Glenn Reynolds is a law professor at the University of Tennessee, Instapundit blogger, and author of Army of Davids. He's also a musician, and audio geek, and waaaaay smarter than everyone at the Gizmodo staff put together. So we had him take a looksie at the Edirol R-09 audio recorder, which we wrote about in January. Read his brilliant, egg-headed take, right after the jump.
The Edirol R-09 looks like the holy grail for people doing live recording. I tested it out and it's pretty close, with the exception of some flimsy construction in places.
For $399 list, the R-09 is a digital device that records audio to a Secure Digital memory chip. It can record, compressed, in various flavors of MP3, from 64 kbps to 320 kbps. It also records in uncompressed WAV files at 16 and 24 bit resolution, at either 44.1 or 48 khz sampling frequencies. With a 1GB SD card, you can record 88 minutes in CD-quality 16/44.1 WAV or 392 minutes in 320kbps mp3. It has two built-in stereo condenser microphones, with provisions for external microphones, too. There's no internal speaker, so you need headphones to monitor or play back sound. It's compact, and fits easily into a shirt pocket. It doesn't come with a case.
Microphone sensitivity is adjustable — though the gain reduction on "low" is dramatic, and likely to be useful mostly if you're bootlegging live concerts or something — and recording levels can be adjusted manually or automatically. There's also a switchable low-cut filter to remove rumbles or wind noise. There are no balanced inputs or outputs, but the R-09 is really too small to have room for them. It will supply phantom power to an external microphone. Conveniently, it uses AA batteries, which are easy to find anywhere, instead of proprietary rechargeables.
The controls are easy to use, and pretty self-explanatory; nobody who's familiar with digital recording devices will have much trouble navigating them even without the manual.
I tested it out doing some live podcast interviews — you can hear them here — under challenging conditions. One was recorded at a local brewpub, with lots of background noise; the other was recorded in an office with noisy air conditioning equipment. Both turned out pretty well. Recording under pristine conditions is quite good.
You can compare the sound quality in those with the recording quality in this podcast, recorded entirely with the Olympus DM-20 that I reviewed here a while back. The Edirol definitely produces better sound — my wife, no audio engineer, noticed that immediately — but the Olympus, at half the price, is definitely good enough.
Interestingly, the build quality on the Olympus seems better, which leads me to my main complaint with the Edirol: Like a lot of gear, its manufacturer has paid more attention to the electronic aspects than to construction. In particular, the battery cover, which has to be opened to remove the SD card, too, is flimsy, and requires an awkward two-step procedure to fully open it. Do it wrong, and you're likely to wreck the cover, ruining the device. (And getting it fixed probably costs a substantial fraction of the price). That's not enough to make me warn people off the Edirol, but it's the only major drawback I found, and it's one that was completely avoidable. This seems to be a problem with a lot of small electronic devices — I'm not sure why.
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.