Using Memo Recorders (incl. the new iPod Nano)?

Taking paper notes on the go is such a hassle, I was considering using a compact memo digital recorder when Apple announced that the new generation of the iPod nano will record memos using an optional $30 mike-earphone. Since I’m more likely to remember to take an iPod with me than a memo recorder, that set me thinking. Could I take voice notes with a nano and place them in Scrivener as research documents?

I didn’t have any success dragging and dropping a podcast from iTunes into Scrivener, something that would approximate how iPod nano memos would come in. Dragging the podcast to the Desktop and then dragging that into Scrivener did work, but it only came in as a link to the mp3 file on disk. It’d be better if that recording were stored inside the Scrivener document, so it doesn’t get lost. Anyone know how to get a mp3 (or WMA) file into Scrivener, especially directly from iTunes?

I’d also be interested in your experiences with memo recorders as a writer’s tool. Are they helpful or not?

Finally, here’s the description of the new iPod nano function from Apple’s manual. The ability to set chapter markers while recording is especially handy.


Recording Voice Memos

You can record voice memos using an optional iPod nano–compatible microphone
(available for purchase at You can set chapter marks while you record, store voice memos on iPod nano and sync them with your computer, and
add labels to voice memos.

Voice memos cannot be longer than two hours. If you record for more than two hours,
iPod nano automatically starts a new voice memo to continue your recording.

To record a voice memo:

1 Connect a microphone to the Dock connector port on iPod nano.
The Voice Memos item appears in the main menu.

2 To begin recording, choose Voice Memo > Start Recording.

3 Hold the microphone a few inches from your mouth and speak. To pause recording,
press the Menu button. Choose Resume to continue recording.

4 When you finish, press Menu and then choose “Stop and Save.” Your saved recording is
listed by date and time.

To set chapter marks:

While recording, press the Center button whenever you want to set a chapter mark.

During playback, you can go directly to the next chapter by pressing the Next/Forward
button. Press the Previous/Rewind button once to go to the start of the current
chapter, and twice to go to the start of the previous chapter.

To label a recording:

1 Choose Voice Memos > Recordings, and then choose a saved recording.

2 Choose Label, and then choose a label for the recording.
You can choose Podcast, Interview, Lecture, Idea, Meeting, or Memo. To remove a label
from a recording, choose None.

To play a recording:

In the main menu, choose Voice Memos and select the recording.
You won’t see a Voice Memos menu item if you’ve never connected a microphone to
iPod nano.

To sync voice memos with your computer:

Voice memos are saved in a Recordings folder on iPod in the WAV file format. If you
enable iPod nano for disk use, you can drag voice memos from the folder to copy

If iPod nano is set to sync songs automatically (see “Syncing Music Automatically” on
page 28) voice memos on iPod nano are automatically synced as an album in iTunes
(and removed from iPod nano) when you connect iPod nano. The new Voice Memos
playlist appears in the source list.

All in all, it seems like it would be a quite handy tool. Particularly if you’re carrying an iPod with you anyway, the record function saves you the bother of carrying yet another gadget. I’m not completely sure if I’d like the auto-removal when the recorded files are transferred to a computer. I’m the safety-first type, but it does remove the hassle of getting rid of those files manually.

The ability to mark chapters is particularly nice. When taping lectures, it lets you set when different people speak. For classes it lets you set markers when a new major point begins. For interviews it lets you mark particular points of importance.

The microphone they mention is part of a combination earphone mike that is fine for memos to yourself. You’ll look like you’re talking on a cellphone rather than a crazy guy who talks to himself. But that’s no good for taping interviews or lectures. Hopefully, someone else will come up with mikes better adapted for those purposes, perhaps a tiny mike that becomes part of the iPod and an adapter that lets us attach an external mike or line input with a place to plug an earphone.

That’s it. I still wonder if I’ll be too self-conscious to record these memos-to-self when they come to me, but it’d certainly be easier than stopping, pulling out a pen and notepad, and writing things down, particularly when what’s to be recorded is more than a few words.

ADDED LATER: There are more details about the recording features of the iPod nano in a review here: … tml&page=3

–Mike Perry, Inkling Books, Seattle

P.S. I couldn’t find anything about memo recording in the manual of the new iPod touch. I imagine Apple is letting third parties develop recording functions that might be more full-featured than on the iPod Nano. For instance, there doesn’t seem to be any way to set the recording level with the iPod Nano.

I’ve made voice notes over the years when I haven’t been in a place where I could write something down - in a car, for instance - but on the whole, I haven’t found them all that useful. Now, though, with some of the new innovations (read: Evernote) I’m finding that audio notes are starting to be as useful as I used to hope they would be.

Years ago I used one of those micro-cassette recorders from Olympus, then a dedicated digital voice recorder (a Sony)*, and a small mic from Griffin called iTalk that fits on the dock port of my 80GB Classic iPod and does pretty much what the new Nano does, audio-note-taking-wise. I’ve also - when desperate - called and left a message to myself on my phone machine. (That last is pretty useless unless you have a way to transfer the message from the machine to something else.)

That said, I should add that I used to think I had to transcribe the audio notes to written ones, but now with the ability to pull the audio files into various apps (including Scrivener) I’ve been rethinking that. Imo, it’s better to make a number of short audio notes instead of one long one to keep from having to index the long one so you can find what you need later on.

The thing to keep in mind is that whatever you use has to be fairly easy to reach for and begin recording, otherwise there’s not much point to recording over writing a note.

What I do now is record a note through Evernote on my iPhone. This syncs automatically with my web Evernote account, then I email the web note to myself and once the .wav file is downloaded, drag and drop into Scrivener. (The web account also syncs with a Mac app, so the file is available there, too, without having to email it.)

If you’ll be listening to your Nano anyway, then that recording mic/headset would be a good idea, imo. If not, then a dedicated recorder that you reach for and press a button to begin recording might work better for you. Or, if you have an iPhone, consider the Evernote app.

  • this one could - supposedly - be used to send recorded voice to Dragon Naturally Speaking, but I had so-so results with that. I’m sure they’ve improved since then. (This was a few years ago.)

I can’t make it work directly from iTunes (an iTunes limitation as far as I can tell), however, dragging an mp3 to the Research folder in my Scrivener project resulted in a file appearing there. When I click on it, I get one of those player-bars, where I can click on play and pause etc. It plays normally.

Did you drag the file into the research folder or somewhere into your draft?


I’ve used a voice memo recorder for years and years. Much easier when walking around & it complements, rather than replaces, little notebooks. I currently use a tiny featherweight Olympus which sort of slides into two bits, one of which you just plug straight into the USB port on your Mac. No cables. Then you drag the files over onto your hard drive or straight into Scrivener or wherever, and transcribe them at leisure. Or not. Often I don’t bother and just give them a descriptive filename.

My little machine holds up to 140 hour of notes. There are higher-capacity ones but I can’t imagine anyone needing that. Runs for 24 hours solid on an AAA cell. (that’s at least 100,000 words of notes!)

I tried the iPod + mic route. Didn’t work for me. I suppose I have the Unix mentality: one tool for one job. But primarily I like to keep my input and output devices separate. iPod = output. Notemaker = input.

What I yearn for, nobody makes. A little gadget I can take a photo with, add a comment, save as a file. The sort of Ultimate Notebook. But maybe it’ll come.

[size=75]Oh I hate myself for this. My self loathing will only increase once vic-k see it.[/size].

Didn’t they make an obscure device for this already? I think it is called the iPhone. Maybe you have heard of it.

[size=75]Oh let me die now. Here comes the flood of disparaging comments. Where are my asbestos jockeys?[/size]

Msieur Jaysen, Be ease, and tranquil. For there is naught wrong with, "Self loathing' I love it....When I see it :laughing: :laughing: :laughing: :laughing: :laughing: Im a wit, I really am!
Le D :smiling_imp:

You forgot your preceding “nit” you nitwit.

Er… don’t think so, but can’t be sure.

(1) Point at thing
(2) Press button
(3) Talk about thing
(4) Press button again
(5) Picture of thing and voice notes about thing saved as, e.g, QT file.

Does the iPhone do this?

Umm… well… no :blush: I guess that is a bit beyond the current iPhone application set.

But that is a good idea. I wonder if the phone can make a QT (encoding typically take more than decoding). Or would a simple mp4 suffice?

I have been using an RCA digital voice recorder. Very easy to use. Has a USB port so just drag and drop file to your mac or PC or into scrivener as MP3. It came with a clip on Mic that i never use. The on-board Mic does fine for me. Store recordings into multiple folders on the device for organization. I love it. Heck of a lot cheaper then an iphone too! :wink:


Michael, I think my Sony Clié does what you want.

I bought it a few years ago to take the place of the backpack of stuff I needed on a research trip: notebook, camera, voice recorder, Walkman. Certainly I can take photos and attach a note, either voice, Graffiti, or freehand (with sketches). Sony no longer make the memory sticks for it, but I’ve got a couple of complete Mozart operas to listen to on the train home and I delete the files I’ve copied to the computer and keep using the ones I have. I had the foresight to buy a pack of three spare styluses (styli?) at the time, and so far have lost only one of them (and I think it’s down the back of the sofa).

I love the way I can put recurring appointments in the diary, by the way, and add photos to the names in the address book. . . and I never wanted another mobile phone, anyway. As you may have gathered, I just love my Clié.


Compelling idea. Once you mention it, it is surprising none of the digital camera makers has gone there and marketed this breakthrough feature–probably because to make it ubiquitous, the file format specification for some standard graphics file would have to have allowed a place to stuff away some audio data.

You would be able to do something in this line with any digital camera that has a video mode. Just talk as you shoot the video clip. Or maybe better, snap nice photo, then switch to video and take footage of same while recording your audio note.

My little Nikon S550 digital camera can make voice recordings, but the recordings aren’t attached to any pictures. The recordings can be transferred to a computer as quicktime or .wav files.

I think it’s probably the file format that’s the problem. I’ve tried a bunch of the other suggestions for my Ultimate Notebook but they’re the wrong way round, or the audio comes with a video track & the files are too big.

By “wrong way round”, I mean what I want from the Ultimate Notebook is a thing like my little Olympus WS-311M (who thinks up these catchy names?) with a lens on the back. So I hit Record and start talking. “There’s a really fat guy opposite me who is now eating his third Big Mac and there’s grease on his chin and he’s wearing a football shirt and… hell [PRESS “SNAP” BUTTON] here’s a picture of him.” Then I hit STOP and the thing gets saved into the audio equivalent of an RTFD file: audio, with an attached picture.

I can’t believe there wouldn’t be a ready market for such a device. Every estate agent in the world would want one for a start. And anyone writing travel articles, or indeed ANY articles. Anyone researching books. The more I think of it, the more damn obvious it is. How do I become an inventor?

Michael, Why not just use one of these recorders? Just point and start recording what you’re seeing and your voice notes simultaneously.Then plug it into a USB port and drag the resulting mp4 files directly into Scrivener.
Just a thought.