Sony ICD-SX800 digital notetaker

A professional Sony notetaker bundled with text-to-speech software

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Sony ICD-SX800
  • Sony ICD-SX800
  • Sony ICD-SX800
  • Sony ICD-SX800
  • Expert Rating

    4.00 / 5

Pros

  • Superb audio quality, plenty of advanced tools and features, includes Dragon Naturally Speaking 10

Cons

  • Expensive, so-so speaker quality, Dragon software incompatible with Vista 64-Bit

Bottom Line

$749 is not the kind of money most people would spend on a digital notetaker, but if you’re a media professional who takes their job seriously, the Sony ICD-SX800 will not disappoint.

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The Sony ICD-SX800 is a high-end digital notetaker suitable for musicians, journalists and other media professionals. It combines an ultra-portable design with advanced audio features, including three integrated microphones and a Noise Cut function to reduce ambient noise. The device comes bundled with Dragon NaturallySpeaking 10, a transcription application that converts speech into text. With 2GB of inbuilt flash memory, it also saves you the trouble of mucking around with memory cards or digital tapes.

However, with an RRP of over $700 the Sony ICD-SX800 represents a pretty serious investment. Consequently, only the most dedicated and hard-working of journalists need apply. [Now that’s what I call a ‘niche audience’. — Ed.]

Back when journalists used to wear funny hats and say things like “whata scoop!” the ability to write in shorthand was an essential tool of the trade. If your penmanship wasn’t up to snuff, then by-golly you were in the wrong profession. Nowadays, the ability to scribble down quotes in record time isn’t nearly as important as it once was. Instead, we have hackneyed press releases to do 99 per cent of the work for us. Er, and digital notetakers like the Sony ICD-SX800.

Without question, the Sony ICD-SX800 is the most advanced and feature-packed voice recorder we’ve ever tested. Some of the highlights include uncompressed PCM recordings for CD-quality sound, automatic voice-activated recording, external microphone and headphone jacks, digital pitch control for added preview convenience and MP3 music playback. Despite these high-end trappings, the Sony ICD-SX800 is quite simple to use, with most functions easily accessed via a menu on the LCD screen. We were able to select our preferred settings and get up and running without consulting the manual once. In addition to the afore-mentioned Linear PCM, the ICD-SX800 also records in the MP3 and LPEC formats. In addition, it supports WMA and WAV playback, which means you can transport files directly from Windows Media Player and the like.

The Sony ICD-SX800 can record up to 750 hours of audio in Long Play mode, or 35 hours at the highest possible quality setting. (We’ve been to media events that feel twice as long as this, but rest assured, you’ll be able to fit everything into one recording.) Unfortunately, no external storage options are offered, which means you’re stuck with a maximum of 2GB. This is a shame, as the inclusion of a Micro Memory Stick slot would have greatly boosted the ICD-SX800’s MP3 player credentials. Then again, this probably would have added to the size and cost of the device.

The Sony ICD-SX800 is impressively small for a notetaker. It measures just 31x130x15mm — about the size of a Chomp chocolate bar with a bite taken out — and weighs a miniscule 75g. Compared to earlier Sony digital notetakers, like the ICD-B200 and ICD-UX80, it really is quite tiny. Thankfully, its small size does not translate to a fiddly user interface — all the important buttons are large and easy to use.

We tested the Sony ICD-SX800 at the Kaspersky Lab 10th annual Virus Analysts Summit using the trio of inbuilt microphones. Despite the assortment of thick Russian accents on show, we had no problem transcribing quotes from the crystal-clear recordings. The Noise Cut feature did a reasonable job of reducing ambient noise, too. On the downside, the player’s inbuilt speaker proved unreliable during playback due to hissing and distortion. (Fortunately, this is easily remedied via the included earphones.)

The Sony ICD-SX800 comes with some useful playback options, including the afore-mentioned digital pitch control (DPC). This tool lets you fast-forward through audio clips while still listening to the recording — handy if you’re trying to find a specific snippet from an interview. You can also set bookmarks with the Index button while recording to find relevant quotes more easily.

The Sony ICD-SX800 runs off two alkaline AAA batteries (a pair of rechargeable Sony batteries is included in the sales package). To recharge, all you need to do is plug the recorder into a USB drive.

Before we wrap up the review, special mention must go to Dragon NaturallySpeaking 10 (RRP: $299). This is a dictation program that converts speech into text via a compatible microphone. In addition to transcribing spoken letters, articles and other documents, you could potentially use this software to operate your PC entirely by voice command. Saying "start menu" will open Windows' Start menu for example, while saying "search Web for prawns" will launch a Google search for prawns. Yes. Prawns. Naturally, this is something that sufferers of arthritis and other impairments will be sure to appreciate.

[Note: Dragon NaturallySpeaking 10 is not compatible with the 64-bit version of Windows Vista.]

Struggling for Christmas presents this year? Check out our Christmas Gift Guide for some top tech suggestions and more.

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