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When I first became a student living away from home and studying courses at university, it was just at an age where maybe one out of 300 students was lucky enough to have a large sized business laptop computer. This seems a bit strange given that all students these days have a net book computer of some type and most of my friends either sat at the back of the halls asleep or wrote furiously on reporter’s note pads, scribbling down every word from the lecturer. I on the other hand had thought long and hard about alternatives, having an electric typewriter at home with a word processor and disk drive where lecture notes could be typed in and saved. Looking back on it now, where life wasn’t as fast or as easy due to a ever increasing need to buy technology, I don’t think I would have got the verbatim quickly enough without the use of my Sony Dictaphone, a tape cassette player the size of a Sony Walkman tape cassette player and before you assume that the humble tape cassette is old fashioned and obsolete, book companies are still churning out audio story tapes for children and adults. Clearly then there is still a market for audio cassettes, even when at a time they could be easily purchased at Argos, audio cassettes are worth keeping in mind at their cheaper costs and aren’t as micro-sized like an SD or similar memory card that can get lost overtime.
Availability and versatility are the key figures here then for purchase. Prices do vary for technology but specifically since I have used my Sony for lectures as well as research for product reviewing purposes, live music performances and really, anything that needs to be recorded for future memory! I can’t really fault using audiotape cassettes. They are after all, cheaper to buy and you can use audio cassettes in other applications such as portable tape CD players and home HIFI units – anything really that has a cassette deck.
Nar2’s Quick Skip Product Review Features
• Can use any recordable audio tape including chrome tapes except 120 minutes. • Cue and Review feature with well marked buttons. • Pause control and lock button. • Battery power indicator LED light. • Stereo Ear Piece socket option. • Battery power – uses 2 AA Type 1.5V with low energy release per use. • Internal Microphone & External speaker on the front. • Hand strap inlet eye. • Tape player features Anti Rolling heads but both heads move independently. • Lightweight and Compact (averaging the same size as standard Sony Walkman personal stereo units). • Price in 1996 £19-99 to £23-99. • Price in 2012 £5 to £30-00 dependent on use/condition.
General Design & Features
The Sony TCM 323 “Cassette Corder,” seemed to fit the bill since it came in at just £19-99 in 1996 when I first bought my own Sony. I also bought another Sony TCM 313 in 2000 for my cousin who found the little player, invaluable for recording lectures and that model carried a similar Sony TCM 313 model number but had an additional “voice on recording/recognition” feature that started the tape player in record mode as soon as the microphone was activated.
As with all tape recorders, you just put a tape in and press the record button that on this model is a handy RED button. There is no eject button for the tape – a finger mark already designed on the sides of the machine allows manual dexterity to open the flap when needed. This model appears to be a bit like a Sony Walkman even though the speaker part has been incorporated on the front flap. By pressing the RED record
Pictures of Sony TCM313 Dictation Machine
Close up of body - everything is easy to access, well marked and all in one place.
button it will also take the Play button down with it, so for recording quick and easy things needed you don’t have to fuss about worrying what button to press. All the buttons are clearly marked on body of this player albeit in black but in large decipherable lettering; 5 buttons in all controlling Record, Stop, Play, Rewind and Fast Forward. An additional slider bar next to the last button is the pause function. In principle this is really easy and quiet to use, as you just slide the pause button to the left and the machine pauses through recording or playback. However the Pause function does not cut the power and power from the battery will be drained if you forget to put the pause button off – I have done this so many times after lectures!!
The whole tape machine is black in colour with a little window to show half of the tape at the top with the bottom inside flanked by a bottom external square speaker, model code number and the emblem “Sony” in large metal letters set into the plastic body. You could therefore say that this model looks understated yet simple, smart and function and for all the years I’ve owned mine, only the model number and name in grey lettering has begun to fade.
Sony does not produce this player anymore. They now make the TCM 150 that is near identical to my model save for the metallic casing and body that this machine has. In addition, the TCM 200DV (the model up from the TCM150) has more features such as Double recording time and that all important mains adaptor DC in optional jack which the TCM 150 doesn’t have. Depending on your budget of course these features can be had depending on models that you choose. You should check with www.sony.com as to what is available – and there are a lot of Dictation machines available made by Sony.
The Sony recorder already has an automatic recording level set into the machine, which you can’t change. I’d advise that you turn the volume down really low when recording speech or music because if you turn the volume to its highest position (slider located on top of the machine) you won’t pick up anything other than the motor in the machine. I made this mistake the first time I used it, thinking that I could put the volume up and get everything the lecturer was saying but all I could get was a constant ticking from the machine thanks to its internal movement of the tape head rollers... The sound quality from the Sony is nothing but short of a basic recording – there are no sound settings built in either as this is a basic dictation machine. Throughout the years I am surprised that other reviewers have not taken note of this aspect as they seem to slate the Sony because of its lack of sound boosters – you can only go so far with one speaker on board anyway – regardless of whether there’s adjustment to the quality or not.
This Sony has a handy ear socket, which you can plug stereo headphones into though – a fact that isn’t shown in the poorly written manual.
Playing back recorded speech has been clearer than music whenever I’ve recorded anything. It is music, particularly live music that this machine struggles to cope with presumably because of the design of its basic pre-set sound adjustment which you can’t change.
An advantage of the optional use of stereo headphones (the small 3.5mm type bit type headphones) means that you can plug, listen and record. When the pause button is activated and recording has been paused, you can still hear whatever you are recording through the headphones. I found this useful when I was taking notes in a lecture hall with students around me muttering. Again though you must turn the volume down and not necessarily high as you may end up recording some student’s gossip instead of what you originally intended!
A slight disadvantage is that on playback and with stereo headphones in, the internal speaker also activates which means that everyone around you can hear what you have recorded, especially when you turn the volume up! You can’t put this feature on or off, so best advised to listen to the playback through the internal speaker and not with your “personal” headphones unless you are in a private room with you and yourself...
Sony has fitted an Auto Shut Off function, which is same as an Auto Stop in theory. In reality though, when the machine rewinds a tape to the beginning, it doesn’t auto stop – it’s when it gets to the end of the tape; the machine activates its Auto Stop function and therefore cuts the power. Other features include the “Cue,” and “Review,” function that lets you select parts of recordings you’ve made.
The Difference Between AMS and Cue and Review
Like other manufacturers at the end of the 1970’s and into the 1980’s, Sony played about with acronyms like they were going out of fashion! Therefore Sony chose not to confuse the user with what they called their version of the “Cue and Review,” system, A.M.S (“Auto Music Search”) and gave their higher priced portable stereos and HIFI tape units, this selective feature as a premium bonus.
Briefly AMS by Sony was a feature I really appreciated until I began to realise the damage it was doing to my music tapes long term, often realising that the damage done was too late for the tape to be repaired or rescued. For lecture note taking though, the AMS feature would have been better here rather than the cheaper “Cue and Review,” feature that other brands also offer. By pressing down the play and rewind or fast forward buttons together, the machine detects any gaps between recordings made on the tape so that in effect you get the start of a new recording/track or whatever you have recorded, or the end of another one if fast forwarding. The TCM313 DOES NOT feature this function as it would drain the onboard batteries too quickly. Instead, “Cue,” and “Review,” has been added with the same button function whereby you can press the play and fast forward or rewind button down together – this will then activate the tape being played and heard through the speaker, where the machine’s fast gargled voices or whatever you’ve recorded can be heard as it moves forward or back through the recording to get where you want. Cue and Review is one of the standard features on most, if not all Dictaphones and compared to AMS, it is seldom found on tape decks that have no internal microphones, or just feature a player for music playback only. Constant use of Cue and Review ruined some of my lecture tapes, not by the tape film, but actually loosening the toothed wheels of the cassette turn-heads. Over use of the Cue and Review function can eventually weaken the heads on the tape itself, so best not to use this feature in the long term or the recording will fade and warp – sadly a more evident downside to any audio tape cassette.
General Quality & Robustness
Over the years with my Sony TCM 313, I find that rechargeable batteries do not last long and prefer to stick with normal charged standard disposable AA batteries. This machine takes two and like Walkman tape players, the batteries fit in side by side under a flap that is located at the rear of the player. The flap itself though doesn’t come off which means you don’t lose it and is suspended by a thick hinge that can be seen once the flap is flipped up to the side. I know this is basic information here, but I wish Sony would have included this helpful design on my Walkman – additionally for example, when its time to take out the batteries, you push lightly on the first available one to see and the battery flips up at the other end which enables you to take it out. No broken nails here or struggling to find a pen to eek the battery out!
The Sony TCM 313 has suitable curved parts on its body, which makes it easy and comfortable to hold. On one side for example there are two grooves where you hand and fingers would naturally be assumed to hold the machine if you were recording someone directly in front of you – and it is very much the same kind of design that was added to my later Sony kitchen radio. Markings on the rear indicate how this machine should be placed if it is to be put on a level surface. I stand the machine on its side with the tape window facing out and the buttons to the left when recording as I find that the internal condenser microphone picks up better noise.
In my younger years, the Sony TCM 313 has been a reliable and efficient friend to depend on. Brilliant and less frustrating when collecting notes due to my then-just-realised Dyslexia, the Sony TCM 313 in my life was a bit of a lifesaver. The bonus of its size as being the same as my old Sony Walkman tape player means it is lightweight and will fit into many a pocket! So it is a pity now that after 16 years, this kind of player is not available to buy, where once it was a commonplace product from the likes of Comet, Currys et al. Argos carried the Sony for many years before being replaced by the cheaper micro-sized answer machine cassette type players – but with the obvious downside that you couldn’t use the tapes on a standard HIFI. Nowadays the TCM 313 is often available on EBay from previous owners – and sometimes a brand new model from the U.S is also available – but this is very rare.
Through continued ownership and use, and looking back at the time when I first started using the TCM 313, I did feel slightly disappointed to find that no mains adaptor point can be used on this machine; its battery power or nothing! There’s a permanent blanking off plate that Sony have added to the back of the TCM 313 where clearly higher priced models feature the all important jack.
Of less importance is the fact that neither headphones nor a hand strap are included at the time of purchase – and I’d eventually put my own on.
By today’s standards it would be easy to say that the Sony dictation tape machine could be easily laughed at or the bane of jokes – but largely, I still find it useful to use for meetings or presentations at work by other colleagues – especially if my own net book has lost battery power, no mains power plugs are available to charge the computer whilst in use, and the Sony’s smaller size with being able to be used with two standard AA batteries at least acts as a far more compact alternative, allowing you to do less typing and more listening – especially handy for meetings that call for verbal feedback and discussion rather than staying mute for most of the time. I’ve used more modern alternatives like video recording through mobile phones, but at the cost of the phone losing battery power in use and then can’t be used as a normal phone, the Sony player is a far better, separate system than using a mobile phone to record.