One of the most sought-after devices this year is the R-09 portable recorder from Edirol. It’s got what everyone’s been looking for in an audio recording device: integrated mics, a gorgeous silver case with iPod-like, pocketable dimensions, SD cards for recording, rechargeable batteries you can actually replace when you need to, and some nice extras. The key question: will it fit people’s needs? You don’t want just one review; you want a whole bunch of reviews. And we’ve got them, from readers and authors all around the world who have been testing these recorders on sources ranging from acoustic music to barking dogs to interviews to ambient sound:

Full Reviews

Sandal as portable recorder stand, via Mark in Hawaii. (Lucky bastard!) Acoustic musician and author Mark Nelson is back doing field recordings in Hawaii for his O’Reilly Digital Media review, this time with the R-09. (Last time he used the R-09’s main rival, M-Audio’s MicroTrack 24/96; the similarity between the two suggest it’s worth your time to read both reviews. See our previous mention of the Hawaii MicroTrack test for further comments.)

Mark really sums up the device as what it is — a great, portable bargain, with some slight trade-offs in audio fidelity and pro features:

Review: Edirol R-09 Pocket Digital Recorder (Thanks, David!)

The Edirol R-09 is a handy field recorder with some surprisingly sophisticated file-maintenance features. It is profoundly easy to use (once you suss out the buttons), it records to inexpensive media, and the onboard mics do a decent job. Battery life is outstanding. It looks cool, too … It’s not for everyone. Professionals will want higher sample rates, enhanced metering, and more robust mics. But they’ll have to pay a lot more.

Gizmodo: Instapundit’s Glenn Reynolds got to take on the R-09 for the gadget mega-blog. You can make NPR-quality recordings, but can you master the soft-spoken, deep intonations? (The time is now thirteen minutes past the hour.)

Edirol R-09 Audio Recorder: Hands On By Instapundit’s Glenn Reynolds

Still, if you’re willing to spend in the neighborhood of four hundred bucks, you can make NPR-quality recordings for podcasts or radio shows, or quality concert bootlegs. Not bad for a gadget that fits in a shirt pocket.

F7sound: Michael Oster has an extensive R-09 review, with both internal mic and external “stealth” mic tests (go, bootleggers!), at F7 sound and vision. (Thanks, Sascha!) He’s mostly happy with it, and Edirol quickly replaced a faulty unit when it failed:

It’s tiny (smaller than a microcassette – see below) and records 24 bit digital audio with a sound quality that surprised me in a good way. It’s light even with batteries and should easily fit in a shirt or pants pocket. The only gripe I have so far, and it’s been mentioned on the net via group lists and the like, is the battery cover. The cover, located at the bottom of the device is very hard to deal with and seems like it’s going to break long before anything on the rest of the unit.

Sonic Studios: This manufacturer of surround mics, portable mics, and portable preamps (among other accessories), has written its own extensive review. If you like lots of charts and graphs in your purchasing decision, this is the review for you:

Sonic Studios R-09 Review

Additional good news is both mic/line R-09 inputs have tested adequately quiet and of sufficient bandwidth for at least 16bit depth recording requirements. However, audible improvement for 24 bit depth recording is likely with the addition of high quality external mic preamplifier for lowest noise/distortion requirements.

DAT-Heads Edirol/Marantz/M-Audio comparison: The one tricky bit to sort out is the age-old “which recorder should I buy” question, particularly with M-Audio’s competing MicroTrack posessing such a similar feature set. Stephen Bezruchka, one of the portable recording gurus on the DAT-Heads mailing list, takes his R-09 head-to-head with the MicroTrack and Marantz PMD-660. His major beef with the MicroTrack is poor reliability (in his experience) and the inability to replace the battery yourself; the latter issue sounds like a deal-killer for many, especially since the MicroTrack’s higher digital recording sample rates aren’t really critical in this kind of device.

Edirol R-09 review with comparisons to Microtrack and Marantz

The Roland R-09 is compact, featured, easy to use and may become the one I use the most. It is becoming accessorized to get with the iPod mania, so there is a carrying case with a tripod on the way as well as a microphone stand adaptor to put the unit in its case on a stand to use it as a complete microphone-recorder combo. We are blessed with good recorders to choose from.

Reader Reviews

Our first reader impressions have received a number of responses from other R-09 early-adopters, with sound samples linked from comments. (More impressions and sounds from the impromptu mini-blog

Here are some typical responses:

I’ve used mine for 3 days, recording nature sounds, interviews, â€Å“testâ€Â? soundbytes of traffic, aircraft, sirens, and a live concert in the park. I am AMAZED at the quality, and the sensitivity of the internal mics. -Jim Flannery

I’ve been trying it out for a couple of days, and it’s really nice sounding. The display is also very bright and easy to read. Too bad it lacks phantom powered tele ins though. The M-Audio Microtrack 2496 offers that. -Matt

For more reader reviews, ranging from the informal three-line response to an extensive list of pros and cons, see the 55 comments on the original R-09 story.

Lessons Learned

Reliability is an issue on all of these devices, presumably because of the size and some readers being early-adopters. Edirol seems to have the best track record, though, both in terms of reliability and speedy replacements, and has the added advantage of being able to replace the battery yourself if there’s a problem (something you can’t do, notably, on Apple’s iPod line).

One important note: be very careful when buying memory cards. My current preferred brand is SanDisk; their cards have been extremely reliable and are available at some still-fantastic bargain prices.

Some readers have complained about a slight hiss when recording low levels. This seems to be related to the internal mic, so your best bet is to plug in a better external mic.

48v phantom power is not available on this unit. I was erroneously told it would be on the show floor at NAMM by someone from Roland (can’t remember if it was a product specialist or PR, so I won’t cast blame), before the unit began shipping. But if you’re really serious about plugging in external mics, a preamp seems like the way to go anyway. While I can’t vouch for quality, Sonic Studios has a fascinating portable pre that looks like it’d be perfect for the R-09 and other small recorders:

Sonic Studios portable mic amps

Thanks to everyone who sent in that barrage of tips, questions, and comments. Keep them coming, on this and other products you care about!

Edirol R-09 product page