Answering Machines Product Guide

Answering Machines

Answering machines are undoubtedly one of the most convenient communications tools invented in the 20th century. Now that most Americans own one at home or at work, it's hard to see how we actually did without them at one point in time. Having a machine take messages for you while you are not available has made life easier for us in many ways. Now people don't miss out on opportunities, they're given more time to get back to someone, always have a record of who called, and have a method of archiving and saving messages. Most answering machines today are multifunctional. Here at, we carry a huge selection of answering machines manufactured by Panasonic, SONY, Bell South, AT&T, Phone Mate, UNIDEN, V Tech, and more.

Think of an answering machine like a personal secretary. Once programmed, answering machines are designed to take messages when you are not available to answer a phone call. These devices are relatively easy to set up and have become very popular over the last few years. When they were first introduced to consumers, they were big, bulky and recorded messages onto small micro cassette tapes. Today, answering machines have gotten smaller in size, and have more advanced features, including digitized recordings, and integration with corded and cordless phones.

There are two main types of answering machine units available: micro cassette answering machines, and digital answering machines. Digital answering machines are the more current of the two and account for the most models currently being sold. The term 'answering machine' is gradually being replaced with 'Telephone Answering Device' or, more commonly, 'TAD'.

Although answering machines remain, for the most part, standalone units, more answering machine are becoming available with built-in corded or cordless telephones, and fax machines. Many computers have built-in TAD functions.

Cassette vs. Digital

Earlier models of answering machines used cassette or micro cassette tapes to record your announcement and incoming messages. In most cases, almost all current answering machine models use a tapeless digital recording system.

Recording messages digitally offers many advantages. There is no tape to rewind or forward. Navigating from one message to another, repeating messages, skipping messages is quick and easy. You can selectively save and delete messages from the digital memory. The digital recording process allows certain answering machines to offer voice-mail capabilities where a portion of the available memory can be reserved for certain family members or individuals.

Some may say that tapes had longer recording times than digital. In a sense, they're correct. The most common tape was 60 minutes long. That's only 30 minutes per side and answering machines, as a rule, did not have auto-reverse (ability to automatically switch sides). So you have about 30 minutes for your announcement and incoming messages. Based on different answering machine models, digital memory runs around 10 minutes to 25 minutes. For most individuals and small businesses, 15 to 25 minutes is ample, especially if you listen to your messages every day.

Tapes are superior if you feel the need to archive all your messages. This means saving all your messages for long periods of time. Though we can see value of this for law-enforcement and security agencies, most people tend to delete messages after they've heard them.

Machines that use tapes may operate with more noise - the mechanical noises of the motors as a tape is being recorded, stopped and wound. Digital Answering Machines make considerably less or no noise. This makes it very suitable for use in studios, bedrooms and professional offices.

Because digital memory requires electrical power to store messages, some answering machine models have battery memory backup in case of AC power failure. Virtually all answering machines (sold at J&R) use 110-Volt AC electrical power.

Outgoing Messages

Answering machines generate two types of messages. One message goes out to the caller, termed the "outgoing message" and the other comes into the owner, called the "incoming message". Once an answering machine is set up with a phone line, if the phone rings and no body picks up, after a couple of rings (usually 2 or 4 depending on your phone settings) the outgoing message is initiated. The outgoing message consists of someone's voice (or a default message that comes with the machine) informing the caller that no one is available to take the call, and that a message may be left after a beep. Outgoing messages usually sound like this: "Hello, you've reached 555-555-5555. No one is available to take your call now. Please leave your name and number after the beep and we will return your call as soon as possible. Thank you".

If you have a machine that works on cassette, the outgoing message will be recorded onto and played from the cassette. If you have a digital machine, your outgoing message is saved on a microchip. You may erase and rerecord your outgoing messages as often as you wish.

With some answering machines, the outgoing message is played and heard every time someone calls and the machine picks up. However, there are other answering machines that have a silent outgoing message where only the caller hears the outgoing message and not everyone else at home. The only thing you'll hear after the ringing of the phone with these machines is a silence and then the message the caller will leave.

Some answering machines allow you to leave 2 outgoing messages.

Incoming Messages

Various people leave these messages on your machine. Answering machines that use micro cassettes have an advantage because they can record an average up to 60 minutes of messages. Most digital answering machines can handle about 15-20 minutes of digitized audio. If someone attempts to leave a message after the machine is full, many digital answering machines never initiate the outgoing message, or generate another message that states the caller can't leave a message because the mailbox is full.

Most digital answering machines have what is called a 'Time/Day Stamp'. As soon as someone leaves a message, the exact time and date the message was received is recorded too. While reviewing the messages, whether before or after the message is heard, the time and date are read electronically. Not all answering machines have this feature.

Private Mailboxes

Higher-end digital answering machines have a number of voice mailboxes. Voice mailboxes allow incoming messages to be directed to the 'mailbox' of your choice. For example, if you and your roommate share the same machine, each of you can have messages left in separate mailboxes. This saves you the time and hassle of listening to all the messages, seeing if anyone has called for you. Machines with mailboxes have outgoing messages that sound like this: "Thank you for calling 555-555-5555. Sorry we are not available to take your call. To leave a message for X, please press 1. To leave a message for Y, please press 2".

Some machines give you the option of using multiple outgoing messages, for each mailbox. The owner of each mailbox can select a personal security code for select access to personal incoming messages.


This is a very helpful feature that tells you when a message was left. Most answering machines leave the day and time of the phone call. When you listen to your messages, this 'stamp' is usually either in the beginning or after each recorded message.

Remote Access

What happens when you're far away from home and want to check the messages on your answering machine? Well, if your answering machine has a remote access feature, you'll be able to check your messages using another phone. Virtually all answering machines have this feature. The way it works is easy. A 'remote access code' is assigned to each answering machine. Default access codes are usually found in manuals or on the bottom of some units. Some machines allow you to select among a list of access codes. Once you dial your home number from any other phone, you should be able to enter the remote access code and obtain the messages on your machine. The number pad on the phone you use to dial acts like the functions on your answering machine where you could forward or delete messages. Access codes prevent any unauthorized remote access of your answering machine.

Many answering machines offer a full menu of remote features and have voice menus to help you access them. You may be able to change your outgoing announcement, turn your answering machine on or off, selectively save and delete messages, and other functions.

Message Alert

All digital answering machines have some kind of way to let you know when you have a message on your answering machine that has yet to be heard. Some indicate an unheard message with a flashing LED or LCD screen; others may have a beeping tone.

Many answering machines have a 'New Message' feature that permits listening to new messages only.

Memo Record

Memo record is available on most answering machines. This function allows you to record a brief message for someone (or yourself) right onto the answering machine. If you and your roommate share a place, you can leave a message for him/her on the machine, and they can hear it when they come home. Leave a memo for yourself (ie. Get some sugar at the market before going home). When you call home and use remote access to listen to your messages, your memo will be among them.

Conversation Record

Some answering machines allow you to record a phone conversation. Some may beep sequentially, alerting the caller that you are recording the conversation. Most models do not have this alert feature. In digital machines, space for recording the conversation is limited to how many free minutes remain of your digital memory capacity. It is advisable to alert a caller that you are recording the conversation.

Toll Saver

Almost all machines have a Toll-Saver feature which is often used for remote access of messages. Answering machines may be set to pick-up after a certain number of phone rings. Many pick up after 4 rings or 2 rings. Selecting Toll-Saver means that if a call comes in and there are no incoming messages recorded, the answering machine will pick-up after 4 rings. If messages are recorded, it will pick-up after 2 rings.

So, there you are, calling from the outside to see if you've received any messages. Your phone rings three times. You hang up. Why? If it rings more than twice, you have no new recorded messages. You save the cost of the call you just made.

VOX or Voice Activation

Many answering machines allow you to select VOX (Voice Activation) or a time (usually 30-seconds to 1 minute) to allow a caller to leave an incoming message. If you select a time, your answering machine will record a preset duration of time whether an incoming message is being recorded or not. If you select VOX, the incoming message will begin recording if it hears a voice and cease recording when the voice is absent (after a few seconds).

Message Forwarding

Certain answering machines that are integrated with a telephone may be able to forward a recorded incoming message (once it has been recorded) to another phone number that you program in. You may be expecting an important call while you're away. As soon as an incoming message is recorded, the phone auto-dials the phone number where you may be. It will deliver the message as soon as you input your personal security code.

Multi-Line Answering

Although most answering machines have been built to be used with a single telephone line (one telephone number), there are a few models that may be used with 2 or more telephone lines.

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