Musicians who seek a diminutive multitrack digital recorder need to look no further than the portable digital studios with the smallest footprints: the Korg ToneWorks PXR4 ($500) and Samson Technologies Zoom PS-04 Palmtop Studio ($359.99). Both are handheld 4-track devices that record two tracks at a time, play four tracks simultaneously, and use a SmartMedia card for storage. Each unit has a built-in microphone, analog inputs and outputs, a metronome, drum patterns, a tuner, programmable effects, virtual tracks (32 for the PXR4 and 40 for the PS-04), data compression, and track-editing capabilities. In addition, each runs on an AC wall-wart power supply or on AA batteries.
The PXR4's blue control surface is tightly but sensibly laid out and clearly labeled. Its LCD is economical, informative, and easy to read, considering its size. I was able to get up and running with the PXR4 fairly quickly, and was generally pleased with the sound quality of its built-in mic when tracking a large ensemble during a rehearsal. The PXR4's USB connector lets you back up audio data to a Mac or a PC. The PXR4, however, saves bounced audio data in MPEG-1, Audio Layer 2 (MP2) format. If you want to burn your masterpiece to an audio CD from MP2 data, you must first convert MP2 files to WAV files, using a program such as Audacity (Mac/Win; freeware). (Korg offers the Song Converter utility, a free Windows-based program, available online, for converting individual PXR4 track files to the WAV format.) EM reviewed the PXR4 in its May 2002 issue (available online at emusician.com).
The Zoom PS-04 offers similar features and functionality. Its built-in mic has good audio quality, and its bass and drum patterns could inspire song ideas. The PS-04 saves audio data in a proprietary file format. You can convert its audio files to AIFF or WAV files by transferring them to your Mac or PC with a SmartMedia card reader and downloading Zoom's free PS-04 Card Manager software (www.zoom.co.jp). Using this unit was a bit difficult at first. For example, I had to consult the user's manual to execute basic recording tasks. Also, I accidentally discovered on page 100 of the user's manual that SmartMedia cards must be formatted in the PS-04 before you can record or save audio data — something I needed to know right away. But once I began to familiarize myself with the PS-04's operation, I enjoyed working with it. For more information about the PS-04, visit www.samsontech.com.
At press time, Korg was planning to announce a compact, 4-track recorder that will join its D-series line of portable digital studios. The D4 will include a built-in mic, ¼-inch and XLR inputs, and USB connectivity. The D4 also records audio data as MPEG-1, Audio Layer 2 files. It will have 32 virtual tracks, built-in effects, audio-editing capabilities, and the ability to record two tracks at once to CompactFlash cards. Korg expects to begin shipping the D4 by the time you read this.