By Glenn Reynolds of InstaPundit.com.
I have a chapter on podcasting and the like in my just-about-to-appear book, An Army of Davids, which is about how technology is empowering ordinary people to do things that only big organizations could do in the past. That phenomenon isn't news to Gizmodo readers, but writing about podcasting got me to try it, and while I do lots of interviews over the phone (using a nifty phone interface box that connects the phone line to my mixer), that also got me looking for a portable tool that would be suitable for interviewing people out in the real world.
There are a lot of expensive professional tools for digital recording, but they seemed too bulky (and expensive!) for my purposes. So I decided to buy the Olympus DM20, which has a street price of $199, plus another fifty bucks for the plug-in stereo microphone, and give it a try. I've tested it out recording my classes, where it does a good job of capturing my voice as I move around the room, and an adequate job of capturing student questions even from the back row. I also tested it out in a crowded convention exhibit hall (you can listen to the whole set of interviews here—scroll past the part where Bill Frist talks about avian flu—or you can hear this 20-second excerpt of Ana Marie Cox talking with crowd noise in the background. Her voice comes through very nicely.)
Glenn's final verdict after the jump.
Overall, I'm quite impressed. The DM-20 fits in a shirt-pocket (even with the stereo microphone attached, it can rest on top of a CD jewel box and not stick out at either end), gives hours of recording time even at its highest quality setting, and gets decent battery life using easy-to-find AAA batteries rather than some proprietary rechargeable setup. It also supports drag-and-drop file transfers via USB, which is a huge advantage over tape- or mini-disc based recorders.
I'm sure that the professional tools that cost four or five times as much are better, but they're usually less handy, and their expense not only makes them, well, expensive, but also might make you less willing to take them with you some places. I wouldn't recommend the DM-20 for bootlegging concerts—it's a "voice recorder" after all—but for on-the-fly interviews for podcasting or even broadcasting, I think it's very good, especially at the price.