Mark Bridge writes:
If I'm interviewing someone for a podcast, I'll generally use my Zoom H4N recorder and a separate microphone or two. But I don't need the same level of high-quality kit if I'm interviewing someone for a written interview.
Of course, the H4N will do a perfectly good job with its built-in microphones. But why carry an expensive recording device when your mobile phone can do the same job? That's tended to be my perspective.
I've had the HiFiCorder Android app for a couple of years. It's a straightforward recording application that can produce a digital file for playback on my phone or PC. At least, it was, until the battery on my smartphone started to show its age. Recording an interview could mean no more phone calls for the rest of the day. Which left me wondering whether a separate digital recorder might actually be better.
With nigh-on perfect timing, I'm contacted by Philips. Would I like to review one of their new Voice Tracers?
A few days later, the Philips Voice Tracer DVT6000 arrives. It's described as the model 'for lectures and interviews', thanks in part to a three-microphone system that combines a directional central mic with omni-directional microphones on each side. Promisingly, it claims to offer up to 50 hours of battery life. I've not had that from a mobile phone since I upgraded from my Nokia 2110.
Incidentally, on the subject of historic technology, Philips founded its Speech Processing business sixty years ago and created its first digital recorder back in 1996. But I digress.
Inside the box is the DVT6000 recorder, a USB-to-microUSB lead and a pair of earphones. There's also a guarantee booklet and a quick-start guide with diagrams. The DVT6000 charges via the USB lead, so I plug it into my laptop for a couple of hours and we're good to go.
Switch on and the colour display screen springs into life. Recording and playback is very straightforward, as you'd expect from a dedicated device. You can even switch on and start recording straight away by pressing the 'record' button rather than using the lockable on/off slider on the side. Other notable physical features include a flip-out desktop stand on the underneath, sockets for headphones and external microphone, a microSD memory slot for extra storage and a 'delete' button. That's a welcome alternative to delving into a menu system when you need to remove unwanted recordings. In a remarkably simple yet clever move, the company has stored a pdf copy of the full user manual on the device; you can view it on a PC by connecting the DVT6000 via that USB cable.
Hit the record button and the device displays 'analysing distance' for a second or two. Thanks to a motion sensor and those three microphones, the DVT6000 can automatically work out how best to record your chosen sound source. A lecture may require the tutor's voice to be recorded from several metres away, so it'll focus on the central mic and ignore ambient noise from the sides, while a conventional face-to-face interview will use all three microphones. When recording starts, there's a display of recording levels, an elapsed time counter and a smaller counter to remind you how much memory space remains.
The 'AutoZoom' feature for conversation/distance recording can be switched on or off depending on your preference. Other options include the ability to filter out wind noise - useful if you're making a recording outside - and cutting down constant background noise. Both can be useful if there's nowhere quiet to chat. It's possible to start recording via a built-in timer or whenever someone starts speaking... and you can activate a pre-recording mode to ensure you never miss the beginning of a sentence.
When it's time for playback, you can transfer the audio files to your PC - but there's generally no need to do this. A built-in loudspeaker (or those supplied earphones) lets you listen to your recordings. A 'ClearVoice' function can boost quiet voices to make it easier for you to understand what they were saying. And if you do want to listen via PC, the files are recorded in mp3 format and are named with the date/time of recording, so it's easy to find the one you're looking for.
If you're serious about dictation and indexing, the DVT6000 has a few more tricks up its sleeve. Playback can be slowed down or sped up, while parts of a recording can be 'marked' with easy-to-find indicators.
It's even possible to use the device as an FM radio or a music player, with an extra option of recording from the radio if you want.
Finally, to the all-important question of recording quality. Well, the Philips Voice Tracer was significantly better than using my smartphone. I'll admit to being slightly surprised by this; I'd expected them to be evenly matched. However, the DVT6000 reproduced my interview more accurately while the phone recordings sounded more 'tinny' with noticeably less bass. And on one test, a brief hiccup in the smartphone recording - probably due to an app updating in the background - meant I lost a couple of words. Would the results from the Philips DVT6000 be good enough for a podcast interview? Under the right circumstances and in high-quality recording mode, yes.
Of course, the best audio recorder - much like the best camera - is always the one you have with you. But based on my experience, I'll be keeping the Philips DVT6000 and packing it whenever I have an interview lined up. I know I can always use my smartphone in an emergency. But I've been impressed at how well the Philips recorder does its job... and how much better it does its job than the jack-of-all-trades I usually rely on.