Digital Recording Devices

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The Daunting Choices

EVPEarlier we covered EVPs. But failed to mention that EVPs were the passion of Thomas Edison who invented the ability to record sound in his attempt to build a spirit communication machine in 1928. In the 1970s, Sarah Estep begin picking up what she believed to be voices on a reel-to-reel tape recorder, and went on to found the ‘The American Association Of Electronic Voice Phenomenon’ in 1982. She also coined the term, ‘Electronic Voice Phenomena,’ and created categories in which to classify them, which is difficult and often misinterpreted by most paranormal groups out there. Years ago we chose to use the KM EVP Classification Scale, which is a much more simplified convention over the terribly confusing AA-EVP classification convention for the mysterious phenomena of EVPs, created jointly by Jari Mikkola with a former colleague.

Although many serious paranormal researchers have recorded a fair number spirit voices over the years, and successfully at that, other ‘ghost hunters’ that claim to be experienced haven’t got a clue as to what they’re doing, much less how to. Our experience has shown, that EVPs – and definitely not orbs – are the most common kind of true spirit manifestation that can be captured to date. In fact, EVPs are currently the best hard evidence, and most widely accepted, as empirical proof that entities doe exist…but as to who or what those entities are, is still up for debate (spirits, ghosts, dimensional beings, and unknown other entities that may exist).

Some people will tell you that EVP’s may just be the only real avenue we have for acquiring more answers to the phenomena, regardless of the many other technological advancements like the Spirit Box SB-7, there are still constraints for another form of ‘empirical evidence.’ Of course, there are skeptics out there that wouldn’t know or understand anything paranormal unless it jumped up and bit them in the ass. Then there are those that hear things that aren’t there at all. But understand this, we don’t live our lives under the shadow of the naysayers, which is why we are dedicated to researching this phenomenon in search of the truth; regardless of what it may turn out to be.

We believe as the Desert Highlands Paranormal Research team that the truth is out there, and use several of the best digital recording devices on the market by several manufacturers. We gave up our analog tape recorders because they are cumbersome, time-consuming, and difficulty to transfer and convert the data (mp3) to a computer, not to mention that they usually don’t have a method like a USB port for transferring data.

But a recording device is only as good as the digital equipment used to record these files. Today a typical set of stereo headset microphones are inferior and do not offer impeccable sound quality that allows for a proper audio analysis of at least two separate tracks; together or separately. Nor do many researchers realize that video often catches unexpected EVPs as well. For which we use the KM EPP (Electronic Photographic Phenomena) Photo & Video Classification Scale to classify evidence from video and film.

Hands down, we faithfully use the Olympus line of Digital Voice Recorders as our number one choice… and here’s why.

Olympus Digital Voice Recorders

Low-Cut Filter

The Low-Cut Filter feature can be turned on to filter-out low-frequency noise that users do not want to record, such as background noise in meetings created through items such as air conditioners, computers or projectors, to name a few. With “Direct Recording” the Olympus WS-321M or Olympus WS-311M digital voice recorder can function as a USB microphone with optional DSS Player Version 7 Software. In this manner, direct recording on to your PC hard drive is possible and none of the recorder’s own memory is used.

Playback Features

Users of the new WS-Series will benefit from the different playback settings. After capture, the slow playback option allows recordings to be listened to efficiently with playback that is 50 percent slower than real-time. The fast playback option allows recordings to be played 50 percent faster than real-time. Traditionally, users will keep rewinding to hear what was said, but with slow playback they will be less likely to do so, and they can skip ahead to the sections that are important with fast playback. Also, a repeat playback option enables repeated playback of just the selected part of the file being played.

SRS WOW XT Technology

For added convenience, both MP3 and WMA (Windows Media Audio) files can be downloaded and played back. SRS WOW XTTM effects add higher quality to these popular file formats. Specifically designed for small devices with speakers that are physically located close together, SRS WOW XT technology enables the speakers to capture full-panoramic stereo sound. As a result, the reproduced sound is much closer to what the artists originally intended and delivers the same immersive and powerful 3D audio experience over headphones, which are included.

Mass Storage & File System

The new WS-Series has a wide range of flash memory capabilities, which enable the devices to capture long recordings. The Olympus WS-321M digital voice recorder has 1 gigabyte of memory and holds up to 277 hours of recording time or 250 songs. The WS-311M has 512 megabytes and holds up to 138 hours of recording time or 120 songs. They also incorporate PC Link via “USB Direct,” a unique design by which the device actually separates from the battery unit and plugs into the USB port located on most computers. This saves time and simplifies operation as there is no need for a docking station or cable. Additionally, the Olympus WS-311 and Olympus WS-321 digital voice recorder offer USB 2.0 download speed for faster downloads, and because the Olympus WS-321M and Olympus WS-311M digital voice recorder are portable, mass storage-class devices, they are ideal for anyone downloading large files including documents and images in addition to audio files, with no software required.

File management allows for music, voice or text, and is a snap with the new WS-Series thanks to an enormous amount of storage space and fingertip accessibility. The new WS-Series delivers an easy-to-use interface that allows users to organize digital voice recordings and music. It has five separate file folders that allow up to 200 files per folder for unmatched organization. For added convenience, users can lock a file, safeguarding important data from being accidentally erased.

Overall Design

An enlarged, backlit LCD is easy to read and much more useful when navigating the menu screen. It reveals file information, recording time and events clearly. A stereo microphone is located on the top, and a speaker for audio playback is located on the front of the devices. The WS-Series’ ultra-compact design (3.73″ x 1.51″ x 0.43″) and light weight (1.65 ounces, including alkaline battery) make them ideal for travel. These devices are outfitted with an ergonomic dial thumb pad allowing the user to easily play or stop a recording, adjust the volume level, fast-forward and rewind with the touch of one button. The Erase and Folder/Index buttons are positioned individually below the thumb dial for easy access during use.

Olympus WS-300M

256 MB Digital Voice Recorder and Music Player (older version, still available on the market – Main difference is the recording time and memory size. Otherwise the features are about the same and sold for approximately $20 USD less than the new WS-311M)

Take it here, there and anywhere. The compact brushed silver WS-300M is equipped with 256MB of internal memory for up to 68 hours of recording time and stores up to 120 music tracks. Users can enjoy a great sense of freedom, not being bound by cables, docking station or special software, simply plug directly into any PC and you are ready to upload and download your files as you choose.

Take it here, there and anywhere. The compact brushed silver WS-300M is equipped with 256MB of internal memory for up to 68 hours of recording time and stores up to 120 music tracks. Users can enjoy a great sense of freedom, not being bound by cables, docking station or special software, simply plug directly into any PC and you are ready to upload and download your files as you choose.

Retails: $69

The Olympus WS-311M

Ideal for the paranormal investigator who wants to travel light. The WS-311M saves all file types to its memory in an instant – voice files, music, presentations or text documents. With its 512MB of internal memory it allows you to store over 138 hours of recording time and the WS-311M is USB direct so no driver installation is required.

Andy Flagg added: “Whether you use it to record your daily meetings/lectures, store important work files or just listen to your favorite artist, or capture EVPs ghost hunting, it makes downloading and recording simple.” The WS-Series boasts high-quality audio while in record or playback mode, offers up to six recording modes of increasing quality and uses Windows Media Audio file format – without needing additional software.

The Olympus WS-321M and Olympus WS-311M digital voice recorder provide the highest quality mode: Stereo Extra-High-Quality (STXQ) with dynamic stereo recording capabilities. The Noise Cancel and Voice Filter features can also be turned-on during playback to enhance the recordings’ sound quality. When activated, Noise Cancel enables users to select the high or low mode depending on the amount of background noise. The Noise Cancel feature cuts the surrounding background noise digitally during playback. Also, by removing the low and high frequency noises, Voice Filter enhances the human voice, which is a moderate frequency.

Zoom H4n Digital Handheld Recorder

w/RC4 Remote and HP10 Headphones

The world is full of portable audio recorders for capturing lectures, recording your garage band, or helping you produce a podcast, but few products are flexible enough to do it all. The Zoom H4n is a welcome exception to the rule: a mobile recording jack-of-all-trades that includes built-in stereo microphones, professional XLR and 1/4-inch microphone jacks, a multitude of recording formats, and a design that’s intuitive and tough. Best of all, the H4n comes at a price ($350) that doesn’t hit the wallet quite as hard as the competition.


If you’re familiar with Zoom’s previous handheld recorders, the H2 and H4, you probably know that the company’s excellent track record with creating value often comes at the expense of cheap-feeling design. For instance, its $200 H2 recorder includes useful features you won’t find on high-priced competitors like the Edirol R-09HR, but the H2’s cheap, plastic construction feels like it dropped out of a cereal box. Fortunately, it’s time to erase those preconceptions, because the Zoom H4n looks and feels remarkably solid. Side by side with the R-09HR and the Sony PCM-D50, you’d never guess the H4n is the most affordable.

Measuring 6.5 inches long by 2.75 inches wide by just less than 1.5 inches thick, the Zoom H4n isn’t the most pocket-worthy recorder we’ve tested (try the Yamaha Pocketrak 2G), but it’s the smallest design we’ve seen that includes two full-size XLR/instrument combination jacks. In fact, no feature is spared on the Zoom H4n. From the built-in multipattern stereo microphones on the top, down to the phantom-powered mic inputs on the bottom, the H4n packs in every conceivable option you’d want in a portable audio recorder. Zoom even throws in extras such as a foam windscreen, mic stand mount, 1GB SD card, Cubase recording software, and a power adapter.

The stereo microphones included on the Zoom H4n are anchored into a solid chunk of aluminum and rotate around for 90-degree and 120-degree recording patterns.

Design features such as microphones encased in solid aluminum and a spacious 2-inch screen may be the first details to catch your eye, but its the small things that really have us loving the H4n. Little details such as an offset record button that’s easy to feel out in the dark, or the built-in speaker on the back that lets you listen back to recordings without having to plug in a pair of headphones, demonstrate that Zoom’s designers really did their homework designing the H4n. However, our favorite unsung design feature is the H4n’s menu navigation system. Using a simple menu button and a scroll wheel off to the right side of the recorder (where your thumb naturally falls), the H4n offers the easiest menu navigation we’ve ever used on a portable recorder. Granted, the menus themselves offer a dizzying amount of options and features, but the ergonomics of jumping in and out of menus to manipulate those features is as smooth as can be.

Of course, not everything is perfect. For one, it seems a little odd that Zoom placed the minijack microphone input on the back of the H4n, instead of putting it on the side like its competitors do. Placing the input on the back makes it impossible to lay the H4n on a table while recording with an external minijack microphone, unless you stand the recorder on its end. We also would like to have seen a dedicated track-divide button on the H4n, similar to the one found on the Sony PCM-D50.


If you value simplicity over flexibility, you may find the hundreds of settings and configurations offered by H4n overwhelming. For us, Zoom’s everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach feels refreshingly generous, offering more features than recorders that cost twice as much. The H4n comes with a 150-page printed manual that clearly explains each and every aspect of operation. We only have a few paragraphs, however, so let’s just go over the main details.

The H4n can be set in three main recording modes: stereo, four channel, and multitrack recording. Dedicated LED indicators for each of the recording modes are found just above the H4n’s screen, making it easy to determine which mode you’re using. By default, the recorder is set to stereo recording mode, letting people capture stereo-audio recordings from the H4n’s built-in mics, or external microphone inputs. Recording resolution ranges from a maximum of 24-bit/96kHz, to as low as 48Kbps MP3, with selections for just about everything in-between (such as 320Kbps MP3, or a Pro Tools-friendly 24-bit/48kHz). Microphone gain adjustments are made using a clearly labeled rocker switch on the right side of the recorder, and features such as auto-level adjustment, multiple compressor, and limiter settings help to prevent recording levels from overloading.

While most people will only use the H4n’s stereo mode, the recorder’s four-channel mode distinguishes it from the competition. With four-channel recording, the H4n lets you record from the built-in microphones and external microphone inputs simultaneously as two separate stereo files. In the real world, this means you can record the stereo sound of a music performance and the direct sound of an instrument (say, a closely-mic’d acoustic guitar, or the line output of a keyboard) all at the same time. The result is a more professional-sounding recording that leaves some creative wiggle room when the files are mixed together later on. To hear a comparison between two-channel (stereo) and four-channel recording, take a listen to the sample recordings in the Performance section of this review.

The third recording mode of the Zoom H4n is MTR, or multitrack recording. This mode is similar to four-channel recording, but treats each channel as a distinct track, with individual settings for panning, volume, and effects. In essence, MTR mode lets musicians layer compositions in multiple passes (first drums, than guitar, and so on). Some users will find value in the H4n’s ambitious MTR mode, but from a general usability perspective, we feel that the mixing board-style interface of the MTR mode is awkward to operate using the included controls.

Other useful features of the Zoom H4n are an SDHC-compatible memory card slot, support for phantom-power microphones, and a low-cut filter with several frequency selections (from 80Hz on up to 237Hz). To see the full list of features, pay a visit to Zoom’s H4n product page.


During testing, we found the controls of the H4n just as responsive and easy to operate as any of its competitors. The recorder’s bright, 2-inch screen displays information in a way that is crisp and easy to read, and quick adjustments to recording and headphone levels are a cinch.

The Bottom Line on the Zoom 4Hn

  • The good: The Zoom H4n uses a sturdy, intuitive design, quality stereo microphones, phantom-powered inputs, and includes the capability to record four channels simultaneously.
  • The bad: The design is bulky, mixer settings aren’t intuitive, and the minijack microphone input is awkwardly placed.
  • The bottom line: The Zoom H4n is a mobile recording dynamo with features that outperform competitors that cost twice as much. It is an outstanding value for musicians and pod-casters who demand professional-sounding results.

Retails: $369 for the package