(click thumbnail)Fast FactsApplications: Field, broadcast, studio
Key Features: Compact Flash media format; 16-bit, 24-bit; 44.1 kHz, 48 kHz sample rates; USB port; battery operable
Contact: Edirol at 800-380-2580, www.edirol.com.
+ Good sound for $399
+ Pocket-sized & only 6 oz. loaded
+ Excellent user interface
+ Beautiful visual display
+ Great battery life on twoo "AA" alkaline batteries
+ Reliable software
+ Useful hardware switches for key operations
- Poorly designed cover door for battery, SD card & USB connector
- Fragile plastic case
- No S/PDIF input
Maybe a bit flimsy but overall a handy tool for capturing sounds in the field. Over the past year, the floodgates have opened with new audio recorders using Flash memory for file-based storage. Yet, with all the new choices, there remains the difficulty of matching the right model with the application.
Unfortunately, perspective buyers cannot count on the marketing material and spec sheets for the whole story. As with many new technologies, users often must wade through a thicket of "gotchas" discovered only after the purchase.
A Flash recorder can look great on paper, but have buggy software and a complex, unfriendly user interface. For portables, there are important issues like battery configuration, connectors, weight, and the visibility of the metering display. Finding the right recorder usually involves a very personal search — one dictated not only by cost, but the user's skill level and application. It's very important to know where you fit in the food chain.
I desire a simple-to-operate recorder for interviews, live music, and other general purpose location sound. For most of this year, I have used Sony's excellent PCM-D1 — a recorder that combines remarkable sonic capabilities with absolute simplicity of operation and record-solid, reliable software.
Though expensive and a bit heavy, I feel entirely comfortable with the D1. However, because of its size and weight, I don't carry it everywhere. I have been searching for a much smaller, lighter recorder that I can keep in my day bag with a pocket camera for unexpected opportunities.
Now, a new pocket-sized, six ounce portable has emerged from Roland's Edirol division that — though not perfect by any means — is serving my requirements for a take-everywhere field recorder.
The new Edirol R-09, priced at a very attractive $399 street price, records files in uncompressed linear WAV and MP3 bit rates up to 320 kbps. The sampling rates are 44.1kHz and 48 kHz. The bit depth for WAV recording is either 16 or 24.
The R-09 runs on a pair of standard alkaline (or rechargeable) AA batteries for about four hours. It records to a standard SD Flash card with up to 2GB capacity. I say 'standard' because the new very high-speed SD cards for photography can cause problems in audio recorders. I used the Sandisk Ultra II 2GB card with excellent results. [Edirol recommends using only Type I Flash media for reliable performance – Ed.]
Since I work alone, I want simplicity, reliability and intuitive operation in a portable recorder. The Edirol R-09 delivers on all three counts. The 128 x 64 dot graphic display is a marvel, one of the best and easiest to read displays I've ever seen on such a small device.
The software is a no-brainer to navigate and configure. No manual is needed — to me the ultimate test of whether a user interface is well designed. And, best of all, is works. With the pre-installed version 1.03 firmware on the recorder I purchased, there has not been a single glitch during many hours of use with several Flash cards.
Since the device creates no background noise, the built-in stereo mics sound quite good for non-critical, utility recording. However, the R-09 has separate mic and line inputs, both through stereo mini jacks. The mic input has a switchable mode for Plug-in Power, the 3.3V consumer standard.
Also convenient are the hard on-off switches (as opposed to menu options) for AGC, low-cut filter, and stereo or mono mic modes. There's also a low-high mic gain switch. All are located on the back of the recorder.
There's no S/PDIF input, but the mini headphone jack doubles as an optical S/PDIF output. There's also a USB 2.0 connector that allows the recorder to mount like a hard drive on a Macintosh or PC. File transfer is easy.
Though I think the R-09 is a remarkable product, a reality check is needed. This is NOT a professional audiophile field recorder, though many pros will use it and their results may be exceptional.
It's clear that to meet an under $400 price point for the product, Edirol took some significant design shortcuts. The most obvious is the cheap plastic case, and the door that covers the batteries, SD card and USB connector. To say the door is badly designed is an understatement!
A short drop to a concrete floor would almost certainly total an R-09. It's that flimsy. The battery door is so fragile, Edirol includes a warning insert to new users. Opening this Rube Goldberg contraption requires multiple steps, a very gentle touch, and some practice. How long before it breaks is anybody's guess.
Instead of including a largely useless digital reverb feature on this recorder, I wish Edirol had put the resources into a more rugged case suitable for frequent field use.
If you don't drop it and treat it with kid gloves, the Edirol R-09 can be a revolutionary new tool. It may very well be the best low-cost, featherweight portable WAV audio recorder now available. Think of it as a consumer audio recorder capable of professional results.