July 26, 2012
The Olympus WS-803 digital voice recorder is apparently designed to provide "soup to nuts" in a digital recording device which must function in difficult circumstances. But I'll be clear from the top: the Olympus WS-803 is NOT simplicity in electronic form; it's NOT, for most people, something you take out of its box and use before reading the user manual. The WS-803 also is NOT for those who are blind or visually impaired. If you want simplicity, then look at the VN-702PC. If you're blind or visually impaired, perhaps the DM-620 is more your cup of tea. Note, however, that the user manual for the WS-803 is relatively easy to understand and, as one who is severely visually impaired, I can say there are ways to cope with its small screen and text font while not necessarily being convenient or practical. Overall, the WS-803 is a useful and well-engineered device. Depending on user need or preference and whether the WS-803 would meet your specific recording needs, there's little reason to regret buying it.
ADVANTAGES FROM USING THE WS-803
Chief among the advantages in usage is that the WS-803 has a decent arsenal of onboard tools for solving problems in a variety of recording scenarios. While not perfect, the WS-803 has a good menuing and setup process for an inexpensive digital voice recorder. Sound quality, once you listen to files from the WS-803 on a PC with a good audio system, is amazing for the price you normally will pay. The supplied earbuds are more likely than others to stay in your ears. Microphone design and placement enables excellent stereo reproduction of natural sound. Tethering of covers for the battery compartment and SD slot will prevent you from losing these covers.
The WS-803, by default, enhances problems with wind ruffle. During dictation, one must be careful to avoid the popping P, T and K annoyance.
Be careful with batteries! Make certain settings reflect the actual type of battery being used. Otherwise, you might find yourself in a situation where you inadvertently attempt to charge a nonrechargeable battery or never charge a rechargeable battery in need of a charge. Do NOT use the "manual" record level option without monitoring sound via earbuds. What you hear through the earbuds while recording is a far better indicator of true quality and adequate recording level than what you see from the VU (volume unit) meter on the LCD display.
NITS FOR PICKING
I wish that Olympus had manufactured the WS-803 with the high-impact and nearly scratch-proof rubberized or rubber-like body used for more than a decade in many portable devices that can easily be dropped. Unfortunately, there's no belt loop or strap for the WS-803's pouch. Unlike some portable devices equipped with an FM radio, the WS-803's firmware does not allow for convenient access to a given frequency preset. I suggest Olympus look at how SanDisk's Fuze MP3 player is designed in regard to express access to FM radio presets. Contrast on the LCD display, when set correctly, is GREAT but ONLY if the backlight is not in use. When the backlight is on, there's simply not enough contrast to accommodate some people with vision problems. Olympus should have retained in the WS series the ability to HEAR portions of a file as the user fast forwards or rewinds through a file. This provides a better indication of where you are in the file than other practical scenarios. The WS-803 should have been designed for both line level and microphone level input into the microphone jack with selections for either among the other microphone settings in the WS-803's setup.
Summary And Conclusions
The WS-803 is a good voice recorder which I'd recommend to any well-sighted audiophile and dedicated problem-solver in context to recording subjects or events that otherwise would be difficult or impossible to record. I'd also recommend this recorder to those not averse to reading a user manual before using the device addressed in the user manual.
Simplicity is not this recorder's strong suit while capabilities make it shine. It is a reasonable step forward while there may be a thing or two that should not have been left behind. What it lacks now could be incorporated into a future model. Overall, I give this recorder high marks on performance as a stereo voice recorder with PCM capabilities. I'm somewhat less impressed by the FM radio's reception quality and access to presets.