Korg MR-1 1-Bit Mobile Recorder - EMusician

Korg MR-1 1-Bit Mobile Recorder

This is a ground-breaking product, so why only a one-page review? Because the subject of 1-bit recording is deep, and well-documented: Start with the Korg white paper at www.korg.com/mr/Future Proof Recording Explained.pdf. And you’ll also find plenty of MR-1 specs on the Korg website. What we need to do here is dispel a few myths, explain why the MR-1 is so different, then tell what it’s like to use the MR-1 — because frankly, what the MR-1 represents is almost more important than the product itself.
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1-BIT RECORDING

Also called Direct Stream Digital (DSD), this is the same technology used in SACDs. One misconception is that the MR-1 (and the MR-1000 tabletop model) are some kind of extension of SACD. But the MR-1 is all about applying 1-bit technology in a professional recording/archiving context — not about an ill-fated consumer playback format.

And does it really sound better than standard PCM? Absolutely. DSD has the smoothness of tape, the clarity of high-resolution PCM, and a level of definition that neither achieves. And we’re not talking subtle differences; it’s obvious.

“PERFECT SOUND FOREVER”

Korg’s tag line of “Future-Proof Digital Recording” sounds suspiciously like the above-mentioned statement about CDs. But I see where they’re coming from. First off, it’s oriented more toward the MR-1000, which samples at 5.6MHz — twice the rate of the MR-1 or an SACD. Furthermore, you can convert DSD from the MR-1000 or MR-1 to just about any other format, from 44.1/16-bit to 192/24-bit (the included AudioGate software — a pretty amazing piece of technology in itself — does the heavy lifting).

Even though the MR-1 doesn’t sample at 5.6MHz, it still sounds fantastic because a lot of 1-bit recording’s sonic superiority is less about the sampling rate than about the outboard “glue” you don’t need. Arguments about “which converter sounds better” in a 1-bit system don’t exist: There are no decimation filters. There are no input or output “brickwall” filters, just a gentle filter to keep the clock out of the audio range. When you hear the MR-1, there’s no question that it just plain sounds better than what you’ve heard before from any portable digital audio. And despite being a mobile recorder, it seems like Korg put some serious juice into the analog front end, because it sounds way better than I expected.

RECORDING THE WORLD WITH THE MR-1

It’s not perfect: The rechargeable battery is not user-replaceable when it reaches the end of its useful life (you have to get the unit serviced), and provides only about 2 hours of DSD recording time (or about 2.5 hours with standard PCM recording, which it also does — up to 24/192). There’s an AC adapter, but no way to slide in a couple of AA batteries if your battery runs down (the MR-1000, however, can run off standard batteries). While Korg is apparently looking into compatibility with some external battery packs, nothing has been finalized yet.

As the MR-1 is hard disk-based with 20GB of storage, there are the usual fragility, noise (although very minor, on the order of an iPod), and reliability issues compared to solid-state memory — but getting real, I’ve yet to see a 20GB memory cartridge.

On the other hand, there’s plenty of recording time: 1-bit recording at 2.8MHz takes about 40MB/stereo minute, for about eight hours total of DSD recording; the longest single recording you can do is about six hours. There’s an included stereo condenser mic that’s remarkably good, USB 2.0 port for computer communications, a clear backlit display and straightforward operating system, and two balanced line/mic ins (albeit with mini jacks). Some complain the output isn’t balanced, but who cares? Once you’ve captured the sound, you’ll likely save it to your computer for archiving or convert it to a “present-day” file format using AudioGate; the output seems to me like it’s for monitoring.

CONCLUSIONS

There’s no Sound Forge or Wavelab for 1-bit recording, so currently, for most musicians it remains a capture/playback medium — exactly what Korg claims. But what a capture medium! One listen, and you’ll know exactly what I mean: It’s truly a new day for those who record with digital audio.

Product type: Hard disk-based mobile recorder.
Target market: Mobile recording, journalists, archivists, mastering studios (particularly analog-based) for archiving.
Strengths: The sound quality recordists have been waiting for from digital audio. Mac/Windows AudioGate software (ME, 2K, XP, Mac OS 9.0.4 and up) lets it work with all present-day formats. Compact. USB 2.0 for computer transfers. Records PCM formats too. AutoGain actually sounds okay for situations with widely varying levels. Can create playlists.
Limitations: Battery not user-replaceable. Can’t use standard batteries. Hard disk generates a faint amount of noise.
Price: $799 list
Contact:www.korg.com