Digital recorder syndrome

It was roughly about the time we stuck our head out the window and started to record the sound of rain and thunder that we realised we’d come down with something serious.
We’d developed digital recorder syndrome, a condition that is characterised by a heightened appreciation for significant sounds and a desire to capture and replay them.
We first became aware of the symptoms after several months of singing lessons and weekly practice nights with the South of the River Community Gospel Choir. We started using a Zoom H4 digital field recorder from the Japanese-based Zoom Corporation to help learn a considerable repertoire of African, North American gospel and original Australian material, and as the choir began appearing at ever more prestigious gigs, Bleeding Edge took on the job of recording the events.
By the time the choir performed at this year’s Port Fairy Folk Music Festival, we’d graduated to the Zoom H4′s successor, the H4n, and our symptoms started to develop.
Zoom Corporation shook up the market with both its predecessors, the H4 and less expensive H2 digital recorders, which offered the quality and capabilities of more expensive DAT and MiniDisc recorders at more affordable prices.
With the H4n, they’ve produced something that approaches the quality of lower-end pro audio devices.
The Australian agents, Dynamic Music haven’t been able to keep up with the demand from musicians and other users. Earlier this year it was featured at the Pulima 2009 National Indigenous Language and Information Communication Technology Forum, as a tool for preserving Aboriginal languages.


The dual in-built X/Y stereo condensor microphones of the earlier H4 can now be rotated from a 90 degree pattern for solo artists or small groups, to 120 degrees for orchestras and choirs, or if you’re using it to record conferences, for audience response.
You can also plug in two external microphones or line level feeds through the XLR/ 1/8th inch jack inputs, which also provide phrantom power. The H4n records to mono, stereo or four tracks.
The pre-amps have been improved, and lo-cut filters and a range of compressors and limiters prevent distortion and extend the dynamic range, allowing high quality recording
with push-button selection of recording formats from compressed MP3 (48kbps to 320kbps) to better-than-CD-quality 24-bit/96-kHz WAV files.
The recording medium is SD or high-capacity SDHC memory cards of up to 32GB.
The files can be quickly transferred to a PC or Mac via USB, and you can also use it as a USB interface to the PC or Mac.
Playback speed can be adjusted from 50 per cent to 150 percent, at constant pitch, which is useful for learning a language, recording conferences and electronic news-gathering applications. The H4n has a much larger LCD screen than its predecessor, which makes it much easier to navigate the menus for functions like setting recording levels.
The shock-absorbing rubber-edged case has a much lmore solid feel than its predecessors, which somehow helps ease the pain of the $879 price tag.
There are lots of other things you can do with a digital recorder aside from recording thunderstorms, choirs and foreign language lessons etc. You can, for instance, create radio shows with them. Creating radio shows is one of the activities Bleeding Edge has been considering falling back on in the event that newspapers cease to exist, and we find ourselves out of a job.
If you happen to be thinking along similar lines, you are likely to find transom.org, a “showplace and workshop for new public radio”, a wonderful resource. They have a lot of tutorials on pretty much everything to do with the preparation of audio programs.
Of course, if you lose your job, you might find you can’t afford $879 even for an essential worktool. In that case, you might have a look at the M-Audio MicroTrack II. It’s a diminutive but deceptively powerful package that inspires you to carry it around, and record emotionally significant auditory stimuli, such as, for instance, the sound of Bleeding Edge’s second grand-daughter, Misha, crying. The fact that she rarely cries – she spends most of her time sleeping – makes something so small, and easy to set up particularly handy. Pull it out of its soft case, attach the mini-microphone, adjust the levels and you’re ready to go.
At 150g it’s slightly less than half the weight of the H4n, about 2/3 its length and about half the thickness. You can connect two external mics using 1/4-inch TSR jacks – it provides 48v phantom power and the microphone pre-amps are good quality – and it records WAV and MP3 files. You can even plug in a S/PDIF source.
The controls have been very well thought out. Two rocker switches on the face of the unit control the recording levels and another sets the headphone volume. The LCD display is very readable, and the menu and three-way navigation wheel are easy to navigate.It records to Compact Flash storage. One downside is that the battery is not user replaceable.
The MicroTrack II retails for $595. You can learn how to use it here. You can learn a lot of other things at that site, including some tutorials on Pro Tools, the industry standard audio-editing program. Those of us contemplating new careers can use all the help we can get.

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