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POCKET DICTATORS

 

INTRO

The humble pocket dictating machine is one of the most versatile business tools yet devised, and indispensable for those working from home. Rick Maybury has been trying out a selection of machines costing between £30 and £230

 

COPY

Dictating machines are actually one of the oldest items of office equipment, the first ones appeared just a few years after the first commercial typewriter in 1876, though the original wax-cylinder machines, based on Edison’s Phonograph, bear little resemblance to today’s devices. Nevertheless, the principle remains the same, and the ability to record speech is as important today as it was then, for the simple reason that we think and speak faster than most of us can write or type. They’re arguably the most efficient and reliable means of collecting thoughts, ideas and conversations, in fact they’re the next best thing to having a secretary or personal assistant always on hand, when you’re in the office or on the move.

 

Until the early 1960’s most dictating machines were large desk-bound devices

and although several manufacturers, notably the original ‘Dictaphone’ company and Grundig, developed easy to handle tape cassettes, it wasn’t until the arrival of the Philips compact cassette in 1963 that they became truly portable, and affordable for small businesses. Other purpose-designed tape formats have been developed but the compact cassette remains one of the most popular and economic options for SoHo users, moreover they’re durable, cheap, record for up to 2 hours, compatible with home tape decks and personal stereos,  but they impose a size limitation. Most pocket-size machines now use mini and micro-cassettes. These tiny tapes  which last for up to 90 minutes, are basically scaled-down audio cassettes, and like their larger cousins, record on both sides.

 

Three other tape cassette formats are worth mentioning, they are DAT, DCC and NT. DAT or digital audio tape is a compact high-performance audio/data recording system, much favoured by professionals. Audio quality is excellent, though only a few recorders are available, they’re all rather expensive and somewhat over-qualified for routine office tasks. DCC (digital compact cassette) is a slightly cheaper alternative and recorders can replay analogue tape cassettes as well,  but once again the format is better suited to more demanding applications.  Lastly there’s Sony NT, (it stands for ‘non-tracking’), and it’s another high-quality (and expensive...) digital recording system, this time using tape cassettes roughly the same size as a postage stamp but which last for up to 120 minutes.

 

Whilst we’re on the subject, digital technology plays a key role in two other systems, they’re MiniDisc and voice recorder chips. MiniDisc is an opto-magnetic record/playback system that uses miniature CDs, contained in small caddies. They’re a little smaller than a standard computer floppy disc and can record up to 74 minutes of high quality stereo audio. Voice recorder chips are completely solid state -- i.e. no moving parts -- they use semiconductor memory to store sounds and whilst they’re relatively cheap and very small -- memo recorders have been built inside pens and key fobs --  recording times are limited, to just a minute or so in most cases, so they’re really only suitable for making short verbal notes.

 

Needless to say recording quality is a consideration, but ease of use, size, weight, recording times and battery life are equally important in this application. One-handed operation is vital, and it’s handy to have some means of knowing where you are on the tape, to locate specific points on a recording. Being able to quickly shuffle backwards and forwards through the tape (i.e. cue and review), is useful, particularly when transcribing. Some machines have provision for foot controls, which can be helpful when typing long letters or reports. To help you decide we’ve been looking at a small selection of machines on the market, which reflect the range of prices, technologies and facilities available.

 

THE TESTS

 

Aiwa TP-510 & 560, £29.99 &  £33.99

Fair sound, though not very loud, but compact and reasonably easy to use. Slightly simpler TP-510 doesn’t have mic zoom or noise cancellation but seems no worse for that. Well built and good value for money. Recommended if size isn’t important.

 

Recording system: compact cassette

Features: 3 replay speeds, noise cancellation, zoom mic, (560 only), tape counter

Dimensions: 117 x 94 x 35mm

Weight: 280 g

Contact: AIWA UK Ltd, Unit 5, Heathrow Summit Centre, Skyport Drive, West Drayton, Middlesex UB7 OLY. Telephone 0181-897 7000

 

PERSONAL OFFICE RATINGS

Performance: ****

Facilities: ***

Ease of use: ***

Value: ****

VERDICT 90%

 

Grundig DH-2095 £233

Sophisticated little unit using proprietary single-sided ‘Steno Cassettes’, compatible with full-spec office systems. Equipped with quick search indexing facility, to mark tape both during record and playback, plus clear visual tape position indicator. Good sound though only modest volume. Smart but pricey.

 

Recording system: Steno Cassette

Features:  visual tape indicator, indexing facility, earphone/headphone and ext. mic sockets, hard carry-case

Dimensions: 140 x 65 x 20mm

Weight:

Contact: GRUNDIG BUSINESS SYSTEMS Ltd, Unit 6 Shaftesbury Court, Chalvey Park, Slough, SL1 2ER. Telephone (01753) 554333

 

PERSONAL OFFICE RATINGS

Performance            ****

Facilities            ****

Ease of use            *****

Value                ***

VERDICT 85%

 

Panasonic RN-502 £50

Well featured, sturdily built and very easy to use. The voice activated recording system is especially handy for taking notes on the hoof, without the distraction of having to press buttons, it reduces tape consumption and, dare we say, a good covert recording feature. Sound quality is fair, volume is on the quiet side.

 

Recording system: micro cassette

Features: SP/LP speed, voice-activated recording, 2-speed replay, cue/review, tape counter, tone control, sound level equaliser

Dimensions: 115 x 20 x 62

Weight:

Contact: PANASONIC UK LTD., Panasonic House, Willoughby Road, Bracknell,

Berkshire RG12 4PF. Telephone (01344) 862444

 

PERSONAL OFFICE RATINGS

Performance            ****

Facilities            ****

Ease of use            *****

Value                ****

VERDICT            93%

 

Panasonic RQL-500 £180

Classy desktop recorder, though small (and slim) enough to slip into a pocket. Very advanced design, stereo sound (with external mic.) with auto-reverse deck, voice-activated recording, variable-speed replay and indexing facility. Not very loud but excellent audio quality. Expensive, but it’s loaded!

 

Recording system: compact cassette

Features: stereo, voice activated recording, auto-reverse deck, soft-touch controls, indexing system, variable tape speed, LCD counter/mode display, supplied with microphone, earphone and carry-case

Dimensions: 147.5 x 22.6 x 92.5mm

Weight:

Contact: PANASONIC UK LTD., Panasonic House, Willoughby Road, Bracknell,

Berkshire RG12 4PF. Telephone (01344) 862444

 

PERSONAL OFFICE RATINGS

Performance: *****

Facilities:             ****

Ease of use:             ****

Value:   ***

VERDICT 85%

 

 

Sanyo -- To come, will send as add copy

 

 

Sony M-909 £230

You see it, but you can hardly believe it! The M-909 is only slightly larger all round than the micro cassette it uses, yet this tiny little machine has an auto-reverse tape deck and voice operated recording system. Miniaturisation has its price, (£230!!!), and there’s simply not enough room for a speaker (an earphone is supplied), the controls are rather awkward, especially fast-forward and rewind, moreover there’s no cue or review, which makes note-taking difficult. A brilliant little gadget and a feat of micro-engineering, sound quality is very good and it’s ideal for covert recording, but a tad fiddly and expensive for everyday use.

 

Recording system             Micro Cassette

Features                                   auto reverse, voice activated recording, twin speed, earphone, external microphone and carry case supplied

Dimensions                               67.6 x 64.6 x 18.5mm

Weight                          100g

Contact                                     SONY UK LTD The Heights, Brooklands, Weybridge, Surrey KT13 0XW. Telephone (01932) 816000

 

PERSONAL OFFICE RATINGS

Performance                  ****

Facilities                       ***

Ease of use                   **

Value                            ***

VERDICT                      70%

 

Sony M-627V £50

This neat little machine has got the lot, including a sensible price tag. It’s small, light, very easy to use and has all of the most important features, including a tape counter, 2-speed recording and playback, voice activation, and it even comes with its own carry-case. Sound quality is average, a mite tinny but playback volume is good. Recommended.

 

Recording system             micro cassette

Features                                   voice activated recording, tape counter, 2-speed record and playback, cue and review

Dimensions                               66.7 x 120.8 x 25mm

Weight                          180 grams

Contact                                     SONY UK LTD The Heights, Brooklands, Weybridge, Surrey KT13 0XW. Telephone (01932) 816000

 

PERSONAL OFFICE RATINGS

Performance                  ****

Facilities                       *****

Ease of use                   *****

Value                            ****

VERDICT                      95%

 

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Ó R. Maybury 1995 1505

 


 

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