The Olympus VN-541PC is made for students. Its small, simple design features one microphone, and it’s the most affordable recorder we reviewed, both of which make it a good option for recording lectures and study group discussions. However, the mono recording and low fidelity mean that it isn’t much better than recording audio with your smartphone.
We tested the Olympus VN-541PC alongside the Sony UX533 and Sony PX440, as it’s among the most popular digital voice recorders for students. This Olympus’ advantage over the others is that it’s more affordable, which is an important consideration for students. That said, because it only has one microphone, it simply didn’t record audio with the same quality and clarity as the other devices in our tests. In fact, its recordings sounded similar to audio captured by our smartphone.
The main feature Olympus markets on the VN-541PC is one-touch recording. You simply slide the record button forward to start. 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. Some portable recorders have two-touch processes but only when the prerecord feature is activated.
Unlike the VN-541PC, portable recorders with prerecord 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.
The Olympus VN-541PC’s best feature is its scene-selection filters. You can choose between memo, talk, music and LP setting. Each adjusts the EQ of the microphone. It also has a noise-canceling filter to remove some of the ambient background noises. In our tests, this feature was effective, as the mono recording makes it easy to remove sound without warbling voices.
This digital voice recorder’s microphone isn’t impressive. 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.
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.
While the Olympus VN-541PC is the most affordable digital voice recorder for students, it’s ultimately not much better than recording audio on your smartphone. Both record in mono, use noise-canceling filters and are small enough to fit in your pocket.
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