Studio in Your Pocket - EMusician

Studio in Your Pocket

STEREO DIGITAL RECORDERS ARE MORE PORTABLE AND AFFORDABLE THAN EVER
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The recent trend toward pocket-size stereo recorders has accelerated dramatically, with more than a few major manufacturers getting into the act. What began as a niche market for broadcast journalists and sound-effects collectors has exploded into a wealth of new and exciting tools for all kinds of musicians and audio professionals thanks to impressive advances in portable digital technology. It's been said that smaller is better, and that's never been truer than with the current crop of high-performance pocket studios.

Compact recorders have a broad range of uses, from archiving band rehearsals to recording birdsongs in your backyard. Nothing is more convenient for quickly capturing spontaneous song ideas and taking verbal notes. They can't be beat for recording interviews and lectures, and they're unobtrusive enough to make clandestine concert recordings with remarkable clarity. Today's pint-size products offer audio performance unheard of in previous generations, with fidelity and accuracy that blow away yesterday's analog mastering decks and digital audiotape (DAT) machines. They can store considerably more material than an analog reel or a DAT cassette. And some offer such pristine A/D converters and preamps that they're ideal for archiving your mixdowns.

A lot has changed just since October 2005, the last time EM surveyed portable tapeless recorders (see “Playing the Field,” available at emusician.com). Most notably, recorders have gotten much smaller and less expensive. More of them include features designed for musicians, such as variable-speed playback and built-in tuners. CompactFlash was the preferred storage medium in 2005, but most pocket-size recorders now rely on Secure Digital (SD) cards.

This article looks at eight little digital recorders currently available and another one that should be shipping by the time you read this (for detailed specifications, see the online bonus material “Stereo Recorder Features Compared” at emusician.com). All of them have impressive storage capacity, and some have surprisingly long battery life. All record WAV files, most record MP3 files, and one records at rates as high as 2.8 MHz. Each is priced well under $1,000, and all can slip into a shirt or jacket pocket.

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FIG. 1: Edirol''s R-09 is small enough to operate with one hand, yet it offers pro-level features such as a digital audio out and support for SD cards up to 16 GB.

EDIROL R-09

When Edirol introduced the R-09 ($399), it was the smallest digital recorder yet to target audio professionals (see Fig. 1). About half the size of the earlier R-1, the R-09 has a pair of fixed omnidirectional condenser mics in its upper corners, stereo mic and line inputs on minijacks, and a minijack that handles optical S/PDIF out, line out, or headphones. The R-09 records and plays 16- and 24-bit WAV files at 44.1 or 48 kHz, and MP3 files from 64 to 320 Kbps. It can apply onboard reverb to playback and has a button that loops playback between two user-defined points. It accommodates SD cards up to 16 GB and includes a 64 MB card.

The R-09 is easy to operate with one hand, and it packs a lot of graphical information into its small (128 × 64-pixel) but sharp organic light-emitting diode (OLED) display. In play, record, or stop modes, the display shows information such as song name and length, playback or recording time, and reverb and battery status, as well as level meters calibrated in decibels.

The transport controls, which also serve as cursor controls, are clustered around a central Record button. There's no mistaking when recording is armed; the area around the Record button flashes red in record-ready pause, and it glows steadily during recording. The Record button doubles as an Enter button for selecting menu items. I was pleased that I could begin recording less than 7 seconds after pressing the Power button.

Also on the front panel, the Finder/Menu button allows you to view and select recorded files when playback is stopped. During playback, the Reverb button toggles between Hall 1, Hall 2, Room, Plate, and Off. Pressing the Repeat button specifies a loop start point, and pressing it again specifies the end point; a third press disables the loop. You can also repeat songs individually, in sequential order, or randomly in Shuffle mode.

Plus and minus buttons for controlling input and output levels are on the side panels. You'll want to quickly memorize their locations, as the black-on-black labeling is difficult to read. A glance at the rear panel reveals additional functions; you can enable a low-cut filter and automatic gain control (AGC), specify a mono or stereo external mic, and switch mic gain from low to high.

The R-09 has the clumsiest means of replacing its two AA batteries I've ever seen on any device. After sliding the flimsy bottom panel halfway open (revealing the USB port and SD slot), you need to press and hold a tiny switch to slide it the rest of the way open, and then flip it up to reach the batteries. Closing the panel is almost as awkward. I'd wager that replacing broken bottom panels is the most common R-09 repair.

As of this writing, Roland has just announced the Edirol R-09HR, a model slated to replace the R-09. Among its new features are 96 kHz recording, better mic preamps, a larger OLED display, a built-in speaker, an included wireless remote, variable-speed playback, and a much-improved battery-door design.

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FIG. 2: The Korg MR-1 delivers the highest-quality audio performance of all the recorders in this roundup, and it''s the only one with an internal hard disk.

KORG MR-1

The MR-1 ($699) is the most expensive model surveyed here, but several features make it unique, not the least of which is its variety of recording formats (see Fig. 2). In addition to 16- and 24-bit PCM audio in Broadcast WAV Format (BWF) at rates as high as 192 kHz (twice that of any of the other recorders), it handles 1-bit audio at 2.8 MHz. It also records MP3 files at 192 Kbps and plays MP3s at all bit rates. The MR-1 is the only recorder in this roundup with an internal 20 GB hard disk rather than flash memory.

On the top panel, alongside stereo minijacks for a balanced line output and unbalanced headphones, the MR-1 has two mono balanced mic/line inputs on minijacks rather than the stereo inputs you'll find on the other recorders. Included with the recorder is the CM-2M, a compact external stereo mic made by Audio-Technica, as well as a solid-metal bracket that serves as a tiny mic stand and has threads that attach to a camera tripod. The CM-2M has a split cable with two mono plugs to accommodate the recorder's pair of inputs.

The MR-1's generous graphical LCD shows menus, level meters, file data, and parameter settings. You access the MR-1's user interface with the Menu button and data wheel (called the parameter dial), which are mounted on the side. Turning the wheel scrolls though menu items, and pressing on it selects them. Pressing the Menu button steps backward through the menu hierarchy, just as it does on an Apple iPod. Transport controls are mounted on the front.

The internal hard disk stores tons of data, but at the expense of battery life — typically 2.5 hours or less using the internal rechargeable lithium-ion-polymer battery. To double battery life, Korg includes an external battery pack that houses four AA batteries. The hard disk's presence also means that microphones must be mounted externally, because a spinning drive generates some noise, no matter how minimal.

The MR-1's ability to record and play Direct Stream Digital (DSD) and other 1-bit formats gives it a definite edge. In my experience, nothing sounds as accurate and lifelike. This audio superiority results from several factors, including the unit's high 1-bit sampling rate — 64 times the sampling rate of a standard audio disc. Another has to do with the way A/D converters process PCM audio. Without getting technical, suffice it to say that the MR-1 sounds better than any other recorder in this lineup, making it suitable for archiving important recordings and mixdowns.

For exchanging data between audio formats, the MR-1 is bundled with AudioGate (Mac/Win), an application that converts 1-, 16-, 24-, and 32-bit floating-point audio from any format to any other format (except MP3) supported by the MR-1. Although it isn't a waveform editor, it also allows you to split and join files, change gain, create fades, and perform other tasks.

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FIG. 3: The latest in a long line of portable recorders from Marantz, the PMD620 is quick on the draw and offers the ability to save and name user presets containing setup parameters.

MARANTZ PMD620

Marantz has a long history of making portable recorders for audio professionals and broadcast journalists. In fact, among the six recorders surveyed in EM's October 2005 cover story were two models from Marantz. The company's latest and most diminutive offering yet, the PMD620 ($399) easily fits in one hand, and I never used more than one hand to operate it. It records mono or stereo 16- and 24-bit WAV files at 44.1 and 48 kHz, and mono or stereo MP3 files at selected bit rates.

Like the Edirol R-09, the PMD620 has a small OLED that displays all user settings and file data (see Fig. 3). On the front panel, the Enter button doubles as the Play and Pause button, and it is encircled by a button that rocks in four directions; in addition to controlling the onscreen cursor, it controls fast-forward, rewind, and playback volume. Alongside the Stop/Cancel button are separate buttons for Record and Record/Pause — an unusual design that lets you go into record-ready pause or begin recording immediately. The Skip Back button rewinds playback by whatever increment you specify, from 1 to 60 seconds, every time you press it.

Two buttons that control Record Level are on the right side panel. On the left side are line in and out minijacks and another for the optional RC600PMD wired remote ($89). Two additional minijacks for headphones and an external mic are mounted on top, and two built-in mics are in the upper corners. On the bottom panel are small doors that open to reveal the SD card and USB ports, and a sliding panel in back accommodates two AA batteries. Also in back is a tiny monaural speaker; though it might be handy in some circumstances, I can only describe its sound as remarkably tinny.

Despite a recent firmware upgrade, the PMD620's operating system is by far the least intuitive of the bunch. Simply enabling the unit's Record Level buttons, for example, requires that you hold down the Display/Menu/Store button for 3 seconds, scroll to Preset Menu and press Enter, select a Preset, scroll down nine items to Level Cont., press Fast Forward to switch from ALC (Automatic Level Control) to Manual, and then press Display/Menu/Store again to save your changes. And instead of being able to delete a file immediately after a bad take, you must go into the Utility menu and select it from a list. But for all its design eccentricities, the PMD620 is an outstanding performer. It can go from being turned off to recording in less than 4 seconds — an amazing feat for any recording medium.

Once you understand how the unit works, presets offer its greatest functional advantage. You can store and name three presets on an SD card, each containing settings for 23 parameters. For instance, you could set up a preset to record 24-bit WAV files at 48 kHz using an external stereo mic that relies on plug-in power with -12 dB attenuation. Another preset could specify 128 Kbps MP3 using the internal mic with the low-cut filter engaged, and that recording would pause whenever the level drops below a certain threshold and restart when it exceeds that threshold. A preset can even stipulate the battery type, OLED brightness, onscreen font size, and other seemingly global parameters.

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FIG. 4: M-Audio''s second-generation MicroTrack II has balanced -inch inputs with 48V phantom power, as well as line outputs on RCA jacks and coaxial S/PDIF I/O.

M-AUDIO MICROTRACK II

The MicroTrack II ($299) replaces the Micro-Track 24/96 introduced in late 2005 (see Fig. 4). Like the original, the updated model uses CompactFlash cards and Microdrives for storage (though none are included). In addition to 16- and 24-bit BWF at sampling rates from 44.1 to 96 kHz, it records MP3 at bit rates from 96 to 320 Kbps. It can record mono or stereo in either format. The recorder fits comfortably in and is easily operated with one hand.

Bundled with the MicroTrack II is a T-shaped stereo microphone that plugs into the top panel and has a foam windscreen on each diaphragm. The recorder has better I/O capabilities than any of its pocket-size competitors: along with the usual stereo mic input and headphone output on minijacks, it has two balanced mic/line inputs on ¼-inch TRS jacks, two line outputs on RCA jacks, and coaxial stereo S/PDIF I/O on an RCA jack. The TRS inputs, especially, maximize flexibility while minimizing the need for external adapters. The ¼-inch inputs supply full 48V phantom power, and you can monitor S/PDIF input through the headphone output. The MicroTrack II handles a wider range of signal levels than the MicroTrack 24/96, eliminating the previous model's boost setting and optional -10 dB pad.

You negotiate the menus and file structure with a combination of the Navigation Wheel (which operates like a small lever) and the Menu button. Rock the wheel up or down to move the cursor, press it to select an item, and press Menu to step backward in the menu hierarchy. Rather than knobs for controlling levels, the MicroTrack II has two buttons for recording and another for playback; pressing the button's top end increases the level and pressing the bottom end decreases it. You can specify whether pressing Record puts the recorder into record-ready pause mode or begins recording immediately — a great feature.

The rather large LCD graphically displays plenty of data, and a side-mounted switch lets you adjust the backlight's brightness. Onscreen graphics represent the battery level, output level, and left and right input levels. The meters aren't calibrated in decibels but give you a relative gauge of settings and transient levels. Also displayed are the file name, number of files recorded, record time, and time remaining.

To loop passages during playback, hold down the Menu button for more than 2 seconds to enable looping, then press Menu once to indicate the start point and again for the end point. The analog limiter prevents audio from exceeding -1 dBfs.

Like its predecessor, the MicroTrack II contains a rechargeable lithium-ion battery that can't be replaced by the user. When it eventually wears out, you must return the entire unit to M-Audio for replacement at a cost of $75. The included AC adapter connects to the recorder via a USB cable, and a USB connection also charges the battery.

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FIG. 5: The Olympus LS-10 is slim, lightweight, and versatile, and it contains 2 GB of onboard flash memory. It''s nimble, too—you can power it up and start recording in about 6 seconds.

OLYMPUS LS-10

Although Olympus is most often associated with cameras and binoculars, it manufactures quite a few voice recorders, both digital and microcassette. The LS-10 ($399) offers performance far beyond its dictation-oriented brethren, however, with 24-bit sampling rates as high as 96 kHz and 2 GB of onboard flash memory (see Fig. 5). If you need more storage, its SD slot accommodates cards of any capacity. The LS-10 is the slimmest recorder I've used (though Yamaha's forthcoming Pocketrak 2G will be even slimmer). In addition to recording WAV and MP3 files, it records in Microsoft's Windows Media Audio (WMA) format, and it can store computer data by means of its USB connection.

The LS-10's feature set is quite impressive, with hardware volume knobs, two serviceable built-in speakers, and excellent battery life. The top-mounted mics sound clean and accurate, and you even get foam windscreens that slip tightly over them. The unit is obviously designed for easy one-handed operation and provides a generous LCD to view its hierarchical folders and menu structure. And when it ships, the optional RS30W remote will permit hands-free operation of record and stop functions.

Navigation couldn't be simpler thanks to centrally located cursor buttons surrounding an OK button that also functions as the Play button. As with the Edirol R-09, the area around the Record button flashes red in record-ready pause and glows steadily while recording. Onscreen meters indicate record levels calibrated in decibels, and a Peak LED flashes red when the input overloads. Pressing the dedicated Erase button deletes your most recent recording quickly and conveniently. Two buttons on the lower right, Menu and List, help you navigate the recorder's file, folder, and menu structure. Another button, A-B Repeat, sets the loop start point the first time you press it, sets the end point the second time, and cancels the loop the third time.

The remaining button, labeled Fn, is an assignable function key. It is immensely useful for instantly changing modes and accessing various functions. One of these functions is an unusual feature called Zoom Mic. The idea is that you can change the stereo mic's directivity with an onboard algorithm. The settings are Off, Wide, Standard, Narrow, and Zoom. Although the Wide and Zoom setting did create the illusion of distance, all the settings altered the equalization considerably and sounded more like effects processing than like repositioning the mics.

You can impart a similar effect during playback called Euphony Mobile, which purports to add audible expansiveness. Its settings are Normal (no effect), Natural (expansion), Wide (more expansion), and Power (emphasizing low frequencies). Like Zoom Mic, Euphony sounds more like effects processing than like the sound is emanating from a physically different environment. If you prefer a more traditional sense of space, the LS-10 also offers four reverb presets during playback: Studio, Club, Hall, and Dome. Using Euphony or reverb will lower 24-bit resolution to 16-bit and 96 kHz audio to 48 kHz.

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FIG. 6: Although slightly larger than its competitors, the Sony PCM-D50 offers all the features you''d want in a portable recorder, including 4 GB of onboard memory and 12 hours of 96 kHz record time on a single set of batteries.

SONY PCM-D50

The PCM-D50 ($499) builds on Sony's experience with the outstanding PCM-D1 as well as with previous generations of digital recorders spanning decades. Though it is the largest, heaviest, and seemingly most rugged of all the recorders in this roundup, it still fits in a shirt pocket, if just barely (see Fig. 6). Its size offers advantages such as a generous amber backlit display, ergonomic buttons and knobs, and room inside for four AA batteries, offering a maximum 26 hours for playing MP3 files (it doesn't record MP3s) and 12 hours for recording 24-bit, 96 kHz linear PCM.

One physical feature that distinguishes the PCM-D50 is a pair of mics mounted on the top and protected by a rigid metal framework. They swivel from an angle of 90 to 120 degrees relative to each other, allowing you to shift from typical XY to wide recording positions and everything in between. The unit contains 4 GB of internal flash memory, and you can expand that further with one of Sony's proprietary Memory Sticks, either High-Speed Pro Duo or Pro-HG Duo.

Eleven buttons are on the front panel, with just three switches on the sides for Power, Hold, and DPC (Digital Pitch Control, which allows playback from 75 percent slower than to twice as fast as the original, without changing pitch). In addition to the usual Play, Pause, Fast Forward, Rewind, and Stop are buttons that access the menu and folder hierarchy, toggle the backlight, specify loop points, and divide files into smaller files. Three of the transport buttons serve double duty: when you're navigating onscreen, Play functions as an Enter key, and Fast Forward and Rewind function as Up and Down keys.

The display shows a variety of information, such as battery level, audio levels calibrated in decibels, and length calibrated in hours, minutes, and seconds. Quickly pressing the Menu button reveals the folder structure, and holding it for 1 second reveals a scrollable list of parameters and commands.

Regarding the time it takes to go from power-off to recording, the PCM-D50 is a little slow on the draw, especially when compared with speedy performers like the Marantz PMD620. It makes up for it, though, with its prerecord buffer, a very cool feature that captures audio occurring before you press Record by continually maintaining a 5-second buffer.

The PCM-D50 has one of the most flexible limiters I've seen. The recorder divides its input into two streams, one 12 dB lower than the other. With the limiter engaged, the PCM-D50 automatically begins recording the -12 dB signal whenever the input exceeds 0 dBfs. A menu setting lets you determine the rate at which the recorded signal returns to the higher level — either 150 ms, 1 second, or 1 minute.

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FIG. 7: Designed with musicians in mind, Tascam''s new DR-1 features a chromatic tuner, a metronome, variable playback speed and pitch, a -inch mic input, and the ability to overdub tracks.

TASCAM DR-1

Shipping just in time for inclusion in this article, the DR-1 ($299) takes advantage of Tascam's many years of designing recorders that specifically target musicians. The DR-1 feels solid, contains a user-installable rechargeable battery, and has an amber backlit display as big as the Sony's (see Fig. 7). Although Tascam's recorder is one of the largest in this roundup, it's easy to hold and operate in one hand. It records WAV files at 44.1 or 48 kHz and MP3 files at any standard bit rate. The DR-1 is loaded with thoughtful features, and it even has a chromatic tuner, a fine-tunable A 440 oscillator, and a built-in metronome.

One distinguishing feature is a pair of top-mounted condenser microphones that rotate from pointing upward to pointing toward the recorder's front, making it easy to record yourself or mic a source in front of you with the DR-1 in your shirt pocket. For most recording, though, you'll probably want to leave it lying on its back; it doesn't have a threaded hole for mounting on a stand, and its bottom panel isn't quite flat enough to stand it upright. (The optional $75 AK-DR1 accessory kit includes a mic clip, tripod, and windscreen.) The reason is the unbalanced TS mono mic input mounted on the bottom, making the DR-1 one of only two units in this roundup that accommodate a ¼-inch plug.

On the top panel are two minijacks: one that accommodates a stereo mic input and supplies plug-in power, and another for a line input. The solitary output, another minijack on the right side panel, accommodates headphones and line levels. On the left side, a difficult-to-open door slides open to reveal the SD card (a 1 GB card is included) and USB ports. The DR-1's AC adapter (the $29 PS-P520) is an optional accessory, but you can power the recorder and charge the included lithium-ion battery by connecting its USB port to your computer.

The DR-1's front panel has a relatively large LCD and enough space for ten buttons and a data wheel. Two buttons on the side let you adjust output level, but you get an actual knob for adjusting input level. While recording, you can always see your settings, levels, and timing data at a glance. You maneuver your way though the onscreen text and graphics using a combination of the front panel's Menu, Stop/Home, Play/Pause, Rewind, and Fast Forward buttons and data wheel and the side panel's Setting button. The wheel is also handy for scrolling through audio files and entering values. Dedicated buttons let you enable looping and set start and end points, access functions such as Variable Speed Audition (VSA), and apply effects such as reverb and autopan to the input signal.

The DR-1 borrows technology from the MP-VT1, a vocal and instrument trainer designed to help you learn songs by changing their playback speed and pitch. Like the MP-VT1, the DR-1 can change playback tempo with or without affecting pitch, and pitch without affecting tempo. You can adjust playback speed from -50 to +16 percent and adjust pitch as much as six semitones up or down with 1-cent accuracy. The Part Cancel function reduces the gain of a selected portion of your recording based on where it's panned, allowing you to minimize a vocal part or an instrumental solo from a prerecorded song so you can record your own part.

Another standout function that's unique in this roundup is Overdub. You can record additional audio to an existing stereo track; even if the original file is an MP3, the overdub creates a WAV file containing both parts. A pair of Mix Balance buttons on the side lets you adjust the mix of the old and new recordings. You can overdub as many times as you'd like, creating a new WAV file with each pass.

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FIG. 8: With four built-in mic capsules, a metronome, and a versatile tuner, the Zoom H2''s 360-degree recording and low cost make it unique among its competitors.

ZOOM H2

The H2 ($199) is not only the least expensive recorder in this roundup, but it's also the only one with four mic capsules onboard, offering 4-channel in addition to stereo recording (see Fig. 8). The H2 runs off two AA batteries or the included AC adapter, and like the Tascam, it has a tuner and metronome built right in. It records 16- and 24-bit WAV files at sampling rates up to 96 kHz and MP3 files at bit rates up to 320 Kbps, and stores its data on an SD card (a 512 MB card is included).

The H2 is lightweight and easy to operate with one hand. Its green backlit LCD is as small as the OLED on the Marantz or Edirol recorders, but not quite as sharp. During recording, it displays the input level, elapsed and remaining time, file type, and so on. You maneuver the file and menu hierarchy using seven raised membrane-switch buttons on the front panel. A dedicated button displays the well-organized menu; use the Fast Forward and Rewind buttons to scroll through menus and the Record button to make selections.

Because the H2 has no dedicated record-level knob or buttons, you adjust the input level by selecting one of three Mic Gain switch settings, pressing Record to put the H2 in record-ready standby, and then using Fast Forward and Rewind to raise and lower the level. Pressing Record a second time begins recording. Pressing Play/Pause while recording drops markers, and pressing Record a third time stops recording. A menu selection enables a short prerecord buffer (1 to 2 seconds, depending on sampling rate) — enough to capture the beginning of sounds that might otherwise be missed. To loop playback, you can open an AB Repeat display and set start and end points.

The front mics are fixed at a 90-degree relative angle, and the rear mics are 120 degrees apart. Put them all together for 4-channel recording, and you get a 360-degree pattern. Two of the front-panel buttons scroll through four mic-pattern choices. You can plug an external stereo mic into the Mic In minijack (which offers switchable plug-in power), but if you want 4-channel recording, you'll need to use the internal mics. A separate stereo minijack handles line-level input. The only output is the stereo Phones/Line Out minijack.

When recording 4-channel audio, the H2 creates two stereo WAV files. Although you'll see four level meters in the display, you control input level for all four channels simultaneously. A nifty graphic image in the LCD lets you adjust 4-channel panning using the four buttons encircling Record as cursor keys.

The H2's AGC is paired with a compressor and a limiter; not only does it let you specify thresholds for automatically starting and stopping record mode, but it also furnishes eight presets (Speech, Concert, and so on) that apply to various situations.

Your computer won't recognize the H2 as soon as they're linked. After connecting their USB ports, you must select whether you want to access the contents of the SD card or use the H2 as a USB microphone or audio interface (an unexpected bonus). Only then does the H2 mount on your desktop. After ejecting the H2 from your desktop, you press the Menu button to regain local control.

OBSERVATIONS, CONTRASTS, AND COMPARISONS

I can easily recommend any of the recorders in this roundup. My personal favorites are the Sony PCM-D50 and the Olympus LS-10, but several others come very close. The Sony offers the most well-rounded set of features for audio professionals. It's also the largest and heaviest, but at less than 13 ounces with batteries, it's still lighter than my digital camera. You'll find many of the same features in the Olympus, and it's quite small and light. I really appreciated its on-the-go portability and ease of use; it also offers tremendous bang for the buck.

Although the Korg has by far the best sound quality and the most onboard storage, it costs more than the others. It also has the shortest battery life without an external power supply. The M-Audio is the only one offering balanced inputs, 48V phantom power, and S/PDIF I/O on RCA jacks, but replacing the battery requires returning it to the factory. Nothing captures sounds faster than the Marantz thanks to its speedy startup and recording presets; its user interface takes some getting used to, however, and it tops out at 48 kHz. If you're a musician who wants a compact recorder for learning songs, the Tascam delivers features the others can't touch, but again, 48 kHz is its top sampling rate. The Edirol offers easy one-handed operation and some pro features, but its construction is less than robust. The Zoom is the most cost-effective choice available for recording in surround.

All of the recorders surveyed here have certain features in common, of course. Most have built-in mics, and they all have minijacks and exchange data with your computer via a mini USB port. Each has a menu-driven user interface and lets you quickly access recordings by organizing files into folders. All have switches that prevent you from accidentally turning the power on or off, and they power down after a period of nonuse.

I was surprised at how many approaches different manufacturers have taken to designing pocket-size recorders. Feature sets and user interfaces are quite diverse, and finding the one that suits you best means you should familiarize yourself with several. Each has its niche and its advantages. Nonetheless, I feel confident that at least one of them is exactly what you need.

Before becoming an EM editor, Geary Yelton directed the MIDI production suites at three major Atlanta recording studios. He now resides in Charlotte, North Carolina.

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FIG. A: Yamaha''s new Pocketrak 2G is the smallest recorder yet to offer CD-quality recording, variable-speed playback, and up to 25-hour battery life.

YAMAHA POCKETRAK 2G

Announced but not shipping in time to be evaluated for this article, Yamaha's new Pocketrak 2G ($349) is the slimmest and lightest pro-quality recorder yet — half an inch thick and less than 2 ounces (see Fig. A). Its WAV file recording is strictly CD quality (16-bit, 44.1 kHz), but it also records MP3 files and plays WMA files. Its 2 GB of internal memory can hold more than 3 hours of PCM audio, and the included rechargeable AAA battery delivers as much as 19 hours of MP3 record time. The recorder connects directly to your computer's USB port for transferring audio data and charging the battery. With features such as a tilting stereo mic, a built-in speaker, a retractable USB plug, and variable-speed playback, the Pocketrak 2G offers portability in the extreme.

MANUFACTURER CONTACTS

EDIROL

KORG

MARANTZ

M-AUDIO

OLYMPUS

SONY

TASCAM

YAMAHA

ZOOM