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Just think of how many Doobie Brothers bootlegs Rerun could’ve recorded if he would’ve had a sleek digital recorder instead of that bulky cassette recorder that got him busted. In terms of truly portable recording devices, we’ve come a long way, baby. Not only are digital recorders small enough to fit into your pocket these days, they can record at previously unfathomable quality settings. Some do a lot more, too—like add guitar effects, play back loops and give you multi-track capabilities. Here are ten that we find particularly worth the bang for their buck.
|Sony PCM-D50 (Street $450)
The little brother of the PCM-D1, the PCM-D50 makes better-than-DAT recording affordable while retaining many features of its award-winning relative: X-Y or Wide electret condenser stereo mics, 4 GB internal and Memory Stick Duo memory, digital and optical lines in/ out, .WAV recording, .WAV/MP3 playback and USB connectivity. Differences include a lightweight aluminum casing (not titanium), a smaller frame, and a preamp that is only slightly less stellar. Bonus: Sonic Forge software included.
|Roland Edirol R-09 (Street $350)
The R-09 is a workhorse that has proven dependable in live field recording situations for our staff. With 24bit/48.1kHz recording in MP3 playback, built-in stereo mics, a slot for an SD or SDHC memory card, and mic/ line inputs, the R-09 packs a lot of punch for its cigarette pack size (100’s). The updated R-09HR offers upgrades like 24bit/96kHz recording, an internal playback speaker and Cakewalk software for $400.
|Olympus LS-10 (Street $400)
Capable of recording in .WAV, MP3 and .WMA at 24bit/96kHz, the LS-10 continues Olympus’ tradition of looking very businesslike while offering surprisingly good musical recording capability. The LS-10 performs well in amped guitar situations with careful manipulation of its simplebut- effective Low and High microphone sensitivity settings, Low Cut Filter and Zoom Mic (wide, standard, narrow, zoom)settings. Special playback settings are fun but not necessarily crucial—Reverb (Studio, Club, Hall and Dome) and Euphony (Normal, Natural, Wide, Power). Bonus: windscreens, case, strap and Cubase LE included.
|Line 6 BackTrack (Street $100)
Our first guitar-specific digital recorder in this lineup basically takes your guitar line out and records everything you do, waiting for you to press the Mark button after you stumble upon a moment of brilliance. The device reads like a flash drive and stores up to 1GB of .WAV files at up to 24bit/48kHz and runs off a USB rechargeable battery. The upgraded BackTrack + Mic has a built-in mic, a 1/8” headphone out and 2GB of memory for $150.
|TASCAM GT-R1 (Street $350)
Combine a 24bit/48kHz recorder (.WAV and MP3) with the concept of guitar training and you get the formidable GT-R1, a back pocket-friendly tool built for chop-building and songwriting. Plug your guitar or bass in along with your headphones and you can play with more than 80 rhythm tracks using an array of amp simulators and effects (compressor, chorus, flanger, verb, delay and more). Load some MP3 files and go to town looping sections, slowing licks while keeping pitch and overdubbing tracks. There’s also an analog limiter, a guitar and bass cancelling feature, and an EQ. Bonus: metronome and tuner. Also: 1GB SD card and rechargeable battery included.
|Zoom H2 (Street $180)
The H2 records at 24bit/96kHz in .WAV or MP3 with a time stamping function for referencing. The quality is very good and the unit is back pocket-friendly. The W-Y or Wide pattern mics (4 capsules) allow you to capture front 90 degree cardioid, rear 120 degree cardiod and 360 degree polar patterns. Bonus: tuner and auto start. Also: mini-tripod, earbuds, wall wart, windscreen, pouch, mic clip adapter and 512MB SD card included.
|Zoom H4 (Street $270)
The H4 is one beast of a step up from the H2. We’re talking 4-track recording, guitar and bass amp modeling, effects (chorus compression, delay) and computer interface capabilities, not to mention XLRs and auto level setting. Stereo electret cardioid condensers offer knock-out quality in an X-Y pattern. There’s also mic modeling and 48V phantom power for an external. Bonus: Tuner and metronome. Also: wall wart, windshield cover, 512 MB SD card, windscreen, tripod adapter and Cubase LE included.
|Ovation iDea Guitar (Street $600)
Here’s a novel idea: why not build a guitar around a digital recorder? The Ovation iDea features a digital recorder (up to 192K bit/sec) in its preamp that records, plays, loops, slows playback while keeping pitch and basically gives you an all-in-one instrument for songwriting and instruction (via audio lessons and play along tracks). An aux input allows you to play along with an external source or convert any audio source to mp3. Rather than drag your guitar and a digital recorder to your favorite spot for inspiration, you’ve got it all in one package
|Boss Micro BR (Street $230)
Traditional stand-alone multi-track recorders aren’t anything new but a few are worth including in this roundup due to their continually shrinking size. The 5 ounce Boss Micro BR can easily fit in your front pocket but still offers 4-track recording, editing and mastering with multiple inputs, amp modeling, built-in effects (distortion, chorus, verb, delay, etc.) and 293 drum patterns. Virtual tracks, time stretch, copy/ paste, an internal mic and a slew of other features allow you to literally take a powerful little studio with you anywhere. It records in MP3 and .WAV up to 16bit/44.1kHz.
|TASCAM DP-004 (Street $200)
Two standard stompboxes wide, TASCAM’s DP-04 offers no-frills 4-track recording with dedicated knobs for inputs (2 ins and master) and playback (level and pan). Like the Micro BR, it can handle two simultaneous inputs. Overdubbing, track consolidation, autopunch and undo make editing easy and mixdown is simplified with a dedicated track. The unit records at 16bit/44.1kHz on an included 1GB SD card. At 2.8 ounces, the DP-04 is still light but is very solid. Bonus: dedicated RTZ button, jog shuttle.