Dictating property records? The right digital dictation machine is critical for you

We at Property Typing are firm believers in the power of the digital dictation machine to assist our building surveyors in the field. Taking the need for note-taking and potential misinterpretation right out the field, the modern dictaphone allows crisp, clear audio recording and ease-of-use anyone can appreciate.

Keen to find the right dictaphone for your building survey business? Keep reading for our top tips.

Why do you need dedicated digital dictation software?

It’s tempting to wonder why you would want to spend money on a specific piece of digital dictation equipment at all. After all, didn’t the plain old tape recorder do the same job back in the day? Won’t the native app on your phone for audio recording be enough?

It’s an easy thought trap to fall into, but the answer is honestly a resounding no. Digital dictation equipment is designed with one purpose in mind – getting your audio to the ears of the listener (be it yourself or our typist) as simply as possible, with as little loss of data as possible, and with the crispest, clearest audio that can be created.

Digital dictation devices immediately create a digital file- typically a DSS file, mp3 or m4a. This takes away any need for a conversion step, preserving the precision of the document recorded as much as possible. It also makes file transfer far easier, cutting down on the number of steps needed to get it to our typist. Some modern devices and software even offer you the ability to transfer files immediately through wifi or bluetooth.

What should I look out for on my digital dictation device?

There’s a few key features any digital dictation device should offer you. For the average building surveyor, noise cancellation is a must. You don’t want to be trying to record important notes on-site with a whistling wind, construction noise or blaring car horns from a street constantly interrupting the audio. An external microphone can sometimes assist with higher audio quality, but even an onboard microphone can get the job done provided it is of a high quality.

Opt for models with their own onboard computer, rather than older models which merely capture the data. This enables a wealth of convenient features such as wi-fi connection to allow instant uploads from the device without the need for lengthy transfers.

Storage space will matter too- obviously, the more you have, the more minutes (or hours) of notes that can be taken. Most digital dictation devices with use onboard flash memory or allow you to upgrade and expand the memory by use of memory cards. Remember to balance this ‘maximum recording time’ with the actual battery life of the device- there’s no point in purchasing 1000s of hours of recording time if the best battery life is going to be a day. It’s a balance you will have to personalise for yourself, but do keep it in mind.

Now, look at the build of the device. Surveyor work isn’t exactly delicate- you need a robust device with a strong case and firm grips that won’t slide out of your hands if they are damp. Anti-microbial features and robust protective casing are a plus, too.

What formats will my digital dictation device record in (and what’s the best for me)?

You’ll encounter a range of possible recording file types when looking at digital dictation devices.

  • MP3: You’re probably more than familiar with this audio type already. This is a compressed file format, which means you do lose (fractional) quality, but the files produced are compact and immediately transferable over the internet, making it a popular choice
  • WMA: Wma is our least favourite of the file formats available- primarily because of its high compression ratio. This does make a smaller file, but it isn’t ideal for intricate work such as recording surveyor notes.
  • WAV: Another file format to avoid. Wav is intended as an audio storage format for PC. The files are good quality, but the sizes massive, and transfer over the internet is often not possible.
  • DSS: DSS is a format designed specifically for professional speech files, and offers high compression without quality loss.
  • M4A: M4A was originally intended as a successor format to Mp3. While it didn’t quite achieve that ambition, it provides better file quality in even smaller sizes due to some changes in the way it is compressed.

M4A and Mp3 are both perfectly acceptable file formats for digital dictation. DSS is the industry standard for dictation machines and software right now. However, if you opt to use a DSS format for your audio files, make absolutely certain that it is recording in non-encrypted, universally openable DSS formats, in order to ensure both you and your typist will be able to access the file on other devices.

What are the best digital dictation brands available on the market today?

As with most things in life (and, indeed, building surveys) you get what you pay for. That’s why, as a surveyor in need of a stable, reliable dictaphone, it pays to stick with the greats.

1. Olympus

Olympus has been in existence since 1919, and have a long history of producing quality dictation media that you can trust. They offer desktop, software and in-hand options for you to explore. Their latest product line of dictaphones, the AS-2400, AS-9000 and AS-9500, all offer robust anti-microbial casing, noise cancellation, and record in DSS format. While the ins-and-outs of each model vary slightly, you can’t go wrong with an Olympus dictaphone.

Olympus also offers the Olympus Mobile Dictation app, giving you the option to harness your smartphone as the dictaphone instead. With enterprise-level security and immediate, simple transmission to your typist, this is a valuable alternative to the traditional dictation machine.

2. Phillips

Phillips has long been a household name, so there can be no surprise that their dictaphone range makes the cut too. The Phillips DPM-6000, DPM-7200 and DPM-8000 ranges all offer superior microphone technology, crisp and clear audio transmission and ergonomic, single-handed operation.

3. Sony

With high-resolution audio and some of the largest onboard memory size in the industry, there’s little wonder that Sony continues to dominate the dictaphone market. While some of their range keep a retro-styling reminiscent of dictation machines past, this is also the tech giant that first brought you the dictaphone with built-in USB connection, so they aren’t lacking in technological innovation or robust design features.

In the end, which dictaphone you opt for will be up to you, but with each of these three kingpin brands there’s very little chance of choosing incorrectly.

With a great dictaphone at your side and Property Typing covering your back, the world of simple, streamlined and efficient building survey report typing is open to you. Never worry about poor field notes or shoddy reporting again.