Digital Audio Recorder for Practice Sessions

April 7, 2011 at 03:30 AM ·

I've been thinking about buying a digital audio recorder for practice sessions but I can't decide what to get. Ideally I thought about one with buit in speakers rather than headphones. When I googled I found a number of choices but very few with speakers. I did find a Sanyo Xacti that looked like what I am looking for, the recorder has a docking station which has four decent looking speakers, but unfortunately in the US it looks as though although the recorder is marketed, the docking station isn't. The Tascam DR-100 has a single built in speaker, but it looks a bit frail. Another candidtate is the Jammin HR-5 which has two small speakers. and is reasonably priced. I'm not looking for an expensive recording rig, just something to use for daily practice. Any thoughts, or suggestion are appreciated. 

Replies (32)

April 7, 2011 at 08:51 AM ·

I use one for practice and I feel it has helped. Can I suggest that when you are looking for one for practice look more at the ease of use over sound quality.

April 7, 2011 at 09:07 AM ·

I have a very high quality Tascam which does have a single speaker and built in mic, but I always plug in better mics and use headphones.

The other option is to take the line out into an amplifier and play through really good hi-fi speakers.

April 7, 2011 at 05:32 PM ·

It depends on what results you want from a digital recording of a practice session. If all you're concerned with is checking intonation, playing the right notes, timing, regularity of speed, phrasing – all basic but essential stuff – then a cheap digital recorder will do the job for you. All you have to check out is the ease of operating the recorder, as I think someone else has mentioned. Any other recording purposes and you'll be thinking about going up-market.

April 7, 2011 at 06:23 PM ·

I bought a Zoom H2 for just this purpose and was amazed by the quality of it. We now use it in an amateur orchestra I play with to record the concerts and the quality is quite good enough for decent CDs. You can use it stand-alone and play back through headphones, transfer to PC for playback, or just plug it into the PC and use it as an USB mic for any software you have on the PC (such as Nero wave editor). Highly recommended.

http://www.zoom.co.jp/english/products/h2/

 

April 7, 2011 at 10:13 PM ·

I agree that ease of use is really imortant since it's a break in practice, rehearsing a piece and then playing it back over and over until you get it right. So it's a practice tool not something to use with the intent of ripping CDs. Having said that it would be nice to have something that had reasonable speakers and sound quality. Maybe the things to do is use a recorder and playback through some amplified speaker set up like those you can find on most desktop computer setups. Thanks for the feedback.

April 7, 2011 at 11:16 PM ·

A friend of mine records our Sunday jam sessions with her little Olympus digital recorder.  It cost $70 - $100 US.  Sony makes a similar one.  It's easy to use and most importantly, you can transfer files to your computer.  Cheaper ones don't do that which is what is keeping me from purchasing one right now.  With her recordings, she takes them home and plays along with the songs.  It helps her improve her timing and intonation.  So nothing fancy but it gets the job done.

April 8, 2011 at 02:58 AM ·

I record all the time as a practice aid.  I simply plug a fairly high end mic into my computer, and then record through the free Audacity program anyone can download off the internet.  I've been very satisfied with the results for my purposes, and it's pretty cost-effective!

April 8, 2011 at 06:50 AM ·

Having tried a variety of things my point would be that you need to be able to distinguish between the poor sound due to poor technique and any mangling introduced by the recorder. Back in the days of tape it would be flutter, now a too low sampling rate can produce some horrendous noise. That's my excuse and I'm sticking to it.

April 8, 2011 at 02:23 PM ·

I'm using a cheap voice dictation microphone that came with my computer from 10 years ago that plugs into the 1/8" input jack on the computer, along with the recording software that came with my Essential Elements 2000 for Strings study book. I'm not pleased with the quality (of the recording or my playing!).  I do have access to a Milennia HV-3R preamp unit, an Alesis Masterlink recorder, and a DPA 4099-v microphone which I can borrow from my place of work for short periods of time when available!  Not sure if lugging all that equipment home is worth it at this point, though.  I'm at this violin thing for only 3 months now and that gear is good enough to record an album!  I've been thinking about the M-Audio Fast Track Pro USB preamp because it is less than $200.  Not sure but I think it might come with a microphone, albeit a cheap one.

Charles

April 8, 2011 at 02:46 PM ·

Tape flutter on the recording really would mess up the vibrato!

April 8, 2011 at 11:24 PM ·

Unfortunately I find the Zoom too good. I'm pretty sure that any horrible noises are all me!

And, as I did say above, it can be used as a USB mic into Nero Wave Edit, Audacity or whatever.

 

April 9, 2011 at 03:08 AM ·

I'll second the H2 Zoom.  Though it does not have built in speakers, it does capture the sound quite well, dynamics included. 

April 10, 2011 at 11:37 AM ·

But does have a headphone jack if you want instant playback. That's what i use as a check when we're using it for the orchestra.

April 10, 2011 at 10:10 PM ·

Zoom H2 and power sources. If you use ordinary non-rechargeable batteries in the field you might start to get embarrassed anywhere between 2 and 3 hours recording. Use rechargeables instead and you should get at least 5 hours out of it. I've done the tests using Duracell rechargeables and can confirm it. The reason for this is the different ways in which the batteries run down. The non-rechargeables start at about 1.5V and then there is a very quick drop-off after about 2 hours or so to the critical 1.1V at which the Zoom shuts down (it gives a screen warning). A fully charged rechargeable starts at a voltage quite a bit less than 1.5V but the run down to 1.1V is much steadier and takes a lot longer (5 hours or more). A pair of rechargeables take only an hour or so to be recharged. 

If you're using the Zoom indoors I'd recommend running it off the mains via the supplied transformer instead of using batteries. Unfortunately, the Zoom H2 doesn't incorporate battery charging circuitry for on-board rechargeables (there may be good technical reasons for this).

A tip. The Zoom's resident OS isn't the fastest around when it comes to downloading or uploading files from a computer.  So what I do is to remove the memory card (I use 8GB) and put it in a multicard reader which is a lot faster.

And another tip. The sound files you record are stored in the H2 in 10 folders which have predetermined names (FOLDER01 - FOLDER10) that you cannot alter, and you cannot have subfolders within those folders. Before recording you choose from the Menu which folder you want to use. Files are initially stored with names such as STE-000, rising sequentially and dated and timed, but you can always rename your STE files to ones of your choice afterwards when you connect the Zoom to a computer. The computer sees the Zoom (or rather its memory card) as an external drive, so these tasks are very easy to do. 

April 11, 2011 at 05:38 PM ·

I'm just not sure about the H2 Zoom. It looks good, it's not expensive and it records okay but the interface is a real fiddle. It's just tiny and hard to read as well as being somewhat arcane. I would say when you're just practicing you need something quck and easy to use that doesn't need playback through a PC.

April 11, 2011 at 08:32 PM ·

After searching some more for what is available and keeping in mind the needs of the original poster,  I found the Roland CD-2i which fits the bill to a tee.  The only drawback is that it costs $650.  It has 2 mics and 2 speakers for stereo recording/playback. It also has features geared toward the rehearsing musician. Still, it is a bit pricey.

Charles

April 11, 2011 at 09:42 PM ·

The Zoom H2 is the way to go -- excellent sound quality.  If you just want to do a quick record and playback, it works great.  Not sure why it is so important to play the audio through speakers because the earphones work fine.  But I guess you could hook it up to a hi-fi system if you really wanted to.  Anything with built in speakers is going to be a lot bulkier.  One of the advantages of the H2 is its portability.  You can throw it in your case and use it to record chamber rehearsals or recitals.

April 12, 2011 at 01:36 AM ·

I agree, Smiley.  The Zoom H2 looks like a great deal at $150.  Robert, I think you had it right early on.  You mentioned hooking up a pair of computer speakers to the Zoom's 1/8" headphone jack.  I do this with my iPhone and it works just fine.  The Roland I came across seems to add speakers, a metronome, and a built-in CD burner for $500 more than the Zoom -- certainly not worth the extra $$$ for those features.  Some of the compact recorders do have built-in speakers, but they are so small that the audio quality will certainly be lacking. By the way, here's a review of the Zoom H2 from an audiophile's perspective:

http://www.tnt-audio.com/sorgenti/zoom_h2_e.html

That person gives it a good review.  It's got several endorsements from fellow v.commers, too!   I'd say the H2 is what you're looking for.  Just make sure the speakers you plug in are amplified.  I have an old pair of computer speakers that are not self-powered and I don't think they can be driven properly by devices with an output designed for headphones.  Of course this means you will lose some portablility to the extent of the size of your speakers and you'll be tied to an A/C outlet with the power adapter that's needed for them, but it still looks like the best way to go overall.  You can get something like the Logitech S120 speakers for $10.43 on Amazon and they'll surely be better than the tiny built-in speakers you'd find in the compact recorders.

By the way, I made this recording using my iPhone:

http://www.fiddlefogey.com/bin/goodking.mp3

For those who have the Zoom H2, can you give me your opinion of how my recording compares? Any criticism about my technique is welcome, too. Just remember I'm only playing for a bit over 3 months!  Yes, that's birds chirping in the background.  Saturday was a beautiful day here in NY and I had the windows open :-)

Charles

April 12, 2011 at 09:43 PM ·

Okay, all the responses are much appreciated. At this point the Zoom paired with a pair of PC speakers works pretty well. I still have a problem with the tiny tiny display and very fiddly menu structure. In my first posting I mentioned the Sanyo recorder (ICR-XPSOIMF)(http://sanyo.com/soundrecorder/

Check out the display and slim profile of this device. This is available in the US but what seemed to make this really attractive to me was the docking station complete with four speakers. The frustration is that the docking station doesn't appear to be marketed in the US. I was hoping that someone out there perhaps had experience or knowledge of this unit and information on availability somewhere in the world?

April 12, 2011 at 10:41 PM ·

Robert, that Sanyo is SEXY! I know you mentioned it from the start, but when I googled xacti all I had gotten was a series of video recorders. It is hard to find. After clicking on your link I see why you're looking to get one.  You are paying for the sexiness to some extent, though.  Some recorders have better specs for the same price, not counting the dock. I am reading that the dock is INCLUDED!  Check out ebay item 390150032125.  The xacti and dock are being sold together (according to description) for $247 plus $20 for shipping to US (ships from Japan). If you go for it, I'd verify with the seller that the dock is included just in case.
 
Good luck whatever you choose,
Charles

April 13, 2011 at 09:11 PM ·

 

Charles, it’s interesting how these little projects turn into quests for the Holy Grail. It never occurred to me to check e-Bay. I had called Sanyo North America and I was told the product was not available in the US, the recorder yes, the recorder and docking station no! The agent said to try a search where the product was being sold. So not to be put off I did that and found it for sale at one on line store in the UK, selling for about $350 plus shipping. However that store did not appear to ship outside of the UK. Okay I could still have my brother buy it for me and then ship it to me here in the US. The problem with this though is the difference in voltage as far as the AC adapter is concerned. It’s 240 volts there and 110 volts here. That would mean adding a voltage convertor to the package. Then I found one on line store in Japan selling the product but asking for the equivalent of $550 plus $50 shipping, although they did ship to the US. However, yet again the voltage in Japan is 100 volts. Would this cause a problem here in the US or would it mean yet another voltage convertor?  When I read your post and checked out eBay I felt the thrill of excitement. My search was at an end. Here it was the recorder complete with docking station shipped from Japan for about $250. Immediately I decided to take a chance and buy it. I started to complete the purchase order when, O no! The seller is out until April 20th and no longer processing orders. Hopefully he's back in Japan buying more Sanyo recorders.

April 14, 2011 at 01:59 AM ·

Japan is dealing with some rather difficult issues right now.  If you get the recorder, make sure to check it out with a Geiger counter -- sorry, bad joke

April 14, 2011 at 04:21 AM ·

Smiley, I thought about the same thing for a moment after I posted my message.  Could the device be irradiated if it is coming from Japan? Might this be something to actually worry about, Robert?
 
This is quite a quest you're on!  I see that Japan often uses non-polarized plugs so any power adapter that comes with it (probably a wall-wart) should fit an electrical outlet here in the States.  Voltage and frequency in Japan can differ from the U.S., but I see from the Sanyo website that the power adapter is likely to be a switch mode type with an input voltage range of 100-240 and an a/c frequency of either 50 or 60 Hz. Typical household U.S. current is at 120v with a frequency of 60 Hz, so if it ships with an adapter from Japan with the 100-240v, 50/60 Hz range you should be good to go.  I would suggest you try to download the JAPANESE language manual and verify the power supply specs there.
 
Charles

April 14, 2011 at 04:32 AM ·

One final thought.  You must check the Japanese manual to see if there is a language setting. You might get stuck with a unit that only displays Japanese text!

April 14, 2011 at 05:32 PM ·

Charles, thank you for the encouragement and the lead to eBay. I found another vendor in Japan on eBay selling this unit for around $300 so I just jumped on it and now I'm waiting for it to be shipped out to the US. O well, if it's a bit irradiated I'll be able to practice in the dark, at least I'll know where the recorder is. I'm old enough that I can remember when wrist watch numerals glowed in the dark and they were not LEDs! And then again the house that I grew up in back in the UK had lead plumbing. I survived. The tragedy in Japan affects us all one way or another yet we know that the Japanese people will survive this and be a role model for the rest of the world in terms of overcoming this disaster. Living in California I survived one earthquake back in the eighties, nearly losing my home into the Pacific but I can’t imagine the horror of a Tsunami and devastation if caused in Northern Japan. I’ll let you know how the Sanyo shapes up and thanks again for the lead.

April 20, 2011 at 10:34 PM ·

Oops!  Had to gut the message.  It was meant for another thread.

Anyway, since I'm here...  Robert, I might be just as anxious about your Sanyo recorder arriving as you are!  Give us an update soon.  I remember my grandmother telling me about the radioactive, glow-in-the-dark paint they used in the aircraft instrument panels made during WWII.  She'd mention it every time she needed to wind up the household clock that had the harmless version of a glowing dial/needle in it.  I'd like to buy the Classics for Japan CD -- I think I'll do that after dinner.  As far as the lead plumbing, I hope it was for the wastewater and not the supply line!

Charles

April 24, 2011 at 11:59 PM ·

I just got my Sanyo recorder, shipped out from a seller in Japan  through e-Bay. The first thing to note is that, coming from Japan, the menus are as suspected in Japanenglish and so was the owners manual that came with it. No problem on the manual because that's easy to download the English version in PDF format from the internet. Also since this is a Japanese retail model, it's not possible to go into the menu and change the language to anything other than Japanese. The model that's sold in Europe has a menu option to change the language to Russian, German, English etc. That's the bad news. The good news is that the controls are so easy to figure out and operation is a piece of cake. It's only the detailed menus that are in Japanese script, the controls themselves are either in English or symbols that are basically universal. The other detailed options are easy to work out using the owners manual and counting through the options, unless you can read Japanese of course.The next good thing is that when the recorder is docked into the speaker station. it's small enough to sit on the ledge of my music stand next to the metronome. Recording and playback are very simple operations. No need to use headphones although that's an option. I checked playback frequencies with my tuner and they are very accurate. I think the sound quality is just fine for my purposes and very acceptable for a practice session. Operation is simple and easy to do with just a few clicks. The display is bright and large enough to see without a magnifying glass and the unit, even with the docking station is compact enough to take with you anywhere. The handheld is about the same size as a small mobile phone. The ac adapter has input voltage from 100 to 240 volts. It's also possible to connect to a PC with a USB cable. So despite my initial fears about the Japanese menu, it's not a problem and very convenient to be able to record and playback without having to use headphones. Hope this helps for anyone looking for the same or something similar. My only question is why Sanyo wouldn't sell this particular setup in the US, they market the handheld, why not the docking station too?

April 25, 2011 at 01:03 AM ·

 Robert,

I don't know if you've already made a purchase or not, but I want to echo what Susan posted about a digital recorder.  I use a relatively inexpensive Sony recorder ($70) for my lessons and as a practice tool.  It's absolutely suitable for my purposes.  I have a Mac and I just plug the recorder in and download the sound file and it saves it to my iTunes as an MP3.  The Mac has pretty good speakers - no headphones or extra speakers needed.

April 25, 2011 at 07:37 PM ·

Good to hear it's working out well for you, Robert.  In the end, it is a more elegant solution than a recorder paired with multimedia speakers because the sanyo fits neatly into it's own dock.

Mary, one of Robert's preferred features was built-in speakers so he didn't have to be tethered to a computer or tote around a pair of external speakers.  The problem with the few recorders that do have built-in speakers is that they probably don't reproduce the low end very well.  He came across the Sanyo Xacti recorder, which has a speaker dock tailor made for it.  (see thread for the whole story!)

April 25, 2011 at 09:44 PM ·

 I have been using a Tascam DR-03, which you can get for around 70 USD, give or take a little.  I think it's great.  The built-in  speaker is insufficient for good playback, but headphones sound great for that purpose.  Overall, decent stereo digital recording (wav or mp3 format) for very little money.

For a little more you might check out the DR-05.

April 26, 2011 at 02:01 AM ·

 ahh - thanks, Charles.  Careless reading on my part!

April 26, 2011 at 05:31 AM ·

I guess just a final update for anybody looking for a similar solution. I think any of the suggestions will work. I did try the Zoom and powered PC speakers, I just didn't like the Zoom at all, it's too fiddly (no pun intended) and the speakers and the wires were just a tangle. I also tried the Zoom with a lap-top, but just the same problem really and again too much set up. The Sanyo is just like my electronic metronome. It's there, easy to use, recording and playback are just a few easy clicks. The unit can run either on a rechargeable battery or with a mains adapter. My theory is that if it's easy and convenient, it will get used and can help with practice sessions. Play, record, playback, listen, play again and so on until it sounds just right. When working on intonation and you playback while you check with an electronic tuner, it's very easy to see what is sharp or flat and what is right on key. It really is an eye opener, or perhaps better yet an ear opener when you play back what you think is in tune. Yikes!!!

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