Last updated: August 10, 2021

Welcome to our large dictation machine test 2021. Here we present all the dictation machines we have tested in detail. We have compiled detailed background information and added a summary of customer reviews on the web. We would like to make your purchase decision easier and help you find the best dictation machine for you. You will also find answers to frequently asked questions in our guide. If available, we also offer interesting test videos. Furthermore, you will also find some important information on this page that you should pay attention to if you want to buy a dictation machine.




The most important facts

  • Dictaphones make it possible, among other things, to record meetings, lectures, interviews or one's own ideas without having to write a word.
  • A basic distinction is made between analogue and digital dictation machines. Digital dictation machines in particular are available with very different specifications and in a wide range of price categories.
  • Digital dictation machines can be used for practically all recordings. Analogue dictation machines have a nostalgic feel and are very easy to use.

The Best Dictaphone: Our Picks

Guide: Questions you should ask yourself before buying a dictation machine

How does a dictation machine work and who is it suitable for?

In principle, a recorder is suitable for anyone who wants to make sound recordings quickly and easily. Whether it's your own ideas, a conference, an interview or a lecture, every sound is captured and recorded.

A dictation machine is very practical and can be used by almost everyone in everyday life. (Image source: Pixabay.com / Oscar Ivan Esquivel Arteaga )

In most cases, people speak faster than you can take notes. This is why dictation machines are suitable for doctors or lawyers who, for example, want to draft letters and then have them typed up. Journalists and bloggers need dictaphones to record interviews. For students, it is sometimes better to record a lecture for safety and not just rely on the notes. But recording devices are also not uninteresting for musicians, as some devices can also be used to record their own musical ideas or concerts.

What is the difference between mono and stereo?

This distinction is about the number of channels used for recording. With mono, only one channel is recorded, whereas with stereo, two channels are recorded. This means that when a recording is played back through headphones, the sound is heard in either one ear or both. Mono, however, is only suitable for voice recordings with one speaker. It is important to remember that the voice memo must also be typed. Therefore, instructions should be precise and unambiguous and foreign words as well as proper names should be dictated as a spelling alphabet. As soon as there are several speakers and they want to be spatially assigned, a stereo recording is absolutely necessary for this. In addition, stereo recordings are less susceptible to noise and have a much better sound quality.

What accessories and connections are available?

The following accessories are often used in conjunction with dictation machines:

  • External microphones
  • Headphones
  • USB cable
  • Foot switch

External microphones can be used to create even more targeted recordings because the microphone can be brought right up to the speaker. Headphones can be used to check recordings while they are being made and to listen to them later. To get recordings onto a computer, you need a USB cable. Foot pedals can be useful when transcribing because they allow you to start and stop recording while keeping your hands free. Accordingly, it can also be useful to look at whether a dictation machine has the following features:

  • Headphone socket
  • USB connection
  • Input for microphones

You can connect a footswitch via USB to some dictation machines as well as to your PC.

Can I also borrow a recording device?

Yes, that is possible. Especially at universities and in larger companies, there are often rental devices. There are also private individuals who lend out their devices. Especially in larger cities, there are some companies that specialise in renting various electrical devices.
Did you know that there is an application that converts voice recordings into text documents? With modern speech recognition, the effort of a classical transcription can be reduced considerably. The dictation machine itself cannot do this, but this application can be purchased via the app store.

Decision: What types of dictation machines are there and which is the right one for you?

Basically, dictation machines differ in the type of recording technology. In the age of mobile communication, smartphones are now so advanced that they can also function as recording devices. All devices should have in common that they can record speech and play it back. In the following, we will present three variants:

  • Analogue dictation machines
  • Digital dictation machines
  • Dictation app for smartphone

In the following section, we would like to help you find out which type of audio recorder is best suited for you. For this purpose, we will present the above-mentioned variants with their individual advantages and disadvantages.

What distinguishes an analogue dictation recorder and what are the advantages and disadvantages?

With analogue dictation machines, the recordings are stored on small cassettes with a storage capacity of 30 to 60 minutes. They work with a magnetic tape. This tape has a limited lifespan and is exposed to the risk of being damaged by external influences.

Advantages
  • Easy to use
  • nostalgia, if it matters
Disadvantages
  • Little storage space
  • susceptible to shocks
  • recordings not directly transferable to PC
  • recordings only linear

Analogue dictation machines are often used today for nostalgic reasons. They do not offer any significant advantages over the digital version. They are usually very easy to use, but only because the devices have few functions. One disadvantage of an analogue dictation machine is that it can only record linearly. This means that if you rewind and want to make an addition within the recording, the device overwrites the previous recording.

What are the features of a digital voice recorder and what are the advantages and disadvantages?

Digital recorders store recordings in the so-called internal flash memory. This offers the advantage of a large recording capacity.

In principle, almost anything is possible with digital dictation machines. (Image source: 123rf.com / 81084428)

Furthermore, power consumption is lower and deleting old recordings is very quick. USB sticks and memory cards work on the same principle. It doesn't matter whether it's interviews that you want to edit together later on your PC or long lectures, conferences and concerts. Recordings can be inserted or transferred at any point in an existing recording.

Advantages
  • Easy transfer and storage on the PC
  • Wide range of devices for every purpose
  • Often with additional functions
  • Fast and power-saving flash memory
Disadvantages
  • Sometimes complex operation
  • Wide range of products makes selection difficult

The spectrum of digital dictation machines is very wide in terms of price and performance. Therefore, before buying, you should think carefully about how you plan to use your dictation machine and what features it should have.

What distinguishes a dictation app for the smartphone and what are the advantages and disadvantages?

A dictation app is an application software that uses the microphone of the smartphone to record audio. To be able to use it, all you need is an appropriate installed app, whether free or paid, and enough free storage space. The main advantage of this variant is that a smartphone has become an everyday object and no separate hardware is needed.

Advantages
  • No separate purchase of hardware necessary
  • free of charge or at a low price
Disadvantages
  • Usually no good sound quality without an extra microphone
  • memory and battery as limiting factors

Due to the limited memory capacity of the smartphone, the memory-heavy recordings can be a limiting factor. If you want to use a dictation app, it may be advisable to buy an extra microphone for your smartphone. This will give you better sound quality and more focused recordings when there is more than one speaker.

It is often not a disadvantage to use an external microphone in addition to the dictation machine to increase the quality of the recording. (Image source: Pixabay.com / FloTV)

Buying criteria: Use these factors to compare and evaluate dictation machines

In this section, we will show you which criteria you can use to compare and evaluate dictation machines before you buy them. This will make it easier for you to decide whether a particular device is suitable for you or not. Basically, we consider the following criteria to be important:

  • Storage capacity
  • Internal memory
  • External memory
  • Recording time
  • Audio formats
  • Power supply
  • Connections
  • Design

In the following paragraphs you can read about the individual purchase criteria and how you can classify them.

Storage capacity

The storage capacity of your dictation machine determines how many hours of audio you can record before you have to store or delete the data elsewhere. There is a crucial difference between analogue and digital devices in terms of the underlying technology. With analogue dictation machines, recordings are stored on magnetic tape cassettes. This tape is made of plastic and is coated with a magnetisable material. In most analogue recorders, you will find mini-cassettes that offer you space for about 30 minutes of audio. Digital voice record ers are different. This type of memory is called "flash memory". It is also found in USB sticks, mobile phones and SD cards. The capacity is measured in the following units as standard:

  • Bit
  • Byte
  • Megabyte
  • Gigabyte
  • Terabyte

One bit is the smallest possible unit. It can only take on one value, i.e. "on/off", "yes/no" or "1/0". The following applies:

  • 8 bits = 1 byte
  • 1.000,000 bytes = 1 megabyte
  • 1.000 Megabytes = 1 Gigabyte
  • 1.000 Gigabytes = 1 Terabyte

How many minutes of audio this corresponds to depends on the quality and compression of the files, which is why we cannot make a general statement about this. However, we have given the estimated maximum recording time for each of the devices presented on this page.

Internal memory

Internal memory is a fixed storage medium built into the dictation machine that you cannot remove. Analogue dictation machines do not have an internal memory, as cassettes only allow a relatively short recording time and must be removed for data storage at another location. This principle does not apply to digital dictation machines, but there are also machines that do not have an internal memory. Make sure that the size of the internal memory is adapted to your needs and that the price-performance ratio is appropriate. For devices that support external storage media, you may be able to disregard the internal memory.

External memory

External storage media are not built into the device. This means they have to be inserted separately and can be replaced. With analogue dictation machines, it is quite normal that cassettes can be removed and replaced. That is why every analogue dictation machine has a cassette deck. Digital dictation machines that already have internal memory do not necessarily have to have the option of inserting an external storage medium. However, if it is possible to expand the memory, SD cards are usually used. Some digital dictation machines only work with external storage media. However, many devices have an internal memory and can be expanded with external memory in the form of SD cards if required. If you feel that the internal memory of a device may not be sufficient, make sure that the recorder supports external storage media.

Recording time

Recording time depends on the amount of data that can fit on a cassette or memory card. The other decisive factor is the quality of the audio files. Basically, the larger the memory, the more minutes of recordings. In addition, the quality of the recordings is also an important factor that affects the recording duration. A higher quality of the recordings and a lower compression rate have a negative effect on the recording time.

Audio formats

Basically, a distinction is made between three different types of audio formats:

  • Uncompressed
  • Lossless compressed
  • Lossy compressed

With data compression, the amount of data is compressed or reduced so that a file is smaller at the end than before. With lossless compression, the data can be restored to its original state. With lossy compression, some data is lost in the process. For audio recordings, uncompressed data is therefore of higher quality, but compressed data takes up less storage space. The most common audio formats for dictation machines are:

  • Audio cassette (analogue dictation machines)
  • MP3
  • WAV
  • WMA
  • MP4

Audio cassette and WAV are uncompressed formats. Lossless compressed formats are the Windows format WMA and the Apple format MP4. Although MP3 recordings are lossy compressed, they require the least storage space of the audio formats listed here.

Power supply

There are only two options for the power supply:

  • Battery
  • Battery

Batteries are permanently installed in the unit and must be charged. Batteries are changed when they are empty and are therefore disposable. Depending on how you want to use your dictation machine, batteries or rechargeable batteries may make more sense. If you do not have a power source for long periods of time, batteries are a good choice. Otherwise, rechargeable batteries are usually preferable for cost reasons and because of the aspect of sustainability and environmental protection.

Connections

Depending on the dictation machine, different connections are needed. The following connections are particularly popular:

  • Headphone socket
  • Connection for an external microphone
  • USB port (for digital voice recorders)

A headphone jack is important to be able to check the recording while it is still being recorded or to listen to the recordings afterwards. External microphones, on the other hand, are often used to improve the quality of the recordings. If you plan to use an external microphone, you should make sure that your dictation machine has such a connection. A digital dictation machine should always have a USB port so that you can easily connect it to your PC to transfer data.

Design

Large, heavy dictation machines are usually more robust and do not break as quickly. On the other hand, small, lightweight dictation machines usually fit in your pocket and are easier to take with you. Basically, orient yourself on the following factors:

  • Dimensions
  • Weight
  • Colour

Always keep in mind the intended use of your dictation machine and consider which design suits you best.

Facts worth knowing about dictation machines

When was the dictation machine invented?

As early as the end of the 19th century, Thomas Alva Edison had the idea of recording sound on aluminium foil. Then in 1886, Alexander Graham Bell invented the graphophone, which captured sounds on wax cylinders.

Did you know that the parlograph was an early dictaphone? Carl Lindström, a Swedish manufacturer and technician living in Berlin, developed the Parlograph from the phonograph invented by Thomas Alva Edison and manufactured it from 1910. The device had a wax cylinder and a bell for mechanical recording and playback.

Dictaphones were used for office purposes from the beginning of the 20th century. However, these were much larger and used different technology than today.

In memory of James Bond - are there really dictation machines in pens?

Actually, dictation machines that serve as spy tools hidden in ballpoint pens are only known from agent films à la James Bond. In fact, however, there are dictation machines that look like pens and can be bought. The storage capacity and sound quality of such dictation machines are of course not competitive with standard dictation machines. However, they are still a nice gadget - especially if you are a fan of the James Bond series.

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