Digital Dictation Recorders – Everything You Need to Know

By Nicole Tinkham


Pictured: Philips Digital Voice Tracer 5000 Recorder, 4GB

Purchasing a voice recorder sounds like an easy task, right? As long as you know exactly what features you’re looking for, it can be. However, if you don’t know the difference between digital and cassette recorders, or what MP3 and WMA formats are, then you may become overwhelmed. We created this post to educate you on the many options available in dictation recorders so you know exactly what you’re looking for before getting frustrated.

Digital recorders – what are they?

Digital voice recorders allow you to capture sound and speech in a digital file that can easily be shared through a number of electronic devices such as computers, smartphones and tablets. These files are stored on a computer like any other type of digital file and have a variety of uses – you can share them through email, use them in presentations, or burn copies on CDs and DVDs. Although voice recorders can be used for personal use, they are commonly used in the office for taking notes and dictating letters and memos.

When flipping through the Keeton’s catalog or browsing the website, you will notice a wide range of pricing when it comes to digital dictation recorders. All of them use a flash memory – the difference lies in whether or not the memory is removable. Having a built-in memory allows you to store files right on the device whereas a removable memory stores files on SD memory cards. Most digital voice recorders allow you to connect the device right to your computer but this is something to look for as some may not have this feature. We will get more into features and what to look for later in this blog.

Mini cassette recorders

Mini cassette recorders are also available but the options are limited. With these, a cassette is used instead of a memory card (or the device’s built-in memory) to store recordings. Since cassette recorders will soon be a thing of the past, we recommend going digital. See below for the many benefits of digital recorders.


Pictured: Pocket Memo 388 Slide Switch Mini Cassette Dictation Recorder

Why digital?

Can’t decide whether to go digital with your next recorder or go old school with a cassette recorder? Here are 6 reasons why you’ll want to go digital.

  • Availability – Cassette recorders are rare and soon may not be around at all. Keeton’s does offer a few mini cassette recorders but your options are limited (unlike digital recorders).
  • Portability – As technology advances, equipment tends to get smaller, lighter weight, and more portable. This is also true when it comes to digital dictation devices.
  • User friendly – With cassette recorders, if you want to find a particular part in the recording you have to play the rewind/fast-forward game. You know what we’re talking about! Going digital will eliminate this frustration plus you can take a section of speech and save it as a separate file.
  • Storing and sharing – As mentioned above, sharing with a digital recorder is as easy as ever. Many devices will connect right to a computer – others may require a USB cable. Once connected, files can be stored right on the computer and can then be shared via email or burned to a CD or DVD.
  • Durability – Concerned that digital recorders are less durable than the heavy-duty cassette recorders? There’s no need to be because with no moving parts, digital recorders are built to last.
  • Price – It’s easy to assume that new technologies will come with a higher price tag but that’s untrue with digital recorders. While there may be pricey ones out there, they come in a wide range of options and prices. Depending on the features you’re looking for, this price range can be anywhere from $60 to the thousands.

Choosing a digital recorder

Now that you’ve decided to go with a digital recorder, let’s talk about some of the features you need to look for when you make your purchase.

Recording formats: It’s important to consider the format in which your file will be recorded. To determine what’s best for you, think about how your files will be shared. Will you have several small files or large ones as well? Will you be sharing them over the Internet or just storing them on your computer?

  • MP3 – Compresses files so they are able to be stored and shared easily over the Internet
  • WMA – Compresses to a format that can be shared on the Internet faster with small files plus an optional copyright protection
  • DSS – High compression for professional speech files
  • WAV – Used for storing files on a PC. The large file size will not work well over the Internet

Max recording time: The max recording time may be a key feature you are looking for to record over a long period of time but be cautious. Even if the max recording time is 1,000 hours your battery life may only be 24 hours. For long recordings, you want a recorder that comes with an AC power cord. That way you aren’t relying on battery life.

Connection: Many digital recorders will come with a USB cable to connect the device to a computer. Even if the recorder has a USB port, it may not come with the cable so be sure to look closely at what’s actually included in the package.

Microphone: Every recorder comes with a built-in microphone but if recording from a distance, you may want to consider an external microphone for higher quality.

Base memory: This is the amount of memory the device has without an SD memory card. You will often see the base memory at either 2 GB or 4 GB. Not all recorders come with an SD card which means the device’s base memory is all you have to work with (unless an SD card is purchased). If you do need the extra memory, also check to make sure the device has a slot for an SD card (some will not).

Playback speeds: Most voice recorders will have all three speed options: fast, normal, and slow. However, there are a few that do not have multiple speed options. Why does this matter? Being able to slow down a recording makes understanding what was said much easier.

Other dictation equipment

Pocket Memo 955 Conference Recording and Transcription System: This system contains everything you need for conference recording and transcribing. Exterior microphones are able to pick up sound from a 360° radius, foot pedal and headphones make transcribing easy, and setup is quick and easy so meetings can start promptly. This set also includes a USB docking station, remote control, power adapters, and SpeechExec Pro Transcribe software.


Transcription kits: These kits make transcribing much easier with speed, volume, and tone control as well as a foot pedal and headphones.

Make a little more sense now? We know that choosing dictation equipment can be confusing (even with the help of this blog post) which is why we’re always here to help. Stop in, give us a call (941-747-2559), or leave a comment in the box below.

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