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Dictating With the Olympus DS-3500 Digital Voice Recorder
Law Technology News
Earlier this year, Olympus America Inc. introduced the Olympus Digital Voice Recorder DS-3500 along with the DS-2500 and DS-7000 Digital Voice Recorders. The DS-3500 and DS-7000 recorders are part of Olympus' professional dictation series; the DS-2500, reviewed in the September 11, 2012 edition of Law Technology News, offers some entry-level dictation features.
The DS-3500 is a step up from the DS-2500, yet can act as an entry level dictation system for legal professionals. It records and edits voice records, like the DS-2500. It can insert and append text (voice recordings) to voice records and delete selected portions of a voice record as well as mark up to 32 index points per file which makes it easy to return to those points in the file using forward and back navigation keys located on the front panel. Unlike the DS-2500, the DS-3500 can affix verbal notes to files for transcriptionists, encrypt voice records, and use the included Olympus Dictation Management System software to automatically route dictations via email or FTP.
Like the DS-2500, the DS-3500 uses buttons on the side of the recorder to create a new file, record, play back, rewind, and stop the current action. The DS-2500 uses one see-saw button for fast-forward and rewind; the DS-3500 has no fast-forward button on the side. Instead, you can play back a file at variable speed (fast, slow, and normal) and you can adjust the speed setting from the menu interface. To do so, you press the OK/Menu button on the front panel of the recorder and choosing Device sub-menu, where you can select Cue/Rev and choose from 1 to 5 speed settings. I found the default 3 speed to be adequate for my needs.
The DS-3500 can record voice using the Digital Speech Standard Pro or DSS Pro (DS2) file formats in Quality Play or Standard Play mode; PCM Stereo (.wav); or mp3. When you select the recording mode, the device calculates the remaining memory available if that recording mode were used for the remaining space.
I stuck with the default DSS Pro QP mode, which samples sound waves for audible voice records at 16 kilohertz and can store up to 149 hours of speech in the internal 2-gigabyte micro-SD memory card. The DS2 file format is a proprietary format developed by Olympus that compresses audio files by 12 times. The DS-3500's internal memory would fit only 3 hours of PCM-recorded voice and from 16 to 33 hours of mp3-recorded voice. The DS-3500 supports an external SD memory card from 512 megabytes to 32 gigabytes of memory. If the device fails, you can eject both cards and use them in another device that supports memory cards such as a computer or digital recorder. See Figure 1.
The micro-SD card rests behind the Lithium-ion battery (3.7 volt), which supports about 18 to 21 hours of recording and playback, using the default DSS Pro QP mode. But I will miss the DS-2500's ability to run on two AAA alkaline batteries when I do not have the time or tools to recharge the device's Ni-MH batteries. The slimmer battery, however, does not make for a slimmer device: The DS-3500 is actually .5 millimeters wider than the D-2500.
The DS-3500 power switch sits high on the back of the device where it is not in any danger of inadvertently turning the device on or off when placing it in its leather carrying case, which can be fixed to a belt or purse strap. The power switch also serves as a hold switch that, when operative, preserves the running conditions of the recorder but disables all buttons. In effect, you can enable hold and place the device in a backpack or purse without inadvertently pressing any key. You can also enable hold while recording and the device will continue to record until it runs out of memory or battery power. But the microphone is not effective from inside a closed space.
Although the DS-3500 has a larger and more exposed microphone than the DS-2500, it is still a monaural microphone, not digital, and is limited to recording audible voice in the frequency range from 20 hertz to 20 kilohertz. The microphone works best when pointed at a speaker when the device is set in dictation mode or visible to all speakers when the device is in conference mode. If the microphone is not in line of vision with the speaker, it may not capture voice sufficient for quality playback.
In regard to the line of vision, I have often noticed that speakers become agitated, even arrested, when they see a hand-held device emitting a red LED as if it was recording. You can put them at ease by turning off the recording LED and disabling the sound system so it does not emit any beeps during an event.
The DS-2500 black-and-white LCD display pales in comparison to the approximate 2-inch diagonal (1.25 inches wide by 1.5 inches high) DS-3500 color LCD display. The color display makes it much easier to see the active settings on the device. See Figure 2.
The DS-2500 and DS-3500 both use side buttons to initiate actions such as record and rewind, but my fingers found the location of the buttons on the DS-3500 more to their liking. Both the DS-2500 and DS-3500 can create a new file from the top-most button and record from the second button, which is slightly raised to meet your thumb. Press the Record button a second time while recording and the device pauses the record on both devices. But the stop button on the DS-3500 is just below the Record where I can find without looking and use it with urgency the stop button on the DS-2500 is down below the Rewind/Fast-Forward button.
Like the DS-2500, the DS-3500 has three programmable function keys on the front panel below the LCD display. Below the function keys are navigation keys that rewind and fast-forward through a voice record, and plus or minus keys to adjust the volume. Note that when the device is in VCVA (Variable Control Voice Actuator) mode which conserves memory by stopping recording during silent periods the left and right arrow keys adjust the actuation level (i.e., the point when the device registers a break in silence). With no ambient noise around me, I found levels six through nine sufficient when dictating on my desktop. With ambient noise, I set the actuator over 10, but found that the device was always picking up sound and always recording at the maximum level of 15.
Like the DS-2500, the DS-3500 has five folders A through E capable of holding 200 file per folder. Before starting to record over a previously saved record, I made note of the methods to record, i.e., overwrite (default) or insert text at the insertion point or append text to the end of the file. In overwrite mode, I overwrote previously recorded files from points within files with ease. And I inserted text into files using the F1 key while playing the file back.
During playback, the device can rest firmly on its back due to raised rubber mounts that keep it from sliding on a flat surface. As I played files back, the function keys allowed me to insert text, adjust play back speed, and set index points in the file. I used the navigation square to go forward (cue) or backward (reverse) in the file, which is the same as the REV (review) button on the side. While playing back, the OK/Menu button in the center of the navigation lets me insert a record just like the F1 key (change that?). The plus and minus navigation keys raise and lower the playback volume. From the stop position (not playing back), pressing the arrow keys forward or backward will allow you to leap through the file, only stopping at index points between the beginning and end.
INTERFACE TO PC OR MAC
The DS-3500 comes with ODMS Release 6 software for Microsoft Windows and DSS Player software for Macintosh computers. The big differences between ODMS and DSS Player: ODMS can customize function keys on the DS-3500; automatically transmit downloaded dictation files via email and FTP; automatically backup downloaded files; allow voice recognition text editing, e.g., using Nuance Dragon Naturally Speaking; and encrypt dictation files. See Figure 3.
Both ODMS and DSS Player can edit the DS-3500's menu settings and auto-start when the device is plugged into the computer via USB cable, which is included in the box. Both programs will automatically transfer dictation files from the DS-3500 to the computer for dictation. When the device is in USB "composite" mode, as opposed to just USB "storage" mode, you can also use it for direct recording and editing of existing dictation files.
If you like the push-button controls to record, playback, and review, the entry-level DS-3500, with the included ODMS software, may be the only dictation system you need to initiate work products with your voice.
Manufacturer: Olympus America Inc.
Attorney Sean Doherty is LTN's technology editor.