Dictation Equipment

New computer chip-based recording technology is on the horizon.

Dictation machines can give executives what they most want-more time. Feds whose thought processes are faster than their typing speeds-or who still think "Windows" refers to panes of glass-can compose letters on dictation machines 10 times faster than on word processing programs. Traveling executives can dictate memos while delayed in the airport.

Dictation equipment has federal applications outside the executive suite as well. Most of the dictation units that Sony sells to the government are used by federal courts to record judges, witnesses and lawyers on separate tracks so that overlapping statements made in shouting matches can be understood and accurately documented.

Analog dictation machines record sound on standard tapes or microcassettes. Digital machines record sound on magnetic disks. Both are available as hand-held devices or stand-alone dictation systems. Dictaphone Corp., Lanier Worldwide Inc. and Sony Corp. are among the companies that provide dictation equipment to the government.

Digital machines can be expensive-ranging from $1,000 to $250,000 depending on how many people they serve-but many consider the technology worth it in terms of economies of scale. Dictated documents travel instantly to the transcriptionist's desk-no more tapes lost or delayed in transit. Information can be tracked by who dictated it, by subject or where it was dictated-no more sorting through a pile of cassettes. Key moments of recording sessions can be bookmarked electronically-no more "wind and find."

Analog units range in price from $30 to $800. High-end models offer features such as "out of tape" alarms, lights that indicate the amount of battery power remaining and a lock switch to prevent accidental recording.

Over the next year, manufacturers will introduce Lilliputian-sized devices that record sound on single integrated chips. Sony's Voice File ICD-50 portable IC chip recorder, due to be released in the fall, provides 16 minutes to record up to 60 separate messages that can be randomly accessed. Lanier is beta-testing IC chip recorders whose contents can be downloaded as voice files to users' laptops.

-Samantha Stainburn

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