Digital discourse

Get
out a humble tape recorder these days and you’ll be laughed out of the
press conference – it’s all about the zeros and ones you know. But how
much should you spend – and with all the combos, add-ons and
stand-alones around, which is the best? We look at six options you can
buy online or on the high street

THE BUDGET STAND-ALONE

Olympus digital voice recorder VN-120 Comet, £29.99

3 STARS

I tried this out in a very crowded Camden pub on a Friday night – it
was easy to use, unobtrusive, and playback was great, picking up voices
clearly despite a lot of background noise.

It has a mic slot so you can plug it into a phone line. However,
because this is the budget version, there isn’t a jack to connect to
your PC and save the voice files – surely the whole point of digital
audio? Alyson Fixter

Pros: Extremely cheap, and simple to record with; clear playback; looks cute and you can clip it on to your victim’s pocket

Cons: No PC connector jack;
limited record time at two hours; slightly complicated menu/folder
system for finding your files afterwards

Best for: Cash-strapped regional trainees who haven’t got their Teeline 100 yet

THE MID-RANGE STAND-ALONE

Sanyo ICR-S250 digital voice recorder RRP £120

4 STARS

As a digital virgin I was surprised at how quickly I got it going.
It’s slimline and stylish at the expense of having to fumble around
with tiny buttons.

Sound is relatively clear when you’re wearing headphones, but
without them you’d be forgiven for thinking you’d developed tinnitus as
it can be hissy and tinny. Sarah Lagan

Pros: Up to 17 hours of
recording; USB connection for transfer of information to PC that
doubles as nifty mic stand; also holds music and photos

Cons: Sound quality is not amazing

Best for: Flashy buggers

THE BELLS-AND-WHISTLES STAND-ALONE

Sanyo ICR-B180 digital voice recorder RRP £199.99

4 STARS

Being easily impressed by gadgets but not good at using them, it
took me a long time to get used to pressing the sensitive buttons on
this thing – to the amusement of more technically-minded colleagues.

Wishing for an impressive interview to test it with proved futile –
I resorted to ringing my mum. She loved it, I loved it and I got to
play her back over and over again with crackle-free quality. I just
wish it looked sexy, and I don’t like the “See You!” salutation as you
turn it off. Caitlin Pike

Pros: All-singing,
all-dancing little machine that would fit nicely in a top pocket if
you’ve got one; apparently designed to allow easy transfer of sound
files onto your PC; over 17 hours of recording time

Cons: Doesn’t look very impressive for £199.99

Best for: Techo hacks

THE IPOD ADD-ON

Belkin voice recorder for iPod BT online shop, £19.99

4 STARS

I tested this at the 60th anniversary bash for the Ferrari news
agency held at the Cheshire Cheese in Fleet Street. The pub was
jam-packed as the ranks of seasoned foot-in-the-door journalists
negotiated the free bar. Despite the crush, the Belkin picked up the
speeches well, including some raucous heckling. Jon Slattery

Pros: Easy to use – slips on the top of the iPod; lists recordings by time and date; much less cumbersome than a tape recorder

Cons: You have to get up close and personal to get the best sound quality

Best for: People who have become surgically attached to their iPods

THE MP3 PLAYER/RADIO/VOICE RECORDER COMBO

iRiver IFP180-T MP3 player with voice recorder and FM radio Richer Sounds, £29.99

3 STARS

I tried out my new toy for a big interview with Telegraph editor
Martin Newland, which was likely to be the week’s splash. Normally for
an interview like this I would use two dictaphones to be on the safe
side, but this time I just had my shorthand as a back-up. The iRiver
was easy to operate, much less fiddly than my normal dictaphone, as
well as being more discreet. Playback was crystal clear, but difficult
to pause and rewind. Dominic Ponsford

Pros: Good value; the FM stereo radio is excellent quality; it looks dinky

Cons: Only 128MB, so there’s only space for about four hours of voice recording; no mic input, so the iRiver can’t record phone calls

Best for: People who refuse to shell out for a proper iPod

THE PHONE VOICE RECORDER

Nokia 9230si Free with contract or £199.99, Amazon.co.uk

2 STARS

Voice pick-up and playback on this was surprisingly good, although
it was tested in an office environment, so it might not fare as well in
noisy public places.

Has Bluetooth technology so you can wirelessly save voice files to
your PC after interviews. However, it only has an hour of recording
time, so is probably useful as a back-up, rather than your main piece
of kit. Colin Crummy

Pros: Do-everything phones are apparently the way forward – soon everything will be implanted into our forearms anyway

Cons: Only an hour of recording time; fiddly controls; doesn’t look very professional

Best for: People who don’t interview much

Gizmos page is compiled by Alyson Fixter

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