The Olympus VN-541PC is made for students looking to record lectures, but would also suit graduate journalists searching for a budget-friendly, no-frills dictaphone for one-on-one interviews. Olympus' offering is small and lightweight, and is one of the most affordable models we tested for our guide to the best digital voice recorders (opens in new tab).
It only has one microphone though, which certainly takes it out of the running for anyone looking for a device to record multiple people at once, or to cut through the din of a busy room. We tested the Olympus VN-541PC alongside the Sony UX533 and Sony PX440, two other popular digital voice recorders for students. One advantage the Olympus’ has over the others is that it’s more affordable, which is an important consideration for students, but how else does it stack up? Time to find out...
Olympus VN-541PC: design
The Olympus NV-541PC is a basic-looking digital voice recorder, but then what would you expect for something that's regularly on sale for under $40? The display is basic yet easier to read, with data displayed including battery life, whether the dictaphone is actually recording, and how long it has been recording for).
A series of buttons on the front of the dictaphone enable you to rewind and fast forward through your selected voice recording, as well as to adjust the playback volume up or down. There's even a shortcut button for quick deletion of voice files you no longer need, and want to clear to free up some of that 4GB storage.
Olympus VN-541PC: features
The Olympus VN-541PC’s best feature is the range of scene-selection filters on offer. Choose between Memo, Talk, Music and LP settings. Each filter than adjusts the EQ of the microphone to produce a clearer recording. This digital voice recorder also has a noise-canceling filter to remove some ambient background noise. In our tests, this feature was effective, as the mono recording makes it easy to remove sound without adding an annoying warbling effect to the voices. In that scenario, we'd recommend the Tascam DR-05 (opens in new tab).
Another draw with the Olympus VN-541PC is one-touch recording. Quite simply, you slide the record button forward to start recording. Considering that nearly every digital voice recorder on the market also has one-touch recording, this doesn’t make it stand out from the crowd, but it's a nice addition at such a low price point.
Olympus VN-541PC: performance
Unlike the Olympus VN-541PC, portable recorders with a pre-record function can capture five to 10 seconds of buffer audio. This requires you to hit the button once to start the buffer and again to begin recording. This feature is designed for situations where you have to press record at any moment. The buffered audio makes up for slow reflexes.
This digital voice recorder’s microphone isn’t impressive, though. The device features just one microphone, which means its recordings lack the perceptive depth of those taken with a stereo recording device. In other words, if your professor moves from the right side of the room to the left side of the room, you’ll only hear fluctuations in their voice, rather than detect they are actually moving. In addition, the microphone’s frequency range is between 40Hz and 13kHz, so it doesn’t record frequencies across the entire spectrum of human hearing.
Because it has just the one microphone, it doesn't record audio with the same quality and clarity as the other digital voice recorders on review. In fact, its recordings sounded similar to audio captured by some of the best smartphones (opens in new tab). If you're a creative professional looking for a top-performing dictaphone, read our review of the Zoom H6 (opens in new tab).
The Olympus VN-541PC comes with 4GB of internal storage, which is enough storage to record up to 2,080 hours of lectures, memos and interviews. All the recordings are captured as WMA files, which is a compressed file format. You can transfer the audio files to your computer via a USB port.
Should I buy the Olympus VN-541PC?
While the Olympus VN-541PC is the most affordable digital voice recorder for students and journalists, these days, it isn't not much better than recording audio on your phone. Both devices record in mono, use noise-canceling filters and are small enough to fit in your pocket.
However, this Olympus dictaphone offers decent storage, and a one-touch recording feature for the rock bottom price, so you won't have to worry about deleting voice notes or interviews any time soon, and can export media files for long-term storage on your laptop or desktop.