Thursday, August 4, 2011

A Slight Improvement On The Past, The SONY ICD-BX700 Is A Worthwhile Upgrade.

The Good: Excellent capacity, range and portability, Generally good use of energy, Good software support
The Bad: No "off" button, Lack of Plug-in power support
The Basics: A good improvement on earlier Sony DVRs, the SONY ICD-BX700 is a good voice recorder that will meet most users needs.

When I began my writing career, I never guessed how many different tools I would need to stay competitive in the marketplace and exactly what those tools would be. As a novelist, I did not suspect that I would be utilizing a Digital Voice Recorder to make my own books-on-c.d., but that is the way it has gone. Years ago, I used to read on tapes for a friend who loved novels, but did not have a visual memory (which made it difficult for her to read). But the difference between making fun audio cassettes for a friend and marketable compact discs of my own works required entirely different equipment. And when my original DVR, the Sony ICD-P210 (reviewed here!), proved inadequate for the task, I had to upgrade. I upgraded to the SONY ICD-BX700. Given that most people are likely to use a DVD for notetaking or legal recordings of conversations, this is probably all of the voice recorder most users will ever need. For me and my needs, it was adequate, but to get to a truly professional level, it will require additional equipment (like professional-grade microphones and editing software).

The SONY ICD-BX700 is a digital voice recorder, which is the evolution of the tape recorder. Instead of recording onto a flawed and vulnerable analogue medium like tape, this records to a built-in chip with all of the information being stored digitally. Unlike my first digital voice recorder, this has extensive memory capacity and with over two hundred fifty hours of recording capacity, the batteries always run out before the memory does on this. This unit is ideal for those who are spending many long sessions recording information without the ability to upload the information from the Digital Voice Recorder to whatever computer one has the software on. Because it has such extensive capacity for recording audio information, though, it leaves the user very vulnerable to losing that information. Fortunately, the SONY ICD-BX700 appears to be solid as far as retaining the stored information (except the current time and date, which needs to be reset each time one changes the batteries!).

The ICD-BX700 is pretty much the standard size for a SONY Digital Voice Recorder. These devices are intended to be discrete and light, which struck me as all sorts of lawsuits waiting to happen. It is, after all, illegal to record conversations without the express permission of the person being recorded, and yet the small nature of the SONY ICD-BX700 makes it ideal for covert recording. This is housed in a stylish all silver-gray plastic casing and the SONY ICD-BX700 is four inches tall, an inch wide and only about 5/8" thick. The buttons on this DVR are larger than ones on prior models, like my old ICD-P210, which makes it much easier to use. The SONY ICD-BX700 has an internal chip that holds just over a gigabyte of information (1024 MB), which translates to roughly 280 hours. This can often get problematic to try to keep track of just because everything needs to be added up in base 60 to be sure, but at the standard quality level, I've loaded the unit up with well over two hundred fifty hours of me blathering on before uploading it.

The larger controls on the front of the SONY ICD-BX700 make it a dramatic improvement over the operation of the ICD-P210 because with larger buttons, it is easier to hit the controls than with the smaller ones. Unfortunately, like earlier SONY Digital Voice Recorders, this does not have a simple power switch. Instead, there is a "Hold" button, which is a sliding button on the right side of the unit. It moves easily enough, clicking on or "hold" by either moving it down or up. There is even an arrow on the slide button to show which way it needs to be slid to activate the "hold" function. This is basically an advanced "pause" function, though, which allows the SONY ICD-BX700 to go into its powersaving mode.

Outside the annoying lack of a direct on/off switch, all of the buttons are easy-to-use and intuitive. In fact, the front of the BX700 is a very simple series of easily-recognizable controls. There is a record/pause button, play, stop, fast forward and rewind. With only five buttons, all with universally-recognizable icons and abbreviations for the functions, this is a ridiculously simple device to use. Also an improvement over the older unit, the volume adjustment - which is on the side next to the "Hold" slide switch - has bigger buttons. Instead of requiring nails because of how small the buttons to adjust the volume up and down are, the new buttons are slightly bigger and raised out of the unit a hair, so one may adjust the volume simply through sense of touch!

Like with earlier SONY Digital Voice Recorders, the SONY ICD-BX700 records information and offers various storage spaces for the information. Voice files are stored in folders and the ICD-BX700 places the files in one of four folders based on where one starts recording their information (i.e. whatever folder one is in when they hit the "record" button is where the file is stores). It is remarkably easy to keep information and recordings separate when you have designated your folders for different purposes. This also makes the SONY ICD-BX700 for sharing with other people as each user may have their own folder. On this unit, which has fewer buttons than earlier DVRs, switching between folders is a function of the FF/REW buttons when the unit it not recording.

As with most battery-operated devices, the ICD-BX700 is problematic and drains batteries at a speed where it is hard to be an environmentally-conscious person. While I am able to record over a hundred hours before having to change the batteries, that time is lessened when I actually need to review the material by playing it after it is recorded. This problematic device has no AC (or DC!) port to connect to a power supply other than a battery. While this is not a problem for travelers, it is annoying when using the SONY ICD-BX700 in a single setting for things like making audio presentations.

Unlike prior SONY DVRs I've used, the software that comes with the SONY ICD-BX700 is real good. The DVR's information is extracted via an ISB port. The software that comes with the ICD-BX700 organizes the information on one's computer in the same folders as one has on the actual DVR. This is convenient because the information is organized in a consistent way and it is easy to find it on your computer. In other words, everything is in the same order on the DVR as on the computer, so people sharing files have consistent frames of reference. As well, the new software recognizes the new files and offers the option to only upload files that have not been uploaded before. This is convenient because users who jack in and out of the same computer while keeping some files on the DVR do not end up with duplicate files on the computer they are uploading to! (This corrects a serious weakness in the software older DVRs have had.) Like most DVRs, the SONY ICD-BX700 does not come with audio manipulation software.

Editing software is pretty much a must, though the basic software allows files from the DVR to be formatted into .wav and other files which make it easy to find editing software to use. But at best all one can do with the software that comes with the SONY ICD-BX700 is cut and paste into the audio clips one has. Like other SONY DVRs, the sensitivity of this device is pretty remarkable, but it is also indiscriminate. So, for example, while recording in large venues like a lecture, the device will pick up a speaker speaking at a podium, as well as all of the ancillary noise from people in the audience. That is why most people will want good editing software which is not included with this device.

The "Low" sensitivity for recording works quite well in controlled circumstances, like one-on-one interviews in a quiet room, or reading a book into the DVR. But for "real world" conversations and circumstances, it is almost impossible to get a good recording without setting the device to high gain.

As someone who has had other DVRs, the SONY ICD-BX700 excels in capacity and in clarity of the recordings, but is not truly any better as far as energy consumption. The ease of use for the controls on this, though, make it a marked improvement - certainly over earlier SONY models - and given how comparatively inexpensive these have become, this is a great one for people just getting into recording with DVRs to start with.

For other audio devices, please visit my reviews of:
Apple iBud earbud headphones
Macally PodTape adapter
iPod Touch


For other electronic devices, please visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2011, 2009 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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