Olympus WS-600S Digital Audio Recorder

Over the years we have checked out many digital audio recorders to faculty members wishing to record their lectures, or parts of lectures or other audio messages, for upload to Blackboard or web sites. With the advent of the Wimba Voice Tools, the need for audio recorders diminished.  Now, to record a quick message (or any message shorter than 20 minutes) just login to Blackboard and use the Wimba Voice Authoring “Mashup”:

Wimba Voice Authoring Tool

It’s simple and effective.  The computer becomes your digital voice recorder.

Still, this won’t help those who a) want to record entire lectures; or b) want to place their recordings outside the Blackboard environment.  There is still a need for portable audio recorders like the Olympus.

Early on we settled on Olympus digital audio recorders because they record to a web standard audio format: WMA, Windows Media Audio.  While not universal (it is not supported natively by Apple devices) it can be easily converted to MP3 format using utilities like Audacity or the excellent (and free) Any Audio Converter.  Most digital audio recorders record in a proprietary format (including most from Olympus) which cannot easily be converted for web use.  That is why the WS-series has been so useful to us.

Now, at long last, Olympus has released a digital audio recorder in the WS family that records natively to MP3 format, the WS-600S.  We have purchased several with PRP funds for checkout to faculty members.  Below is our review.

To start, here is a brief overview of the important specs:

Recording formats: WMA or MP3

Memory: 2GB of built-in flash memory (the original WS-100’s had 128MB!)

Recording times vary by setting:

  • MP3 mode,  @192kbs: ˜ 22 hours
  • MP3 mode  @ 128kbs: ˜ 34 hours
  • WMA mode @ HQ setting ˜ 135 hours
  • WMA mode @ SP setting ˜ 266 hours
  • WMA mode @ LP setting ˜ 529 hours

ws 600s digital audio recorderAs astonishing as that last number is, 529 hours of lectures (the mind boggles), we recommend using a higher quality setting (HQ if you want to use WMA format, 128kbs (kilobits per second) if MP3) and simply manage your files.  You and your students will be happier with the higher audio quality, and it simply gets confusing if you store too many files on the device.  Record them, transfer them, and delete them.

Folder structure: The folder structure retains the WS-series data folder structure already familiar to users of previous models of this recorder.  The folders are labeled A-E, so that you could potentially record separate lectures for each of 5 classes, and keep them separated logically.  Gone, thankfully, is the Music folder, and references to storing music.  You could, but why would you?

Speaker: 18mm dynamic speaker facing the front of the device – tiny, tinny and just adequate to tell that you have recorded something.

Microphone jack: 3.5mm, and we DO recommend the use of a lapel mic (we have both the Olympus ME-15 and the newer ME-52W lapel mics for checkout) if you plan to record your lectures in class.  If you do not use an extension microphone, the device has a built-in stereo microphone with three levels of sensitivity settings that can pick up excellent sound from small to large venues.

Earphone jack: 3.5mm.

Power supply: AAA alkaline or NiMH rechargeable battery (yes, we have replacement alkaline batteries for you).

Battery life: ˜ 25 hours.

Weight: 1.8 oz.

Beyond recording in industry standard web formats—the thing that attracted us to this family of recorders in the first place—the WS-600S also features a direct USB connection to your computer, making file transfers simple.  With this model, gone are the break-apart approaches of the older models.  The new USB port slides out the bottom of the recorder, the best design so far. Also changed from previous versions is the location of the record/stop buttons.  They have been moved to the front of the device to preclude possible on/off-by-accident scenarios, another big improvement.

Recording is simple, as is file transfer to your computer.  Simply extend the USB port and plug it in.  Device drivers load automatically and you can use the Windows Explorer of Mac Finder to rename (highly recommended) and transfer files to your hard drive.  The transfer to Windows machines went flawlessly in my tests using Windows 7, though Vista and SP are also supported.  I tested it on OS X versions 10.6 and 10.7 and it was recognized by both.

The power on/off arrangement, and hold button are simpler to understand on this recorder than on previous models.  Another new feature is the power save mode, configurable to never if you wish, that will be invoked after 5,10,etc. minutes of inactivity.

Here is a sample MP3 recording made at the 128kbs setting.

Here is another sample, for comparison purposes, at the same setting but using the built-in stereo mic, set to medium sensitivity.

If you wanted to record the activities of a group in class, use the recorder without lapel mic and set in on the table around which the group is meeting.  If it is your lecture, the lapel mic is recommended, but you can experiment to see what works best for you.

The recorder is simple to understand (unless you try storing custom audio profiles—not recommended) and use.  Contact Terry Gray to check one out.