Voice Loggers: From Then to Now

By Thomas Larvin

[Our June coverage of voice loggers brought back memories from industry veteran, Thomas Larvin. Here’s what he had to share.]

It was 1980 when Jim, the salesman asked me, “Can you install this recorder I just sold?” My mind flashed back to Christmas 1965. My parents had gotten me a small, battery-operated mini reel-to-reel recorder. It had a microphone input. All I had to do was talk and everything was miraculously recorded. So, bolstered with the knowledge that I knew what a recorder was, I said, “Sure!”

You can imagine my surprise when I saw the 72-inch high cabinet rolled into the shop. It weighed 345 pounds and was an ugly brown. “Now, this is going to be a challenge,” I thought. I was relieved to find out that the factory was going to send someone to install the equipment with me, so that I would be ‘trained’ on recorders. The rest is history.

Then: In 1980, there were three major manufacturers of voice recording equipment in the United States. All three used the same basic analog recording technology. The systems moved tape over fixed heads that recorded information on the tape. The tape could later be read and specific conversations played back.

They all used 10.5 NAB reels of tape as the recording media. These half-inch and one-inch tapes ran for 25.6 hours and recorded anywhere from 10 to 60 channels of information. One of the channels had a time code recorded on it. Conversations could be retrieved using the time code as the research mechanism.

Most analog reel-to-reel systems had two decks. One deck was used for recording while the other could be used for playing back conversations. If an event needing to be reviewed happened before a tape finished recording, a tape would have to be stopped while in the recording process. Finding the conversation needed could take hours and the tape library having the day’s conversation on a single reel would be disrupted.

Digital recording came along in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The size of the box shrank to a smaller cabinet and lost several hundred pounds. One early system was computer based and actually had a one gig hard drive that would store up to 37 hours of online conversations. The storage media went from expensive reel-to-reel, to cheaper DDS-1 and Magnetic Optical systems. Each digital medium would hold several days of calls.

Now: Since then, recording systems have continued to grow in density, number of channels recorded, and in the number of channels accommodated per standard 19.5′ rack mount chassis. Online storage capacities have increased from tens of hours to tens of thousands of hours. This translates to putting months of calls at the user’s fingertips, very different from what was available during the 1980s.

Recording systems now interface with virtually any phone system in the marketplace. This decreases the time required for researching conversations and increases the number of ways that recorders can benefit companies and employees.

Enhanced research abilities on recording systems today can be configured to acquire information about the recorded calls from the phone system’s Call Duration Records (CDR). Quality assurance recording is also now available and can assist in making real time recording decisions based on CTI information, such as whether or not to record a call.

Storage media has gone from bulky reel-to-reel tapes (good for just a day, not to mention expensive), to DDS-3, DDS-4, AIT, and DVD.  Today, it hooks right into users’ mass storage devices offering terabytes of online storage capability.

The number of U.S. manufacturers of recording equipment has jumped by a factor of ten. Today, there are well over 30; many of them were showcased in the June issue of Connections Magazine. With all the awesome advancements in the last 15 years, is it any wonder that the next 15 years will be ones of “hard to imagine” breakthroughs?

Thomas Larvin is the President of Creative Switching Designs, Inc., a company that specializes in technical systems integration and application sales. He has specialized in recording equipment for over 20 years. He can be contacted at 281-579-1600 ext. 311, tlarvin@csdusa.com, or by visiting www.csdusa.com.

[From Connection Magazine September 2004]