I wanted a microcassette recorder for a long time before I had a good excuse to buy one. It was one of those things on my "it would be cool to have" list, something that I was sure I'd find lots of uses for once it was in hand.
Most of the micros I saw that had an interesting range of features seemed to fall in the $50+ range, which meant it stayed on the "cool to have" list. Things I need are tools, and I'm willing to spend good money for good tools. Things I just want, without a specific purpose, fall into the toy category, and I'm pretty frugal with my toy budget.
Two things moved a microcassette recorder from category A to category B. First, I found an actual reason to buy one. As my work reviewing music moved into interviewing musicians, a full-size recorder, along with a mic, spare batteries, extra cassettes, etc., became an unwieldy burden to haul into a club. I wanted something that would get the job done backstage and slip into my pocket while I watched the show.
Second, I found the Craig FP516C Electronic Notebook. The pricetag was about 20 bucks less than most equally compact and equipped recorders I'd looked at. At about 2 1/2 x 5 inches, the recorder fits comfortably in the palm of my hand or the pocket of my jacket. The controls are laid out so that every button is within easy reach of my thumb, and the buttons are large enough so that hitting the right one is easy. When used as an interviewing tool, this compact unit is no more obtrusive than a microphone.
For about $30 you get most every feature you could ask for: single button recording, a built-in mic, forward and reverse cue, voice activated recording, external mic and earplug jacks, tape counter and a battery indicator. There's a built-in charger if you use rechargable batteries and an optional 3 volt AC adapter. There's nothing I like better than getting more features than I can use for less than I expected to spend.
And, once I got this thing in my hands, I started finding lots of uses for it. Since it's small enough to carry anywhere, I've started to use it to replace the myriad notes I scribble to myself on small scraps of paper. Recorded on the Craig, they usually add up to no more than ten minutes or so and I no longer lose a matchbook cover with that critical phone number on it. A press of a button and I've captured a quote off the radio or a joke from a friend.
Since I bought the Craig, I've seen a couple more microcassette units in the same price range. I haven't seen any that beat it for its combination of price, features and compactness, though. If you need a microcassette player, this is a good one to have. If you just want one, well, get the Craig and you can dream up uses for it afterwards.
- Shaun Dale [10/24/97]
Editor's Note: Craig Electronics has gone bankrupt and is no longer making this recorder (or anthing else, for that matter). You still may be able to find it in electronics stores or online audio marketplaces such as rec.audio.marketplace.