FIG. 1: The R-09HR''s front panel sports a large OLED display and controls for adjusting playback speed, enabling reverb, and splitting files on the fly. Transport controls also execute menu and file-navigation functions.
Pocket-size digital recorders have been around for a couple of years now, but the latest offerings deliver bigger bang for the buck. Memory capacities and feature sets are expanding, while interfaces have taken a cue from computer-based GUIs to become increasingly user friendly. What's more, prices for portable digital recorders are generally headed south.
The Edirol R-09HR stereo recorder is a shining example of this trend toward mega feature sets at modest prices. This new model replaces the earlier R-09 (see the February 2007 and June 2008 issues of EM, available at emusician.com). One of only a handful of similar products that feature a built-in speaker, the R-09HR provides an integral stereo (omnidirectional) condenser mic, external mic and line inputs, signal processing, a large OLED display, and a well-designed file directory (see Fig. 1). It's also the only product in its price class to offer a wireless remote control.
The Going Rate
The R-09HR can record 16- and 24-bit WAV files at standard sampling rates from 44.1 to 96 kHz, and MP3 files from 64 to 320 Kbps bit rates (see more product specs on the EM Web site). Playback capabilities are the same as those for recording, but in addition to 32-bit WAV files, it can also play 32 Kbps and VBR (variable bit rate) MP3s. The included 512 MB Secure Digital (SD) memory card allows between 13 and 980 minutes of stereo recording time, depending on the file format chosen. The audio file format has a write-protect feature that prevents accidental erasure of important files. Higher-capacity memory cards — up to 32 GB — allow proportionally greater record times.
The R-09HR can be powered by two standard AA alkaline or rechargeable AA nickel-metal hydride (NiMH) batteries (neither type is supplied). Edirol says a fresh pair of NiMH batteries will allow 8 hours or more of continuous recording time using the R-09HR's internal microphone. An AC adapter is also included (see the online bonus material “Extra Goodies” for more about the R-09HR's included and optional accessories).
The internal mic sports two capsules that point outward in opposite directions on the head of the R-09HR's chassis. On the unit's front panel, transport buttons also serve as controls for navigating the recorder's user-friendly Finder file directory (see the online bonus material “Show and Tell”). In addition to the transport buttons, hardware-based controls include those for setting input and output levels, activating a low-cut filter (set in software to a 100, 200, or 400 Hz corner frequency), and enabling either a limiter or AGC (automatic gain control) function (see Fig. 2). The limiter prevents accidental overload while recording, whereas the AGC function prevents levels from getting either too high or too low.
FIG. 2: On its rear panel, the R-09HR provides a built-in speaker, a mic sensitivity switch, a battery compartment, and controls that activate a low-cut filter, 5V plug-in power, a hold function, and a user-selectable limiter or AGC.
When activated during recording, a Hold switch locks out most recorder functions to prevent you from accidentally changing levels or stopping. With the push of a button, you can split audio files on the fly while recording, creating two or more files. This is a great feature for, say, recording a concert and creating a separate file for each song without having to start and stop. You can also loop a section of a file and increase or decrease playback speed without changing pitch, to facilitate learning a recorded guitar solo or transcribe dictated notes, for instance.
Another switch activates 5V plug-in power for the optional CS-15 external miniature condenser mic ($109). The R-09HR has three 3.5 mm minijacks for mic and line input and headphone output. A somewhat flimsy plastic hatch opens to allow access to a memory card slot and a USB port (for transferring files to and from a computer). A USB cable is supplied with the R-09HR.
Four types of reverb (one room, one plate, and two hall programs) are singularly available during playback at supported sampling rates below 88.2 kHz. You can't record the reverb or hear it while monitoring your recording, and depth is the only reverb parameter you can adjust.
In the Pocket
It takes about 11 seconds to put the R-09HR into record mode from a powered-down state. In all the recordings I made with it, the sound quality was surprisingly detailed and spectrally balanced, especially considering the microphone design limitations that must have gone into a product with such a low price point. On acoustic guitar, aiming the head of the recorder so that the omni capsules were near the 12th fret yielded a detailed and full-bodied sound.
I also recorded the natural ambience outside my studio, where a light wind was blowing through tall pine trees. The R-09HR provided plenty of input gain to record this quiet soundscape at full scale. The mics weren't as sensitive to turbulence as some other condensers I've used, but the low-cut filter — set to 200 Hz — nevertheless came in handy in all but preventing rumble from the wind. That said, I would recommend fitting the mic capsules with urethane-foam windscreens when recording in the field. Characters on the R-09HR's OLED display — when adjusted to maximum brightness — were visible even in direct sunlight.
While recording, I could monitor my input source with headphones. However, the recorder's inherent 6 ms latency was distracting when recording an instrument in the same room, especially when I was the performer. Output levels at full bore were adequate for monitoring a quiet acoustic performance in the same room using my AKG K271 Studio headphones. But it was clear the headphone output wouldn't be loud enough for confidence monitoring anything substantially louder, such as a rock band, in close proximity.
I loved being able to hear my files play back through the R-09HR's rear-panel speaker, which precluded the need to use headphones for listening to recordings of my songwriting ideas. I could also navigate to a folder for a given song's files and then record a new file directly into that folder — obviating the need to move it there from the Finder's root level after recording. Renaming files and folders was also really fast and easy.
The AGC function worked great for recording song ideas on the go without the hassle of setting optimal levels. The recorder's loop-playback function worked like a charm and was a great boon to transcribing my dictated review notes for this article. However, changing a file's playback speed produced distracting slapback echoes, making that feature only marginally useful.
Quibbles and Kudos
The OS 1.03 software that was installed on my review unit was a bit buggy, causing arbitrary power-downs during playback on several occasions, preventing a split file from being directly accessed, and even making the recorder's functions freeze up one time. Edirol assures me that the OS 1.04 software (which was released too close to press time for me to test) fixes all those problems. Additionally, I wish the R-09HR had balanced XLR or TRS jacks for its mic and line inputs, but the unit's small form factor and modest price point probably made that infeasible.
The R-09HR offers a lot for the money. Many similar products have a leaner feature set yet cost more. Whether you need a high-fidelity recorder to record your band's concerts or capture nature's finer moments, or a low-fidelity memo pad for recording songwriting ideas or a meeting with an entertainment lawyer, the R-09HR is a solid choice.
EM contributing editor Michael Cooper has written more than 300 articles about pro audio in the past 20 years. Visit him atmyspace.com/michaelcooperrecording.