Olympus LS-10 Linear PCM Recorder

A pro audio newcomer enters the crowded handheld digital recorder market with a unique, well-built, and intuitive 96kHz-capable treat.
Author:
Publish date:
Updated on


(click thumbnail)A common complaint of small-yet-capable and menu-laden audio gear is its lack of intuitiveness. In my opinion, this is often a result of the pro audio industry’s common priority to increase the number of features over improving ease-of-use. When it comes to on-the-go “pocket” stereo recorders, I find that ease-of-use is a technological virtue that should be the top of a manufacturer’s list; good (or good enough) audio quality, at least these days, is nearly a given in this segment of the market.

Debuting in an already well-developed handheld digital recorder market, the LS-10 Linear PCM Recorder ($449 list) from Olympus — yes, the camera company — is a breath of fresh air. It comes with some neat features that, to some audio pros, might seem “consumerish,” yet provide increased dexterity in the field. Finally, the LS-10 provides nearly all of the best operational features that most of its pocket-sized competitors offer — and maybe just a little bit more where it really counts … for around $300 street.

Features

The LS-10 is a small (5 1/4 by 2 by 3/4 inches) stereo digital recorder with up to 24-bit/96kHz recording capability. It fits comfortably in the palm of your hand and is easily operable with one hand’s thumb and index finger (whether you are left or right-handed) thanks to its slim frame and logically designed interface. It will actually fit comfortably in your front pockets (unless you’re “emo” or just wear your pants too tight). The LS-10 operates on two AA batteries or 5VDC power via a jack on its bottom. Including batteries, the unit weighs around 5 ounces.

The LS-10 records stereo audio in multiple formats (PCM, WMA, or MP3) and offers 2GB of built-in flash memory. It is equipped with an SD Card slot for additional memory capability and its USB 2.0 connection provides fast transfer to your DAW of choice; a copy of Steinberg Cubase LE 4 is included. At linear PCM format and 24-bit/96kHz resolution, the LS-10 is capable of recording approximately 55 minutes to its built-in memory; at the low end of PCM recording resolution, over 3 hours of audio can be recorded at 16-bit/44.1kHz.
Fast FactsApplications
Live music and speech recording

Key Features
Up to 24-bit/96kHz Linear PCM, MP3, and WMA recording; 2GB built-in flash memory; SD Card slot; stereo microphones; 1/8" Stereo mic input and 1/8" stereo line input; 1/8" output; Reverb and Euphony effects; Zoom Mic setting; remote control jack; stereo 16mm speakers; USB 2.0 connectivity; operates on 2 AA batteries or via DC power connection; package includes Steinberg Cubase LE 4; mic windscreens, a leather/nylon handstrap, 1/8" cable, USB cable, and carrying case

Price
$449 list

Contact
Olympus America | 888-553-4448 | www.olympusamerica.com
A stereo pair of microphones resides atop the LS-10; its cardioid diaphragms are fixed at a 90-degree angle. (Olympus also offers a series of external microphones for the LS-10, including stereo, two-channel, unidirectional, tie-clip, and telephone pickup models.) Between the LS-10’s two mics is a control jack for the RS30W, an optional remote control set. Stereo mic and stereo line inputs via 1/8-inch jack are offered, and outputs include an 1/8-inch output and, usefully, 16mm stereo speakers on the back of the unit. A tripod mount is available between these speakers.

On its face, the LS-10 provides a well-illuminated, easy-to-read LCD control screen and a Peak LED. Buttons include an illuminated Stop and Rec as well as Erase, List, Menu, A-B Repeat and Fn; the latter allows an assignable menu function for jumping between commonly-used functions, thus eliminating several button presses — pretty cool for those of us who are allergic to menus. On the LS-10’s sides, two necessary dials reside: on the right, Volume, and on the left, Rec Level. Three toggles are also placed on the unit’s sides: Hold/Power, Low Cut (off and on), and Mic Sensitivity (low and high).

Within its easy-to-navigate menu, there are several notable recording features — some great, some you may never use. Zoom Mic utilizes DiMAGIC Virtual Microphone (DVM) technology for a directional microphone function; it works only with the LS-10’s internal mics and when set to 16-bit/44.1kHz. Reverb and Euphony settings are also available upon playback; both, if used with 24-bit/96kHz recordings, are converted down to 16-bit/48kHz audio. Reverb offers four environments — Studio, Club, Hall, Dome; Euphony, according to Olympus is “the latest is surround sound systems which combines bandwidth correction, expansion technology, and virtual acoustic source processing technology” — essentially, three EQ settings: Natural, Wide, and Power.

Rounding out the LS-10 package are dual snap-on mic windscreens, a leather/nylon handstrap, 1/8-inch cable, USB cable, and a durable, padded canvas carrying case. Its chassis is a sturdy combination of mainly metal and minimal plastic.

In Use

I used the LS-10 over several months in numerous live music and speech settings: loud rock clubs, loud arena shows, acoustic and amplified music in outdoor amphitheaters, full band rehearsals and writing sessions, spoken word, acoustic and amplified instruments in the studio, in-person interviews, and environmental sounds. I recorded at all settings between 16-bit/44.1kHz and 24-bit/96kHz.

The LS-10’s LCD displayed everything I needed to know: all current numbers; times — remaining and program; resolution; level; mode; recording media; folder and file name; battery level; Euphony and Reverb settings used, if any, and so on.

In most cases, I used the LS-10’s built-in microphones, which I found to sound accurate and quite nice — especially the latter, considering the unit’s street price. In most cases — except when recording environmental sounds and one interview with a particularly soft-spoken individual — Mic Sensitivity stayed on Low, or, “standard level” according to Olympus. Rec Level offered a wide range of gain; I was always able to get an appropriate recording level.

I auditioned all Reverb settings; they were okay, considering there were only four of them; in other words, they didn’t sound strikingly “cheap.” I never kept them, though, as the natural environments always seemed to be fine as-is (and if I really wanted ‘verb, I’d deal with that upon dumping the files to my DAW. For beginning audio hobbyists/music fans without the simplest DAW — like Apple GarageBand, for instance — LS-10 Reverb parameters could be helpful. Euphony was comprised of three interesting equalization settings; per recorded performance was either “that’s okay,” or, most often, “uh, no.” Again, I never transferred any files to my DAW using this setting.

Is the LS-10 easy to use? Absolutely. I barely cracked the manual until I used it for about two months; other than the Fn function, I figured out everything else just by clicking through the menus. At a gig, I handed it to a audience member (that I knew, of course) and gave them a two-minute rundown of how to record, adjust record level, mic sensitivity, and so on. Finally, the LS-10’s stereo speakers were useful to nearly everyone that crossed paths with it — “Got it? Yep!” was quick and easy.

My only problem with the LS-10 was that Rec Level was very hard to see, thus hard to adjust, in a typical, dimly lit club. In full daylight, the numbers on the Rec Level dial aren’t easy to see. On future models, I would suggest a larger number font and, most helpful, a LED backlight for the Rec Level dial; one for the Volume dial wouldn’t hurt, either.

Summary

The Olympus LS-10 would not be best classified as a “location recorder,” a moniker generally reserved for recorders with pro-level microphone input options, which LS-10 does not offer (it has only 1/8-inch input jacks). However, this 24-bit/96kHz capable stereo recorder is an ideal portable recorder. It is solidly built, incredibly easy to use and carry, sounds better than good, and operates on two AA batteries. I would enthusiastically recommend it to anyone who needs a truly pocket-sized, 96k-capable PCM recorder who would be happy with nice sounding, fixed microphones. For this kind of product, such needs are probably that of the majority of potential buyers.


(click thumbnail)Fig. 1 Frequency response at 44.1, 96.0 kHz FsOn The Bench: Olympus LS-10 High Definition Audio Master Recorder

The Olympus LS-10 is one of the newest entries in the ever-increasing field of small solid-state memory recorders. This one having built-in stereo microphones, line and external mic inputs, and a USB connection for offloading recorded files to a computer. There is no digital output for directly playing files into an external device.

Analog input/output measurements were made by inserting signals at the line or external mic inputs and taking signal output at the headphone output jack. Additionally, recorded files were transferred to my measurement computer for subsequent playback. Playback of the transferred files was done with the Foobar2000 audio player application and sent to my Audio Precision System 2722 from the S/PDIF output of a M-Audio Audiophile 24/96 sound card in the measurement computer. As a test of this playback setup, playing back Audio Precision made wave files of 24 bit data indicated near 24 bit resolution with distortion Plus noise magnitudes of about –139 dBFS


(click thumbnail)Fig. 2 THD+N as a function of frequency at 44.1 kHz Fs and measurement bandwidth. Red = 22 kHz, Magenta = 80 kHzFrequency response for the sampling frequencies of 44.1 & 96.0 kHz using the line inputs is shown plotted in Figure 1. The frequency range is down to 10 kHz and is linear to best show the high frequency rolloff shape. Including frequencies down to 10 Hz reveals a low frequency rolloff of 1 dB at 44.1 kHz Fs, and 2.8 dB at 96.0 kHz Fs. Microphone low end response seemed to be down 3 dB at about 80 Hz. With the low cut filter switched in, the 3 dB down point was about 400 Hz.

Square wave response didn’t have the usual symmetrical shape of FIR low pass filtering. Instead, it had asymmetrical ringing suggesting IIR type non-linear phase filtering

Total harmonic distortion plus noise in both a 22 kHz and 80 kHz measuring bandwidth as a function of signal frequency is plotted in Figure 2 for a sampling frequency of 44.1 kHz. As can be seen, increasing the measurement bandwidth to 80 kHz reveals that there are some out of band artifacts that do increase the THD+N within the audio bandwidth. The same measurement done at a sampling frequency of 96.0 kHz is shown in Figure 3. Results were similar for transferred and played back files – in effect, a measurement of the A/D converter. Since the amount of distortion is about 0.02% before it rises with frequency, it would appear that the distortion level is mostly generated in the A/D converter. This was confirmed by a measurement of known low distortion 24 bit Audio Precision generated wave files transferred to the LS-10 and then played back on the LS-10. Measuring its D/A converter in this manner revealed a THD+N of about 0.005%

(click thumbnail)Fig. 3 THD+N as a function of frequency at 90.0 kHz Fs and measurement bandwidth. Red = 22 kHz, Magenta = 80 kHz
How THD+N for a 1 kHz test signal varies with decreasing input level is shown in Figure 4. The results were the same for both 44.1 & 96.0 sampling frequencies.

Input/output linearity was quite good down to about -100 dBFS both sampling frequencies and deteriorated below that input level. This is plotted in Figure 5. Data is shown for both channels and at both sampling frequencies.

Channel separation was found to be independent of sampling frequency and, unusually, of testing direction. Channel separation is plotted in Figure 6 for testing directions.

BENCH MEASUREMENT DATA

[ANALOG/ANALOG I/O]


(click thumbnail)Fig. 4 THD+N as a function of signal level down from full scale for a 1 kHz test tone.Headphone Output Level
At 0 dBFS digital record level, just shy of onset of digital clipping, playback volume at maximum

High impedance loading 0.754V,-0.2 dBu
Loaded with 50 ohm0.450V, 4.0 mW,-4.7 dBu

Input/Output Polarity
Line, mic, and recorded filesnon-inverting

Input Sensitivity
Line level input, for 0 dBFS record level, record volume control at maximum

44.1 kHz Fs764 mV, -0.1 dBu
96.0 kHz Fs756 mV, -0.2 dBu


(click thumbnail)Fig. 5 Deviation from linearity of a 1 kHz test signal for both channels at a sampling frequency of 44.1 and 96.0 kHz. Red/Blue = Lch/Rch at 44.1 kHz Fs, Magenta/Cyan = Lch/Rch at 96.0 kHz Fs.External mic input, for 0 dBFS record level record volume control at maximum

Mic Sensitivity switch at low

44.1 kHz Fs13.6 mV, -35.1 dBu
96.0 kHz Fs13.3 mV, -35.3 dBu

Mic Sensitivity switch at high

44.1 kHz Fs1.34 mV, -55.2 dBu
96.0 kHz Fs1.32 mV, -55.4 dBu

Input Impedance
Line Inputs61.0 K
External mic inputs1.7 K

Output Impedance
At Headphone Outputs34.0 ohm

Frequency Response

44.1 kHz Fs+0.12, -0.3 dB 20 Hz – 19.7 kHz
-3.0 dB @ < 10 Hz, 21.8 kHz

(click thumbnail)Fig. 6 Channel separation vs. frequency in L > R direction, Red, and R > L, Magenta
96.0 kHz Fs+ 0.0, -0.8 dB 20 Hz – 38.0 kHz
-3.0 dB < 10 Hz, 47.0 kHz

Total Harmonic Distortion
22 kHz measurement filter

44.1 kHz Fs < 0.025%, 20 Hz – 10 kHz
< 0.07%, 10 - 20 kHz

96.0 kHz Fs< 0.02%, 20 Hz – 20 kHz

80 kHz measurement filter

44.1 kHz Fs< 0.025%, 20 Hz – 300 Hz
< 0.7% 300 Hz – 20 kHz

96.0 kHz Fs< 0.02%, 20 Hz – 1 kHz
< 0.08%, 1 kHz – 20 kHz

Linearity Error
44.1, 96.0 kHz Fs+/- 1.0 dB 0 to -100 dBFS
< +6.0 dB @ -110 dBFS

Signal to Noise Ratio
44.1, 96.0 kHz Fs

Line inputs

Wideband54.0 dB
A weighted89.5 dB

External Mic inputs

Low sensitivity

Wideband53.7 dB
A weighted81.0 dB

High sensitivity

Wideband49.5 dB
A weighted60.0 dB

Dynamic Range
44.1, 96.0 kHz89.0 dB

Quantization Noise
44.1, 96.0 kHz Fs-84.0 dBFS

Channel Separation
44.1, 96.0 kHz Fs

Ch1 > Ch2, Ch2 > Ch 1> 79 dB 20 Hz – 1 kHz
> 55 dB @ 20 kHz

[ANALOG/DIGITAL I/O]

Frequency Response
44.1 kHz Fs+0.12, -0.3 dB 20 Hz – 19.7 kHz
-3.0 dB @ < 10 Hz, 21.8 kHz

96.0 kHz Fs+ 0.0, -0.8 dB 20 Hz – 38.0 kHz
-3.0 dB < 10 Hz, 47.0 kHz

Total Harmonic Distortion + Noise
44.1 kHz Fs,
Measurement BW Fs/2< 0.03% 20 Hz – 20 kHz

96.0 kHz Fs,
Measurement BW Fs/2< 0.02% 20 Hz– 1 kHz
< 0.08% 1 kHz – 20 kHz

Measurement
BW 20 kHz< 0.02% 20 Hz – 20 kHz

Linearity Error
44.1, 96.0 kHz Fs+/- 1.0 dB 0 to -100 dBFS
< +6.0 dB @ -110 dBFS

Signal to Noise Ratio
Line level inputs

44.1 kHz Fs

Fs/286.8 dB
A weighted90.0 dB

96.0 kHz Fs

Fs/280.7 dB
A weighted89.8 dB

Dynamic Range
44.1, 96.0 kHz Fs90.5 dB

Quantization Noise
44.1, 96.0 kHz Fs-87.5 dBFS

Channel Separation
44.1, 96.0 kHz Fs

Ch 1 > 2, Ch 2 > 1> 80 dB 20 Hz – 1 kHz
> 55 dB @ 20 kHz

Note: measurements were made at sample rates and bit densities of 44.1/16 and 96.0/24 kHz. Record and playback levels were set to maximum. Measurements made using line inputs unless otherwise noted.

— Bascom H. King