Review: Olympus WS-210S Digital Voice Recorder

The little Olympus WS-210S digital voice recorder has been around in Australia now since October 2007 and is easily our most popular digital voice recorder at Dictate Australia. So why is this little recorder so popular?

  • Small and lightweight
  • Very easy to use
  • Excellent audio pickup and quality
  • Great price point for a quality voice recorder
  • Compatible with Dragon NaturallySpeaking v10 Preferred
  • Both Windows and Intel Mac compatible
  • Fully featured with variable voice activation (VCVA) and low cut noise filtering

These are just a few of its qualities. So lets look a little closer at this recorder and what it can do.

Click image for larger view

What Can It Be Used For?

The Olympus WS-210S is a bit of all rounder when it comes to digital voice recorders. It is excellent for single speaker note taking, but if you are going to use the recorder for this bear in mind it is a notetaker and not a dictaphone, so audio is recorded in one take, unlike a dictaphone which allows you to stop/start rewind/review your audio. So, because it is a one take recorder it makes it excellent for interviews and small meetings (upto 6 to 8 people but this also depends on the location where recorded). The recorder can also be used in lecture and conference situations where the attendee wants to record what is being said. As a general rule of thumb I tend to say if you can hear the audio clearly then so will the recorder. If you are struggling to hear then recorder will also struggle.

How Do I Listen To My Recordings?

You have a few options.

  1. The recorder itself has a small speaker built into the back of it, you can play the audio on the recorder through this small speaker. Be warned it doesn’t sound great through the speaker but is ok for checking that you have captured some audio.
  2. Using the supplied stereo headset simply plug that (or your iPod headphones) into the earpiece jack in the top of the unit and listen through the headset where the audio quality will sound alot better than the inbuilt speaker.
  3. On your Windows computer or Intel Mac using a huge range of audio playing software like Windows Media Player, Player Lite from Olympus,  ExpressScribe, Audacity the list goes on.

What Software Do I Need?

The recorder does not come with software, it doesn’t need any. The device is pure plug-and-play on any Windows computer or Intel Mac. Once connected the recorder becomes an additional drive and a USB mass storage device allowing you to also store files on the recorder. Audio is recorded to any of the five folders on the device and moving the audio off is simply drag and drop from the recorder to your computer. The Olympus WS-210S records its audio in .WMA (Windows Media Audio) format.

I Use A Mac, I Thought Mac’s Couldn’t Play Windows Media Files?

I use a Mac also and am a huge fan. By default .WMA files can not be played on a Mac, however there are a couple of free plugins that will let you play your .WMA audio on your Mac. One is from Microsoft itself and is Windows Media Player, the other is Flip4Mac – both can be downloaded free from the Microsoft for Mac website –

Recording Modes

The Olympus WS-210S comes with 6 different recording modes ranging from Long Play (LP) which will give you a huge 138 hours and 30 minutes of recording time down to STereo eXtra high Quality (STXQ) mode which will give you 8 hours and 50 minutes of recording before the internal memory (512Mb) is full. Please don’t be too excited by the huge amount of recording time in LP mode, there has to be a trade off and this comes in terms of audio quality and pickup.

Whenever I speak to people about the recorders I always recommend you record in the highest recording mode you can, this gives you crisp audio and excellent audio pickup. In STXQ mode you may think 8 hours plus is not much but it is generally way longer than the majority of meetings, interviews and lectures will ever go for. If you are concerned about using up the internal memory just move the audio off the recorder and onto your Windows machine or Mac, the USB 2.0 connection will quickly transfer the audio files from the recorder to your computer. Below is a breakdown of the recording modes and recording times in those modes:

  • STXQ (Stereo) Mode – 8 hours, 50 minutes
  • STHQ (Stereo) Mode – 17 hours, 40 minutes
  • STSP (Stereo) Mode -35 hours, 25 minutes
  • HQ Mode – 35 hours 25 minutes
  • SP Mode – 69 hours 40 minutes
  • LP Mode – 138 hours 30 minutes

Microphone Sensitivity For Dictation or Conference/Meeting/Lectures/Interviews

Olympus WS-210S Mic Sensitivity

One of the features of the WS-210S is the ability to change the microphone sensitivity. There are two settings, High Sensitivity to opens the mic up to record sound from all around and Low Sensitivity which narrows the directional recording of the microphone.

High Sensitivity should be used for multi speaker recording like interviews and meetings as well as when picking up audio from a distance like when in a lecture or conference. Low Sensitity mode would be used when recording single speaker dictation and note taking. The sensitivity level set on the recorder is clearly visable on the LCD display.

Even Your Computer Can’t Tell The Difference Between The Recorder And You

The audio that the WS-210S produces is recorded in .WMA (Windows Media Audio) format, this is one of the formats accepted by Dragon NaturallySpeaking Preferred version 10 for deferred transcription. This is when you record your dictation away from your computer, so for example on your WS-210S and when you return to your home or office you can play your recorded voice into Dragon and have it transcribe your dictation for you. Dragon NaturallySpeaking relies on the user training the software to recognise their voice by way of voice training. Training involves you reading a number of short text paragraphs to Dragon NaturallySpeaking and the software learns the way that you speak.

I created a small sample audio file on my Olympus WS-210S and played it into Dragon NaturallySpeaking Preferred to show you exactly how it works. The original audio file I used can be downloaded from here: WS210014.WMA or you can listen to the audio by clicking the icon below:[audio:]

What’s In The Box?

The Olympus WS-210S comes in a snazzy looking black box and contains:

  • Olympus WS-210S (obviously)
  • 1x AAA Battery
  • 1x Stereo Headphones
  • 1x USB Extension Cable
  • 1x User Guide (in a gazillion languages)

Are There Any Accessories That Go With The Olympus WS-210S?

The only additional options for the WS-210S are a range of microphones for specific tasks (recording phone conversations, noise reduction, tie pin mic) or a rather ugly brown protective case known as the Olympus CS116 WS Series carry case, there used to be a very nice black leather deluxe case for the WS series recorder called the CS115, this has been discontinued. The microphones available are:

  • TP7 for recording telephone calls
  • ME52W tie clip high sensitivity noise reduction mic
  • ME12 noise cancellation mic
  • ME15 tie clip mic

So to sum up the WS-210S is an excellent all round digital voice recorder. The only negatives I can find with it are that it is battery operated only, there is no USB power or external power option although on a single AAA it can go for upto 13 hours on STXQ mode using alkaline batteries. The other small niggle is the battery compartment can be fiddly to open if yuo have large fingers like me and some care needs to be taken with the battery cover door when it is open. As long as you remember this you will have a long happy relationship with your Olympus WS-210S.

The Olympus WS-210S, if purchased from an authorised Olympus Voice Australia reseller like Dictate Australia is covered by a 1 year parts and labour warranty. The RRP in Australia is $395 incl. GST.

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