I have had a love/hate relationship with voice recorders over the years. As a professional interviewer and writer for over 20 years, I have tried my share. But the Olympus WS-852 voice recorder has helped me immensely! Early in my career much of my work was for articles for newspapers, magazines or press releases – things of a shorter nature. Now I do professional family history and oral history and much of the work I do is more detailed and of a longer nature making a recording device vital for my work.

When I first started doing interviews to write articles and stories I did try using recorders but found them to be clunky and not user friendly for me. Times have changed. New recording devices are now user friendly, even sleek for a decent price. As mentioned before, a recording device is more necessary for my work now so I set out to find the one best for me. Hence, a series of product reviews. For me, I need something simple. I want to use my time to do the interviewing and the writing and not worrying about my recording device.

The Olympus WS-852 is simple and user-friendly

The Olympus WS-852 seems to be just that – simple and user friendly. It has some more complex features, like having several files and modes, but I don’t really need that, so I can use the simple mode to decrease my options or use the normal mode if I want to set some specific settings like voice filtering, languages, lighting or many other specific details. I look forward to using some of those settings in the future. The recorder has five different recording settings ranging from conference room to office to even phone recording. I haven’t used the phone recording setting as it requires some headphones, but I think it may come in handy from time to time. I tried recording on all the settings and found the conference room setting to be the best. It picks up great sound and I don’t need to use a separate microphone to get good, loud sound from my subject. The volume does go pretty high and on some of the recordings that seemed a little lighter (the office wasn’t as clear) but when I turned up the volume all the way I could hear things well.

Related article: Our review of great voice recording apps

My all-time favorite digital voice recorder - the Olympus WS-852 with built-in USB connection. Click to get it on Amazon.
This is my favorite recorder which has a built-in USB connection

67 hours of recording time!

One of the bonuses of this recorder is that it has 67 hours of recording time right on the device – no outside card needed, although one can be used if you want. I like this option because it’s one less thing I have to worry about gathering when I’m on my way to an important interview.

Related: Get our free interviewing mini-course  – convenient PDF printable

But the very best thing about this recorder? The USB is connected to the recorder! No extra chords needed!  I can hook the device directly to my computer for easy transfer of information as well. It comes with a USB cord if needed too. Note that some less expensive models (even of good brands) do not come with a USB connection port, so that can account for price differences. When I am doing an oral history interview for a client, right after the interview I can upload the content right to my computer and to their thumb drive, easy peasy. It has always been seamless. The only issue I have ever had is when I switched batteries and failed to update the date. I thought my files were lost, but the date was just wrong. So always remember to update the date and time when batteries are replaced.

Small and Lightweight Digital Recorder

The device is lightweight, at only 2.7 ounces and can fit nicely in your pocket – only 1.5 inches in diameter and .71 inches thick. I love that it can fit nicely in the palm of my hand! It also has a built-in stand in the back to set it on the table to get maximum use from the two speakers situated on the either side of the top of the device. I feel like this is a perfect device for the beginner up to advanced user.

My Life Story is a book of questions to ask your parents, or to prompt your own story. Cover shown here.

One option I like with the Olympus WS-852 Voice Recorder is that when I hit the “erase” button it asks me before if I’m sure I want to erase. That is a great reminder in case that button is pushed by accident too. There are multiple folder options so if you are working on different projects you can save in different folders. I have never used it because I download my files right away, but it’s nice to know it’s there if necessary. For now, I just need different folders for each interview to keep it simple. Another handy feature is the ability set playback speed for the purpose of transcription.

Sometimes we at Evalogue.Life have typed up notes directly from the device (such as on the train following an interview) and this is super helpful. The Sony model at a similar price point doesn’t seem to have this ability. You can generally find it for under $50 on on Amazon.

Use with a lavalier (lapel) microphone

For the best, most intimate sound, be sure to use it with a lavalier (lapel) microphone. This will capture high-quality audio of your subject for use with video, or just so it sounds like your subject is right there, decades later. A microphone will also help get the crispest audio for running through a speech recognition transcription programs (such as Dragon) later.

Related article: Best affordable microphones we have tried

Related article: how to transcribe audio

Record a phone call with your Olympus WS-852 and this inexpensive device

  • Use the Olympus TP-8 earbud mic (TP stands for telephone pickup) with to record calls. It is a good, inexpensive option if you prefer hardware instead of a phone recording app, or as a backup in addition to a call recording app on your phone.
  • Here is how it works:
    • You put the earbud in your ear
    • Then connect its male 3.5 mm microphone jack into your digital recorder’s microphone port (not the headphone hole!)
    • Then you put your phone up to the ear that has the earbud inside.
    • Hit record on the digital recorder.
    • Then talk and listen normally.
    • The digital recorder will pick up your voice and also the conversation from inside your ear canal.

What??! Yes. It works. The sound is a little muffled, but not bad!

Disclaimer: This article contains affiliate links, but we only review products we use and think would be helpful to share.

Other articles and resources to help you record voice and capture oral history:

Rachel J. Trotter is a senior writer/editor at Evalogue.Life. She tells people’s stories and shares hers to encourage others. She loves family storytelling. A graduate of Weber State University, she has had articles featured on LDSLiving.com and Mormon.org. She and her husband Mat have six children and live on the East Bench in Ogden, Utah.

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