14 Apr 2009

Digital Voice Recorder Buyer’s Guide

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Whether you dictate 12 hours a day or 12 minutes a week, a digital voice recorder is a great way to remain mobile while recording your important dictation and notes. Digital voice recorders are more popular today than ever because of their inherent ability to provide a better, more efficient workflow through transcription and capture crystal clear sound quality. Also aging cassette equipment is getting harder and harder to find.

Key General Features:

Construction
Professional users such as Doctors, Lawyers, or any profession that requires large amounts of recording should be aware of the material the device is made out of. Mobile dictation devices, just like cell phones, are handled constantly and can easily be dropped. Professional grade dictation machines are generally made out of metal or aluminum for durability. Casual notetakers or lesser-priced dictation machines are generally made out of plastics and are more vulnerable.

Look for quality components around the buttons and try out the switches if you can. They should feel smooth to depress and operate.

Mechanical Operation
Four-position slide switch or push button operation? If the author has been using dictation equipment for more than 10 years, he or she may only know the four-position slide as it’s the most popular. Professional grade machines almost always offer a model with this configuration as many find it comfortable and familiar. Push button operation is more common as manufacturing costs are less, and generally can be found at a lower price point. If you’re buying a handheld for someone else to use, we strongly encourage you to purchase whichever configuration the author is accustomed to. This will be familiar for the user and increase the overall satisfaction he or she will have with the device.

Screen Size
A feature that’s often overlooked is the LCD size on the recorder and some professional models even go as far as to offer backlit LC-Displays. When shopping for a recorder, think about how often you’re going to interact with the recorder and the features that you will use. If you plan to pick up the recorder, hit record and that’s it, then a large LCD is far less important. However, if you intend on using the insert/overwrite functions, rewinding or reviewing your dictation or even using file demographics, then a device featuring a larger LCD will provide you with a much better experience.

Security
Do you need to protect your dictation and notes from unauthorized users before they leave your handheld? Dictations that contain medical or legal information may need to be protected and if that’s the case, you’ll want to consider a Philips or Olympus professional grade dictation machine. These machines feature pin lockout features and some also offer biometric finger print scanners.

New legislation on state levels could require you to protect the content on your voice recorder. Check on your state’s website to find out if there is an legislation pending or that has been passed.

Menuing Systems
How intuitive is the menuing system in the recorder? If you’re a casual dictator, this may not be important at all, but a power user will want to find a recorder that has an easy to use menuing system. This menuing system is how the user interacts with the recorder and can greatly affect the user’s experience. Premium voice recorders typically offer more features, a larger LCD and a menuing system that is well thought out and easy to experience. Some of the most difficult to use recorders I have used have been the inexpensive notetakers.

Incremental Rewind
Some features that one would normally assume are standard on all digital voice recorders won’t be found on most casual notetakers. One of the biggest surprises many will experience is the lack of incremental rewind. While many note takers will have a rewind button, it really just places you back at the beginning of the file. From there, you need to fast forward to the area you would like to review.

Dictation Controls
Did you leave something out of a note you wish you hadn’t? With the “Insert” function on a professional grade dictation machine, you simply use incremental rewind to back up, ensure you’re in “Insert” mode, and hit record. Your notes are now being placed exactly where you stopped the recording. Hit stop when you’re done and fast-forward to the end to continue on with your dictation.

If you dictated something incorrectly, simply change your record mode from “Insert” to “Overwrite”, rewind to the place where you would like to copy over the audio, hit record and speak. You’re now overwriting the voice file. Hit stop and fast forward to the end to continue with your dictation.

Demographics
If you’re a serious dictator, you’ll want to consider the use of file demographics in your dictation. While today you may dictate a case number, patient number, etc, using file demographics enables software to route and prioritize your dictation quickly and without any effort.

Some dictation machines want text characters from the user while others simply provide a folder structure and you place dictations into the appropriate folders.

Casual notetakers do not offer file demographics. It is also important to note that you will want to make sure your transcription software can identify these demographics.

Included Software
Make sure you’re aware of what software your handheld comes with. Some software is basic offloading software to get the voice files onto your PC. However, once they are on your PC, you still need to do something with them. Professional grade dictation machines often give you a basic utility for transferring voice files via Email or FTP. Some of the highest end recorders will come with some encryption tools; however, take note that to use that encryption software, you generally need to buy the companion transcription software, which can increase the overall cost of your solution.

Included Manual
Some voice recorders will come complete with a printed manual for general operation, others come with electronic PDFs on CD. If you’re a paper kind of person, be prepared to print yours as many manufacturers are no longer including that paper manual we’re all familiar with.

Voice Files
Every digital voice recorder creates digital voice files on its internal memory. Each brand such as Sony, Philips or Olympus creates its own unique file type. If you have transcription software in place, find out what brand it is and consider purchasing a voice recorder around the transcription software you own. If you don’t own any or would like something more up to date, then just ensure both the digital voice recorder and the transcription software you’re considering are compatible with one another.

Technical Support
As with anything designed to integrate with software, sometimes questions or issues arise. When that happens, make sure your vendor offers technical support. The folks at TranscriptionGear.Com offer technical support for free.

Warranty
A products warranty will vary from brand to brand and vendor to vendor. Buy a product with a warranty that puts your mind at ease, from a vendor that will stand behind your purchase with a satisfaction guarantee. A 1-year parts and labor is standard for a professional grade machine. Some vendors even offer extended warranties to provide you with extended protection.

Price
Dictation machines and notetakers can vary greatly in price. While we’re all concerned about cost, we are also well aware that you get what you pay for. If you need a serious dictation machine, you should seriously consider buying the right machine for the job. I’ve spoken to many people who purchase a notetaker to do serious dictation tasks. Some are frustrated by the lack of features, others at the idea they are throw away machines as they don’t offer a long life in this demanding environment. Simple features like a docking station and recharge capabilities are often overlooked as unneeded accessories; however, the rechargeable batteries alone will pay for the recorder over a short period of time.

Where to buy?
Professional grade digital voice recorders cannot be found in OfficeMax or stores like it. They must be purchased from a qualified dealer as manufacturers place high demands on those reselling professional grade machines such as on-site technical support for end-users. 

Internet resellers
If you’re considering a purchase online, you should investigate the e-retailer first. How fast do they ship? How long have they been in business? Do they have on site service and support? Do they carry inventory or is someone else drop shipping it for them? Ensure your e-retailer is reliable and has a good, solid reputation. It’s not uncommon to find very small organizations that do not stock product or provide adequate service and support. This could lead to problems in the event you needed assistance with the product or needed to return it for any reason up to and including repairs in the future.

If you have questions about recorders, improving your workflow or just need to talk dictation with a professional, give the folks at TranscriptionGear.Com a call at 888-834-2392 or visit their website www.transcriptiongear.com.

About Blake:
Jeff

Blake O'Toole
Business Manager @ TranscriptionGear.Com
888-834-2392 ext. 1


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