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Old August 8th, 2013, 03:06 PM   #1
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Olympus WS803 or... ???

This is a rather unscientific and imprecise question, but nevertheless, here goes...

I am trying to recommend an appropriate audio recorder for a local non-profit organization. We're looking at lower-end machines which the true pros here would call plain old "consumer" level. Price is an important factor, since they'd be purchasing multiple rigs.

This will be used mostly for interviews in a somewhat controlled environment (i.e. not at an airshow, no in a boiler factory...). They might use an external mic (an RE-50 would be great, if the recorder has adequate gain; however, using this specific mic is a secondary consideration; they can use a different mic if need be).

They would also like the opportunity to occasionally capture stereo, using the internal mics ... pretty much a run-and-gun option, not the primary usage, but still to be taken into account.

It is very desirable to have a small, flat, pocket-size machine. The goal is that all the users will have the machines with them (likely in a shirt pocket) at all times, so size matters... a lot! (And, BTW, the machine we identify would most likely end up being very good as a pocket recorder for recording vows... but that's not one of our planned uses.)

This will be used for audio only; sync is a non-issue.

Some additional features that I feel are very important: ability to record WAV or at least 256kbps MP3; recording gain adjustable over a wide range (not just high/medium/low); recording level metering with response time that is usefully quick (some Sonys have over one second lag); easily changeable AA or AAA cell powering; minimum of 8 hrs record time without changing batteries; useful stereo pair of directional mics, i.e. not omnis, and preferably angled about 90º apart.

It's easy to find recorders with one or two of those features. I have looked at specs for, and have ruled out, dozens of machines that don't meet all those requirements.

In the end, based on published specs, I have initially settled on the Olympus WS803. The big question in my mind concerns the mics: how directional are they? Of course with a recorder this inexpensive, nobody is going to publish a polar pattern! My "very vague" feeling is that if the recorder is used in the open (so reflections don't cloud the results), and it's aimed with one mic pointed directly at a person speaking (and the other mic therefore pointed roughly 90º off axis) at arm's length, will there be an appreciable -- say 3dB -- difference in level between the two channels? (And, presumably, some difference in frequency content, as well.) I don't have access to a WS803 for testing.

The above paragraph probably sounds crazy, at first glance. What I'm trying to convey is this: I have tried several pocket-size recorders, having spaced omni mics. None of them produces any sort of useful stereo image. In the above test, they have all produced two nearly identical channels of audio. No useful separation... no discernable image. I would like something better. The DR-07mkii produces nice stereo, but we're hoping to find something smaller and lighter. I'm not looking for the sound from a pair of U87s, but I am looking for something that produces a stereo recording with some discernable directionality.

So, if anyone here has actually used an Olympus WS803, I would greatly appreciate your comments.

Also, if anyone here has found a recorder that I've overlooked, which meets all the requirements stated above, I would also appreciate hearing the details. (BTW, I've got a Sony ICD-SX712 for evaluation and it seems to be very nice, the slight drawback being the unusual form factor.)

And finally, please let me add that, although the above feature list may seem puzzling to some folks, that is the list. I think it will be more pleasant if we don't get wrapped up in debating it or asking "why?" I realize this is an unusual list, but people are different, organizations are different, needs are different. This list probably does not correspond to your list. But I'd rather not create needless friction by explaining or defending it. I'm simply looking for some specific info about one machine, or possibly others that do match up with this list.

Thank you all in advance!
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Old August 8th, 2013, 09:40 PM   #2
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Re: Olympus WS803 or... ???

I can only answer part of your question, based on my use early in 2012 of the Olympus WS-700M.
The Olympus recorders of the WS- 700 and 800 series "seem" like the nicest of the low-cost consumer models that I have looked at. And the WS-700M that I used in a very specific setup certainly did a great job in the role I needed it. However I didn't use the built-in mics, so I can't address your question about their performance and directionality.

I was called upon by one of our scientific groups that needed a two-day brainstorming session recorded for several important members who had scheduling conflicts... I wasn't going to sit and monitor this banter for two days, so I requested that they buy a small recorder that I would specify and I would bring over some mics and a mixer and let it record in AGC.

I used an omni boundary layer mic to cover two-thirds of the conference table and a cardioid boundary layer mic covering the remaining one-third. These mics ran to a Shure FP-42 mixer and then into a BeachTek that was connected to the WS-700M mic input. The Olympus was set to record the highest bit-rate wma format, and it only had AGC, no manual level control. By feeding a fairly hot signal into the recorder, the AGC was kept from gaining up and down too much.
The meters on the recorder work very well and it was easy to set a level on the mixer and BeachTek that resulted in nice levels on the Olympus and the recording was perfectly satisfactory, even surprisingly good by my standards.
In addition, the headphone output of the recorder was nice and clean, making the parts I did stay and listen to very easy to monitor for any distortion or the noise floor pumping up (neither of which caused any problems).

In your case, I would at least specify a mix of WS-802 and WS-803 since there's a $50 difference and some users may simply get in trouble using manual levels instead of AGC.

At least at the cost of a WS-802, you could buy one to check it out and use it for those times a very small recorder with AGC will work fine. If you spend the extra money on the 803, I'd make sure if it isn't satisfactory you could return it.
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Old August 8th, 2013, 10:22 PM   #3
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Re: Olympus WS803 or... ???

Jay,

Thank you for the very detailed information. I've used some Tascams and some Sonys but have never used an Olympus, so it's heartening to hear that you think it's nice for the price.

You may be right about the 802s. I guess the drawback (if any) would be that if the recorders came back to a common pool, the "802 people" always picked up 802s, and the "803 people" always picked up 803s; otherwise there might be some confusion.

(Actually, I was sorry to see that the 802s do not have manual gain, that would have been a nice price point.)

You're right, if I don't get a definitive report on the mic from someone I can trust (i.e. someone on this forum), then I definitely should evaluate one on a "returns accepted" basis. I am a bit skeptical that mics that small, built inside the case (not protruding at all) can have a useful amount of directionality. Unfortunately, out here in the hinterlands, nobody has an 803 for me to evaluate, so I might end up dickering with a mailorder firm, but that's better than buying something that's not suitable.

Incidentally, it sounds as if you had a first-rate rig there, using the 802 just as a recorder. Very interesting, and probably more trouble than most ppl would go to for such a situation. Then again, you probably got better results than most ppl. ;-)

Thanks again.
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Old August 9th, 2013, 05:14 AM   #4
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Re: Olympus WS803 or... ???

Personally I would ignore the voice recorders and go for the Olympus LS-12 - this is the cheapest of the Olympus recorders that were not designed to be dictation machines.
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Old August 9th, 2013, 07:58 AM   #5
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Re: Olympus WS803 or... ???

John:

Thank you for that recommendation. That looks like a really beautiful machine!

We had previously discussed the LS-10, which the client had rejected because of price and size. So I hadn't even looked any further in the LS- line.

Given that the LS-12 is more expensive and significantly bigger, I very much doubt that I'll be able to swing them in that direction. Their main anticipated use is recording interviews, I'm the one pushing for good stereo capabilities. So while the better mics (and other features) appeal to me, it will be hard to upsell the client based on what they will perceive as "extras."

But mics that handle 130 dBSPL... and all the other features. I have to say it again: a really beautiful machine. Even if this doesn't suit the clients, I might have to find a way to justify buying one for myself.

Thanks again for your comments.
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Old August 10th, 2013, 04:38 AM   #6
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Re: Olympus WS803 or... ???

Quote:
Originally Posted by Greg Miller View Post
John:

Thank you for that recommendation. That looks like a really beautiful machine!

We had previously discussed the LS-10, which the client had rejected because of price and size. So I hadn't even looked any further in the LS- line.

Given that the LS-12 is more expensive and significantly bigger, I very much doubt that I'll be able to swing them in that direction. Their main anticipated use is recording interviews, I'm the one pushing for good stereo capabilities. So while the better mics (and other features) appeal to me, it will be hard to upsell the client based on what they will perceive as "extras."

But mics that handle 130 dBSPL... and all the other features. I have to say it again: a really beautiful machine. Even if this doesn't suit the clients, I might have to find a way to justify buying one for myself.

Thanks again for your comments.
What are the interviews for?

The LS-10 is also good, the LS-12 is cheaper and about the same size.

These are extremely ergonomic and easy to use and sit very well in the hand.
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Old October 4th, 2013, 07:17 PM   #7
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Re: Olympus WS803 or... ???

I bought the LS-12 and it is a nice piece of technology for the money. It's very solid and ergonomic. Everything is thoughtfully laid out by someone who obviously talked to people who have made field recordings. Little details like the two-stage ringlight on the record button to the way you can control how long the backlight stays on, to the pre-roll function are all very well done. Usually with quasi-consumer stuff like this there's always something that's annoying about it, but I can't really point to anything like that. Even the button size and placement are nice. You're unlikely to accidentally bump anything. I'm feeding it from my SoundDevices 302 mixer and the recordings sound scarily like the ones I've made from SD's much more expensive recorders. The mic input has plug-in power so you can add a cheap lavalier like Giant Squid and make a remarkably professional sounding recording.
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Old October 4th, 2013, 07:38 PM   #8
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Re: Olympus WS803 or... ???

You know, thinking about the application you asked about, I don't really think that an XLR mic like the RE50 is really feasible here. None of the recorders in your price range are going to have XLR inputs and an adapter seems out of the question. I really think that a decent low-budget lav like the before mentioned Giant Squid is what you're looking (if you can find them now. His site seems to be down). Most any little recorder should work well with those. Just make sure they've got plug-in power.
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Old October 4th, 2013, 08:28 PM   #9
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Re: Olympus WS803 or... ???

Marco,

Thanks for your reply to this thread... I was not expecting to hear from anyone else so your comments are much appreciated.

I would love to get a load of LS-12s, but unfortunately the end users feel they are too big to be carried every day in a shirt pocket for "run-and-gun" recordings, or maybe I should call them "just in case" situations. Too bad, because it seems to be a lovely machine. But the folks have seen the DR-07, which is a comparable size & weight, and feel is it much too big to always be in a shirt pocket.

As far as mics, I don't entirely rule out something like an RE-50. It would be simple to make an adapter cable consisting of an XLR with a DC-isolating cap inside, and a cable with a molded 3.5mm plug on the other end. (In fact, by adding one resistor, the cable could be configured to feed one channel at full level, and the second channel at a lower level, as a "safety" track to cover unexpected peaks.) The unanswered question concerns mic output level, preamp gain, and noise floor. But, indeed, if the performance isn't adequate, we could fall back on some sort of electret mic.

Thanks again for your comments, and I hope you enjoy the LS-12!

Last edited by Greg Miller; October 5th, 2013 at 11:49 AM.
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