What Is a Portable Dictaphone?

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What Is a Portable Dictaphone?

Portable dictaphones are ideal when it comes to recording voice, which can include them being used in interviews, meetings, and conferences. Their use of taking voice memos is quite common, and their being used in recording telephone conversations is not uncommon. Dictaphone, in its original avatar, refers to a trademark, although in more recent times, it has been used to describe most dictation and sound recording machines.

In today’s world, the term refers to almost all voice recorders that use cassettes in order to record. More recent digital alternatives, which are also portable, are referred to as DVRs, or Digital Voice Recorders. They work by saving audio to in-built, or external, memory. While consumers continue to have varied options when it comes to buying variants, which use cassettes, their digital counterparts continue to rise in popularity.

Buyers have the option to turn to retail shops when buying portable dictaphones, and alternatively, they can also turn online and search for them through websites, such as eBay. What one needs to take into account when buying a dictaphone or DVR include aspects like the technology being used, the size, compatibility with computers, recording formats, and added features.

The Evolution of the Portable Dictaphone

The trademark, Dictaphone, was established in 1907. Electric microphones were soon being used by the late 1930s, and plastic belts replaced wax cylinders soon after. Magnetic tape followed, and next in line was the use of compact, mini, and micro cassettes.

Digital recording came into being in the 1990s, and the affordability factor of computer memory saw the introduction of digital voice recorders. Now, a number of DVRs come with the ability to record voice, recognise voice, as well as transcribe audio into text, although their robustness has not been good enough to do away with human transcription in a number of scenarios. Analogue recording through portable dictaphones is still preferred by many is simply because of the robustness, permanence, and flexibility they offer.

The use of desktop dictation machines has all but ceased now, and those who require audio recordings commonly turn to portable dictaphones or DVRs.

Diverse Uses of the Portable Dictaphone

Portable dictaphones and DVRs are used for different reasons. For instance, when used to record voice in meetings and interviews, it allows people to concentrate on what is being said as opposed to having to take notes, and the same also applies when they are used during presentations and lectures. The use of dictaphones is common when taking voice notes, which includes capturing thoughts and ideas.

Dictaphones can be used to create shopping lists; they can be used to record text or instructions for people who suffer from reading disabilities; and they can also be used to record telephonic conversations. More recent versions of DVRs allow users to transcribe voice into text, and they also give users the ability to record podcasts irrespective of where they are.

Dictaphones or Digital Voice Recorders

Consumers in this day and age have the option to choose from a number of cassette-based dictaphones as well as digital voice recorders. The price is not necessarily a concern, given that one can buy a DVR for almost the same price as a dictaphone, although one needs to address other aspects. For example, a low priced DVR may come without the ability to connect to a computer. As a result, people looking at storing recordings for later use tend to prefer dictaphones, whereas people looking at setting quick reminders or saving audio on computers tend to favour DVRs.


When it comes to looking for dictaphones, consumers have the option to choose from those that use standard, mini, and micro cassettes. While standard and micro cassettes offer 30 minutes of recording time per side, mini cassettes come with 15 minutes of recording time per side. Cassette compatibility, in such cases, is not really a concern, just as long as one is using it in a player that uses the same sized cassettes.

Dictaphones are normally cheaper than their digital counterparts, and they also come with longer battery lives. Cassettes can be reused since they allow re-recording, and they can easily be stored as well. Dictaphone cassettes can be replaced as, and when, more space is needed but this is not the case when it comes to DVRs without external memory alternatives. In addition, one can also find models which are designed to record phone conversations.

Digital Voice Recorders

Digital voice recorders come with their share of advantages. When using a DVR, one can look forward to instant playback without having to rewind cassettes, and almost all DVRs come with the ability to store audio files in accordance to the recording time and date. Many DVR models come with multiple folders in order to simplify organising, and they also give users the ability to move files in between folders. DVRs which come with USB connectivity allow users to transfer files to computers quite easily.

Newer models offer users expandable memory, which is possible through the use of external memory cards. Some versions also come with the ability to transcribe audio to text with special voice recognition software.

Recording Format

When looking for a DVR, one should pay attention to the recording format on offer. Among the most commonly used format for audio files is MP3, which is supported by most digital audio players as well as computers and smartphones. Some DVRs record in .act or .wav formats, which are not recognised by all digital players, which could require one to invest further in software that converts these formats to MP3 files. As a result, looking for DVRs that record in MP3 format is suggested.

Recording Time

A number of DVRs offer users the ability to select between long play and short play alternatives. These basically refer to the length of recording time, wherein if one is looking to record a couple of hours of audio, selecting long play is the way to go. The short play alternative is ideal for recording relatively shorter audio, for example, a 10-minute interview. In addition to recording time difference, these modes also have an effect on the quality of the recording, where short play recordings are of better quality in comparison to long play recordings.

Why Digital?

Dictaphones are referred to as analogue voice recorders, given that they rely on cassettes, and DVRs are their digital counterparts. DVRs score over dictaphones in various ways as can be seen in the following table.




Audio quality

Can vary owing to cassette quality

Offers the same level of quality, generally better than analogue

Transferring of data and storage

Limited to storing on cassettes

Can be transferred to computers


Little or no security

Password protection and data encryption



Can be automated

As can be seen in the table, DVRs do offer users added benefits in comparison to conventional dictaphones, and since DVR recorded audio files can be transferred to computers, they can be emailed as well. In addition, digital audio files can be played on most digital media players.

Features to Look For in a Portable Dictaphone

Since there is no dearth of alternatives when it comes to buying portable dictaphones and DVRs, one should know of the features on offer. Additional features, in addition to recording capabilities, include, tie clip microphones, which allow hands-free recording; timers, which can be set to record for pre-set time durations; voice activated systems, which start recording when audible sounds are heard; integrated and removable microphones; in-built speakers and the ability to use external headphones; as well as the use of rechargeable batteries.

Buying Portable Dictaphones on eBay

eBay offers users scores of portable dictaphone and DVR alternatives, which include various dealers dealing in the best of the best products, as well as dealers offering relatively cheaper alternatives. The digital alternatives on offer come with in-built memory as well as expandable memory, and the analogue alternatives offer multiple choices as well. For example, one can expect to find a voice-activated dictaphone or voice-activated digital recorder through eBay quite easily.

When buying digital voice recorders, buyers are presented with different storage capacities, and more common alternatives offer 2 GB, 4 GB, and 8 GB in-built memory options.

eBay also offers buyers the ability to go through various dictaphone- and DVR-related accessories, which include mics, headphones, as well as rechargeable batteries. Local sellers offer quick delivery options, so looking for a local dealer makes more sense than opting to buy through a dealer located in some far-flung location. Comparing offerings through various dealers is suggested, which can result in considerable savings.


Portable dictaphones and digital voice recorders provide users with the ability to record voice with relative ease, and when choosing between the two, one does have a plethora of options. There is no definite answer when it comes to establishing which one is the better alternative, given that each comes with its share of pros and cons, and different people are known to prefer one over the other. For instance, while some people prefer storing audio recorded on cassettes, some others prefer storing their audio recordings on computers.

Aspects that one should address, apart from deciding whether to buy an analogue or digital recorder, include total recording time, recording format, the ability to use related accessories, and so on. If transcribing the recorded audio is required, looking for a digital version that supports automatic transcription helps. If price is a constraint, one can always look for a used dictaphone or digital voice recorder.

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