A field guide to digital audio recorders

A field guide to digital audio recorders

Summary: I've recorded live music events on DAT tape for years and recently started thinking about ways to modernize the process and skip the tape altogether. I've been looking for a portable audio recorder to tape interviews and record podcasts but have been frustrated with the options. Following is some of my research.

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TOPICS: Hardware
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m-audio-microtrack.jpgI've recorded live music events on DAT tape for years and recently started thinking about ways to modernize the process and skip the tape altogether. I've been looking for a portable audio recorder to tape interviews and record  podcasts but have been frustrated with the options. Following is some of my research.

I purchased an Olympus DS-2200 voice recorder (US$289) and although the sound quality for recording interviews and podcasts is quite acceptable when using the included T-microphone, the included DSS Player software for the Mac (versions 1.42 and 6.0.4) doesn't yet work with Intel Macs.

I'd much rather have a cool little accessory for the iPod's dock connector that allows me to capture high resolution audio as I discussed here last month, but the Belkin TuneTalk and XtremeMac Micromemo still aren't yet shipping.

The other handheld digital recorders that I'm considering record straight to removable media cards which avoid the whole software fiasco and allow you to simply mount the media card, grab the raw audio files and edit away.

The unit that I'm currently coveting is the M-Audio MicroTrack which lists for US$499, but can be found for as little as US$325 on Froogle. The MicroTrack is a high-fidelity mobile two-channel digital recorder that records WAV and MP3 files to Compact Flash media.

PROS: 24-bit uncompressed recording, digital inputs, phantom powered mic pre-amps, balanced TRS jacks, RCA jacks, and it charges via USB.
CONS: Lacks a built-in mic, noisy mic pre-amp and A-to-D converter, fixed battery.

The other portable recorder that I've seen is the Edirol R-09 (US$399), a handheld 24-bit uncompressed recorder with a built-in stereo microphone.

PROS: 24-bit recording, built-in stereo microphone, removable AA batteries, SD media.
CONS: AA battery life, lacks balanced mic inputs and phantom power.

If you're looking for the highest possible audio fidelity (i.e. for live concert recording) the Core Sound PDAudio takes the cake. PDAudio records two channels of 24-bit/192 Kbps uncompressed digital audio to compact flash memory cards. The problem for Mac users is that it's a Windows Mobile-based solution. If you're looking for even more detail I recommend reading the Core Sounds comparison of all of the major digital audio recorders.

What do you use for recording lectures, interviews, conferences and podcasts?

Topic: Hardware

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11 comments
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  • none of them

    the m-audio unit has more bugs than the amazon

    the pd-audio unit hasn't worked for anyone i know who's tried it

    the edirol r-1 seems to work wine and is in the low-budget price range
    scottbrown
    • woops

      wine = fine
      scottbrown
    • M-Audio Firmware fixes bugs, Edirol too large

      ScottBrown -

      The M-Audio firmware update 1.3.3 fixes a lot of bugs and they appear to be listening to their audience. There's a list of what's fixed at M-Audio.com > Support.

      http://www.m-audio.com/index.php?do=support.drivers&k=firmware&s=6&p=196cc4c35a380d800a80448f139bcfe7&o=27&f=663


      The Edirol R-1 has its share of issues too, just read about them in the comparisons piece that I linked to in the article:

      http://www.core-sound.com/pdaudio_system/10.php#INTRODUCTION

      The Edirol R-09 shows a lot of promise (notably, a decent built-in Mic) but it isn't shipping yet.

      - Jason
      Jason D. O'Grady
  • Try Marantz PMD660

    I recently purchased a Marantz PMD660 (http://www.d-mpro.com/
    users/folder.asp?FolderID=3629&CatID=19&SubCatID=180) to
    record sermons at my church and publish them as a podcast. it
    cost me $499 ish and included 2 "conference grabber" mics. it has
    XLR and line inputs and allows you to record to MP3 or
    uncompressed WAV on a Compact Flash card.

    Jason
    JBracy
    • A little too big for me

      I've read about the Marantz PMD660 (in that comparison article that I linked to) but it only records 16-bit audio (as opposed to 24-bit) and I don't need XLR inputs so I'd rather not have the extra size. Not a bad unit overall though...

      - Jason
      Jason D. O'Grady
  • Take a look at these options

    I am a photojournalist that does some multimedia for my newspaper's website. I've yet to find a great option for recording audio to download into my Macs. These guys are a great source for all the latest gear- http://www.soundprofessionals.com They have an interesting device that works with an ipod or any other hard drive http://www.soundprofessionals.com/cgi-bin/gold/item/GEMINI-IKEY but the interface is still clunky in my opinion and often, I need the recording level set automatically, which this unit does not offer. Another device of interest is the newly announced Mac compatable Sony minidisc http://www.soundprofessionals.com/cgi-bin/gold/item/SONY-MZ-M10 I've not used it but it does look promising. Currently I run a couple of older minidiscs with various mic setups and pull the audio into my powerbook via a Griffin Imic. Samples are on my site at http://www.kentsievers.com on the projects page.
    otaku_z
    • Don't like the Sony or Gemini options

      Hey Otaku,

      I don't like the Sony MZ M10 HIMD because it seems filled with compromises. Not to mention the fact that it's filled with proprietary Sony features: MD, ATRAC, etc. I stopped buying Sony cameras years ago because of the RIDICULOUS proprietary media costs. Also, what's the audio quality? It won't do 96/24 I'm pretty sure. And what's with the disclaimer about the bottom of the page?

      Note: Only Hi-MD PCM self-recordings made on MZ-M10 or MZ-M100 can be imported using the Hi-MD WAV Importer software. Audio files cannot be exported from a Mac to the recorder via the USB cable.

      I have a Gemini iKey and I haven't been able to get it working with my iPod at all. Tech support said to "read the manual." It's a convoluted series of steps to start recording - which doesn't bode well for spontaneous recording. Not to mention the tangle of cables required to cable the iPod and microphones to it.

      Unfortunately, neither of these will work for me.

      - Jason
      Jason D. O'Grady
      • Minidisc is made for recording

        You have to look at things from the perspective of a professional who is recording live audio not a pimple-faced teenager ripping CDs and downloading tracks. If you want that...there are a lot of options...like the WHY-pod
        When it comes to recording, I haven't found any compromises with Hi-MD...instead I find the compromises to be made with the memory card recorders. Certainly the cost of 1 Gb of media is significantly different with mameorycards costing 10x minidisc. So much for Sony's 'proporietary media costs' because, in this case, they win hands down. That means I can record more and, it is cheap enough to choose to archive sessions on MD permanently.
        You are correct that only live recordings can be imported but that is because downloaded and ripped tracks (like the people that engage in that sort of thing) are not important...this is about RECORDING and not dorky 'copying' of somebody eles' work.
        So, in the end, who cares if you can't copy FROM the mac to the MD...the only significant part is copying FROM the MD to the mac (or PC). I'm not listening to music on my MD...I'm recording it.
        Does it do 96/24? Nope, but a Lexus is still worth driving even if it isn't a Ferrari. If I want completely portable 96/24 recording capability, I'm sure I can get it with some device...but not at the price of a Hi-MD.
        marbing@...
  • M-Audio MicroTrack

    I've had a MicroTrack for about a month. I've had very good luck
    recording from condenser mikes and a mixer: I record pipe
    organ recitals, which mean wide dynamic range and extremely
    wide frequency spectrum. The results are as good as my DAT,
    and the device is more portable. With Sound Professionals small
    mikes plugged directly in, the results are acceptable, though not
    so good as with large mikes. The mikes that come with it are OK
    if nothing else is avaliable; I've used them for chamber music.

    The documentation is very skimpy, and I'm not at all sure how to
    interpret the level meters.

    The best things about the MicroTrack are that it's smaller than
    my Sony TCD-D100 DAT and runs much longer on a charge
    (more than 3 hours with a microdrive for data storage). This will
    be my travelling machine.
    James David Mason
  • DSS will work on Intel, but unstable

    The DSS Player does in fact work on the Intel Mac. It's just not
    terribly stable. I've found that the application is prone to crashes
    when clicking the stop button. I still needed a new machine, but it a
    touch annoying, I must say. Hopefully Olympus will consider this
    when it comes time for a software update, but I haven't found any
    messages as such on their Web site, and an e-mail to customer
    service has gone unanswered.
    David Waldon
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