 (I've 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 programs 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 were 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 from 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 maybe 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 the 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 microcassette, 
> 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 (The 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 passing 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 
> (barely-detectable 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 mode 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 that 
> 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
> paper)
> 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 what 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 
> compressed 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 meaningful frequencies down 
> below 8kHz all have less bandwidth to play with, and so sound 
> degraded because of all the extra stuff (hiss...) being 
> compressed into 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 encoder 
> 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 dic 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 loudly 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 slides 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 also 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 seconds 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 plastic (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 doubt; 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, 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 right.
> 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 device, 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 squeeze 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 
> cram
> 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 
> these
> 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 
> perspective
> 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 
> unergonomic;
> 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 
> these
> 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 
> for
> 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 
> don't
> 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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