Watch/Pen Audio Recording Device
October 19, 2009 12:13 PM   Subscribe

Looking for a discreet audio recording device (not one of the typical voice memo recording sticks you get at radio shack, this must be discreet). I am a public speaker at my company and I typically speak at multiple meetings per day, with no time to take notes for follow-up questions. I need a stand-alone audio recorder that is discreet (wrist watch, pen, etc.) and that can handle at least 8 hours of recording on 1 charge / 1 set of batteries.

I've found multiple types of watches with recording similar to this one in the link below (mostly these watches all have the USB 1/8th inch headphone jack looking plug on the left side of the watch face by the "9" and seem to be crappy quality). Is this a piece of junk? It kind of looks like it is. I need good solid audio, that is my main buying point:

Does anyone have any experience with these discreet recording devices (maybe an audio recording pen)? Please help hive mind!

Bonus if it's a watch and also has a stop-watch functionality built it so I can record audio and time myself!

Thanks in advance - TYM
posted by thankyoumuchly to Technology (19 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I think it might be overkill for what you need, but I love my Livescribe. (Of course, it's also not that discreet if you're really trying to prevent other people from knowing you're recording the meeting. Although if you are, that probably prompts a whole bunch of other questions.)

The other obvious alternative would be a smartphone with audio recording capability (like the iPhone), which is discreet by nature of its ubiquity.
posted by j-dawg at 12:18 PM on October 19, 2009 [2 favorites]

8 hours on one set of batteries and "good solid audio" are going to be a hard pair of items, especially if it has to be discreetly sized. The main thing that eats batteries in a digital recorder is writing to the flash device, and the better the encoding quality, the more bits it has to write per second, which means eating more batteries.

Based on my experience with standalone recording devices, even with miserable audio quality I would be surprised if that watch espionage watch thing could record for a whole three hours straight without an external power source.
posted by idiopath at 12:37 PM on October 19, 2009

Response by poster: j-dawg - Thanks for the Livescribe suggestion, this is a good device but not discreet enough. I was thinking more like this in terms of pens:

idiopath - Thanks for the feedback so far. I can skimp on the 8 hours thing, my main concern is audio quality so I can hear what the questions are when I'm replaying the recording at the end of the day.
posted by thankyoumuchly at 12:45 PM on October 19, 2009

The concern for discretion leads me to ask, are others not going to be aware that you're recording them? Depending on the state, that might skirt legality. But it certainly skirts standard business ethics as I know them.
posted by fourcheesemac at 12:51 PM on October 19, 2009

Response by poster: No problem with legality, we always have a conference call bridge open for these discussions during which a moderator announces the standard "This call may be recorded for quality and training purposes.....".

All of those in the room and dialed in can hear the aforementioned announcement. Unfortunately, I've tried recording the meeting through the conference call system and the audio is too poor quality to understand what everyone is saying, hence my above question.

My request for a discreet recording device is for personal reasons. I don't want to look as if I cannot remember the questions being asked of me, but the way my brain works, it helps if I can hear it repeated back to me again and again when I'm in my office listening to the recording playback via headphones after the meeting(s) have concluded. It's simply a personal preference on my part.
posted by thankyoumuchly at 12:57 PM on October 19, 2009

Note that in a number of states, it is illegal to record a conversation (not just phone calls, but all conversations) without the consent of all parties involved. Even if it's legal, people often don't like being secretly recorded and will get mad when they find out. They will make a fuss, often resulting in trouble with your boss and/or HR. Just drop an iPhone on the table and forget the spy stuff. You'll get better audio, stay out of trouble, and longer battery life.
posted by zachlipton at 12:57 PM on October 19, 2009

Having attended various conferences both in person and via teleconference, I often find it difficult to hear the question. I LOVE it when the moderator repeats the question via the microphone for everyone to hear it before he answers it.

I am mentioning this to point out that your recording device may not be able to pick up the audio of the question (especially if the audio-conference recording system can't pick it up) but you may be able to help yourself AND the others on the line if you make it a habit to repeat the question before you answer it.
posted by CathyG at 1:04 PM on October 19, 2009

Could you write down the questions on a notepad? I can't imagine anyone would possibly judge you for needing to take notes on questions for later followup. In fact, they will probably be pleased you are taking their question seriously enough to write it down. Scribbling down a few words while the person is asking their question doesn't take long. Alternatively, you can give the questioner a business card and ask them to email or call you. Depending on the situation, you could also distribute question/comment cards for attendees to submit.

The conference bridge announcement might cover your butt legally (IANAL), but to most people, there's a huge difference between a pre-recorded announcement provided by the phone system and actual consent for a participant in your meeting to record your conversation. People will still be pissed when they learn you are recording, and they won't take "but the phone system warned you" for an answer.
posted by zachlipton at 1:05 PM on October 19, 2009

Response by poster: Again, thank you all for the legal advice (both IANAL and IAAL) but these meeting recordings are posted to our company's intranet and the legality behind it is not at question here. As I mentioned above, the audio quality is horrible on the company's recording equipment.

Please focus on providing valuable feedback to my main question - My goal is to locate a high audio quality discreet recording device (i.e., pen, wristwatch, etc.) that will allow me, to listen to all questions hours after they were asked and to better process the questions and formulate my answers.

Please avoid posting any further legal related responses. Thank you.
posted by thankyoumuchly at 1:12 PM on October 19, 2009

Ah, the recordings are posted on the intranet. Why didn't you say so? The issue here was only partly legality, it was really more about ethics. If the recordings are posted, that changes the situation dramatically as long as people reasonably understand that they are being recorded, and it sounds like that is the case here.

I'd say your best bet is still to get the appropriate people to improve the quality of the existing recordings as that will make them more useful for everybody, including yourself. Failing that, CathyG's answer is spot on: repeat the questions so that the phone system recording picks them up. If they don't come through on the recording, people on the phone most probably can't hear them either and they will be wishing you would repeat the questions. Summarizing the questions in your own words also shows the questioner that you understand the question and are taking it seriously.

If you are really so dead set on the covert recording gear, I'd personally dig deeper than DealExtreme. Their stuff is cheap and cool, but in my experience, tends to be very cheaply made and of rather poor quality. You'll have far better luck with better gear.
posted by zachlipton at 1:21 PM on October 19, 2009

Could you simply leave a laptop open on the conference table? Surely that would open up a ton of options.
posted by PercussivePaul at 1:30 PM on October 19, 2009

Another vote for Livescribe. A colleague showed me his and I was very impressed with both the functionality and the audio quality. His wife is a senior executive at a multi-national and she uses it for the same purposes you're thinking of, primarily as a memory aid. The ability to archive the notes both with sketches and audio is really useful to her. If she's in sensitive meetings, then she just switches it off and goes back to a normal pen and paper.

I wouldn't worry about covert, after initial curiosity people will forget you have it, in fact you might have several of them looking at acquiring their own pens too.
posted by arcticseal at 2:43 PM on October 19, 2009

This question doesn't make much sense... if everyone knows they're being recorded and are OK with it, why does the recording device need to be "discreet"?
posted by Jahaza at 4:28 PM on October 19, 2009

Best answer: I own a pen recorder similar to the one you linked to.

The device I bought goes under the brand name MemoQ. It is completely and utterly unnoticeable. Recording is controlled by moving the clip up or down. There's a kind-of wired-remote (I know, contradiction in terms) that you can plug in to the base to control playback.

The problem I had with mine was driver support. Unfortunately, it is not treated like a plain-Jane mass storage device. There is specific software you have to use to extract the audio files, and it is incredibly buggy. I ended up tracking down the Korean manufacturer and downloaded a (slightly) newer release from their website, but it's still pretty buggy. Which is a shame, because if it were mass-storage compatible you wouldn't need their stupid software.

Additionally, it didn't work under 64-bit versions of Windows. Just FYI, YMMV, etc.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 6:30 PM on October 19, 2009

Response by poster: The MemoQ is exactly what I'm looking for. Does anyone else have any pen or wristwatch devices that are as plain and simple?
posted by thankyoumuchly at 7:44 PM on October 19, 2009

You use a laptop during these meetings?

You can hook excellent quality microphones up to a laptop - or some (typically tablets) come with good built-ins' - you can record for days and days...
posted by jkaczor at 8:56 PM on October 19, 2009

... and... as others have pointed out - why be covert? I once consulted for federal government and over the course of 9 months of many meetings (multiple sessions per day) had only 1 person ask not to be recorded via my laptop + external microphone.
posted by jkaczor at 8:58 PM on October 19, 2009

Be aware that a discreet device is going to pickup the audio very poorly. As bad, if not worse than the microphone on the conference telephone.

To record good audio, you need a good microphone. My external omni-directional cost about $130. However, it is small, flat (and takes its' own AAA battery for power) and uses the surface it is on to assist in capturing sound. You can tape it to a window, or wall and it is fairly discreet.

Putting it on the table was distracting as any time someone put their hands on the table (or coffee) cup, very loud thumps would be picked up.
posted by jkaczor at 9:03 PM on October 19, 2009

I've been using one of the livescribe pens mentioned earlier for several months now. I'd suggest one of those and keeping it in your pocket during the meetings - the mic will still pick up people pretty well. I've kept it in my pocket (both in and out of it's sleeve protector), in my sleeve, inside a bag, and inside a portfolio I carried - it recorded well in all those situations.

I've also used a Sprint Touch (discontinued but on ebay) phone with Vito audio recorder app. The Touch seems to have a better than average mic vs other phones I've used; I've used it many times inside a pocket while meeting with people and clearly recorded all parties. It's better than the livescribe - only problem is that the battery goes out after about 2-3hr of recording.

That said, unless u have DEA/FBI/Private investigator level equipment, all covert recording gear are not going to have great quality. I'd either look into supply shops for those groups for more expensive but better equipment.
posted by rmathew1 at 7:29 PM on October 20, 2009

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