When Good Things Fail

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(Update at bottom of post)

I’m never quite sure what to do when something I’ve raved about in previous columns fails on me. Do I trumpet its failure to the world immediately? Do I go through the normal customer service channels to get it fixed, or do I raise hell with their PR to ensure it gets sorted out by the best and the brightest techies they’ve got available? Do I keep quiet, assuming it’s a one-off?

Here’s the latest mishap: My Olympus DS-20 digital recorder died. Just like that. No warning, no long walk in the rain, no circumferentially advantaged person sitting on it. One minute it was fine, the next it wasn’t. No power, no sign of a flicker, nothing. And I’d only had it for about 14 months. Barely used it, actually (was supposed to be for my Loose Wireless podcasting project,which, ironically enough, was about to start an hour after I discovered the thing didn’t work.) I had recently installed some rechargable batteries in it, approved by the manual.

The thing, well actually three things, are:

  • I’ve long sung Olympus’ praises in this field. This was the fourth Olympus I’ve had; so what happens if someone reads one of my columns or blogs saying how good they are, when it turns out they aren’t?
  • Now that it’s gone bad on me, it’s not enough for it to be fixed. How can I sing its praises even if it is fixed?
  • More importantly, how can I ever rely on it or anything like it again?
  • Besides, I can’t really afford to go buying digital recorders willynilly. Do I look like the kind of person who can?

So, I’m troubled. I’m doubly troubled that there’s no PR person that I can find online at Olympus who might be able to take a good look at this situation and see whether my problem is an easy one to fix (maybe I’m forgetting to do something like turn it on, or look at it from a certain angle) and whether this is something they’ve noted a lot of (I notice the DS-20 is no longer being sold. Why?)

So, for the moment I’m rescinding all recommendations for Olympus digital recorders until I sort this out. It’s not that I don’t think they’re great; it’s just that I can’t be sure whether what happened to me isn’t going to be happening to other people’s. Given that the recordings are stored in flash memory, this is not the sort of gadget you can afford to have die on you at key moments in your life.

In the meantime I’m going to try to find a PR person to offer some insight on this.

Update Jan 21 2008: Olympus tell me the mainboard has died on the device and it would cost me US$125 to have it replaced. Since it’s possible to buy a new one for less than $100 (here, for example) I’m going to decline the offer. I’m also seeking an investigation from Olympus as to why this might have happened. Things do break, and this sort of thing happens. But I’m concerned that this happened without me actually doing anything the manual said I could do, and before I write glowingly about Olympus digital recorders again or recommend them to friends, I’m hoping to get some insight about what happened and whether it’s likely to happen to other people.

14. January 2008 by jeremy
Categories: Devices, Rants | Tags: , , , , , | 3 comments

Comments (3)

  1. There’s absolutely no evidence of widespread problems re: Olympus recorders, so your “rescinding all recommendations” seems unduly harsh, especially for the DS series which is known for its high build quality (compared to say the consumer-oriented WS series.)

    Why isn’t the DS-20 still being sold? Because it has been obsoleted by the DS-30 and now the DS-40. You can still buy one from Amazon though.

    Products fail. If failure is not acceptable then buy two of them and record in parallel. The fact it has Flash memory is a red herring; tape units have single-point of failures too (I’ve cursed plenty at dirty tape heads ruining my recordings.)

    I’d suggest calling customer service then you can write about how good/bad the experience was. The rest of us have little sympathy for pampered journos who cry for PR persons when their beloved gadget dies. (Not really, we’re just jealous because WE have to deal with dumbass customer service reps in this outsourced world.)

  2. Michael, thanks for this. Fair point on the DS-20 being replaced by the DS-30, though I suspect the DS-30 is more expensive. So not sure it’s replacement.

    Dirty tape heads don’t, in my view, equal flash memory failure. One can, and should clean a tape head prior to recording, but there’s no guard against flash memory deleting itself before you’ve had a chance to back it up.

    Actually, Olympus customer service has been pretty good both in Singapore and Japan. My point is that I’ve only tried one DS-20 and it’s failed on me. How can I recommend it, or any other Olympus digital recorder, if I’ve had a failure on the latest one in the series? I’m not dissing them, I’m just not recommending them until I find out what happened.

  3. You got me there Jeremy… I was always bad about cleaning magnetic heads. Tape recorders, VCRs, even those old floppy disks.

    I resented the need to buy those special cleaning tapes, pouring smelly liquids onto them, and silently wondering if the “cleaning” action was actually doing more good or harm in eroding the head.

    I guess I’ve “bought-in” into the idea that quality solid-state devices are vastly more reliable our old, sinful mechanical ways. I shudder in remembering various tracking issues, snapped rubber-belts, stripped plastic gears and burned-out stepper motors.

    Of course I have no idea if our “new” solid-state devices are actually any more reliable.

    Back then at least I could soak a cotton q-tip in cleaning liquid, jam it between my 5.25″ floppy’s “double-sided” heads, and hope it will come back to life. Today if my voice recorder goes dead I’d cherish it as an excuse to buy a newer, higher capacity model.

    So I am, a digital man. When I die my tombstone should read: “No Moving Parts”.