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The iPod required a Belkin microphone to turn it into a recording device. When you plug this into the appropriate socket on the top of the iPod, the Record menu appears on the screen.

So, what was it like to use? I realise that this is “politically incorrect”, as it were, but I actually found the controls quite fiddly. Probably that’s something which would right itself after a while.

More importantly, perhaps, what was the quality of recorded sound like?

Well, I have to say that it was quite superb. It was the best device I tried out for recording talks. Firstly, it was easy: you just stand the thing up on the desk and away you go. On playback there was no detectable background noise or hiss, which reflects quite well on the Belkin accessory.

The device worked straight out of the box and did not require any accessories, although as with the Olympus you do get a much better quality of recording the better the quality of the microphone.

Like the iPod, the i-River is robust enough to stand on a desk or table without toppling over in the middle of recording!

The results were very good, especially in an interview situation, but I found that the quality of the recording I made of a talk left something to be desired, no doubt because I was only using the built-in microphone. It was easy enough to amplify the volume with Audacity (http://audacity.sourceforge.net/) however.

Again, I found the menu system somewhat arcane. Perhaps this is merely a sign of aging!

This was the least expensive of all the products reviewed here, and with good reason: it is not a fully-fledged mp3 player (although it does have limited capabilities in that direction), but a digital dictation machine.

So what has this product got going for it? It doesn’t have the sexy look and feel of an iPod or an i-River. It doesn’t have a huge capacity for ones music collection. It doesn’t come with distinctive earpieces. All of which, in a school context, add up to one huge advantage because it is not the sort of product, dare I say it, that any self-respecting criminal would steal. But if they do, it’s not the end of the world because it was less than half the price of each of the others.

But what about the sound quality? It was definitely not as good as either the iPod or the i-River, but – and this is important – if you take the view that a difference is only a difference if it makes a difference then the sound quality is perfectly acceptable. (If you listen to my podcast about the mp3 revolution you will be able to judge for yourself, because it was recorded on the Olympus using nothing more than the built-in microphone.

To be fair, the quality of recording in a lecture theatre wasn’t much to write home about. It was sort of OK, but that could have a lot to do with the quality of the microphone, which is serviceable but not brilliant.

However, I was so impressed with it that I bought myself one, and in conjunction with a decent microphone the quality is very good indeed. If you listen to my introductory podcast (Go to http://www.ictineducation.org and then

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