Edirol, a subsidiary of Roland, has several field recorders on the market, including the R-1, a stereo deck that's a bit smaller than a videocassette, and the 4-track R-4, which is perhaps the least expensive portable multitrack available. The company's latest entry in the world of portable recorders is the R-09.
FIG. 1: The omnidirectional mics on the Edirol R-09 are conveniently positioned on either side of the top of the unit.
A bit chunkier than the original Apple iPod, the R-09 records 2-channel audio at resolutions from 64 to 320 Kbps in MP3 format to linear-PCM WAV files at 44.1 or 48 kHz at 16 or 24 bits (see Fig. 1). The recorder has a pair of built-in electret condenser mics, as well as 3.5 mm jacks on the top for an external mic and a line input. (Plug-in power is provided for mics that can run from this consumer counterpart to phantom power.) The R-09 also has a jack that triples as a headphone output, a line-level output, and an optical digital output.
The R-09, which runs off of a pair of standard AA batteries, is lightweight but doesn't feel cheaply built. The small, high-contrast OLED screen is easily visible indoors but virtually unreadable in direct sunlight. The recorder uses SD memory cards up to 2 MB in size for storage (a 64 MB card is included), and with firmware version 1.10 (announced as this review was going to press), SD High Capacity cards are supported for greater storage amounts and increased data transfer speeds.
The transport controls are grouped around a single rectangular button, which rocks up, down, left, and right to control play/pause, stop, rewind, and fast-forward, respectively. A separate Record button, easily located by touch, sits in the center of the transport area. There are three additional buttons on the front panel: Finder/Menu, Reverb, and Repeat.
Other controls are positioned on the sides of the device: a recessed power button and a pair of up/down input-volume buttons are on one side; a hold switch, up/down monitor level buttons, and the headphone/line/optical output are on the other (see Fig. 2). On the back of the R-09 are low-profile switches for mono/stereo (for the external mic), low cut, mic gain (low/high), and automatic gain control (AGC). Although the AGC's operation is certainly audible, I appreciate the inclusion of this feature. It's handy for situations where you don't want to constantly watch the recording levels. Note that Mono mode routes the left input to both channels of a stereo file but does not record a smaller mono file.
Up and at 'Em
The R-09 is extremely quick and easy to deploy; power-up is as fast as we've seen in a portable recorder — about six seconds. Pressing Record puts you into Record/Pause mode, and a red LED hidden behind the Record button blinks brightly. Press Play/Pause or press Record a second time, and the red LED glows steadily as recording begins.
The device has responsive metering, which ranges from -45 to 0 dBfs. A large part of the display is given over to an elapsed-recording-time counter. That, as well as the record LED, makes it easy to tell when you're rolling. A single peak LED lets you know if your levels are clipping the input, in which case it's time to switch the back-panel Mic Gain switch to Low. (This switch attenuates the input about 25 dB.) The bar-graph record-level meters also have a peak indicator, which clears itself after a 1-second hold. The digital up/down input-level buttons provide 29 1 dB steps of record-level adjustment in addition to the 25 dB gain switch.
The built-in mics have a pleasant tonality. Although the capsules are omnidirectional, their mounting yields an acceptable stereo image. Self-noise is just audible with medium-loud sources such as an acoustic guitar, but it becomes objectionable when you crank the input level to record quiet ambiences. However, for many common applications (songwriting, rehearsing, or performance recordings), the internal mics will provide suitable results.
Alternatively, you can connect external microphones to the R-09 through the 3.5 mm mic input, which provides menu-selectable plug-in power. You can also connect an external mic preamp and high-end mic to the deck's line input. Note that left and right input levels are linked and cannot be adjusted individually.
In our measurements, we found the internal mic preamps (not including any noise contributions from the internal mics) to be significantly quieter than the M-Audio MicroTrack 24/96's, but not as quiet as those of the Fostex FR-2 or the Sony PCM-D1, which is the lowest-noise performer we've tested. There are 13 ms of latency between mic input and headphone output, which could be disconcerting if you're hearing your own voice live (for example, if you're conducting an interview and simultaneously monitoring over headphones), but obviously this won't affect the resulting recording.
When using it as a practice tool, you'll appreciate the R-09's various playback modes, including Repeat Play, which loops any portion within a single recording. Repeat One Track, Repeat All Tracks, and a random-playback Shuffle mode are also provided.
Playback formats include a couple of varieties that the R-09 can't actually record itself: 32 kHz sampling-rate files and variable-bit-rate MP3s. These extra playback formats could make the R-09 more capable as a general-purpose MP3 music player, depending on your library's format.
FIGS. 2a–c: Additional controls are located on the back (a) and sides (b) of the unit, while I/O is placed on the top (c).
With standard alkaline AA cells, you can expect up to 6 hours of 24-bit, 48 kHz recording, and perhaps 7 hours or more using NiMH cells. Recording MP3s instead of WAV files boosts the record time a bit, presumably because the amount of data written to the SD card is reduced.
In firmware version 1.02, which shipped with our review unit, the battery status indicator seemed somewhat erratic, especially with low batteries, showing a full charge on power-up but then dropping quickly a few moments later. It turns out that the battery status wasn't being checked immediately. This problem was corrected by firmware version 1.03, which we easily downloaded and installed. You'll get a Battery Low warning when your time is running out; we let the battery die during a lecture recording, and the R-09 closed the recorded file gracefully before turning out the lights. A battery change causes the record format to revert to the default WAV-file setting.
Menus and Files
Press and hold the Finder/Menu button on the front panel, and you'll find the various options that control the deck's behavior. The top-level menu has eight submenus, each of which includes a couple of options. Here's where you'll set sampling rate, file format, display contrast, clock time and date, and all the basic settings you would expect in a device like this.
A quick click of the front panel's Finder/Menu button brings up a scrolling list of the sound files on the SD card. The R-09 offers more computer-like file-management functionality than other portable recorders we've tested: files can be renamed using the R-09's multifunction transport controls; new folders can be created and named; new recordings are automatically placed in the current folder; and existing recordings can be moved between folders. There are also Delete and Copy commands, although the latter would be more useful if the R-09 also had some minimal editing facility, such as a track-split function. My only significant complaint is that the unit's file-naming convention follows the rather uninformative “R09_0001.wav” scheme. When you empty the card of data, the numbering restarts at 0001 — I'd prefer it kept counting up to reduce the creation of duplicate sound-file names.
Although Edirol does not publish a list of supported SD cards, we were advised to stay away from “ultraburst” types of media, which are good for digital photography but are a poor choice for audio recording, where sustained throughput is critical.
In the Field
We used the R-09 in numerous recording situations — as a shirt-pocket logging recorder during a full day of field recording in the New York City subway system, as well as for rehearsals, lectures, nature sounds, and concerts. As a log recorder, the R-09's AGC mode allowed my colleague Bruce Koball to focus his attention on running the primary deck (a Fostex FR-2), manipulating his boom mic, and interacting with the subway operators. Besides providing a continuous document of the full-day session, we snagged some usable sounds when the primary deck wasn't running.
As a rehearsal recorder, the R-09's internal mics were convenient and up to the task at hand. In a marsh on the shores of Lake Tahoe, the internal mics were noisy — the midrange rush of 50 ducks taking flight from the still waters of the lake at dawn were certainly audible, but the high-frequency self-noise of the deck and internal mics was obtrusive in the final recording. Plugging my trusty Shure VP-88 into the minijack input yielded excellent results at a live rock 'n' roll show.
The R-09 does have a few quirks. I'm amused by the inclusion of reverb on this device. Edirol's literature describes reverb as being “the world's most-requested/desired effect.” On a multitrack, sure, but on a portable stereo recorder, where it will be applied to the entire track? I don't get it. Fortunately, it's a playback-only effect, so there's no danger of inadvertently engaging it and having it applied destructively to a recording.
Then there's the rather flimsy 2-position sliding door at the bottom of the unit. Half open, it reveals the USB connector and the SD card; releasing a tiny latch opens it further for battery access. The R-09 doesn't draw power through USB when connected, so if you're on internal batteries during file transfers, be sure your cells have enough juice to complete the process.
Also, the R-09's power management will turn the recorder off even when it's mounted on your desktop, leading to a Device Improperly Removed warning message from your operating system. Our wish-list items include an optical digital input, the ability to drop markers while recording, and a prerecord buffer.
Stand and Deliver
Nevertheless, it's hard to find much fault with a compact, moderately priced audio recorder that delivers as reliably as the Edirol R-09. We recommend it.
portable 2-track recorder
FEATURES3EASE OF USE4AUDIO QUALITY4VALUE4
RATING PRODUCTS FROM 1 TO 5
PROS: Compact. Good sound. Reliable operation.
CONS: Flimsy battery door. OLED difficult to read in direct sunlight. File naming. No digital input. No prerecord buffer.