Review: Olympus WS-822 Digital Audio Recorder

I recently purchased an Olympus WS-822 Digital Voice Recorder. I decided to write this review up for the device because when I was researching it, I could not find examples where someone actually played audio back from it. At the bottom of this review, I have an audio file that is a side-by-side comparison between it, a Zoom H4N, an iPhone 5s, and an Electro-Voice RE20. I explain the test in more detail at the bottom of this review.

Olympus WS-822
Olympus WS-822 on “The Dymrak Dread” module by John Nephew.

I purchased the Olympus WS-822 specifically for dictation (and maybe experimental audio degradation). Doing dictation on my iPhone was clunky, especially if I was talking to someone I wanted to record the conversation with.

Olympus has three lines of recorders, the VN, WS, and DM series, and are marketed at business people, students, and medical professionals. The WS is their mid-line digital audio recorder, with the VN and DM being their cheapest and most expensive lines respectively. In the WS series there are three models, the 821, 822, and 823. The 821 has 2GB of onboard memory, the 822 has 4GB, while the 823 has 8GB. It is worth noting that all models take MicroSD cards, so you can expand the memory. For me, however, the big selling point of the 822 was that it offered the ability to record PCM audio at 44.1 kHz, a function that the 821 does not offer (it only records MP3 and WMV). The 823 likewise offers this functionality, as well as an FM radio and a zoom microphone (that gives the ability to hone in on sound sources), which the 822 does not. The WS uses a pair of stereo mics in an XY pattern (the VN series uses one microphone). The DM offers all the above and also has Wi-Fi capability.

In the Minneapolis area, Office Max and Target only had the 821 in stock, while Best Buy carried the 821 and 822. Whatever the model though, in whatever store, the prices were 20-30+ dollars over Amazon.

The 822 is about the size of an Apple TV remote, but a little thicker, and also a lot cheaper feeling. It comes with a rechargeable battery, which gets a charge when you plug into USB. The device interface makes enough ergonomic sense to me, the menus are pretty easy to use, and there are a range of options including a low cut, a noise cancelation, and functions to help with transcription. The Olympus WS series also received the highest possible speech-to-text Dragon rating. I will not be purchasing Dragon anytime soon, but I will probably use the device in conjunction with my Mac’s speech-to-text software.

In my test I used the 822, a Zoom H4N, an iPhone 5s, and a RE20 running into Pro Tools. I recorded the audio on the 822 at 44/16. I configured the H4N similarly, setting the onboard microphones to a 90 degree pattern and recording at 44/16. The iPhone 5s also records at 44/16 (I used the Voice Memo function), but wraps the audio in a Quicktime file (m4a), meaning that when I brought it into Pro Tools I did convert it to a WAV. The RE20 was running through a MIO ULN2, and recording into Pro Tools at 44/16.

I did not add compression or EQ to any of the recordings, and the 822 and H4N had the lo-cuts turned off. Additionally, I did not down convert the stereo files to mono for either the 822 or H4N. Prior to my final export of the tests I set the levels for each device to approximately the same place. The 822, H4N, and iPhone were on a desk about a foot away from me, backs down, and at a diagonal position in relation to my head. The 822 was in the center, so the iPhone and H4N were technically off pattern by about an inch. The RE20 was positioned at the side of my head, at the same distance, but not at the same level, because the boom arm would not reach the desk. I was not too concerned about the RE20 though, because I was using it as a control and for my own reference. If you hear a computer fan, that is my laptop, which sounds like a small jet airplane; it was about two inches away from all the devices.

Excluding the RE20, of the three portable recorders the H4N sounded best, the 822 second, and the iPhone last. I was interested in purchasing a Zoom H2N (not H4N), but did not because of the price difference. Additionally, the H2N (like the H4N) is much larger than the 822. For these tests, I borrowed a friend’s H4N, thinking I could replicate some of the H2N’s capabilities.

Final thoughts: While the H4N (and I assume H2N) sounded the best of the portable devices, I was specifically interested in the 822 for its price and size. The quality difference between the audio recordings of the 822 and iPhone 5s, for my intended usage, are negligible to my ears. Both sound tinny, with the iPhone sounding tinnier, but where I mostly hear a difference between the two is in the stereo (822) and mono (iPhone). A controlled mono recording of a voice would always be preferable, but for uncontrolled vocal situations, the stereo recording is more versatile.

My biggest complaint about the Olympus WS-822 is that out of the box it feels outrageously cheap. Years ago I had a handheld Sony cassette recorder that I used for dictation. I do not know the model of the old-skool-Sony, but it felt like an actual machine, and I recorded all sorts of things with it through the years. The 822 feels like if I dropped it, it would break, so I guess I will try not to drop it.

I plan to use the 822 primarily for dictation and am curious to try it with speech-to-text software, especially in more uncontrolled situations. After all, if I am using this for dictation, the idea is that I am not really too concerned where exactly the recorder is when I am speaking.

Listen to my comparison below and decide for yourself if the Olympus WS-822 is for you. The order of devices are:

* 00:00 – Olympus 822
* 01:02 – iPhone 5s
* 02:06 – Zoom H4N
* 03:09 – Electro-Voice RE20

4 thoughts on “Review: Olympus WS-822 Digital Audio Recorder

  1. I’m surprised you can even find these things anymore as a stand-alone technology, in this age of the almighty all-in-one iPhone/Samsung Galaxy/etc etc.

    Who is the principal customer set – the same folk that keep record-players and vinyl-format stuff in business (not being a smart alec – I really don’t know)?

    1. Im a student and will record my teacher for 3hrs. Thats who buys them. Thats a long time to ask a phone to record and a lot for it to store. Especially since i have more than one class.

  2. It does have the air of a weirdly out-of-step technology in the age of the smartphone. In the brick-and-mortar stores, Olympus was primarily the brand that was carried, the only other Sony; in Best Buy it took three employees to find where they were located, indicating few customers’ requests. The packaging and device menu layouts are geared at business applications and lectures, so my guess would be these people are the primary customer base. Though, who specifically among these groups, I have no idea.

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