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|| News Item: Posted 2008-02-27

Audio Files: New Olympus Audio Recorder
By Eric Leonard, KFI AM-640

Photo by Eric Leonard

Photo by Eric Leonard

The Olympus LS-10 audio recorder.
The New Year has brought us a new generation of tiny audio recorders perfect for sound gathering for multimedia projects. Tascam, Yamaha, and Olympus models join last year's newest offerings from Sony and Marantz. They all appear to offer better construction, features, and audio fidelity than the MiniDisc, voice, and digital recorders of years past.

I was particularly curious about the new Olympus recorder as I've used the company's voice recorders for some time as a backup to my main broadcast machine.

Olympus has really taken a step towards the professional audio world with the release of the LS-10: a handsome, metal-clad portable recorder rich with features critical to making top-quality field recordings.

A bit smaller than the average TV remote control, the LS-10 easily fits in a pants-pocket or the side-pocket of a camera bag. It runs on two alkaline or rechargeable AA batteries (for quite a long time) and includes built-in stereo microphones that can produce great results.

The LS-10 is unique in its ability to record stereo audio at high resolution in multiple file formats: uncompressed PCM (wav), variable bit-rate MP3, and Windows Media Audio (wma) at different quality levels.

While MP3s and WMAs can sound great and certainly save storage space, any serious project requiring editing will benefit from the highest-quality original recordings, and these are always uncompressed WAV files.

The LS-10 can store about 3 hours of stereo sound at CD quality (44.1KHz/16-bit wav) with its built-in 2-gigabyte flash memory. A SDHC slot expands storage infinitely.

The recorder has a simple control layout that's easy to operate with one hand and quick to understand without reading the manual. The menus are clear and intuitive - drawn from Olympus' experience with voice recorders, and it only takes a few minutes to learn all the functions.

The LS-10 has dedicated microphone and line-level inputs and automatic or manual record level control. The manual gain control knob is easy to reach with your right thumb, if you're holding the recorder in your right hand (as it's clearly designed).

I've usually avoided any sort of automatic level systems (often called ALC or AGC) because it's difficult for any sort of electronic device to accurately compensate for changes in the volume of whatever you're recording.

That said, the LS-10's automatic circuits are about the best I've heard in a small recorder - quickly adjusting the gain to bring up low levels while keeping the loudest sounds from distorting. It's certainly usable for times you have to focus on something else -- like making photographs!

It also has a limiter, which helps to keep sudden loud noises from over-modulating while record levels are adjusted manually.

Photo by Eric Leonard

Photo by Eric Leonard

The Olympus LS-10 audio recorder.
A menu function enables or disables "plug-in-power," a low-voltage phantom powering system for small condenser microphones, like the little stereo "T" mics supplied with some other digital recorders. Switch this off if you use any professional microphones that require an XLR-to-3.5" Mini Plug adapter cable -- it will eliminate the crackling noise common with mic recording on MiniDisc machines (without a special adapter).

Digital files are easily exchanged with a computer: the LS-10 appears as an external disk drive when connected via its built-in mini-USB connector. You can record files in any of its five folders, labeled "A" through "E," and even transfer your MP3 or WMA songs to a special "MUSIC" folder for listening.

The LS-10's audio performance is very good. Field recordings were clear, free of audio artifacts, and rich in fidelity. The manual gain/level control system is easy to use and the low-cut filter helped to reduce the sound of a TV-truck generator at the scene of a recent story.

The analog microphone gain system (the preamp) is the standard by which all field recorders are judged, and the LS-10 certainly measures up, though with a bit more gain-noise (mild hiss) than some of the competing - though more expensive - recorders.

Olympus boasts the LS-10 will record at staggering high-resolution sample rates, like 96 KHz at 24-bit -- which theoretically captures sound that exceeds the range of human hearing. In real-world field recording applications you'd be hard pressed to hear the benefit and it's unlikely the miniaturized audio circuits in the LS-10 can truly keep up.

Not to worry - 44.1k/16-bit CD-quality or 48k/16-bit DAT/DV-quality recordings are great and save flash memory. I've been using the LS-10 on the air for several weeks and it's been terrific.

(Eric Leonard is a reporter for KFI, an all - news and talk radio station in Southern California. His presentation at last year's Sports Shooter Academy Multimedia Boot Camp was the highlight of the workshop:

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