Recording important phone calls has obvious benefits, but it’s also a lot harder than it needs to be thanks to tricky legal protections that makes placing a big red “record” button into every smartphone a massive liability. Software-based solutions struggle with security changes, while hardware-based solutions that rely on using the smartphone’s charging port are not guaranteed to work with the next upgrade.
Enter the Koolertron phone call recorder, a headset that uses a 3.5mm headphone jack and a microphone to record both sides. The brand is owned by Shenzhen Kuletong Technology, a firm established in Hong Kong and China’s tech hub of Shenzhen in 2009. It’s since expanded to offer a variety of tablet, computer and luggage accessories.
The gadget takes the form of a simple set of in-ear headphones, with a larger microphone piece that houses a call-recording system. It has 512 megabytes of memory, plenty for even the longest phone calls, which is paired with an internal battery that provides a proclaimed 16 hours of talking. It could be the last recorder I ever need to buy.
- Product: Koolertron Phone Call Recorder
- Price: $32.99
- Perfect For: Professionals that want perfect phone call notes but don’t care about audio quality.
Call recorders are a useful tool for reporting. It can help with cross-referencing the notes I took as I was conducting an over-the-phone interview, it can help ensure I don’t skim over technical terminology, and it ensures I can listen to the conversation again to make sure I’ve fully understood complex concepts. As long as it’s not done surreptitiously, it makes everyone’s life easier by ensuring I don’t have to bug someone a dozen times to confirm the facts.
Unfortunately, Apple doesn’t play nice with call recording. The iPhone has never offered recording software in the stock iOS installation, and the App Store doesn’t allow for straightforward solutions. TapeACall uses a three-way conference call, but it requires a subscription and doesn’t work with certain providers.
My previous setup had served me well. I was using the Ecamm Call Recorder package, which offered recording tools for both FaceTime and Skype on the Mac for the bundled price of $44.90 when I bought it two years ago. Apple introduced Continuity for the Mac back in 2014, which meant users could place and answer calls from their iPhone via the computer with the call fed through the FaceTime app. I could record my calls using the setup absolutely fine.
Unfortunately, this came to an end with the release of macOS Mojave in September. Ecamm emailed customers to inform them that “Apple has made many changes to FaceTime, and tightened the security of the operating system,” meaning the software would not work with the next version. The company noted that “as FaceTime has evolved, we’ve been able to continuously adapt our app to provide a seamless experience — until now.”
That meant I needed to find something better.
Kooletron Call Recorder: Day One
The Koolertron phone call recorder comes in a surprisingly swish package, with a set of metal headphones poking out of a sleek white box. Alongside the gadget itself, the box comes with four spare earbud covers, a 1.2-meter micro-USB to USB charge cable, and a user manual. It also comes with a little clip for attaching the device on the user’s shirt, which I later discovered is an ideal way of boosting call quality.
The instructions come in both Chinese and English. It’s not the best translation in the world, but it’s clear enough. Press and hold the big front button for two seconds, then the red light flashes to show it’s recording. Press it again quickly to stop. Simple.
The device also has buttons for adjusting volume up, down, and for answering the phone. They give a nice enough clicky feel, but the whole construction feels like it may perish in my hands if I press too hard. I’m used to throwing my Apple EarPods in my back pocket, but I wouldn’t take the same chance with this.
The device has no screen. While this is fine for the most part, it results in a rather odd method of changing the time and date for saved files. Plug the headset into a computer via USB, open up a new text file, type in the date and time through the format specified in the instructions, and save the file in the root of the device with the correct file name. The headset then deletes the text file and changes the time. Like most things about the headset, it’s rather clunky but it gets the job done.
Sound quality is very much on the less impressive side of the spectrum. I cycle through my regular Spotify playlist to get a feel for whether these could replace EarPods. While it’s not an unacceptable quality, it’s definitely missing the clarity from even Apple’s bundled headphones. It looks like I’ll have to carry these as an extra pair.
As it’s the weekend, I have no need to use the device today. It’ll have to wait for another day.
Koolertron Call Recorder: Day Three
My first real tryout with the headphones involved a Skype call to an international number, which I use as a means of avoiding high call costs. Ecamm still works with Skype in Mojave, but I decide to put the Koolertrons to the test and see what happens.
While the headphones were pretty lackluster when it came to playing music, the audio is definitely clear enough to follow two different voices interacting over the phone. It made work phone calls a little more hassle-free and polite. The subject had no complaints about the call quality, either, and I could complete the call fine. It’s a bit strange attaching a plastic lump to your shirt collar, but after a few seconds you quickly forget it’s there.
Uploading your recordings to a computer is probably the hardest part. You simply plug it in to the USB storage device, and drag the file onto the desktop. One hiccup was that I noted the file was several years old, likely because I failed to master the baffling time settings. It makes me realize how these days I expect most gadgets to instinctively know the time, miraculously plucking it out of the ether. Worrying about time settings seems alien to me.
I listen to the file, and find myself marking the Koolertron down again. The audio has a weird background hiss that I never experienced with Ecamm. All I really care about is understanding the voices from both ends, though, and Koolertron pulls this off with full marks.
Koolertron Call Recorder: Day Seven
A sudden panic. My interview subject is calling me and I don’t have my headphones ready! While the phone is buzzing away in my hand, I remember that Apple showed “courage” by removing the headphone jack from the iPhone 7 Plus. I can’t plug the Koolertrons into my phone without the Lightning to 3.5mm adapter, which isn’t the manufacturer’s fault at all but does highlight how Apple’s decision severely inconveniences people in unexpected ways. After asking the subject to call back in a minute while I fix the issue, I prepare the setup and try again with success.
Koolertron’s product may have a couple of quality quirks, but it fills a rare niche of offering two-way call recording for almost any device, as long as the user can provide access to a 3.5mm headphone jack. It’s not the best pair of headphones in the world, but the product is called a “call recorder” and it does it fine.
Any questions? Feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.