Upgrading that tired old technology

1 Oct

It stores 66 hours of conversation, but the digital recorder allows you to quickly locate recordings and makes it almost impossible to erase interviews by mistake.

October 1, 2007

By Geoff Meeker 

Sometimes, the technology that surrounds us becomes so familiar, so comfortable, that we don’t even notice when it becomes totally obsolete. This week, two examples.

The telephone situation in my house had become unsustainable.

In the living room, we had a half-decent call display telephone. In my office, there was a plain old push button with absolutely no features. The phone in the master bedroom was an ancient rotary dial; a museum piece that my children aren’t even sure how to use. In the spare room was a cheap refurbished phone with sound quality so bad it was painful to use.

And now, my oldest son was asking for a telephone in his bedroom.

A few weeks ago, while browsing for a new smartphone at the Aliant store, a cordless telephone set caught my eye. It was a Panasonic – from my experience a decent brand – and included three phones and recharge cradles, plus three sets of rechargeable Ni-MH batteries, for $99. Heck, the batteries alone are worth $20.

The cordless solution would save me the effort of hooking up a phone in my son’s room, which is pre-wired but doesn’t have a faceplate installed. (Yes, that’s not a difficult task, but when you’re busy and you bill by the hour, guess what doesn’t get done.) So I purchased the phone set, plugged it in, read the manual and in a matter of minutes had everything working fine.

The phones were an immediate and major hit with the family, myself included. There are times when it’s nice to just sit down and chat with someone. But there are also times when it is a godsend to be able to stir the pot, chase the youngsters or flip the burgers on the barbecue while talking on the phone. I hadn’t realized how liberating it would be until experiencing it for myself.

But there’s more. The phone has some great features – the kind you actually use – such as call display, a built-in self-setting clock and a 50-number phone book that can be accessed by all three phones. There is an intercom system that allows you to call another phone in the house, which can be useful in larger homes with plenty of stairs. There’s a hands-free speakerphone with decent sound and voice quality, a wall mount option and headset jack input.

The only lingering question is, why didn’t I do this sooner?


I write for a living and conduct, on average, two interviews per day. Until recently, I used a Sony microcassette recorder to tape these interviews. It was quite reliable, delivering about 20 years of dedicated service, but the motor recently gave out. Time to upgrade to digital!

I browsed several handheld digital recorders, before settling on the Panasonic US-500. It wasn’t the cheapest unit in the store (Staples) at about $200, but it can record up to 66 hours of conversation. That eliminates the need to purchase blank tapes, so the unit will pay for itself over time.

I have to admit, I was apprehensive about switching to digital. Would the recording controls be intuitive and easy to use, especially when I am scrambling to record a surprise phone interview?

As it turns out, it’s not only easier than magnetic tape, but a hundred times better. The audio is so much clearer – almost broadcast quality. But the best feature is the way each recording is saved as a new file. When you want to play it back, you don’t fast forward in a linear way through tape, looking for your interview. You scroll quickly to the file and open it. Also, because a new file is created every time you record, you will never accidentally erase an existing recording. And important interviews can be backed up by downloading them to your desktop.

Digital recorders are a wonderful advance over analog tape, and highly recommended to anyone who does a lot of dictation or interviews.



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