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Music Media Technology

Portable Digital Voice Recorders for a Singer? 44

Geek Singer asks: "I've had classical singing lessons for a while now and managed to advance to a level where hearing my own lessons is important for developing my skills. Here in Europe many singers use MiniDisc recorders. As a geek I think that MD recorders are DRM-encumbered, clumsy, slow and obsolete. Especially moving the recordings into my computer can get very troublesome due to nasty restrictions cast by Sony. For these reasons I need to have something else than a MD recorder. There are various portable MP3 players that have a voice recording capability, but I've found none that have all the properties I need: low price, good recording quality, line-in recording, excellent battery life, a good interface, support for Linux or Mac OS X and enough space for tens of hours of decent quality voice recordings or a slot for an exchangeable memory card. I've already checked numerous manufacturers including iRiver. Their players are great, except that the HD-models are too expensive and the flash-based models don't have a memory card slot. What portable digital voice recorders do you suggest?"
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Portable Digital Voice Recorders for a Singer?

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  • Record them on a real computer, Listen to them on a portable device.... then, you have no question.
    • RTFA. She wants something she can TAKE to her lessons in order to record them, then listen and archive at home. I doubt lugging a computer to thee lessons is practical.
      • These "luggables" you speak of are now called "notebook" computers, which in some cases weight two or three pounds.
        • Which sort of defeats the "low price" quality that was stated as a requirement, unless you think several thousand is a steal for a device that just needs to portably record sound. Did anyone read the article?

          I just don't know how helpful it is to respond to an Ask Slashdot requesting advice on a low price portable with "Don't use a portable" or "Use a laptop".
          • Well, since the poster was asking about a device that would make it easy to transfer files to and from a computer, maybe it *does* make sense to get a cheap laptop and use that exclusively for recording and editing. I bought a brand new X31 w/1.6GHz P-M and 512MB RAM last month for ~$1000 USD, so it's not *hugely* expensive.

            That's what's nice about Ask Slashdot: some people will give you the blaringly obvious answer (suck it up and use a MD recorder), and others will give you a slightly different take on

          • There are used (or EBay/UBid) notebooks out there.... You can pick one up for cheap.

            A used laptop with a few G of HD isn't that bad.
    • by rusty0101 ( 565565 ) on Wednesday August 04, 2004 @05:58PM (#9883451) Homepage Journal
      ... is noise.

      Yes there are silent pc's available. You can even find them with shielded sound cards. They are not going to be under $300 however, unless you want to build your own, including building your own shielding around that sound card. If you are using a PC with a hard drive, you have a power supply fan, the processor fan, the hard drive, and possibly both a video card fan and a bios fan that are all going to introduce background noise into your recordings.

      Most laptops today have a fan in them, and I don't know anyone interested in computers today who would consider the internal microphone of a laptop for any recording beyond very rare sampling.

      Before you suggest using an external mic and headphones, remember that there really isn't a laptop out there with a shielded audio system in it. As a result it is invariably going to pick up electrical noise from components within the computer.

      The last option I would consider is a USB based sound system. Not because I don't trust the quality, but because of the fact that once you add the price of one to your computer, (laptop or otherwise) you could have picked up a profesional grade digital recorder, and been done with it.

      One other thing to take into consideration is the 'setup' and 'teardown' time involved. If you go to a teacher, paying for a 50 min lesson, you are not going to want to spend a significant portion of those 50 min setting up a computer or laptop to start recording your lesson, and your instructor is not going to be pleased if your setup and teardown (especially if you are carrying around mics and stands) eats into some other student's lesson time. Likewise for practice rooms if you need to practice, and can not live with an electronic keyboard in your dorm, appartment or other living arangements.

      If you do go with an MD recorder, and a mic, with an optical connection to a PC that allows you to transfer cleanly, I recomend pre-testing your equipment, or at least finding out if all will work within the return time of whomever you are buying the stuff from. My own MD recorder has a very hit or miss pattern with the various mics I have tried with it. At best I can recognize my voice with the volume cranked all the way up. Occasionally I may even be able to recognize what I was saying at the time. Fortunately I don't need to record with it, as I have other options available. (none of them direct to digital, but my erquirements are not as high.)

      I wish you better luck.

      -Rusty
  • Korg PXR-4 (Score:3, Informative)

    by thenerdgod ( 122843 ) on Wednesday August 04, 2004 @04:45PM (#9882562) Homepage
    Sure it's 300 bucks, sure you'll have to buy a new CF card to get useful space out of it, but if you're thinking of using it anywhere near professionally, it's worth it.

    You can even plug it into your monitor out and record crap at your shows. Korg Pandora PX-4: 299 [musiciansfriend.com]

    • Re:Korg PXR-4 (Score:1, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Problem is that SmartMedia cards are generally small (not nearly the capacity options of CF). And the audio is recorded in a proprietary format I think.
      • "Using MPEG-1, Audio Layer 2 data compression, the PXR4 records 24-bit audio at 32 kHz resolution. You must select one of three recording modes -- Hi Quality, Standard, and Economy -- at the beginning of a project. As you'd expect, the higher quality the recording mode, the less recording time you get (see the table "PXR4 Recording Mode Times")."

        I wouldn't call MPEG "proprietary"
    • Thanks, this might be what I've been looking for...
      Minidisc-players with USB can only transfer files with that USB from the PC to the player (so it's ok to download stuff from internet and play it on the minidisc, but not to record your own sound/music/words).
      Mp3-players (as mentioned in another reaction) often offer voice-recording, but always with built-in microphone, not with a mic-input. Some have line inputs, but then you need a mic-amplifier...
      This Korg costs more, but I can probably use it for more t
      • Re:Korg PXR-4 (Score:4, Informative)

        by xanderwilson ( 662093 ) on Wednesday August 04, 2004 @08:18PM (#9884800) Homepage
        Also look at the Zoom PS series (both the discontinued 02 and the newer, smaller 04 model). I tested out the Korg for a few days and really didn't like it. Musician's Friend doesn't carry the Zooms but they're available at most other online music retailers, but I've really liked everything from Zoom that I've used and/or bought. Very easy to use, well-priced, and generally feature-packed. Visit http://www.2090.org/zoom/bbs/index.php for more info from the user community, or go directly to the Zoom.co.jp site for the horse's mouth.

        That said, MD, while annoying with its DRM and inability to transfer digitally to the computer, does have a lot of uses. When comparing it to your other options, consider it a kick-ass alternative to a microcassette recorder or other portable cassette recorder. There's only the realtime, analog-out to the computer, but the recording quality is much better than most other options out there.

        Alex.
    • Re:Korg PXR-4 (Score:3, Informative)

      by Josh Booth ( 588074 ) *
      This person already said that iRiver IHP's were out of the question due to price. You can get them for $300US - 20 GB of storage.
  • Go with MiniDisc (Score:4, Informative)

    by DaRat ( 678130 ) * on Wednesday August 04, 2004 @04:51PM (#9882613)
    There was a very good talk at the recent UPA conference on this very topic. The speaker, an ex sound engineer, concluded that the best recording devices were MiniDisc recorders when sound quality, media flexibility, portability, size, and cost were all considered. He had high hopes that the new MiniDisc format Hi-MD would improve recording capacity and file transfer speed beyond existing recorders.

    The main issue with the IC recorders was with regards to poor recording quality. I know that the local public radio uses MiniDisc recorders for their recording needs.

    • There's only one problem with that, and it's the very reason I no longer use my very expensive MD (and also stated in parent article), because of Sony placed DRM restrictions, it is extremely cumbersome to move audio from the MD to Computer or any other medium. Plan and simple, Sony has shot themselves in the foot because of this.
      • Re:Go with MiniDisc (Score:4, Informative)

        by ottawanker ( 597020 ) on Thursday August 05, 2004 @01:58AM (#9886373) Homepage
        Use HiMD [sony.com], and you don't have to worry about anything like that anymore.

        The new Hi-MD players are packed with extra features that add convenience and utility to the digital music experience. For example, with the new upload function musicians or note-taking students can use the mic-in feature on several of the models to make a self-recording on the device and transfer the content back to the PC. When connected to the PC, Hi-MD recorders act as an external drive enabling users to store and transfer such data files as presentations, digital images and spreadsheets on the discs. Since the USB will feed power to the unit when connected to a PC, there is no need to worry about draining battery life when transferring to the Hi-MD device.
  • DAT? (Score:3, Informative)

    by nuxx ( 10153 ) on Wednesday August 04, 2004 @04:53PM (#9882628) Homepage
    How about a portable DAT recorder? They aren't too pricy, if you get a 'pro' level one, there's no serial copy bit, and the sound is excellent.

    They've been the benchmark for non-compressed portable audio recording for years.
  • Get *this one* [amazon.com]

    And get me one, too! :-)

    • Re:My suggestion: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by gl4ss ( 559668 )
      *Recording Media: Flash Memory Built-In 32MB*

      not quite the thing for him(judging from what he wrote into the article).

      though I think he should just get a decent MD(keyword being a decent and decent meaning coming with usable connectors and without being limited intentionally too much).
  • by Marillion ( 33728 ) <ericbardes@gmai[ ]om ['l.c' in gap]> on Wednesday August 04, 2004 @04:56PM (#9882653)
    I have used my Sony MD to record performance events many, many times. My M-Audio [m-audio.com] soundcard with optical input is very happy to ignore any DRM that might be in the optical S/PDIF data stream. The only real downside is the ATRAC is a lossey compression system. From there, I save the file, burn to CD convert to MP3, whatever.

    On another note, I recently saw another sound designer use an Archos unit to record a grand piano. I provided the mics and mixer, he preferred to use his own recorder rather than my MD.

    • Yes, but transfering audio in that manner is slow, since it has to be played in realtime. Where as it takes seconds to transfer minutes of audio over a standard USB connection. Plus you lose all title information.
      • If you're using a MD player as a portable recording device then it's unlikely you're going to have much in the way of title information. The real-time transfer is undoubtedly a pain, but most budding musicians are unlikely to be recording Ring Cycle length epics (at least not on a weekly basis).

        All the musicians I know (which I'll admit, isn't a huge number) use MD for ad-hoc recording. The recorders are cheap and durable; as are the discs. They are also so common in the UK that people don't bother trying

  • by rueger ( 210566 ) on Wednesday August 04, 2004 @04:57PM (#9882663) Homepage
    Aside from looking for deals on E-bay [ebay.com], you'll find that the features you want are not availble at a consumer level.

    High end mindisc recorders [digitalaudioworks.com] allow digital dubbing, but not consumer models. An excellent source of information is here [minidisc.org].

    By the way, minidisc does not use DRM, it just doesn't have a digital line out jack.

    In broadcast circles a lot of people are moving to various flash media [sonicsense.com] units, and seem quite happy with them. These tend to be "pro" units, with XLR mic jacks and digital in and out.

    You can also check out transom.org [transom.org] for advice on recorders.
    • By the way, minidisc does not use DRM, it just doesn't have a digital line out jack.

      Um, no. I have several players with digital outs, both optical and copper. They work fine.

      MD does have a rudimentary DRM, wherein you can only make a certain numbers of digital copies of media. This is encoded as two bits in the digital audio stream, and there are a _wide_ variety of devices to strip them out.
  • Fostex MR-8 (Score:4, Informative)

    by blunte ( 183182 ) on Wednesday August 04, 2004 @05:00PM (#9882692)
    Fostex MR-8 [musiciansfriend.com]

    I got one for the same reason. It's very lovely, very feature rich, and still pretty simple to use. The only downside is the size (compared to an iPod). It's the same size as a 12" laptop, but thicker. With the manufacturer bag, it's easily portable (with mic, cable, and AC power supply). Of course it also runs on AA batteries, but it's hungry.

    I first tried the iPod with the iTalk, but it couldn't auto-adjust the recording level quickly enough to keep from clipping horribly (a nasty digital trash clip) from piano and higher pitch voice.

    Musician's Friend sells it for a good price, and they also sell some kits that include it, a mic, balanced cable, headphones, and other accessories. Just make sure you buy a Fostex certified memory card if you want to upgrade beyond the card they provide. It needs good, fast cards to do multi-track work.
  • by Thag ( 8436 ) on Wednesday August 04, 2004 @05:20PM (#9882866) Homepage
    Something that will record directly to a CD?

    I had read somewhere that these were good to use for such a purpose, but that was a few years ago.

    It's going to be bigger than a flash-based player, sure, but the convenience of winding up with a CD would be worth it.

    Jon Acheson
  • Being in the music scene and recording often I know KORG makes a killer little product called the Pandoras Box. It goes for about 300 bucks and it tailored to recording music, it's a portable virtual 8 track studio. You can even record a few times and compare each track to see improvements.
  • by jutski ( 226045 )
    Of course the new H340 is expensive, but the older non-colour-LCD models (H110, H120, H140) have virtually all the same functions as it does.
    Optical/analog in/out etc.
    • i have an ihp-140 which I've started to use for recording. A few notes:

      It has lots of capability, but recording has some limitations. First, the record button has a lot of latency. Also, you can't adjust volume (but future firmware will change that. The internal mike sucks (no surprise). And the line in supports stereo mikes instead of mono mikes. Also, you'll need to buy a pre-amp.

      Still, you can record mp3's of various qualities as well as WAV files. It currently sells for $380 on amazon, and by Christm
  • You're going to want a decent microphone, and as far as I can tell, most of the cheap consumer grade recorders don't have a decent mic. Look for something with either a decent mic or with XLR input and provide your own mic.
  • I was also looking for a voice recorder, and found they'd all become mp3 players while I wasn't looking.

    I eventually bought the iRiver iFP-395T as it began to stand out of the pack on my checklist.

    The clincher was its ability to record *directly as mp3*.
    Most other devices on the market record to wav format which is very VERY fat in comparison.
    This means the 512Mb version can store about 36 hours of audio, which will probably outlast the battery itself for continuous recording.
    It will also allow me plenty
    • by ksheff ( 2406 )

      Recording to wav is better if you want to listen to something w/o any compression artifacts. I would be willing to buy something with the capabilities of a Nomad Jukebox 3, but just in a smaller form factor. I've had one for about 1.5 years and it's great for recording concerts.

  • I own a neuros and use it just about every day. A while back I saw some info on making digital recordings with the neuros on their forum. The line in on the neuros is unpowered and you would want a good powered mic with preamp.

    Try taking a look at the forum [neurosaudio.com] yourself.

  • We have the Zoom [zoom.co.jp] palmtop multritrack recorder, and don't forget your Tascam [tascam.com] 5 track pocketstudio.

    Some decent headphones wouldn't hurt, either. Add a decent microphone and you can do some serious work with this stuff!
  • I do the occasional concert recording. I used to use MD, but the restrictions ( I picked up an old Jukebox (Creative DAP Jukebox, aka NOMAD) for 50ukp; its 6GB HD is physically larger and lower capacity than more recent models, but it's fine for my purposes and a cheap investment. That's enough for almost 10 hours of CD-quality stereo.

    It records as a WAV file, uncompressed (so no ATRAC compression artefacts); it has USB, so I just plug it into my Mac and it appears in iTunes &c, so getting the data

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