Technology eReport
Volume 6, Number 2
May 2007

Table of Contents
Past Issues
Olympus DSS 4000

Olympus DS-4000

Phillips DPM 9600
Courtesy Philips Dictation Systems


Calling All Dictators: Top-Rated Digital Dictating Equipment

Reviewed by Jeffrey Allen

Most of us have had experience using dictating equipment of one sort or another. Depending on how long you have been in practice, you may have worked with dictating equipment using reel-to-reel, standard cassette, and/or microcassette tape for its recording media. While you can still find some of that type of equipment around, the last several years have seen a major shift in the paradigm. Most of us use digital dictation equipment now. Those of us that don’t will likely do so in the near future.

Digital dictation equipment comes in many forms. The portable units have become the most powerful,l as you can use them in and out of your office and in a variety of environments and locations. You can get relatively inexpensive digital recorders that can function as dictation units in the $200–$300 range. You can also get professional quality digital dictation equipment. Granted, you will pay more for it; but the advantages in terms of quality, reliability, longevity, and simple convenience of use far outweigh the price differential. The professional models considered in this review all cost between $350 and $500, but can often be found for less online. You can pay more for kits including optional accessories.

The portable professional digital dictation equipment considered in this review represent the units generally considered as the best by most vendors of such equipment. The units considered are the Olympus DS-4000, the Phillips DPM 9600, the Grundig Digta 4015 and Digta 415, and the Sony ICD-BM1. All of the units share many common features, but each has some that distinguish it from the others.

  • 1. All of the units have a collection of control switches on the front and or back, but share the traditional thumb switch as the primary control mechanism for dictation. That switch resides on the right side of each unit so that when the user holds the unit in their right hand, the right thumb controls the dictation, review, stop, and play functions through that switch.
  • 2. Each unit has a backlit display screen that uses alphanumeric and graphic symbols. The Phillips unit has the largest screen, followed in order by the Olympus, Grundigs, and Sony.
  • 3. All of the units use flash memory media for expanded recording time. The Phillips and Grundig units use SD cards, the Olympus uses an XD, card and the Sony uses a memory stick.
  • 4. All of the units come with rechargeable batteries except the Sony. It comes with two standard AAA batteries. You can, of course, replace them with rechargable batteries if you wish.
  • 5. All of the units record in DSS format except the Sony, which records in .wav format.
  • 6. The Phillips and Grundig Digta 415 screens are the easiest to see, with the Olympus close behind. The Digta 4015 and the Sony screens are the most difficult to read.
  • 7. All of the units have separate power switches. The configuration of the Olympus makes it the least likely to accidentally switch on or off.
  • 8. All of the units have metal cases except the two Grundig machines.
  • 9. All of the units come with cases. The Grundig units have cloth cases and the others have leather (a leather case is available for the Digta 4015).
  • 10. Each of the units connects to a computer via a standard USB port for file transfer.
  • 11. Each of the units has ports for external microphones and earphones.
  • 12. None of the manufacturers make the units in the United States. Grundig’s units come from Germany, Phillips’ units come from Austria, Olympus’ units come from China, and Sony’s come from Japan.
  • 13. All of the units are fairly easy and straightforward to use.
  • 14. All units have Dragon Naturally Speaking 9 compatibility certification except the Phillips. The Phillips has just been released and the available certification lists predate it. The Sony unit has the highest compatibility rating.
  • 15. Although the Olympus is the only united advertised as compatible with the Macintosh, the same software that makes the Olympus work with the Macintosh also allows the other DSS devices (all but the Sony) to work with the Macintosh.
  • 16. The Sony unit has been around the longest. The Olympus also has been out for several years. The Grundig 4015 has been around for a while (but without U.S. formatting). The Digta 415 was released within the last year, and the Phillips is brand new, having been released in March 2007.
  • 17. The feel of the units in your hand is a personal thing. To me, the Digta 415 feels the most comfortable and the Sony ICD-BM1 the least comfortable. The Olympus DSS 4000 and the Phillips 9600 feel almost identical in my hand and also quite comfortable.

The Sony unit costs $349, but I have seen it on line for as little as $250. It is the least of the units in my opinion in terms of price, features, and desirability. In truth, I included it in this list solely as a result of its compatibility rating with respect to Dragon Naturally Speaking 9.

In terms of recording quality and clarity, the units are on a par with each other, but, to my ear, the Olympus and Phillips units have a slight advantage.

Size, Weight, and Price
The $449 DS 4000 is 1.97” x 0.67” x 4.34” and weighs in at 3.63 oz.
The $499 DPM 9600 is 2.0” x 0.7” x 4.6” and weighs 3.7 oz.
The Digta 415 is 2.13” x 0.83” x 5.0” and weighs 3.63 oz.
The $395 Digta 4015 is 1.97” x 0.91” x 5.2 “ and weighs 5.11 oz.

The bottom line: You will probably shift to digital dictation in the near future, if you have not already done so. The Olympus unit has generally been considered the best in its class for the last few years. The Phillips DPM 9600 and the Digta 415 are new units that are worth considering as alternatives.

For the Record: The Marantz PMD660 and CDR 420 Recorders

Reviewed by Jeffrey Allen

Marantz has a reputation for making outstanding recording devices for professional use. These two devices meet the expectation of excellence associated with the Marantz name.

The Marantz CDR420 can record and store up to 1800 hours of MP3 quality recordings or 24 hours of uncompressed 44.1/48kHz quality recordings on its 20 GB hard disk. The Marantz CDR420 uses USB 2.0 for fast file transfer to a computer; it also allows you to connect a computer keyboard for easy file naming. The CDR 420 also allows you to move the files to a CD for easy distribution.

The CDR 420 records in both .wav and MP3 file formats to make it easier for you to make use of the recorded files. Although you can use external microphones with the CDR 420, it comes with a built-in microphone that works quite well for most uses. The built in speaker allows for playback with reasonable quality as well, particularly for the recording of nonmusical events. Marantz built the CDR 420 for field use in professional settings. It looks like it will take a reasonable beating and keep on recording. I have used a Marantz cassette recorder for many years, and it has held up very well. The CDR 420 looks to be of the same ilk.

The CDR 420 has all the control necessary to allow a technician to maximize the sound quality, and you can flip it to automatic and get an excellent recording if you are not into the idea of being a sound techie. The recorder also has built-in editing capabilities.

The CDR 420 does not give you a lightweight recorder. Rather, it is a substantial piece of equipment approximately 11”x 9”x 4” in size and weighs in at approximately 5.5 lbs. The unit lists for $1,499, but you can find it on line for around $1,200. If that sounds like a lot of money for a recording device, you won’t get any argument from me. On the other hand, if you have a need for a dependable, reliable recorder that will produce CDs, you may find the features packed into this one justify the price. Potential uses for the CDR 420: recording your presentations when you teach CLE classes so that you can distribute the presentation on CD, recording arbitration proceedings, administrative hearings, recording depositions, recording meetings of corporate boards of directors, recording conferences.

If you can’t (or don’t want to) massage your office equipment budget to cover the cost of a CDR 420 and/or you don’t need the ability to convert the recording to CD and/or you want a more portable device, look at the Marantz PMD 660. The PMD 660 uses flash memory in a much smaller, lighter and more portable package. Also designed for professional field use, this device packs more easily due to the fact that it only takes up 4.9” x 7.2 ”x 1.9” of space and weighs in at only 1.1 lbs. You can power it from the AC line cord or run it with 4 AA batteries (about a 4 hour life).

The PMD 660 has two built-in condenser microphones and also works with external microphones, if you prefer to use one. It does have a built-in speaker, but for playback other than speech, you will be happier transferring the files to a computer, burning a CD, and playing it back through higher quality speakers.

Recognizing that professional uses generally require editing, Marantz built editing features into the PMD 660. In terms of recording time, the PMD 660 will record approximately 36 hours of monaural mp3 at 64 kbps or about 17 hours of high quality compressed stereo mp3 at 128 kbps.

It comes with a shoulder strap for easy mobility. While you can use it for almost everything you can use the CDR 420 to do, the CDR 420 will handle many chores more elegantly and better than the PMD 660. If you plan to carry the recorder around and use it for recording witness interviews or informal meetings/conferences, the PMD 660’s portability makes it the better choice.

The PMD 660 lists for $649, but you can find it on line for under $500.

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All rights reserved.

On the Go—HP Mobile Messenger

Reviewed by Alan Pearlman

For those of you who have had your eye on a new and more exciting form of communications outside the office, without the hassles that previously accompanied handhelds, I urge you to take a good look at the HP iPAQ hw6940 Mobile Messenger series. The HP iPAQ hw6940 Mobile Messenger provides all the essentials to keep your business running even when you’re away from the office—phone, email, and more secure access to business-critical information. At the same time, let your HP iPAQ keep life fun using GPS Navigation, the HP Photosmart Camera, and Microsoft® Windows Media Player 10 Mobile to play your digital music and videos.

It features quad-band GSM technology that delivers high-quality mobile voice and data services with roaming capabilities across the world. A variety of integrated wireless technologies, including GPRS/EDGE, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth let you connect and communicate in and away from the office. You also have the ability to transform your HP iPAQ into a personal guide to get you where you need to go with the built-in GPS receiver. When you deal with email you have the ability to read and respond using powerful solutions that help maintain your business’ security. A Mini-SD slot allows you to add memory as you need it or to exchange files between your HP iPAQ and another device.

For those out of the office times that you just want to have a little fun, you can use the built-in HP Photosmart Camera take a quick photo and share it wirelessly from your handheld or your HP iPAQ keeps your life fun with Microsoft Windows Media Player® 10 Mobile to play your music and videos. Although the unit is a bit pricey for the leading edge at $599, once you try it you will want to have one. I take mine everywhere. I have been highly satisfied with it.

Neither the ABA nor ABA Sections endorse non-ABA products or services, and the product reviews in the Technology eReport should not be so construed.

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