Quick review: Olympus WS-200s digital recorder

by Giles Turnbull

Some time ago, my esteemed O'Reilly colleague David Battino wrote an informative and entertaining review of the Olympus DS-2 digital recorder which inspired me to find out more.



I had already made public my wish for a recorder about the size of an iPod shuffle and David's article set my head spinning in new directions.



After some swift research I settled on the Olympus WS-200s and Olympus very kindly offered to loan me one to try out.



The WS-200s is a very tiny machine, not much bigger than an iPod shuffle. It's easy to put into any pocket, even a shirt pocket. I found it fitted well into a side pocket in my camera bag, perfect for toting around.



It's very much representative of a new approach in digital recorder design, an approach I'm pleased to see the manufacturers considering.



There's no messing about with docks and cables. Like an iPod shuffle, the WS-200 plugs directly into a USB port and shows up on your desktop. Importing audio files is just drag-and-drop.



It records in WMA format, but EasyWMA is a simple (and free) way of converting the files to MP3 (or WAV, if you're so inclined).



Powered by a single AAA battery, I used the device pretty solidly for a week and it showed no sign of weakening. The built-in 128MB of Flash memory is sufficient for over 4 hours of recordings at the highest quality setting, and I saw no need to use any of the lower bitrate settings.



What I liked most about this device was the simplicity and portability. It was something I could take anywhere and everywhere without any second thoughts, just throw it in a bag or shove it in a pocket and get going. It talks very happily to Mac OS X 10.4, with no need for drivers or additional software. Plug and play, kids.



The documentation makes no mention of this, but you can even use it as a flash-based drive for storing and transporting files from one computer to another. Audio recordings are kept inside five pre-determined folders, but you can add files at the root level and the WS-200 carries on working happily.



The quality of recordings was good, across a variety of conditions - quiet speech, lone voice singing, and standing in the middle of a crowded street festival. Choral singing distorted the mic at some points, but use of a better microphone might solve that.



Indeed that's the only thing I'd suggest people do if they're buying this recorder. It's so sensitive that the built-in mic picks up the gentlest of finger movements on the body of the device -- in other words, your gentle press of the Stop button creates an ugly muffled scratch right at the end of your recording.



I'm planning to purchase a WS-200s of my own just as soon as I can, but I shall probably investigate some small external microphones too, just to get over that minor problem.




Got any digital recorder tips of your own?


7 Comments

DavidBattino
2005-07-18 03:01:15
WS-200S vs. DS-2
Thanks, Giles. I ended up returning the DS-2 and buying a WS-200S. You can read my detailed comparison at http://www.oreillynet.com/pub/wlg/7392 . I also noticed the handling noise issue, but was able to work around it; were you using the recorder in high-sensitivity mode? —David Battino
Kivaluck
2005-07-23 07:24:43
Thanks for the review
I need to buy and use a recorder for interviews, but have no time to shop and test.


Your article gave me just what I needed make a decision.


Thanks,


Teresa

MTB
2005-07-27 13:46:56
Olympus Review - Thanks
Prior to returning to school this fall, I was reviewing the various models of digital recorders. Your review confirmed that the Olympus WS-200S was the recorder of choice. Thanks for the info. This unit is incredible and I intend to use it to capture hi quality sound effects for film making in addition to school usage. The best part of all - I purchased it on EBay for around $94 and got an additional $30 off for a total of $64 (with FREE delivery). I definitely felt like I got a bargain (rare these days) when I checked out EBay and they were selling for $109 - $124 plus shipping. If anyone is interested now is the time to act. Thanks again for the review you posted.
MTB
2005-07-27 13:54:54
Previous Post re: WS-200S
OOps - I meant to say I purchased it at Buy.com instead of EBay. Buy.com should still have it listed for $94 plus free shipping. EBay was overpriced for this product (none under $100+).
ENFUISION
2005-07-27 14:54:00
Olympus Review - Thanks
How did you get $30 off?


I was going to get it off buy.com $97- $10 off coupon +6 tax

Kai
2006-05-06 10:11:22
Thanks for the review, the Olympus ws200 is perfect for my needs.
Keith Burnett
2006-05-29 11:20:16
Nice review and I ended up buying the ws-200s which is almost too small. I use a cheap dynamic microphone (600 ohm impedance vs the 2000 ohm input impedance of the olympus recorder) and the signal strength is fine on 'hi' mode for radio reporter interviews. 'Lo' sensitivity is usable when speaking at the approved 6 to 8 inches from the mic. The external microphone makes a huge difference to the quality, and reduces handling noise.