(click thumbnail)Fast FactsApplications: Field, studio, live sound
Key Features: Four track recording and editing to internal 40GB hard drive or CompactFlash card; Stereo playback; USB 2.0 file transfers.
Contact: Edirol at 360-594-4273 or www.edirol.com.You can't have enough tracks, inputs or hard disk storage. It's the inescapable Law of Stuff. Edirol, as a business entity connected to Roland, knows a lot about disk recording. With the R-4, Edirol has created a box smaller than a George Forman grill that runs on eight AA batteries or AC power and records up to four tracks at a time, has two built-in mics and two built-in speakers.
The R-4 ($1,595) is a neat recording appliance with a few limitations. Even though there are four tracks, you can't do overdubs. Enabling tracks requires a trip to the System Menu. The built-in mics aren't really suited for quality recording and the built-in speakers don't have enough power to be heard in a moderately noisy environment. Using the S/PDIF input means you can only record two tracks.
Record mode is chosen in the system setup and allows for up to four analog, stereo internal mics or S/PDIF inputs. Sample rates of 44.1 kHz, 48 kHz or 96 kHz at 16-bit or 24-bit are supported. A RAM buffer allows the setting of prerecord. The number of seconds declines as you increase tracks, sample rate and bit depth. Within the record setup menu you can also name a project and select from many different record modes – mono, stereo, multitrack. My Pro Tools LE system had no problem recognizing a four-track file. After being imported, the file came up as a four track LCRS file that I easily pulled to the timeline.
Audio is stored as WAV or BWF files on the internal 40 GB hard drive or insertable CompactFlash cards. The USB 2.0 port, readable by both PCs and Macs, allows for bidirectional moving of WAV files. File size is limited to 2 GB, but the manual notes that upon exceeding the WAV file format's 2 GB limit, the R-4 will close that file, open another and continue recording on the fly.
Per the manual, "The R-4 is not able to synchronize to the clock signal of the digital input connector... The incoming digital audio data will be converted to the sampling frequency and sample size (bit rate) that are specified in Recording Setup." Dueling sample and bit rates can cause havoc. I fed the 24-bit, 44.1 kHz audio from my Aphex 1100 preamp, set the R-4 for 24/96 and hit record. No problem. So there must be some realtime conversion going on.
But I digress. Let's look at the controls and features. On its right side, the R-4 has four combo XLR and 1/4-inch (TRS and TS) inputs that accept mic, line or instrument level. The inputs are ganged in pairs. Inputs one and two can be either mic or line. The same for three and four. Phantom power is applied the same way. A 3:1 limiter can be inserted in the analog stage to keep each channel's A/D converters from clipping. The output is stereo unbalanced.
The front panel includes a nicely lit LCD display, standard transport controls, four rotary input gain controls and a monitor/headphone volume control. The left panel sports the S/PDIF RCA jacks, 2.5 mm L-connector (LANC), USB 2.0 port, DC power in, memory card slot and 1/4-inch headphone jack. On top are the power switch, a Hold switch to disable the controls, phantom power and input limiter switches, and buttons for editing, effects, system navigation and a shuttle/scrub wheel. If you have used any of the Roland workstations, you'll be right at home. On the bottom of the R-4 is a cover for the battery compartment. The R-4 requires 8 AA cells; preferably NiMH or alkalines. The R-4 is fairly hungry. The manual says to expect two hours of recording in 16-bit, 44.1 kHz stereo with phantom power off.
Built-in effects include three-band EQ with parametric mid frequency, Octave graphic EQ between 125 Hz and 4 kHz, noise gate, compressor/de-esser and phase-based enhancer. Each effect has a gain control at its output. You record with effects. Effects can be inserted individually for each of the four tracks, in two stereo pairs or across all four tracks. Only one type of effect can be used at a time for each track. Effects are not available in 96 kHz mode. An internal mixer allows gain adjustment of each track and allows each track to be sent to the left, right or both outputs. Panning is not supported.
If you're used to arming tracks and hitting the record button, you'll have to think a bit differently. No three track recording, or if you need just three tracks, you have to record four and ignore one. [Edirol replies: This is only true at 96kHz, not at lower sample rates.] If you use the S/PDIF input you cannot record the other two tracks. The same is true for the internal mics.
I showed up at a local club for their singer/songwriter open mic night and took direct outs from the console to the R-4. I used the AC power adapter rather than pony up for eight AA batteries. I only needed two tracks for each act. With one act, however, the performer switched from piano and vocal mic to another vocal mic and direct input for acoustic guitar. I had to do a quick switch in the dark to get the right direct outs from the mixer into Tracks 1 and 2 on the R-4, which I had selected as the record tracks.
Recording seven acts, each doing a 15-minute set went pretty flawlessly. I used the onboard limiter as a safety net and although there isn't a light to indicate the audio has crossed the threshold, I'm pretty sure it did, but the sound didn't suffer much for it. If I get clearance from some of the musicians, I'll post a few short files in my online archive at www.tyford.com. The R-4 preamps and converters are pretty nice sounding.
I thought the R-4 might be the perfect box to record a four-channel brainstorm music session and set one up in the studio with two mics and two acoustic guitars with onboard pickups. I had buzz problems with both acoustic guitars that just would not go away regardless of direct boxes or anything else I did. To be fair, these guitars usually buzz a little so I usually mic them in the studio. My humbuckered Telecaster worked fine.
The Finder button on the top surface allows to access the file system and edit, load, delete, rename, copy or move a file and make as well as name new folders. Editing on the R-4 is an acquired taste. I much prefer to do my editing in Pro Tools, but you can trim, divide, combine and merge files, all of which are done nondestructively. After trying some simple edits, I tried to reclaim some HD space by using the Check feature. I'm not certain if it was that or perhaps an unexpected disconnect of the USB cable or renaming the files across the USB cable from my Mac, but when I went back later to continue work, four of the fourteen files were no longer there. So PAY ATTENTION to the note in the manual about backing files up before reclaiming space.
The R-4 LANC option works great with my Canon XL2 camcorder and FireStore FS-4 Pro portable hard drive. After connecting the FS-4 Pro to the Canon XL2 via FireWire and the R-4 to the XL2 with a 2.5 mm, male-to-male TRS cable, the R-4 jumped into record every time the camera did. Sweet. With the two channels on the XL2 and another four on the R-4 I can have six audio tracks. I hit record and let it ride for over five minutes to check sync. Then I Imported the FS-4 Pro file, recorded as 16-bit, 44.1 kHz audio and 24P Quicktime video, and the R-4 24/96 WAV file to my Mac desktop. I opened a Pro Tools LE session and imported both files. The files had slightly different start times, so I had to time align them manually. After more than five minutes, they were still in sync.
The biggest problem I see with all of the new higher sample rate and big storage technologies is that they eat a lot of electricity. Now it's time to reinvent the battery or make chips that do what they do now but use less juice. Having four channels and 40GB of hard drive memory with a CompactFlash slot offers more than any DAT machine ever offered. The lack of timecode will probably keep this unit off the carts of the big time location audio folks [Edirol notes an R-4Pro with timecode has been announced], but the LANC connection makes the R-4 useful in a lot of other audio-for-video projects. The R-4 is a great scratch pad for the singer songwriter because the onboard mics can catch the moment and with better mics the tracks are high enough in quality to be used in "real" music production. Although you could, you probably wouldn't want to make your next music CD on the R-4 unless you only needed four tracks and didn't need overdubs. Four tracks means you can begin assembling that ambient surround sound library you've been meaning to do.