Controlling my enthusiasm for the MR-1000 is difficult; it sounded like a real dream product when I first heard about it. Later, when I finally heard this little beauty, it certainly did not disappoint.
(click thumbnail)Weighing in at only 2.2 pounds and slightly smaller than a cigar box, this $1,199 1-bit handheld made me flash back 40-plus years when I used to schlep an Ampex 350-2 “portable recorder” to location recording gigs. The 350-2’s transport alone weighed some 70 pounds, with the electronics and power supply weighing another 50 pounds. At 15 ips with 10 1/2-inch reels, you could get almost 32 minutes of recording time, and — if you were lucky enough not to have the head azimuth move during transit — you could get high frequency response out to almost 15 kHz (sorry, almost 15,000 cps).
The MR-1000, meanwhile, records to an internal 40 GB hard drive, which relates to more than 14 hours of wonderful 64 fs DSD or 60 hours of 44.1-kHz/16-bit, and will run about four hours on eight AA cells. Its line lump-type small-switching PSU puts out 12 volt DC, and it works with 100 – 240 volt AC sources.
The MR-1000 has all the basic features you really need without any bells and whistles. Formats supported with the MR-1000 are DSD at 64 fs or 2.8 MHz (same as SACD), and 128 fs or 5.6 MHz! DSD can be printed and saved as DSDIFF, DSF or WSD files, which should cover any downstream application. If you must, PCM is also supported from 44.1 or 48 kHz at 16/24-bit; also 88.2, 96, 176.4 and 192 kHz at 24-bit.
Inputs consist of two balanced mic inputs on XLRs with a phantom power switch, line level inputs on the 1/4-inch TRS accompanied by a high/low gain range switch, and a pair of balanced XLR and unbalanced RCA outputs. USB 2.0 is the only way to move digital files to and from the MR-1000, which works just fine.
There has been some blog noise out there complaining about no digital inputs and outputs, these whiners miss the whole point of the MR-1000, as there are plenty of portable PCM recorders with digital I/Os — none, of course, record to the DSD format.
The MR-1000 could not be more straightforward and easy to use; I love products that you can relate to out of the box without the cracking the manual. A dual concentric L/R record level and a stereo headphone level control are the only analog controls on the front panel.
Its familiar tape transport controls really appeal to an old fart like me: Play/Pause, Stop, Record, Standby/On Fast Forward and Rewind. When you press Standby/On, the machine turns on and is ready for action in about three seconds. Once the MR-1000 is powered up, pressing the REC button arms the record function, then just press PLAY. Each subsequent press of REC drops a marker in the file, very nice, especially in the heat of battle. Pressing STOP and then REC, meanwhile, “ups” a separate Take number.
A Menu/Esc button switches between the menu screen and the meter screen, while the P-dial (rotary encoder/button) allows you to select parameters and set values by turning and pushing. It couldn’t be easier.
Location recording; studio; project studio; mastering
4DSD recorder with two balanced XLR mic inputs and internal 40 GB HD; phantom power; TRS quarter-inch line level inputs; high/low gain range switch; stereo balanced XLR and stereo unbalanced RCA outputs. USB 2.0 port; bundled AudioGate conversion software
Korg | 631-390-6500 | www.korg.comMy first live recording with the MR-1000 was with some frog friends in wetlands near Eastern, NC. When these frogs get singing they can really rock; one starts the groove, then others chime in and evolve some truly amazing rhythms and counter rhythms. I set up a pair of Shure KSM44 condensers on a stereo bar, having the MR-1000 hanging on the mic stand with only about 2 feet of mic cable. I have recorded these frogs many times before on different PCM recorders, so they are a good reference, offering rich harmonic structure, lots of depth and localization cues.
After setting levels and mic positioning using Grado headphones (the MR-1000 has a really nice sounding headphone amp, as well) I let the recording go while I listened.
After about an hour, I brought the one-hand(!) recording rig back into my studio for a listen through a reference system consisting of a Meitner Switchman MkII feeding a pair of SLS PS8R powered monitors. Compared to earlier PCM recordings, the DSD rendering with the MR-1000 was simply closer to what it sounded like sitting on the lawn listening to these frogs sing; everything was relaxed and natural with no edge whatsoever.
After listening for a while, I transferred the DSDIFF file from the USB port of the Korg to PC and imported the files into Sonoma, the premier DSD recording/editing system (the Sonoma PCI card is optically interfaced with the Meitner DAC-8 DA converter). With this rig, the frogs took on a whole new perspective, with even more depth and a wider soundstage — almost indistinguishable from the sound I heard on location. What this told me is that the MR-1000 had even greater capabilities on its record, or A to D, side than is did on the playback, or D to A, side — way better than the other way around.
Next, I recorded a local bluegrass band, this time with the new Joseph Grado stereo microphone. Wow, what a combination (more on this great new microphone in an upcoming review).
Also bundled with the MR-1000 was a conversion software package called AudioGate, which can convert 1-bit recordings into WAV or AIFF formats at various bit-rates. I used AudioGate to convert from 64 fs DSDIFF to 24-bit/44.1-kHz WAV, and it worked very well, losing only what you might expect to lose going from DSD to PCM at this bit rate. AudioGate also had the ability to change gain, fade in and out and remove DC offset.
Ever since the introduction of DSD I have been wholeheartedly sold on the format. To me, it is more honest than analog or PCM digital. If I had to describe well-done DSD it would be like analog without all the classic analog problems, be they tape- or disc-based.
What Korg is trying to market here is future-proof digital recording that is not tied to bit-rate or word depth. When Sony and Philips started work on DSD back in the early ‘90s, one of the main goals was to develop the ultimate archival format, one that had the storage capability that would not compromise any previous recording format. In my humble opinion, they succeeded.
Though archival is important, the future of high-quality recording is at least equally significant. Granted, we basically live in a world of data-compressed music consumption, but I feel quality will ultimately become more important to the real music lovers once they are exposed to it. I congratulate Korg for not following the pack and addressing a forward-thinking format, while putting it in a very nice little package.