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NOVEMBER 3, 2007 

Better sound...for a price

Edirol R-09 RecorderYesterday the sound of waves lapping on the beach was this, recorded with my Casio Z850 camera:

Now listen to this version, recorded with the Edirol R09 shown at right:

There's a depth and detail that you can't hear in the first one. Good thing, since the Edirol R-09 WAVE/mp3 Recorder costs more than the camera. Expect to pay $350-400 if you want one of your own.

We just got several of these for students to use for their interactive/video projects at Tri-C, and I've been playing with one for the past couple of days.

The size—about 4 inches high and an inch thick—makes this quite portable. Not as tiny as the Olympus digital recorders we've been using, but a whole lot smaller than the Marantz that was our previous higher-quality device. The Edirol has a built-in stereo microphone, which means that it's ready to go anytime. You don't need to remember to pack an external mic.

The technical specs are impressive: 24 bit uncompressed recording at 44.1 or 48 kHz sample rates. You can save files in uncompressed WAVE format, or in the good-quality compressed mp3 format. mp3 files are about 1/10th the size of WAVEs.

Other advantages: the ability to record in stereo, and a mic input if you prefer to use an external mic. Both of these features are missing from all the digital cameras I've seen. The recording time with fresh AA batteries is said to be four hours.

Getting your files into your computer is a snap with the USB 2.0 connection. You don't need any special software, just plug it in. Unfortunately, to get at the recorder's USB port you have to slide a tiny button on the bottom of the unit sideways while at the same time pulling an access door downward. It's an awkward maneuver at best. It would be so much better it they put the port somewhere else, like under the same rubber cover that hides the external power socket.

The poor ergonomics don't stop there, unfortunately. While the main record/playback controls on the front are big and easy to use, that's not true of the "mic gain" and other switches on the back, or the "volume" and "input level" buttons on the sides. I'm sure that when you use the recorder frequently you learn these by feel, but starting out the tiny black-on-black lettering is useless in anything but bright light.

OLED screen on Edirol recorderThe OLED display on the front has similar issues. The "time" readout and level meters are easy to see, but the rest of the information is in type so small, well, see for yourself. Actual size of the display shown at left is 1" x 1/2". Good luck if your vision isn't 20/20.

A larger display would make life much easier, along with the other control improvement noted above. Still, the size, recording quality and built-in mic make this a good choice for recording almost anything from ambient sound to lectures and performances.

Listen again to the two samples above and you'll notice that the Casio's mic picks up the drone of an airplane that gets louder near the end of the clip. You hardly hear anything on the Edirol's version because its mic is more directional and was pointed toward the water. In most situations this is a good thing, maybe not so if you're recording a meeting. I'm looking forward to putting this recorder through its paces.

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