Monday, March 11, 2013

First Impressions of the Olympus LS-14 digital audio recorder

Olympus LS-14 Linear PCM Recorder 
I've been using my smart phone or iPad to do some recording at the Irish sessions and old-time jams that I attend, but I don't like zapping my phone's battery to record a long session, and I don't really like carting around an iPad for this purpose and risk having beer spilled on it.  Plus, the sound quality isn't quite there on recordings made with my phone or iPad unless I use an external mic, and then it becomes less discreet and much more cumbersome.

So I decided to get a portable recording device - something digital that's designed for music and not voice, able to record for up to 3+ hours at a time, with good microphones, ability to record as MP3 or .wav, with lots of memory (either built-in or with an SDHC card), long battery life, easy navigation and easy to get files off of, be able to screw into a tripod stand, be relatively small but sturdy and be $200 or less.  Basically I just wanted something I could place on a table in front of the fiddler, press record, and then not have to worry about for the rest of the night.

I came across at least 6 possible audio recorders in my search: the Philips LFH0655, the Sony PCM-M10, the Tascam DR-40, the Zoom H2N, and the Olympus LS-14 or LS-12. I liked how the Philips had 4GB of built-in memory and a rechargeable battery.  Plus, at $80, the price was right.  However, it's more of a voice recorder and I wasn't sure if the recording quality would be good enough.  As far as the Tascam DR-40, I didn't need the ability to record using external XLR mics and I feared that the navigation would be too complicated, so I quickly ruled that one out also.

The Sony PCM-M10 was more expensive than the Zoom and Olympus models, but didn't seem to be any better, and it was older than those, having been out for a few years from what I could tell. So I let the Sony one go too.  That left the Zoom H2N and the two new Olympus recorders - the LS-14 and the LS-12.  My research told me that the Olympus recorders beat out the Zoom when it came to battery life, ease of use, and built-in memory, with the added benefit of being able to overdub.  It then came down to the Olympus LS-14 or LS-12.  

I chose the more expensive LS-14 on the basis that it is supposed to have better mics, and had 4GB of built-in memory, compared to the LS-12's 2 gigs of memory.  In actuality, I probably would have been fine with the LS-12 because I ended up getting a 32GB SDHC card anyway, and have been using that to increase the amount of music I can store on the recorder. Both have a chromatic tuner and metronome functions, which are nice conveniences, but weren't a big factor in my decision.

Here are my first impressions of the Olympus LS-14 Linear PCM Recorder.  I like it!  It's very easy to figure out, even for someone with an aversion to technical stuff like me. As soon as I put the batteries in I was recording with very little confusion.  Then I listened back and was very pleased with the quality.  It was easy to switch the settings to record in MP3 320 kbps mode, which is what I think I'll use most of the time.  (If you want to overdub with a recording, you have to record everything in PCM 44.1 khz mode).

The LS-14 has 3 main recording settings - Smart, Quick and Manual.  Smart allows the device to do a 30 second analysis of the sounds it will be recording and then it automatically chooses the recording level.  Quick is just like you might think - you press record and it quickly begins recording at a pre-set level.  Manual allows you to set and adjust the recording level yourself.  Manual is the one I'll use the most, especially once I learn what the best settings are for the different environments I'll be recording in.  However, I can see situations where Smart or Quick might be useful.

The LS-14's 4GB of built-in memory might be enough for some users.  Office Max had a 32GB HDSC card on sale for $25 last week, so I went ahead and got one of those so I wouldn't have to worry about maxing out for a while.  The battery life is said to be 48 hours.  I've been using the two AA batteries it came with, and after several hours of use it still seems to be on a full charge.  The socket for mounting to a tripod or stand is great, and I've been using the CL2 stand clamp which was included.

Getting the files from the LS-14 to the computer is simple.  My computer recognizes it when I plug it into the USB, and I just copy and paste the files over.  (Backing up the files in a cloud service such as Dropbox is not a bad idea).  I haven't really used any of the editing features yet, such as File Divide, File Trimming and Partial Erase.  This is partly because I downloaded something called mp3DirectCut, so I just do that kind of track trimming on my computer after I've gotten the file off the recorder.  (I wonder if the LS-14 has a way to normalize the tracks - to increase the volume levels without distorting the recording???)

I've had the LS-14 for less than a week as of this writing, but I've already used it to record a banjo lesson/workshop, a live show by a local band, and an Irish Session I played in last night.  Below is a recording from the Irish session.  We were seated around a table and the recorder was laying in front of me on the table, pointed toward the fiddler, flute player, and Irish tenor banjoist. It also picked up the bodhran and guitar backup players - who were kind of on either side. Listen for yourself and let me know what you think!

I'd like to use my new recorder whenever appropriate to capture the tunes I hope to learn and practice playing along with.  If you have similar needs then it could be just what you were looking for.  The 32GB of memory with an SDHC card, which allows you to record up to 1000 hours of MP3 audio or 45+ hours of .wav audio, and the 40+ hour AA battery-life, should make it great for taking to campout festivals like Clifftop or Rockbridge.  I can even see someone recording a My Morning Jacket rock concert with it!  Let me know if you have any questions about this product or would like more information.


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  2. Hi. Thanks for this very good review. I am looking to buy a digital voice recorder and am down to either the LS-12 or LS-14. I will use it to record voice interviews most times, but if the opportunity arise to record music, I could do too. So wanted to get your opinion on what feature the LS-14 has that the LS-12 doesn't. Thank you.

  3. Thanks for taking the time,great review.
    I bought one yesterday for classic guitar recording.
    I'll post a sampler Asap.

    Great irish music !!

    1. Glad you like it and will be using one!

    2. Hi
      This test is not complete without trying the overdubbing function.
      this is a quick try.
      I've recorded my old classical guitar.(four tracks)
      Want to pan a track left or right? Just change your placement.
      The audio is not pro,but sounds good enough for me.

    3. Before I forget, I've used it for ambient sounds recording.
      No doubt, this Olympus does the job.

      Walking in a casino in Vegas =>

  4. Hi, this is nice, since you have recorded music.
    In most reviews there is just speech.
    But when you say the LS was lying on the table, was it on the edge with the mikes in "free air", or literally on the table, with mikes on the table, too?
    I ask this, because the result becomes totally different.

    1. Thanks for your question. If I remember correctly, I believe on this occasion I was using the small clip/stand that it comes with, which elevates the mikes in "free air" a few inches off the table.