What Is a Dictation Machine?

Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis

A dictation machine is a sound recorder used to accurately record and preserve speech. Frequently used in business, dictation machines provide an alternate method of note-taking that requires only a small piece of equipment. Advanced technology has allowed for the refinement of two major types of dictation machine: micro tape and digital. Additional features are available on some high-end models, such as noise reduction, can help improve the quality of the recording, and allow for more efficient use of the machine.

Audio cassettes are often used with dictation machines.
Audio cassettes are often used with dictation machines.

There are many different applications for a dictation machine. Lawyers, medical professionals, and business workers may use them to record notes on a case or project, then give the recordings to an assistant or secretary to transcribe. Some journalists prefer using a dictation machine to accurately capture interviews, as the devices are portable and less invasive than a video recorder. Students often use recorders to capture lectures for easier review, instead of trying to make sense of hastily jotted notes. Screenwriters and novelists may also prefer to use a recording device when crafting dialogue, to help maintain a fast flow of conversation between characters that might be slowed through typing.

Micro tape and digital machines can be used for any type of vocal recording, but use different methods of storage to preserve data. A micro tape dictation machine is a more traditional analog version that records data to a small audio cassette, creating a hard copy. Digital machines, developed in the late 20th century, use internal or removable hard drives to create a digital copy of the data. A digital dictation machine allows the data to be stored on the original drive or transferred to a computer for permanent storage, the creation of CD versions, and copying.

In addition to the basic function of recording, a modern dictation machine may have many features that help enhance its capabilities. Some models are able to sense halts or silences, and will stop recording during these times to extend battery life and preserve data storage space. Users may also be able to bookmark certain locations in the recording, in order to skip to specific parts when listening. Noise reduction and audio improvement features help create a better recording that is easier to understand upon playback.

One popular feature of some modern dictation machines is automatic transcription. While still not fully perfected, this technology allows some recorders, or associated software, to create a written transcription of the recording as it plays. This feature can be extremely useful for users that are hearing impaired, and may also save hours of manual transcribing.

Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis

With a B.A. in theater from UCLA and a graduate degree in screenwriting from the American Film Institute, Jessica is passionate about drama and film. She has many other interests, and enjoys learning and writing about a wide range of topics in her role as a wiseGEEK writer.

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