I had to record an interview for an audio documentary and didn't want to lug around my laptop and Mbox. What could I use that would offer portability and decent-though not necessarily studio-quality-sound? Thanks to Andy Hong, I got my hands on a potential solution-the Edirol R-09 flash recorder. About the size of a first-generation iPod, the Edirol R-09 uses SD or SDHC cards (up to 4 GB) to record 16 or 24-bit audio at 44.1 or 48 kHz. It also records straight to MP3 with bitrates from 64 to 320 kbps. The R-09 comes with a built-in stereo microphone; 1/8" mic in, line in, line out, and headphone jacks; optical digital out; and it all runs on two AA batteries. I powered up my review unit without cracking the manual and easily figured out how to format my SD card, set my preferences, and start recording. And that's the point.
After years of recording in the field using portable DAT machines or my sad, old MD recorder, the R-09 felt like upgrading from a cassette walkman to an iPod. I could toss the R-09 in my bag, pull it out on a whim, and record song ideas, street noise, whatever. Need to work at 48 kHz? Just scroll through the menu and select. Want to loop playback? No problem. Transfer your recordings to your computer? The R-09 is Mac and PC compatible; just plug in the USB 2.0 cable then drag-and-drop-no drivers necessary. But how does it sound? Before taking it into the field, I did a few test recordings at home at 16 and 24 bits, using both the internal stereo mic and a cheap external dynamic mic. (The R-09 doesn't provide phantom power.) Compared to something like the Mbox, this device has a pretty high noise floor; especially when using the internal mic during quiet moments, you can hear the underlying sound of "digital rain." Though you can change your recording levels on the fly, the mic picks up the sound of clicking the button. All this is fine for capturing song sketches, recording rehearsals, or looping playback to practice. But you wouldn't make an album with the R-09. In the field, the R-09 proved its mettle by turning out surprisingly nice recordings of outdoor ambiance. Though I decided to record my interview with the laptop/Mbox combo, I ran the R-09 as a backup. After four hours of recording, I filled up a 2 GB SD card, and the rechargeable NiMH batteries were still going strong.
Edirol's earlier model, the R-01, featured EQ effects as well as a metronome and tuner, which I suspect I'd use more often than the R-09's cheesy reverb options (large and medium halls, room, and plate).
At $399 street, it's one of the less expensive (and smaller) flash recorders on the market. Portability and ease of use trump sound quality, but if that's what you're looking for, definitely check out the R-09. It comes in three colors: red, white and black! ($450 MSRP; www.edirol.com)
Tape Op is a bi-monthly magazine devoted to the art of record making.