($399.95 street; www.centrance.com)
Sometimes it seems audio is on a race to the bottom—with datacompressed files, nasty ear buds, and on-board sound chips that sound like— well, let’s not go there. DACport goes in the other direction: It takes audio from your computer’s USB port (Mac, Windows, or Linux), puts it through a reference quality D/A converter, and delivers extremely high quality audio to a 1/4" stereo headphone jack.
I’ve covered how much I like the Monster Turbine earbuds, as they make computer audio bearable. But teamed with DACport, the combination is stunning (as it should be, given the total price). The DACport’s Class A headphone amp is direct-coupled with 18V of headroom, so the bass makes it through intact; native operation is 24-bit/96kHz (but it also supports 44.1, 48, and 88.2kHz audio). No special drivers are required—just plug-and-play, as the unit is also USB-powered—and CEntrance claims an essentially jitterless clock stability of 10 parts per million. The noise floor is typically better than –120dB, which is a pretty amazing spec.
DACport is good for more than laptops. My Mac connects to studio monitors, and the difference using DACport compared to the internal audio is a revelation. If you have the bucks, this is the ticket to audiophile computer playback.
Korg Sound on Sound SOS Unlimited Track Recorder
($299.99 street; www.korg.com/sos)
Yawn . . . another portable recorder. But wait: SOS is a multitrack portable recorder designed specifically for musicians. Unlike the old school sound-on-sound technique of building up tracks by destructively mixing a new track with an old one, SOS keeps the Broadcast WAV files for individual tracks separate—you can transfer all the individual tracks over to a DAW, and mix away. The time-stamped files align automatically, even if you started recording an overdub in the middle of a song.
Storage uses a microSD or SDHC card (a 2GB card is included), but there’s no USB port so file transfers require taking out the card and using a card reader (a microSD to SD adapter is included). Also, recording is 44.1kHz/16-bit, not 24-bit, although of course that conserves memory.
Musician-friendly features abound: tuner, 50 onboard rhythms, tons of effects (including ones you play in real time by treating the display like a KAOSS pad), built-in stereo mic, internal monitor speaker, guitar input, external mic in, loop recording, variable speed without pitch change, unlimited undo/redo, free accessory software, etc. Sure, it’s bigger than the micro-mini portable recorders—but the feature set is huge. The SOS SR1 cleverly takes the portable recorder concept into portable studio territory.
Sanyo Xacti ICR-XPS01M
Rule #1 about portable recorders: If it’s not convenient to carry around, you won’t. But you’ll carry the Xacti—under 1cm thick, and 46 grams with battery.
There’s a consumer/pro split personality. The consumer side lets you play back music, listen to FM radio, and use automatic recording level controls. The pro side has manual adjustments, quality built-in mics, WAV PCM (44.1/16-bit)/WMA/MP3 recording, variable speed, external ins, and more. Recording is to microSD card (2GB included—Sanyo specs 8GB max, but users report that higher-capacity cards work).
The Eneloop battery is proprietary; the charge lasts for about 14 hours when recording WAV files, and with backlighting off, 20+ hours. Battery life is much longer when recording data-compressed files. You can’t use standard batteries, but the long life and 2.5 hour recharge time likely means you won’t need a spare.
Connecting via micro USB, the Xacti looks like a hard drive to Windows and Mac computers (Mac operation is “not guaranteed,” but mine worked flawlessly). The Xacti has serious functionality, so read the manual; but you can figure out 90% of it just from the informative display.
The sound and convenience is exceptional—this recorder rocks. And given the size, there’s no excuse not to have it on you at all times!