Olympus DM-20 Conference Kit

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  • Editors' rating
    7.5 Very good

Pros

  • Complete audio recording outfit
  • flight case
  • high-quality external microphones with tripods
  • doubles as an MP3/WMA player
  • USB docking cradle

Cons

  • Microphone channels not marked
  • combined microphone/headphone jack
  • esoteric operation
  • limited to 16 index points for a single recording
  • battery charger not included
  • unintuitive off switch

Housed in foam cut-outs inside a smart aluminium flight case, the DM-20 Conference Kit contains the DM-20 digital voice recorder (which also offers music playback), a pair of AKG external microphones, a tie-clip microphone/remote control, two tabletop tripods, headphones, AC power supply, USB docking station and software.

If you’re more concerned about portability than protection, you could probably transport everything you need in the pockets of your briefcase, although the flight case does mean that bits and pieces are less likely to go missing if the kit is a shared company resource. As the name suggests, the product’s primary role is recording conferences or meetings for later transcription or archiving: the omni-directional tabletop microphones ensures you don’t miss anything important, while five metres of cabling should cover all but the most imposing of boardroom tables.

The DM-20 is equipped with 128MB of internal RAM, which cannot be expanded with additional memory cards -- unlike the Olympus DM-1. However, with both Digital Speech Standard (DSS) and Windows Media Audio (WMA) encoding, this is good for 280 minutes in Stereo High Quality (SHQ) mode, or over 44 hours in Long Play (LP) mode (HQ and SP modes are also provided).

The recorder itself is very discreet, with a 1.5in. backlit monochrome LCD that delivers a wide range of information, from battery life and quality settings, to recording time and file location. It provides four folders for keeping your recordings separate, and the accompanying software can be used to rename them for specific tasks. Key playback controls are laid out on the side of the recorder, with sliders on the rear for control lock and music/voice function toggle.

It has to be said that the four-button control interface leaves a lot to be desired, making the DM-20 rather tricky to get to grips with for the first time. For example, most people like to see a clearly marked 'on/off' switch, and it takes a while to figure out that you turn the device off by engaging the 'Hold' button. That aside, the DM-20 is a capable recorder, with features like voice-activated recording, automatic levelling and multiple playback speeds all being points in its favour.

If you were expecting advanced transcription or voice recognition tools to accompany the DM-20 Conference Kit, you may be a little disappointed, as Olympus has only bundled Windows Media Player 9, Acrobat Reader 5 and the main utility, the DSS Player 2002. That said, DSS Player 2002 does provide a range of useful functions such as speed adjustment (without making your chairman sound like Minnie Mouse) and a surprisingly effective background noise reduction filter, along with the more conventional array of file management features. It also lets you upload WMA- and MP3-based files to the DM-20’s music folder, allowing the recorder to be used like any other digital audio player when it’s not performing its primary function.

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When you compare recordings made with the DM-20 on its own, the advantage of the AKG C98 microphones becomes immediately apparent, as the clarity that these split stereo pickups offer is impressive. However, as they’re recording to either the Left or Right stereo channel, it would be useful to see some kind of identification on the microphones themselves, and we’d also prefer to see separate sockets for headphones and microphones so you can monitor recordings as their made. We were also surprised to find that the kit only comes with a pair of standard alkaline batteries, rather than a rechargeable option -- something we’d prefer to see in the space that’s currently occupied by a small carrying case for the DM-20.

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