Sunday, September 24, 2006

Newest Audio Technology...

by Larry Magid

Broadcasters, musicians and serious audiophiles have long been consumers of high-end portable audio gear, but podcasting has created an expanded market for this equipment. While it is possible to create a podcast with nothing more than a computer, a microphone and some audio-editing software, there are times when it’s nice to be able to conduct interviews, gather sound or record programs when away from a PC. For that you’ll need some type of portable recording equipment.

Until a few years ago that would probably have been a portable analog cassette tape recorder. More recently, it might have been a MiniDisc recorder or digital audio tape recorder. But today, the hottest recorders do not use tape or discs but record to the same type of nonvolatile flash memory used in digital cameras.

Flash has no moving parts to make noise while you record, and it is compact. An SD flash card, not much bigger than a postage stamp, can hold as much as four gigabytes or up to 130 hours of compressed monaural audio (some recorders, however, do not work with SD cards that store more than two gigabytes). Compact Flash cards can store up to eight gigabytes.

Also, data on a memory card can be easily transferred to a PC or a Mac with a U.S.B. cable or by removing the card from the device and putting it in a PC card reader. Once on a PC, the file can be edited, e-mailed or posted to a server. Because these audio files start out as digital, there is no need to convert them for use on a computer. That saves time and avoids the loss of quality inherent in “dubbing” from one device to another.

There is one drawback. Although flash memory has come down in price substantially over the last couple of years, it remains more expensive per minute of audio than tape or MiniDiscs. That is usually not a problem if you copy the files to a PC, but it can be if you are away from a computer for an extended period or need to deliver a copy of the file in a physical format. Still, with 256-megabyte SD cards selling for as little as $12, it is not all that expensive to carry around extra cards.

Sound quality depends, in part, on the format you use to record. For maximum quality, the higher-end devices can record uncompressed files in the WAV format, but such files take up as much as 10 megabytes a minute for stereo sound. If you are recording speech or music that you are likely to listen to on a portable player like an iPod, you can save a great deal of space by recording as a compressed MP3 file. MP3 is a “lossy” compression, which means some degradation of quality.

There are basically three types of digital flash recorders on the market. There are digital voice recorders like the Olympus VN-3100PC ($69) that are mostly used for dictation and other voice-recording tasks. Also, some digital music players, like the iRiver T30 ($40 for the 512-megabyte model), have recording abilities, and there are accessories for the iPod like the TuneTalk Stereo for iPod ($69) from Belkin.

While those can be used for podcasts, the sound quality and versatility will not be as good as the higher-end dedicated systems like the Marantz PMD 660 ($499), the Edirol by Roland R-09 ($399) and the M-Audio MicroTrack 24/96 ($350).

>>From the review, I have found the Edirol to be the most compelling...

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