Option-Click: A Pocketful of Ambience

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The tiny Olympus WS-311M captures surprisingly useful stereo sound, especially with external mics such as these Sound Professionals SP-TFB-2 binaurals ($79, soundprofessionals.com).

Electronic musicians are blessed with dozens of choices in portable, high-resolution digital recorders. But for years, I've carried a lower-quality recorder everywhere I go. The Olympus WS Series digital voice recorders capture 16-bit, 44.1kHz stereo, start around just $50 and slip easily into a pocket. An integrated USB plug offers fast computer transfer. Sony offers stereo models, too.

The sound isn't great: There's automatic gain control, pronounced handling noise, midrangy mics and hiss. (External mics help a lot.) The Olympus recorders save files in compressed WMA format, which requires the free Flip4Mac QuickTime extension to edit on a Mac. But convenience trumps quality here. Like a cellphone camera, a pocket voice recorder is always with you, ready to capture the wonders of the world. And when layered subtly under music, the thin sound blends well, adding an evocative texture.
David Battino,Batmosphere.com