The mobile recording space keeps rolling along. Alesis is the latest company to try to turn the iPod into a usable digital recorder. With up to 160 GB of storage, the fact that the iPod is a mobile hard drive you may already own certainly has some appeal. But what about quality?

The Alesis ProTrack attempts to bridge that input divide with internal mics and XLR inputs:

  • XY pattern stereo condenser mics (they look a lot like the mics on the Zoom H4)
  • XLR and 1/4″ inputs (line/mic) with 48V phantom power
  • 1/4″ stereo output, making this interesting as a playback device, too
  • LEDs onboard (nice!), limiter
  • Tripod mount, universal iPod dock

Recording is limited to 16-bit, 44.1kHz; the lack of 48kHz means a big downside for anyone doing video production. Our friend and roving podcaster / NPR reporter Brad Linder has the full story on his blog:
Alesis ProTrack turns your iPod into a pro audio recorder [Brad Linder’s blog]

This does look quite like the Belkin Podcast Studio. I’m not totally sold on Alesis’ quality control of late, but I’m more sold on them than on Belkin, so we’ll see.

Edirol R-09 with more storage

If there’s one mobile recorder to rule them all, it may be Edirol’s trusty R-09. The big news there: support for bigger storage, in the form of firmware updates for the R-09 and new, higher-quality R-09HR. The updates add support for Secure Digital High Capacity (SDHC) cards, for up to 32GB in storage. The 32GB drives are still mighty pricey, but 16GB isn’t a bad sweet spot.

I hadn’t actually paid attention to the HR model, but it has some nice extras: dedicated analog input control, low-cut filter, limiter/AGC (Auto Gain Control), gain boost, and even a remote.

R-09 HR Product Page [Roland/Edirol]

The Edirol has only an 1/8″ mic jack, but I know people who’ve been very happy with it. It may not work as a primary recorder — for that you may be willing to sacrifice something bigger and pricier. But for quick and dirty jobs and internal mic use, it does look quite nice. I sometimes think I should’ve gotten it instead of the Zoom H4 I bought, but I’ll just save up for a real mic pre for the Zoom and go home happy.

Review: Tascam DR-1

The last bit of news from Brad: a quick review of Tascam’s entry to the increasingly-overcrowded handheld recorder market. Brad writes us:

Seems like a decent, but not great device for recording music and interviews. A friend of mine took one for a spin for a little while and ultimately decided to return it and get an Marantz PMD660. I’ve heard good things about the Olympus LS-10 though, and I might pick one up myself eventually as a backup for my trusty Sony PCM-D50.

Got all those models straight, kids?

The DR-1 does have a 1/4″ jack, though no XLR. Downsides: preamps sound a little disappointing (weak levels), there’s no real mono recording, and, well, a lot of competition. Here’s Brad’s review with sound samples:

A short review of the Tascam DR-1 [Brad Linder’s blog]

  • synthetic

    I haven't used that EV mic, but the DR-1 mic ins have a lot of headroom when I've used it. It's nice for recording rehearsals and concerts, especially with the analog peak limiter. I use mine all the time.

  • I'm looking at this thing, and I'm looking at my Zoom H4, and I'm wondering, what's the advantage of the Alesis? Similar looking mics up top, XLR inputs, etc. The trade off I see is the storage capacity of the Alesis, vs better sample rates, a more informative screen, high capacity recording in MP3 mode, and the ability to use the H4 as a USB audio I/O.

    So…. Zoom wins?

  • Rob

    After reading a lot about these things it was the olympua LS-10 all the way for me.

    But then again I don't use it with external mics.

    Zoom h2 wins all the way for bang for the bucks. Mic-quality is a different story though…

  • @Tapeleg: Yeah, I'm not giving up the Zoom H4 for the iPod thing any time soon. The zoom is also smaller and less clunky. And I find a 4GB storage card is more than enough, even at WAV quality, for what you'd usually do in a recording run.

    I prefer the H4 to the smaller, cheaper H2 … at least once you perform the appropriate hacks, upgrade the firmware, and consider an external mic pre for fidelity-critical jobs. The internal mics are quite decent, I think, on the H4.

  • vack

    I've been trying to browse reviews and comments about the portable recorders lately since I'd currently very much like to have one handy for various stuff. There are just so many choices and basically all of them (at least all of the ones that might fit my budget) seem to have some kinds of weird quirks or tradeoffs.

    I guess that's just what happens when you try to cram big amount of stuff to a tiny space and do it for cheap. Have to continue reading and asking questions while I'm not in a hurry to get anything.

  • vack

    I'll have to add though that the Olympus LS-10 looks like something I could actually consider getting based on the specs and reviews I've seen… It's just not too cheap in EU.

  • @Tapeleg: I'd say it all depends on how much Alesis decided to charge for this and how good the mics/preamps sound. If you've already got an iPod, this might be a good solution if the price is right. And while the internal mics in the Zoom H4 are pretty good, as Peter points out, the mic inputs are pretty lousy. Part of the reason I bought an H4 a while back was for the XLR inputs, but it turns out that just having XLR inputs does not a better sounding recorder make.

    Vack: I haven't held an Olympus LS-10 in my own hands, but I've heard very positive things about it. Several folks who are using them for radio and podcast producing have spoken very highly of it and the audio quality sounds pretty good whether you're using the internal mics or an external. I'd say it's worth paying a few extra bucks for the LS-10 instead of the Zoom H2 which has hissy preamps. Overall I'm very happy with my Sony PCM-D50, but that costs about $200 US more than the Olympus recorder.

  • chris

    I have an Olympus LS-10 and love it. It doesn't feel cheap like the Zoom models and sounds very good. Internal mics don't do a great job of picking up lower frequencies, even when set up properly – but overall good sound. Also allows for monitoring, which I find very useful. Unfortunately no XLR.

  • vack

    Brad, Thanks for the comments. It does seem worthwhile to invest a bit more. H2 does look very nice otherwise but quite frankly the amount of hiss in demo recordings I've heard is kind of alarming. I would probably go for the Sony out of the current alternatives if I did radio production or sound design for living, but I (mostly) don't.

    chris, The reported lower frequency thing is actually about the only thing that bugs me seriously in LS-10… The main uses I'd have for a device like that are:

    1) A musical sketchpad, for recording little ideas with the built in mics wherever I am – this is obviously something that any working recorder could pull off.

    2) Recording DJ sets and instruments on the go, straight via line in – some recorders seem to actually have weird noise or distortion problems even with normal line inputs, otherwise this isn't much to ask I guess.

    3) For doing sort of ex tempore location and SFX stuff: recording ambiences, weird noises, rattles and bangs for sampling. This is where relatively high fidelity recording would actually be cool to have. Overly hissy mic/pre or a serious low frequency limit would kind of ruin it. Now, obviously to do this properly, one would need a good quality external pre and mic… But I could as well lug around my laptop, audio interface and DIY pre by then and spend time setting stuff up. Which is what I want to get away from.

  • vack

    Hmm, how about Marantz PMD620 though? Has anyone got experiences on that one? The reviews seem to be kind of positive, the build quality and ergonomics don't look bad and it's practically the same price as LS-10. Any big catches anyone knows of?

  • chris

    @vack, I haven't hit a problem with the ls-10 that a little EQ couldn't fix.:)

  • @Vack: By all accounts the PMD620 is a pretty good machine. The base price is a bit higher than the LS-10, but it's cheaper than the Sony PCM-D50.

    The main problem with the PMD620 originally was that there was a latency issue when monitoring recordings through the headphones. But it sounds like Marantz fixed this with a firmware update. I haven't used one myself, but several reviewers have suggested that the Marantz has decent internal mics and excellent preamps for an external mic. Like most of these low end recorders, it lacks 1/4th inch or XLR inputs and relies on mini jacks though. One of the things I love about my Sony is that while it uses mini jacks, they're made of metal, not cheap plastic, which convinces me that they're less likely to break from wear and tear.

    I've rounded up a bunch of PMD620 reviews here:

  • vack

    Brad, Thanks for the roundup link, much appreciated.

    I read about the monitor latency issue before I posted my question, but the first review I stumbled upon then said that it's indeed been addressed already. And yeah, I don't really expect or need a full XLR or 1/4" on a tiny portable recorder. What I'm actually looking for so far is a self-contained package that sounds fine without adding an external mic, pre and extra cables to tangle on. Sort of a one-piece scratchpad, but a good quality one. Seems like PMD620 or LS10 might fit the bill.

    chris, Good to know. I'm still somewhat suspicious about that aspect though… The demo recordings I've found so far do sound a little too bass-light in comparison with other units. Have you been recording uncompressed audio or MP3 with the unit btw?

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