M-Audio Microtrack 24/96

December 12th, 2005

by Jeff Towne

M-Audio Microtrack

 

 

There’s little doubt that the future of remote recording is trending toward using flash memory. As the prices for this kind of memory continue to fall, it becomes increasingly practical to carry multiple large memory cards, allowing for many hours of recording high-quality audio. The length of possible recording times, and the ease of moving the audio files to a computer for later editing make the use of tapes and discs seem increasingly archaic.

It’s a field that’s getting more and more crowded at all price levels: there are flash-memory recorders available from Marantz, Edirol, Sounddevices, Sony, Tascam, Nagra, Maya and many more, ranging in price from $400 to well over $2,000 USD. As is always the case, there are trade-offs necessary when considering size and price, and in the end it’s a personal decision which aspects of the total package are most important. If sound quality, and professional features are absolutely crucial, there are recording devices that will fit the bill, but you will pay a lot for them.  The M-Audio Microtrack 24/96 is readily available for about $400 US, needing only a big Compact-Flash memory card, and perhaps an external mic, to make it useful.

The M-Audio Microtrack 24/96 claims to offer high-resolution recording in a tiny package, at a reasonable price. But how well does it really work? As you might expect, it’s a mixed bag. There are necessary trade-offs for size, price, and practicality. But in the end, M-Audio seems to have done a pretty good job making a functional machine that’s good enough in most important ways.  It’s easy to use, sounds pretty good compared to other options, and is small and inexpensive enough to be a viable choice for many purposes.

The recorder is amazingly flexible given its size. It features several input options, including external mic inputs with phantom power, and the biggest surprise, an S/PDIF digital input. Outputs are limited to the mini headphone jack and a stereo pair of RCA plugs, but the very nature of these devices reduces the need for elaborate output interfacing, in most cases one will connect the unit to a computer, or remove the memory card and use a card-reader to transfer files to a computer for later editing.

The best news is that at its most basic, the machine is extremely easy to use, with all the major controls readily accessible from the top, with hardware buttons, not buried in menus or controlled by soft switches.

On the down-side the battery system is potentially problematic for extended field recording; at this time it only records in stereo, it does not have the ability to record a single channel, which would double the available record time on a CF card.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • small, light
  • inexpensive
  • manual record levels with front-panel controls
  • balanced inputs for external mics
  • Phantom power for (some) condenser mics
  • decent stereo mic provided
  • digital input
  • easy connection to computer for file transfers
  • can record at high resolutions and sample rates if desired (maximum 24 bit, 96khz)
  • easy firmware updates
Cons

  • very plastic-feeling, probably not too durable
  • no field-swappable battery/relatively short battery life
  • no mono record mode
  • not enough gain for low-output microphones
  • mic preamps a bit noisy at high gain settings
  • phantom power is not standard 48 volts, will not power some condenser microphones.
  • no audio monitor of S/PDIF input
  • weak headphone amp
  • quirky playback metering
  • slow boot-up sequence when powering device on
  • can’t add track markings during continuous recording

Ins and Outs

Microtrack TopOn the top of the machine there are 4 jacks.

On the left is a stereo mini mic input, which works very well with the supplied stereo T-Mic. Its input level is controlled by the up/down toggles on the front of the recorder, as well as a L-M-H switch on the left side. Unfortunately, even with the slider switch set at H for high, and the input volume turned all the way up, this jack does not provide much gain for quieter microphones, even when used with the Shure a96f impedance transformer.

Luckily the quarter-inch inputs provide more gain, when needed. These middle two jacks, marked L and R for the left and right channels, are wired as TRS jacks, a term for the type of wiring used in the cables that uses three conductors, the tip, the ring and the sleeve. You can tell these plugs by the two black bands on the shaft. This means that these jacks can take signal from the XLR outputs of balanced devices, microphones or live-level devices, retaining the balanced wiring, which reduces the potential for noise and other electronic pollution of the signal.

TRS Plug
It is important to use TRS plugs, not the more common TS unbalanced cables, as they will not make as good of a connection, and in some circumstances, those cables could damage the recorder.

TS PlugPhantom power for condenser mics requires balanced connections, so if you plan to use the phantom power you have no choice but to use cables converted from XLR on the mic end to TRS at the recorder end.

On the bottom of the recorder is a pair of RCA line-outs, which would allow you to connect the audio outputs of the device to a stereo, or powered speakers, or to another recording device. And mentioned above, that kind of analog real-time transfer is rarely needed any longer, because files can be so quickly transferred.

Microtrack BottomNext is an S/PDIF in for taking digital signals in, from a DAT machine, for example, or from the digital output of a mic preamp like the Grace Lunatek or the M-Audio Duo.

And on the right, a small USB connector. With the provided cable and a click toggle and click of the system setting, the recorder can be connected to a computer, and will act like a USB drive. The recorder charges its battery when connected via this USB connector. The Microtrack also ships with an adapter than allows the USB cable to be plugged into AC power, for direct charging of the battery without a computer.

Microtrack Left SideThe left side of the recorder has several hardware switches. At the top end is a Menu button, which toggles the display to various menus that control the settings of the device.

Next is a Hold button which serves to disable all controls, preventing accidental powering off, or on, of the machine, and preventing changes to any other controls while the hold switch is on.

Next is a L-M-H switch for selecting a gain range for the 1/4″ TRS input. It seems like it would mean “Low-Medium-High” but it actually stands for “Line – Mic – and High” As you might guess, use the L setting for inputs from an external preamp or mixer or another recorder or other line-level source. Use the M setting when recording with microphones plugged into the TRS inputs. Many mics, especially when recording quiet sources, like an interview, will require that you switch to the H setting in order to get enough gain.

And finally, the Phantom Power switch, which turns on or off the current required to power some condenser mics. Phantom power is only provided on the quarter-inch TRS jacks, and use of this will reduce battery life markedly. An FAQ on the M-Audio website warns not to unplug or replug input cables to the quarter-inch jacks while phantom power is on, one risks damaging the device if the current shorts while moving cables in or out.

Microtrack Right SideOn the right side of the recorder is a large slot for inserting a Compact Flash card, or microdrive (the CF card loads fully into the slot, flush with the side of the recorder, the protruding card is for illustration purposes only.

A standard Compact Flash memory card is sufficient, no need for ultra-fast cards. Microdrives often have larger capacities and lower prices, but one must keep in mind that the spinning mechanism of a microdrive will burn battery life faster, is sensitive to vibrations or shock, and can potentially create noise. The no-moving-parts of a static-memory Compact Flash card is preferable.

Screen Top MenuConveniently, the most commonly accessed Set-up and functions are accessed by pressing the “menu” button on the Microtrack’s left side, to access the various screens. One scrolls through the various options by flipping the toggle switch on the right side up or down, then pressing it in to select an option. The toggle is occasionally oversensitive, skipping over an option, but it generally works pretty smoothly and comfortably with one hand.

Microtrack Screen RecordThe main top-level categories are:

  • Files, where one can audition or delete recorded files
  • Record Settings, where one can select bit-depth, sampling rate and other record parameters
  • Backlight, where one can control the activity of the blue backlight, which improves readability, but burns battery. It can be always-on, always-off or auto shut-off at various intervals.
  • System, which selects some universal settings, formats the CF cards, and puts the Microtrack in a mode where it can connect to a computer via a USB cable.

Microtrack Screen Record 2Within the Record Settings menu, one can choose the input source, selecting between the mini TRS mic input, the 1/4″ TRS, or the S/PDIF digital input.

The Input Monitor can be turned on or off, determining whether the headphone jack and RCA line-outs will be active during recording. Some battery power could be saved by turning the input monitor off, but it’s generally good practice to always listen to what you’re recording. At this time, the input monitor is NOT active when recording from the digital input, making recording from a digital source somewhat of an act of faith.

The 27dB TRS Boost should be turned on in most circumstances when recording with microphones connected to the 1/4″ TRS jacks. Turn this boost off when recording from a line-level signal, or when recording extremely loud sources through the mic inputs. This is a digital boost, not analog input gain, so it’s a little quieter to have this set to off, and the input gain set higher, but for recording interviews, and ambiences, it seems that most mics require both the H setting on the gain switch on the side, and the 27dB boost from this menu.

The Encoder setting allows you to choose between full-bandwidth .wav file recording and compressed MP3 recording. Recording to .wav files uses up significant disc space, approximately 10 megs per minute. At 16-bit, 44.1 kHz, this will allow over an hour and a half of audio in a 1 gig memory card, over three hours on a 2 gig card.

MP3 recording allows significantly longer record times, as the resulting files are much smaller. A one gig card can hold over 24 hours of audio at 96 kbps, over 7 hours of audio even at the highest sample rate. The “Bits” menu item can be used to set the bit rate of the MP3 file, in several steps from 96 kbps which will create very small, but low-quality files, to 320 kbps, which would create relatively high-quality files. This is handy functionality to have when one needs long record times for relatively non-critical recordings. But it is highly recommended to resist the urge to use MP3, or any compressed recording format for important master recordings.

The problem is not whether the MP3 sounds good on the initial playback, it’s that if those files are compressed further, later in the production process, either for delivery over the internet, or over a radio satellite system, or as a podcast, or simply on the end-user’s computer, those additional compressions can seriously compromise the sound quality in ways that would not occur if the original recording was done in .wav format.

Next on the menu is Sample Rate. In .wav recording, on can choose 44.1, 48, 88.2, or 96. Those numbers represent thousands of samples per second, eg 44.1 khz. It’s common audio shorthand to just use the terms 44.1, 96, etc. The sample rate 44.1 is a long-used standard, on CDs, DAT machines and other digital devices. 48k is a common standard for digital video. The higher sample rates are becoming increasingly popular for high-definition audiophile recording. Those rates allow for a greater frequency response, well above the 20hz to 20khz frequencies that are generally referred to as the “audible range”. There’s good evidence that retaining audio information above that range improves fidelity, but at a cost: recording at higher sample rates uses more disc space. 44.1 khz is certainly sufficient for most recording tasks.

Bits refers to the bit-depth of the recording, the number of gradations of resolution if each sample. 16-bit has long been the standard for CDs and DAT recorders, but 24-bit is becoming more common. That increased resolution does indeed increase the possible detail , especially in low-level information, but once again, at a cost: recording at 24-bit reduces the number of minutes you can record on a given memory card. If the machine is set to record in MP3, this bits menu can be used to change the “bit rate” of the compression, higher numbers correlates to higher quality.

At this time, the Microtrack only records stereo files, but the manual promises that there will be a mono mode in the future, available via a firmware update. That would allow double the record time if recording with a mono microphone, which would be a great help to users that record interviews more than music and ambience. When that happens the Channels control will switch between those modes.

The Rec Time Available is pretty self-explanitory, simply displaying the time remaining on the currently installed memory card. That time is displayed in the record window as well, but this is helpful to have if one is not currently recording.

Microtrack Screen System Menu

Microtrack Screen System Menu

Microtrack Screen System Menu

The System menu contains some important controls, many of which you will set once and ignore. The first is not one of those, the Connect to PC menu item is required to mount the Microtrack as a drive on your computer, via the supplied USB cable. This is the simplest way to move audio from the Microtrack to your computer for archiving, burning to CD or editing, but the data moves at USB1 rates. If you’re moving a lot of data, it’s faster to remove the CF card from the Microtrack and use an external card reader if you have one that connects via USB2 or firewire. But connecting the cable, clicking on Connect to PC and then clicking again is simple. That puts the Microtrack in host mode which disables playing or recording from the machine, but it does start charging the battery.

Like with all USB devices, it’s important to properly eject the Microtrack when you’re done transferring the data, simply pulling the cable might corrupt the data on the CF card.

Format Media will erase all information on the CF card.You may need to do this the first time you load a new memory card into the slot.

Link L+R gangs the left and right record controls together, very helpful when recording with a stereo microphone, or a stereo line-in. Unlink them if the input signals are at significantly different levels between the two channels.

Playback EQ allows you to shape the bass and treble response of playback, but unless your headphones really need it, it’s best to leave this off to better hear what you’re getting at the source.

Verify Delete is best left on, it’s a little too easy to bump that delete button on the top of the unit, and without this switched on, your files will be immediately erased.

Scrub Audio supposedly allows audible scanning through the audio by pressing the toggle switch up or down. It sort-of works, but the audio is just little choppy blips, it’s hard to keep track of what you’re hearing. But better than nothing…

Auto Off will save battery life by shutting the Microtrack down after a specified period of time if it is running on battery and no buttons have been pushed. It will NOT shut off if the machine is in record mode.

Language refers to the language the menus will display, for now English and Spanish are the only choices, more may be added through firmware updates.

Factory Defaults resets all the system settings back to the defaults. This will be helpful if you wish to reset the file numbering. As it is set, the file names just count up sequentially, even after card reformatting. Be careful with your file management, if you reset the file numbers and then transfer a new file into a folder that has an old file with the same number, one could accidentally overwrite the older file.

Firmware Update allows the capabilities of the Microtrack to be updated. There’s already been one update, less than two months after the unit’s release. The firmware updates take the form of files available from the M-Audio website. Download the files, load them onto the CF card you use in the Microtrack, select this Firmware Update selection, press in the selection button. Done.

Version simply displays the current firmware.

Contrast adjusts the screen brightness.

Date and Time is logged into the soundfiles, so it can be very helpful to have this set accurately.

A note about phantom power: only condenser microphones require it, and of those, some can run on an internal battery. If you have a dynamic mic, like an EV RE50, a Beyer M58, or a Shure SM58, don’t turn on phantom, you don’t need it. If your condenser mic can take an internal battery, you probably should use it, it will increase the battery life of the Microtrack, and probably be a more reliable source of power for the mic. The Microtrack’s phantom power supplies a lower voltage than the standard 48, so some condenser mics will not accept it. Others will run quite happily on the approximately 30 volts provided. M-Audio has compiled a partial list of microphones that will work with the Microtrack’s phantom power here>>. I can add that the AKG C-900 works just fine on the Microtrack’s phantom, but the Rode NTG2 does not.

Fortunately, most of the settings in those nested menus can be adjusted once and then ignored. It’s a real advantage of this unit that the main functions of recording are on hardware buttons on the top of the unit, so that once you’ve set your recording preferences, recording a file can be as easy as pressing the red record button and adjusting the levels with the up-down arrows. Once parameters like encoding type, sample rate and Keep in mind that you should keep phantom power tuned off when connecting or disconnecting cables from the TRS jacks, so try to observe this order: verify phantom power is off, then connect whatever audio inputs you wish to use, then turn on phantom power if needed, then hit record and adjust your input levels.

By pressing the red record button, the record screen is displayed, and recording starts, as indicated by a large solid circle in the top left of the screen, and the time counter rolling in the lower right. You can pause to adjust your levels, or to simply wait until the right time to start, by pressing in on the toggle/selection switch on the right. The universal sign for pause, two vertical lines will display in the upper left and the counter will stop. Press that selection switch again and recording will resume. Pausing does not make any markers or make a new track. To stop recording, just press record again. There will be a short delay, and the screen will read “writing file”. To record again, just press record again.

Microtrack Screen

Microtrack Screen

Microtrack Screen

This is one major problem with the Microtrack, there’s no way to write a track mark for a new file, while recording continuously, as the Marantz recorders allow. So if one is recording a continuous event, an interview or concert or something similar, you will either end up with one big file, or there will be short gaps as the recorder writes file data to the disc before it can continue. Hopefully this can be addressed in future firmware updates.

There are two time displays at the bottom of the window, the one on the left is the time elapsed in this recorded track, the number on the right is the time remaining on the disc.

The wedge shape at the top of the window reflects the headphone output volume, as controlled by the up/down toggle marked “volume” next the to the record button. The affects only the monitoring or playback volume at the headphones, it does not influence the recorded track in any way. Unfortunately there is not loads of gain on this headphone amp, and I found myself running it at full volume most times, even with loud headphones like the Sony 7506s.

The small triangles along the meter bars indicate the input gain settings, if the triangles are all the way to the right, you are at full input gain, and there’s no point to trying to turn it up any more. If you have clicked L-R link in the system menu they should be even, but if you turn that off, each channel can display different gains.

The small dark bars that appear along the meters are peak-holds and indicate the peak level of the audio being recorded. The main dark meter bars are a little sluggish, and display the average levels of the input better than the peaks. Between the averaging meters, the graphic peak indicators and the red clip indicators that light up above the volume up/down toggles when a clip is encountered, there’s a pretty good amount of metering to help you set your levels. The green “signal present” indicators that light up underneath the volume buttons should be fairly consistently lit when recording.

Microtrack T-MicThe Microtrack does NOT have a built-in limiter or automatic gain control. I rarely like how those sound on inexpensive recorders, so having easily-adjustable manual input controls is a better choice, in my opinion. But as a result, you need to be very careful about your levels, there is no limiter or AGC to compensate for you if you have your volume set poorly.

The Microtrack ships with a little T-microphone that attaches to the 1/8″ input on the top of the recorder. It records surprisingly good sounding audio, with a decent stereo size. Despite the foam covers, the mics distort a bit in the wind, as any mic would, but they are amazingly useable mics for something that just comes free with the recorder.

It’s obviously a bit unergonomic for interviews, sticking the whole recorder in someone’s face is not the best situation, and you’d need to tilt the recorder a bit to get someone’s voice directly into a mic.

Audio Samples

Listen

Sample #1

Ambience of an urban farm market, exiting onto the street with idling trucks using the included stereo T-Mic

Listen

Sample #2

Rode NTG2 short shotgun mic in a very quiet soundbooth

Listen

Sample #3

EV 635A dynamic omni mic in a very quiet soundbooth

Audio Quality

There have been some concerns stated in internet discussions about the self-noise of the Microtrack, and indeed, there is some audible hiss and general noise when the inputs are cranked up very high, as they often need to be. The noise will be fairly negligible when recording loud sources, but for a person speaking a conversational levels, the input gains will need to be cranked pretty high, especially with dynamic mics. It’s a personal choice whether the hiss and noise is too much, I find it to be subjectively less than the Marantz PMD660 under similar conditions. There are way too many ways to test this noise, but the most real-world that I could think of was to set the microtrack’s gains for proper levels for recording an interview. With both a condenser shotgun mic and a dynamic omni mic, the gain settings were pretty high, switched to H on the side, the 27dB boost applied to the TRS inputs, the hardware gain controls set to halfway for the shotgun, full-up for the omni. Here’s a plot of the noise recorded by leaving the machine running in a well-isolated voice booth. Recordings were at 16-bit, 44.1 khz.

Microtrack NTG2

Microtrack 635A

The noise floor is down at almost -70dBfs for the condenser mic, and not so much worse, maybe about -62dBfs for the omni mic. It’s not perfect, but not a huge problem for most applications. Recording louder sources will allow the gain controls to be reduced, which will lower the noise floor. Recording with hotter mics, like condensers, clearly makes the noise less of a problem, yet the Microtrack does not seem to suffer from input clipping as the Marantz 660 sometimes does.

One of the bigger problems with the Microtrack is the powering scheme: there’s no field-swappable battery, so if the battery dies, there’s no inserting new batteries, the machine needs to be recharged. The internal battery’s run-time seems to range widely depending on the unit, and the usage, but my experience was a maximum record time of about 3.5 hours, recording with no phantom power. If you need more operating time than that, the best solution seems to be an external device that can provide the required 5-volt power via a mini-USB connector. Here are two examples: http://www.bixnet.com/usbbatterybox.html and http://www.dealsonic.com/usbbapabapof.html there may be some other powering options, we’ll discuss those in talk as we discover them.

There have been reports of different behavior, but when I recorded with the unit right up until the batteries failed, I lost the last soundfile that I recorded, apparently the track information was not recorded because the battery died. Earlier tracks were unaffected, but I had to transfer those files off of the CF card and reformat the card before I could record again, despite apparently deleting files, which should have freed-up space. So… don’t let the batteries run out!

When connected to a computer or to AC power, or to one of those USB battery boxes, the Microtrack by default enters a charge mode that disables all the controls. If you want to operate the machine while plugged-in, have the machine booted-up before plugging the USB cable into the computer or wall power. If it’s in operating mode first, the power will still run the machine and charge the battery, you’ll see a small CHG indicator in the upper right of the main window, but if you attach the USB cable before starting up, it will enter a special charge mode that does not allow the machine to record or play.

In conclusion, the M-Audio Microtrack 24/96 is a very easy-to use machine, with some helpful professional features, and pretty good sound quality. There are a few downsides for field reporters, like the fixed battery, and the inability to make track marks during continuous recording. Some audiophiles might find the inputs to be too noisy, but they seem remarkably good for a recorder that sells for under $400 US, and is about the size and weight of a deck of cards. The machine’s ability to record at 24 bit and 96 khz is a boon for those who desire such features, although depending on the circumstances, the mic preamp’s specs won’t always deliver clean sound down to those lower bits.

It’s not a perfect machine, but delivers surprisingly good sound and ease of use at a decent price. There are more flash-memory recorders hitting the market, at various price points and at various levels of sophistication. I think this recorder offers a good balance of price and performance, and the convenience of the small size and weight and quality of the provided mini mics, make it a good choice for independent audio producers

 


78 Comments on “M-Audio Microtrack 24/96”

  • Jeff Towne says:
    M-Audio Microtrack discussions

    Although this unit has been out for several weeks, I think many of the users are still uncovering pros and cons, so I expect that there will be much to discuss. I give M-Audio some credit for issuing a firmware update so soon after release, which improves several functions. I think this bodes well for further tweaks and upgrades.

    I’m actually kind-of excited about this, it has its quirks, but the compact size and ease of use make this a very handy machine, much like the unexpectedly good, inexpensive, little digital cameras everyone has now. Similar devices existed previously, but some sort of threshold has been crossed…

    So if you have one and have discovered some tricks to make it work better, or run into things to avoid, please share! Or if you’re considering getting one of these, feel free to ask questions, hopefully one of us will be able to help.

    –jeff

  • Jeff Towne says:
    External power

    As mentioned in the review, the internal battery for the Microtrack is one potential trouble spot: if one needs to record for more than about 3 hours, the internal battery might not last. Sonic Studios, in their charmingly obsessive way has already rigged an external "powersled" that can keep the machine running for 20-50 hours. They’re not cheap, and they’re not small, but if you need one…

    the powersled

    Sonic Studios did their own review of the Microtrack here

  • Jay Allison says:
    external power

    Jeff, what might account for the price difference in the auxiliary battery-powered USB boxes referenced in your article (under $10) and the one above from Sonic Studios ($150-$175)?

  • Jeff Towne says:
    external power

    I suspect that the little cheap boxes will give a few more hours of run-time on AA batteries. The Sonic Studios "sleds" are loaded with C or D cells, are big, heavy, and built like tanks, and will keep the gear running for 20-50 hours. Depends what you need…

  • Aaron Vogel says:
    Personal experience

    I’m a photo journalismm student at Brooks Institute and I’ve been really getting into recording audio during photo assignments to later put together with the slides. I picked up the Microtrack after checking out the other MD options – I hadn’t found the Marantz units beforehand. I’ve been using it for a couple months now and I’m very happy with it for my purposes. I’ve used a number of mics – Senheiser G2 wireless lavs, a Senheiser shotgun, and the t-mic that comes with it – in a great deal of situations ranging from loud bars to quiet rooms for interviews. I’ve found the noise that is discussed to be noticeable in themore quietuiet situations, though since I’ve begun using Soundtrack Pro the noise is very easy to filter out in post production. The biggest drawback I’ve found is the plastic case. I’m ALWAYS worried about being too rough with it and am looking for a bag that I can easily keep a mic or two and the Microtrack in. I’m no audiophile, and I’m not recording anything that’ll be used on an kind of high-def media, so for me this thing is great.

  • Philip says:
    Microtrack vs. MD

    I have been reading with great interest your reviews of the Marantz and now the Microtrack. My Minidisk (MD-N707) is a few years old and I am considering having another recording device around as backup. For me the decision is whether it is time to change technologies and go flash. On one hand I see the infinite possibilities of the new technology but wonder if – given the launch of more new flash audio recorders each month – it might be better to stick with the old technology for another year…

  • Flawn Williams says:
    MicroTrack quirks

    Jeff, excellent review. The writeup is very enlightening, both about the MicroTrack and about general issues of digital flash recording.

    I would urge caution for anyone investing in this unit in the near future to do anything they consider critical. Two early adopters I have spoken with have seen files disappear, machines lock up, etc. Firmware updates may or may not solve these operating system problems. (There is a second update released already, and several issues still acknowledged by M-Audio remain to be resolved in later versions.)

    The danger of plugging and unplugging TRS cables with phantom power turned on cannot be overlooked. Thanks Jeff for stressing that in your writeup.

    The preamp noise in both this unit and the Marantz 660 is annoying. This is basic design that should have been resolved years ago. Current MiniDisc offerings are quieter and cheaper than these machines. Custom-modified versions of the 660 are also quieter (and more expensive).

    And although the MicroTrack can record in 24/96 format (via analog only, NOT YET via digital input in spite of the unit’s name), the analog front end circuitry quality is nowhere near appropriate for that kind of hi-res recording.

    Beware of thinking that you can just filter out the noise. Any such processing stresses the audio in ways that will increase grunginess later in the production process, even if the artifacts aren’t immediately apparent.

    The file-dividing or marking issue can also be a problem for the Marantz 660, which doesn’t guarantee that separated files will rejoin cleanly.

    I’m very hopeful that M-Audio can get the bugs out of this box via firmware changes, or design around them for future hardware. The form factor is great. But if I can’t feel like I can trust it to get the recordings, then much of the MicroTrack’s convenience is lost.

  • Jay Allison says:
    reliability

    But if I can’t feel like I can trust it to get the recordings, then much of the MicroTrack’s convenience is lost.

    Yep. True. I see this machine as one to keep on you, to use like a notebook, to have at the ready, like a tiny digital camera. If you’re a professional photographer, you’ll still have a Big Rig.

    I’m not getting rid of my DATs yet. Or my Sony TCD-5Ms.

    Flawn, what machines do you trust these days??

  • Jeff Towne says:
    Reliability/losing files

    Excellent points Flawn, I’ll just add a couple of things. It does seem that some of the file management quirks have been addressed with the firmware updates, so I think it’s LESS likely that files will disappear. I did have a similar experience when letting the machine record until the battery died: not only did it not save the last file, but it wouldn’t let me record anything new until I reformatted the card, despite deleting some files to make space. So recording into power-down seems to do something really drastic to the file structure! That said, others have reported that their files were saved and all worked fine in similar circumstances.

    Minidiscs are prone to these types of problems too, and I was just remembering our early days with Panasonic 250 and 255 portable DAT recorders, which would randomly fail to wrap the tape properly around the heads, but in every other way seem to be recording correctly. We ended up with a couple of blank tapes from those machines, and a few from a short-lived Marantz model as well.

    Which brings up the greater issue of back-ups, when it’s something truly critical, I try to run two machines whenever possible. And that might be the Microtrack’s greatest strength, it’s so tiny, it’s easy to bring as a 2nd deck, piggy-backing off your primary recorder.

    And also, we keep using this analogy, but I think it’s apt: nowadays I almost always have a camera with me, because I can easily keep a decent quality little digital one in my pocket. Might start carrying the Microtrack with me at all times too.

    I think that if one is careful, the Microtrack can be as reliable as a little minidisc, maybe more. And a quick listen-back to make sure you have your file before you leave your interview is never a bad plan. I haven’t put much mileage on this recorder yet, but so far, I haven’t lost any recordings.

    The biggest hazard is human error: losing track of the file numbers and deleting something you don’t intend to, while in the heat of the moment. I try very hard not to delete recordings in the field, to bring everything back and transfer it to the computer, name it, and then delete what I really don’t need.

    But I look forward to hearing reliability reports, users please let us know about your experiences good or bad, or point us to other stories elsewhere. For me, so far, so good…

    The sound quality issues are legitimate concerns, but for every day reportage, it seems pretty darn acceptable when using the TRS inputs. I don’t think I’d record a classical ensemble using the Microtrack’s mic preamps, but I’d interview the musicians with it!

    I also did a brief test using an M-Audio Duo as an external mic preamp, and taking its digital out into the Microtrack. Dead quiet, beautiful sound! It’s possible to make the Duo portable, but it’s a little clunky. But if one is in a location where you can plug into AC power, this is a really nice combo. A Grace Lunatec would be even sweeter, if you have the cash. Even restricted to 16 bit, 44.1, it’s a nice clean record path.

  • Sholto Macpherson says:
    Microtrack vs R-1

    One of the most comprehensive and well-written reviews of the Microtrack to date; thanks very much.
    I have been monitoring feedback for the Microtrack and Edirol R-1, which is in a similar price bracket. Personal preferences vary, but the general consensus seems to be that the firmware in the R-1 is more stable, has a much shorter start-up time and lower noise threshold. Build quality is still a problem, however.
    Most comments have related to recording music in the field, rather than radio interviews. I would love to read a similar evaluation of the R-1 if you have a unit and the time.
    Thanks again,
    Sholto

  • ibodog says:
    27 dB TRS Boost is analog gain

    "The 27dB TRS Boost should be turned on in most circumstances when recording with microphones connected to the 1/4" TRS jacks. This is a digital boost, not analog input gain, …"

    Actually, the TRS input boost is analog gain and so is quieter than turning up the input toggle gains on the front of the unit.

  • Flawn Williams says:
    What do you trust?

    Jay wrote:

    <<Flawn, what machines do you trust these days??

    I’m still looking. That’s part of what makes sites like this valuable, the chance for people to exchange actual hands-on experiences.

    People are much more likely to report failures than successes, so you have to slant the perception of the data accordingly.

    But nothing I’ve seen has emerged as the "silver bullet". I’ve done gigs with the much-vaunted Sound Devices 722 and had it shut down on me twice, forcing a 5-minute reboot sequence each time. The Microtrack 2496 (with the third but not yet the fourth firmware release) played a recording made through its digital input, and then froze and on reboot had misplaced the file.

    So it goes.

    Yes we can spin similar stories about MiniDisc, DAT, cassette, even open reel. We learned to spot those problems after being burned by them. Every time a new paradigm comes along, we’re thrilled that the problems of the old paradigm have been solved, but we have to keep our eyes and ears open to see what new problems may be in store.

    And in the midst of it, keep making radio, with old tools or new, recovering when setbacks emerge, and giving the device makers feedback to see if we can steer them to make better stuff.

    In the Microtrack case, one of the early adopters I mentioned in my earlier post who had problems with the second firmware release has continued to use the unit, and updated this month to the fourth release. He now says he’s more comfortable about the unit, and feels the updates have addressed some of the reliability issues. So those updates may be fixing more problems than what M-Audio is acknowledging in their release notes.

    Other Microtrack issues like phantom on TRS jacks won’t get fixed by firmware updates. That’ll take a hardware revision.

    Sound Devices, meantime, dealt with the long-standing bug with quality of MP3 recordings on the 722 by removing (for the time being at least) the ability to record to MP3. Aren’t firmware updates fun? Not a big loss–most anyone who works with that deck knows the value of recording linear anyway.

    The new Tascam P2 has excellent specs on paper. Let’s see how they stack up in real released hardware! And remember, the Winter NAMM show and Consumer Electronics Show are just around the corner, both likely venues for new recorder announcements. So is Apple’s January extravaganza. We can dream that they’ll finally see the light and make a decent record capability for the iPod.

    That’s what I trust, Jay. I trust my dreams!

    –Flawn

  • Frank Beacham says:
    Check out the Sony PCM-D1

    The new Sony PCM-D1 is a machine that might meet your "trust" criteria. Though expensive, it is very easy to operate, has rock-solid software, and excellent sonic quality. It is also quite compact and portable. At the high end of the category, it’s worthy of evaluation. I tested it, liked it, and bought one. Having owned the Microtrak and Marantz 671 models previously, the D1 is – in my opinion – light years ahead.

  • Chance says:
    pre-emptive signs of a lost file

    Regarding file writing lockup: I’ve been using the microtrack daily since November, and have noticed that occasionally the record button doesn’t react on first push, flashing 00:00 and then reverting to the menu or blank screen.

    This seems to be corresponding to file failure on the next recording attempt (ie. lockup during file writing and lost file).

    In otherwords, if the record button doesn’t want to react, its a good time to pull out the minidisc, transfer the files you’ve got, and reformat the card.

  • Thom says:
    Here’s a question about an interesting notion

    I have yet to work with the following recording devices option but I am a bit compelled by the diverse applications.

    I know creative labs includes mic/line recording on their mp3 devices. If the line signal is good and the noise ratio is low, this might well be another option, although it isn’t really any less expensive.

    Question: Have you heard the audio quality of a device like the Zen Touch?

    Thom

  • Thomas Jamrog says:
    Uses of the M-Audio Microtrack 24/96 ? Help?

    I want to record my band live ( demos, practices) , and also construct software instrument tracks building songs via Garageband 2 . I went down to the local dealer to ask about the Microtrack 24/96 as an option and the salesman said it was just an expensive recorder, that did not have the capability of the M-Audio Fast Track Pro, which he recommended for me. Several thing he told me about the 24/96 were false ( It would use up battery life in 10 minutes using a phantom powered mic, that it did not have 1/4 " inputs, that is did not have a preamp ).I have been testing the M-Audio Fast Track Pro with GB 2 and it seems to work fine. I have a 12" Powerbook G4. My question is this: is the 24/96 really essentially a tape recorder, or can I use the two channels in the same way that I use the 2 1/4 " inputs of Fast Track Pro and enter up to 6-8 tracks in building songs?

  • Transom T-shirt Fairy says:
    A T-Shirt for you Flawn

    thanks for your contribution to this discussion
    Just send me an email at info@transom.org with your mailing address and one will find its way to you.

  • Jeff Towne says:
    Zen Touch for recording

    I don’t have any experience with the Zen Touch, which is an iPod-ish device primarily meant for listening to files. But while it’s possible that there could be a way to get a decent recording, it’s unlikely. These kinds of devices almost never have good input electronics, proper input gain control or metering, and the software often restricts the quality of the recordings. It’s just not a priority with devices like this. As I understand it, you can’t record at all without an optional remote, and even then, it’s structured more as a voice recorder.

    That said, I’d be happy to be proved wrong, so if anybody’s gotten good results with this box or something like it, let us know!

  • Jeff Towne says:
    2496 vs Fast Track

    Hi Thomas,

    The two devices you are comparing are very different. If it’s practical for you to record into a laptop using Garageband, or any other recording program, you’ll get better results with the Fast track Pro interface (or something like it) than you would with the 2496 remote recorder. The real benefits of the 2496 are from when you need to be more mobile and record remotely, somewhere it would be cumbersome to use a computer.

    Your salesman gave you some incorrect info about the 2496, but he was right that the Fast Track Pro is a better choice for your application. Using the 2496 would add an extra step of loading into your computer, and would be of no use at all when you wanted to overdub those next few tracks on top of the original two…

  • Jesse Gilbert says:
    dB marking for MT

    One of the annoying things about the MicroTrack 24/96 is the lack of clear dB labeling of the unit’s VU meters, which is critical for accurate setting of recording levels. For those of you that want a solution to this, the folks over at sonicstudios.com have an offer of a free adhesive label that you can apply to the unit.

    http://www.sonicstudios.com/mt2496rv.htm#tip2

    You just need to provide a self-addressed stamped envelope. If you have a Brother TZ label printer you can just download the design file yourself…

    The offer is embedded in another review that does a good job of explaining the gain staging of the MT’s pre-amps.

    Some questions:

    Does anyone know if the S/PDIF monitoring issue has been addressed in the latest firmware? Does anyone have specifications on the sample rate/bit depth that the S/PDIF input can currently handle? I’ve read here that it can’t support 24/96 recording, but what does it support?

    thanks, Jesse

  • Jeff Allison says:
    Lost files with 1.2.3

    I just started using my MicroTrack 24/96 this week. Until I bought a SanDisk 1GB CF card I was recording mp3′s onto my ^$MB card without a problem. Last night I recorded a gig onto the new 1GB card, listened to a bit when I got home and confirmed that I got it recorded. This morning I conected to my Mac for the transfer and the files were there, but they were empty! I am using version 1.2.3. Is it the card’s fault or the unit’s??

  • Rob Danielson says:
    Microtrack 24/96 HiMD SD744 comparison test

    Thanks for the THOROUGH review Jeff. I agree the unit is hard to beat for robust sounds with condenser mics. For ambience and recording in quiet places, recordists might be pleased to learn they can get much more gain and significantly less noise with a lowly HiMD recorder with condenser mics powered with a portable phantom supply like the Roll PB224. Here’s a test I did running very low noise Rode NT1-A mics through a MT, Sony NH900 HiMD and a Sound Devices 722 with all units at full gain to reveal the warts.

    http://tinyurl.com/894ke

    The low noise mics (5.5dBA self noise) permit the performance of the recorder’s microphone preamps to be assessed more easily.
    Best Regards,
    Rob Danielson
    UW-Milwaukee Film Department

  • Leonard says:
    Long running power sled for Microtrack

    A professional solution for always keeping internal Microtrack battery charged and deck running for at least 20 or 50 hours is offered by my company Sonic Studios at http://www.sonicstudios.com/batsys98.htm

    These sleds are ruggedized using six C or D alkaline cells and internal 5 volt switching supply. LED power on indicator goes out when less than 20% battery life remains.

  • Nathaniel says:
    On the bandwagen too soon?

    These things are all over the place and being resold en masse! Actually I was just about to push the "buy now" button at eBay: but went to Google to a critical site instead of any hype. Indeed, the rush to grab the latest dream can be a nightmare, and now I am happy investing the cash into a mew digital camera (suggest Olympus E1 – 14-54 f2.8!!) where this technology has been long perfected. I have been using the original Digigram 24 bit PC card with both my G3 and G4 powerbooks. Pretty portable with the flat aluminum PB, and highly controlled Logic Audio, along with hours of time. Further, the one thing you want to have with a fine condenser mic is equally good pre-amps, like my Ghosts on a Spirit M4! Also there are Presonus, Mackie, etc. portable interfaces. So, you are stuck needing the extra pre-amps anyway for fine acoustics, no? Guess what? My Digigram card has never failed me since its inception. They even gave me free a new one when I accidentally input to phantom power. I would bet that several more interesting hand-held 24 bit recorders are in the making and that the technology will advance and go down even further in price. I have had trouble in the past with M-Audio (Midiman) – i.e. reversing the L & R RCA outs, on a mini-mixer, believe it or not. They refused to take responsibility for a super major error. So, the client paid for it. Thanks for the postings. I can get my E-1 now with a little less guilt!

  • Harold Palmer says:
    Reliability/losing files

    I agree, I have lost files and can’t find them no where.You might have lost files 1 and 2 but when you go to record again it will start on 3, but lost 1 and 2.

  • Robin Parmar says:
    resource for MicroTrack users

    Thank you for the excellent review. Some time ago I linked to it from my blog, which has lots of resources for MicroTrack users.

    The most recent article is here.

  • Charley McQuary says:
    Microtrack Battery Issues

    First off, thanks for the great forum.
    I’ve been using the Microtrack since I got it in January. I use it primarily to record music; either the music my five-year-old makes with assorted instruments, or sounds that I make with instruments doing open mics in coffeehouses and the like.
    I have found the battery life to be ABYSMAL. Truly, an hour or so tops. If I keep it plugged in to the AC (via USB), and after recording for not even an hour, I turn it off. When I turn it back on again (not having been plugged into AC) I have literally only five to ten minutes left.
    I’ve checked to make sure it’s not really on; I’ve checked everything I have the ability to check. I’m also VERY aware of how inaccurate users can be in measuring battery life, as my job is a Mac Tech and I get a lot of iPods with "no battery life" (usually it’s something else). The other night I went to record myself in a club. I had recorded my son for a half an hour the night before. It was set to record MP3, not WAV, and all the other settings were not too high. I used the mic that came with the unit. It shut down after three minutes!
    I’m considering writing to M-audio. I want to hear if others have this problem as well.
    Thanks.

  • Chance says:
    microtrack battery

    I’ve been using the microtrack daily since December. Yeah, the battery sucks. Keep an eye on it when it’s charging. I’ve noticed that sometimes the charging symbol stops "filling up" and appears hazy. At this point it is not charging but seems to be draining the battery. It’s a real pain when overnight charging is required. There are some units on ebay, etc which look like they could run the unit off 4 AA’s. Still, the unit is mostly useless without vigilance during charging.

  • Danno says:
    setting the date/time?

    Not really a recording issue, but a sometimes essential feature on the microtrack is the date/time setting. But I’ve no idea how to set it, if it can be set, firmware problem or problematic unit. The tech support isn’t all that helpful, gave me a recommendation which didn’t work, told them so, the next answer they gave was about formatting the CF card.

    Anyone got any ideas about some of these glitches?

  • Laura Welch says:
    Very Basic question, MP3 and Mac

    I really want to record a family story with interviews. So, I have a Newer imac (we bought it last xmas eve, so it was cutting edge for 30 days….) and I know nothing about MP3. As far as I can tell, I cannot find it in my computer. So, do I have to install MP3 on my mac to use the M audio Micro Talk 24/96?

  • C A says:
    Here’s a site that might help…

    I could be wrong…but I think it has more to do with what programs and sound card you are running. Here’s a site that should help…http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MP3

  • dougw says:
    battery alternatives

    Thanks for the wonderful review and great discussion. I like the idea of adding a USB battery box to extend the battery life, but it looks like the model mentioned in the article – http://www.bixnet.com/usbbatterybox.html – is out of stock / no longer available.

    Are there any other good alternatives out there?

    Thanks!

    Doug

  • dougw says:
    still looking for a battery alternative

    Any comments on whether home-made USB chargers like this one from Make Magazine:

    http://www.makezine.com/blog/archive/2006/04/how_to_make_a_portable_usb_cha.html

    would do the trick?

    Thanks!

    Doug

  • Jude Higdon says:
    excellent review

    Thanks for the thorough review. The audio files included make all the difference!

  • Anders Gjöres says:
    Anders Gjöres

    A very interesting and well written test. But I should warn those who think this machine can replace Sony MD:s. Although the Sony MD:s are sometimes flimsy and plasticky, they have these wonderful mic preamps which betters almost every preamp I´ve used, bar the Nagra dito on my professional Nagra IS.( I don´t know how Sony does it)? So I was utterly disappointed when I tested the Microtrack som months ago. I meant to replace my Sony MD:s with Microtrackers (I run the department of radiojournalism at Stockholm University – JMK) but hey was I mistaken. Cheap electrets, EV 635:s, Röde NT 3 – just hiss everywhere. Great for bootlegging but a big no-no for professional radio.
    So, please help – when Sony is closing their MD store, with what should I replace my MD:s with? Someone out there who could help me?

    Anders Gjöres gjores@jmk.su.se

  • Justin Berger says:

    Hey all,

    The best (cheap) way I’ve found around the pre amp issue is to use a higher quality elctret mic setup with a battery box/pre amp that gives a line level signal. I have a set up I got on E-bay from Church audio (st20a)that cost $100 CDN. With a little ingenuity, it covers a multitude of sins. The s/n r with this setup (about 78db) is more then sufficient for broadcast if you have good close mic placement (Condenser mics and electrets all have a lot of self noise and I would not expect the kind of preamps you need to handle dynamics in such a small relatively cheap box.) Newer Sonys have great pres but the build quility is terrible. The microtracks pres are similar to the old SONY MZR-50 — one of the few Minidisks with decent build quality. I record a lot of lectures and forums for community radio, and for this application or any other where there is a sound board with a line level or digital out to connect to, the microtrack is far and away the best bang for buck available. Super convienent tougher than it looks.
    -best
    Justin

    Redeye Collective Vancouver Coop Radio coopradio.org/redeye

  • Stephen Vardy says:
    Your Sony PCM-D1

    Hi Frank

    I am looking for a few words about the Sony PCM-D1.
    I wish to record in close on various harps to create online sound signature files to help in each harp’s sale.
    http://www.westcoastharps.com

    I am something that is easy and fast to use. Ultra quiet preamps as the harps play the "silence in between" as much as the notes themselves. I prefer a musical over a digitally "edgy" sound. I have 15 years sound engineering experience.

    Can you advise? Do these things actually work at a distance too?
    Stephen Vardy

  • arijoshua says:
    Prolem with the levels

    Im having a problem with the levels for
    gigs and band practice…
    even all the way down it seems with the
    mic the unit (2496) came with.

    always a distorted over loaded sound and the
    red lights often light up with basic drum
    volume… this is a major problem can I fix it
    and how? I want the best quality archives with the 24 96 thanks.

  • skufwax says:
    problems with level for DJ set

    having the same problems as the previous post while trying to record a DJ set….Even with the gains all the way down and the bass low, i am still hitting the red. How can I resolve this problem, as when playing a live set i can’t tweak the EQ’s as i would normally?

  • Gary says:
    Microtracks 24/96 Batteries issue

    Has anyone figured out how to open the microtrack recorder to replace batteries? The batt. capacity is abot 30 min. I have constructed an external battery pack using PVC pipe and 4 lithium batteries whith a auto cigarette lighter usb 5V adapter. simple and cheap (except for the batteries). don’t know the batt capacity, I suspect the microtrack will operate for days on it. I hope to get the case open(without a hammer!) and replace the batteries, because the downfall of the battery pack is it looks a bit like a pipe bomb and it may attrack special attention while going to a concert. I refuse to pay $75 and be without it for a month getting it replaced. Its goes against my ethics, expecially after a couple of months I suspect it will only last a 1/2 hr.

  • Alan Silverman says:
    mono recording and battery issues

    M-Audio has released firmware updates that include the option to record in mono. It’s a simple matter of downloading & unzipping the files, putting them on a CF card, then navigating to system-firmware update and following the screen prompts.

    To finesse the battery issue I found a small box that holds 4 AA’s and has a USB power port. Probably intended for use with iPod, but it provides the 5v power that the MicroTrack needs, is small enough to slip in my pocket while in the field and carrying charged up AA’s in my kit is not a great burden. The one I bought no longer seems to be available, but there are several others now on the market and a kit for building one out of an Altoids tin (http://www.ladyada.net/make/mintyboost/)

    I’ve been doing field interviews with my MicroTrack for about four months now and am extremely pleased with the results. Cleaner front end and more forgiving than my Marantz PMD660 (which doesn’t seem to like high output mics like Earthworks).

  • bob boilen says:
    battery for M-Audio

    What was the box that holds the 4AA’s and has a USB port.
    the minty kit looks fun, but i might feel reluctant to plug something i build into my nice recorder for fear of frying something!

    you said your box wasn’t made anymore but there were others… if you could post the name of the one you have and if you know other boxes that would work, i’d appreciate

    all the best
    bob boilen

  • Jay Allison says:
    battery sleds

    The only one I’ve found is from Leonard at Sonic Studios, but they’re for C or D cells, so they’re big. They’ll power the MicroTrack for 20 or 50 hours resepctively. More than we have use for, but when you need power, you need it.

    Maybe you could get Leonard to make you one for AAs. I bet a few of us would buy it.

    http://www.sonicstudios.com
    (long, cluttered page… search on "sled")

  • Alan Silverman says:
    usb battery box

    took a little searching, but I found this one that actually looks a little more compact than the one I have:

    http://www.monoprice.com/products/product.asp?c_id=103&cp_id=10319&cs_id=1031901&p_id=2933&seq=1&format=2

  • craig gonter says:
    I can relate to the battery issues

    I plug the microtrack into the ACusb and it appears
    to drain the battery away. And the only way to ressusitate it is to hook it up to the mac laptop to bring it alive. I guess if the battery is drain to certain point, plug it in to the AC-usb does not work. I get the feeling that the AC-usb unit might be flaky.
    craig
    cgonter@capital.net

  • meghan murphy says:
    Consider the Edirol R-09

    Anyone considering the M Audio should also look at the Edirol R-09. The company is more respected for quality construction and recording by audio professionals and the recorder is the same price. http://www.sweetwater.com/store/detail/R09/

  • cmolloy says:
    Microtrack will no longer power up after firmware update v1.4.5

    I download firmware update 1.4.5
    Reformatted my CF card as instructed
    Copied the firmware files on CF card
    Unmounted CF card from PC
    Plugged Microtrack into AC power
    Executed a Firmware update from the microtrack’s menu

    The MicroTrack showed several status messages, LEDs flashed sequentially as always and then the Microtrack shut itself down and never rebooted.

    I cannot restart it. The screen display is blank (shut off) even though the Microtrack is plugged in (which typically results in a charging icon symbol).

    I’m not sure what to do? My Microtrack is completely dead as a result of the firmware upgrade. I was hoping there was the equivalent of a hard boot for the Microtrack, but I can’t seem to find one.

  • julienrobert says:
    same for me

    It arrived exactly the same today.

    DEAD!

  • Hugo says:
    MicroTrack 24/96 dies under 10 minutes of recording…

    The battery life on my MicroTrack has always been poor, but now it’s useless. I’ve had it barely a year and today it won’t even record 10 minutes. To make matters worse, the battery is not user-replaceable.

    I first thought, "No problem; warranty is most likely a year." Well, no. The battery is on a separate warranty of 90 days. I must ship the MicroTrack to California and pay $75 + shipping.

    This is my last M-Audio product.

  • Steve Perry says:
    Love a comparison with these recorders…

    Would love a "Mic Shoot-Out" type comparison of these hand-held recorders.

    Thanks!

    Steve Perry
    skperry@mac.com
    TheCricketAndSeagull.com

    Edirol R-09
    Item ID: R09
    Qty: 1
    Price: 399.97
    View Online: http://www.sweetwater.com/click/wlitem/rR09
    Buy Now: http://www.sweetwater.com/click/wlitem/cR09

    M-Audio MicroTrack 24/96
    Item ID: MicroTrack
    Qty: 1
    Price: 399.97
    View Online: http://www.sweetwater.com/click/wlitem/rMicroTrack
    Buy Now: http://www.sweetwater.com/click/wlitem/cMicroTrack

    Sony PCM-D1
    Item ID: PCMD1
    Qty: 1
    Price: 1849.97
    View Online: http://www.sweetwater.com/click/wlitem/rPCMD1
    Buy Now: http://www.sweetwater.com/click/wlitem/cPCMD1

    Zoom H4 Handy Recorder
    Item ID: H4
    Qty: 1
    Price: 299.97
    View Online: http://www.sweetwater.com/click/wlitem/rH4
    Buy Now: http://www.sweetwater.com/click/wlitem/cH4

  • KGB says:
    Edirol R-09 anyone?

    Hi there,
    Jeff Towne reviewed the Marantz PMD 660 and the M-Audio Micro Track 24/96, which was quite helpful.

    But the reviews were so good as to make me wonder which way to go, if my work is primarily doing interviews and reports for radio?

    Also, does anyone have any thoughts on how the Edirol R-09 would compare, in terms of recording quality, etc?

    thanks,
    kgb

  • Paul McCarroll says:
    ZOOM H4

    I would love to hear from the experts on this one also.

  • Frank Mazzola says:
    Marantz PMD 660 vs Micro Track 24/96

    KGB, Where is Jeff Towne’s review? I just purchased the Marantz but I’m thinking I should have gotten the 2496. Thanks
    Frank

  • Frank Mazzola says:
    Marantz PMD 660 vs Micro Track 24/96

    I found Jeff’s review and it’s great. I also listened to classical piano recordings recorded on the 24/96 and it sounded great. Can I expect close to that quality with the Marantz? The numbers aren’t as good (16mHz vs 20 mHz), not as good S/N ratio, but I don’t know how significant these are. Thank. Frank

  • Matt Thompson says:
    microtrack 24/96 – too much noise for quiet recordings

    Hi I tried using this for 3 months but had to give up because of the terrribly noisy a-d converter. I used akg c1000, sony ecm 907 and rode nt 4 mikes – I found it useless for field recordings. I swapped it out for the Zoom H4 – doesn’t feel as nice but runs on aa batteries (useful in the field) and has a built in limiter which you can switch off. The only way to get the M-audio up to snuff is to add on a core sound a-d converter at $599 – that takes it up to sound devices quality according to core sound. Even my old sony Hi Md Minidisc sounded better than the m-audio.

    Matt Thompson
    Radio Producer, Scotland

  • E. Dogg says:
    Microtrack went dead

    I HAVE THE SAME PROBLEM AS C MOLLOY. HOW CAN I REBBOT MY DEVICE, THE MICROTRACK 24/96? PLEASE RESPOND TO l_d_d_dogg@yahoo.com thanks

  • galan98 says:
    New (and improved?) Microtrack?

    Word is that M-Audio is (finally) coming out with a new version of the Microtrack sometime this month — which means, based on past experience with M-Audio delivery deadlines, that it likely will be closer to Christmas.

    Has anyone heard what new features and/or improvements are being promised in the new version?

    g.

  • ramkuma says:
    fair

    Problems include an interference hum on your recordings when you are using the 3/4 jack AND the external power chord at the same time. Sometimes I get a greater lisp on the "s"s. This is not to be used for recording concerts and such–the pickup is horrible. Lack of an external battery and no ability to mark tracks also make this unit mediocre.

  • Chris B says:
    Microtrack II and an SM-58

    I do radio documentaries for my college radio station and I purchased a shure sm58 a long time back. The station recently got a couple M-Audio Microtrack II’s that they allow us to borrow. I bought an xlr to 1/4TRS cable and hooked up the sm58 to the microtrack and in test recordings, it’s okay I suppose, but there’s a lot of hiss and I have to boost the gain all the way. The small stereo T-mic that comes with the microtrack and that connects through the 1/8 has a remarkably stronger signal. At 1/3rd the microtrack’s gain power, the included T-mic is still stronger than the sm58 at full blast.

    I know the sm58 is not the best field recording mic, but I’m wondering about ditching it and getting a better mic for this purpose. Any suggestions?

  • Jenifer J. says:
    reduction of noise floor / hiss, help…

    I´ve cross-posted this message, I confess…Though only once.

    An avid reader of Transom, I am geared with a micro track 24/96, firmware updated, a dynamic shure sm58 mic connected to the mini mic jack. I am doing sound tests for a series of interviews with women, only their voices mic’ed, close range. (Product of interviews will be story driven slide shows distributed on dvd’s.) I am hearing quite a bit of hissing in background and would like to know how I can get this down. I have side gain range set at "M" and 27dB boost off for now. When I put the manual input gain settings full up, the hiss is pretty loud. Mid way, it’s better. I’m worried about having it set too low for the quality and volume of voice during editing, and concerned that if it is too high there will too much hiss in final product which is voice/narrative anchored. I’m not a pro, and don’t know how to "take the hiss out" in the editing stage. Any suggestions for me would be great. I’m learning as I go… Thank you. Jenifer

  • Jenifer J. says:
    hiss issues, dynamic vs. condenser

    hi Chris,

    I have the same problem; I was steered by wise audio people toward the Rode NTG2 which I just purchased for a pilot interview today… Battery powered, condenser mic vs. the dynamic Shure, which does have great sound. Less gain needed and less work from the microtrack with the condenser. The hiss is much less, though not absent. I´ll see how the two hour interview goes and let you know – if you are interested.

    Jenifer

  • Chris B says:
    How Did It Go

    Hi Jennifer,

    Sorry, I took a couple month break from Transom, regrettably. If you’re still around, I’d love to know how that test turned out. I still haven’t found a solution for my Microtrack/SM-58 dilemma.

    Chris

  • Jenifer J. says:
    new mic, clean sound path, hiss is gone

    Hello Chris, welcome back. I, together with two other team members, have now done 15 3-hour interviews with the microtrack using the Rode NTG2 condenser mic with a battery connected to the mini mic input with a custom cable. The interviews, some in hotel rooms, some in people´s houses, some in local NGOs have recorded beautifully. I can keep the gain low, the mic 6 to 10 inches away from the person interviewed. Very very little hiss, a little background noise depending on setting. Hotel rooms were like little studios. I am very happy with results. We also record with an Olympus WS 210S using the T mic that came with the microtrack for back up. The T mic picks up everything. Children playing in the street, etc… The contrast is interesting. On another note, I think good cables are key for the recording quality. Clean, solid sound path. The microtrack is preforming swimmingly. I have taken it all around Spain, airports, train stations, buses, taxis,in and out of it’s new hard case. (Once in the hustle and bustle of a train ride the micro powered on and I arrived at interview with a completely drained battery – went out and immediately bought a small protective carry case instead of the soft case.) I keep my head phones on at all times during interview and correct any sound problems I hear. That’s my story for now… Take care, Jenifer

  • partnersinrhyme says:
    Condenser Mic

    Yes, you need a condenser to mic to this type of recording. The Shures are great but only through a preamp. They are for singing through onstage through a PA system or recording in a studio.
    Field recording is much different and you need mics with their own power source (batteries) or you will get lots of hiss and low gain.

    We use two NAGRA ares mII
    http://www.solidstatesound.co.uk/nagra_ares-m2.htm

    and I’m about buy a Zoom H4
    http://www.samsontech.com/products/productpage.cfm?prodID=1901

    We were just discussing the M-Audio Microtrack with our neighbor who has one.

    -Mark
    http://www.partnersinrhyme.com
    http://www.sound-effect.com
    http://www.musicloops.com

  • Chris B says:
    Microtrack II & EV RE-50

    Hello again. In the many many months since I first posed a question about using the Microtrack II with a Shure SM58 and getting surprisingly large levels of hiss, I have learned a lot (thanks Jennifer also). I now know why that included T-mic works so well (its electret nature), but still, it is simply not practical for most interview situations. I need a decent external mic as I exit college and try to do freelancing on the side. I could get a condenser mic but I’m really looking for a durable all around solution that can do tons of field recording, and less than $200. The Microtrack II is about the only recorder in my price range (aside from maybe zoom H4; range = ~$200-250) so I have to find a mic to work decently with it. I have researched and researched and narrowed it down to an Electrovoice RE-50 (I found for $150) or a Beyer m58 (found for ~$200). I bought the RE-50 a few days ago and am testing it out but I have to return it in the next week if I don’t like it.

    It is getting a nice sound for my purposes, but still a distracting amount of hiss, better than Shure SM58, but not by that much. I listened to Jeff Towne’s audio with the 635 mic from his Microtrack review and it sounded so much better. Isn’t the 635 supposed to be a cheaper RE50? Am I doing something wrong? I know this is not going to be a top notch setup, but I can’t afford to spend a whole lot more. I guess my main question is: should a Microtrack II connected via XLR-to-1/4TRS to an EV RE50 be giving me a prohibitive amount of hiss? I know hiss is subjective, but I just don’t want so much that I can’t pitch stories as a freelancer because my signal-to-noise ratios are too low.

    Thank you.

  • Jay Allison says:
    get an electret condensor

    These new digital recording machines need more output than dynamic mics provide. Get an electret condensor (requires a battery in the mic). We like the Beyer MCE-58, but its price has gone way up. There’s an Audio Technica that people say is good. I forget the number. Sennheiser K6 capsule system is also very good.

  • Chris B says:
    In Response

    Hi Jay,

    Thank you for the quick response. Good to know an electret condenser would fix the problem but I guess I’m confused about why these new digital recorders need more input than these gold-standard dynamic mics put out? Is no one using new compact recorders like the Mictrotrack or Edirols with dynamic mics? I know they are never going to be as good as a condenser, but can they pass as broadcast quality? Maybe it’s because I’ve only gotten into all this after Minidiscs, tape recorders, etc. were starting to decline in use and compact flash recorders are on the rise, but on intuition, shouldn’t the newer technology work better? Does an RE50 work better with a MD or tape recorder? Maybe I’m in the denial stage, but do I really have to forgo a dynamic mic if I want a compact flash recorder? Would a Beyer M58 (not MCE) help? Or is the solution to get a somewhat more expensive recorder?

    Sorry for all the rambling. Thanks.

  • Jay Allison says:
    output

    It’s not so much a question of quality (many of the dynamics sound great), but of output. The battery powered mics (even the cheap ones) put out more level and we’re finding the inputs on the small digital recorders like to see that. Otherwise, the pre-amps don’t get enough signal and you have to crank up the volume and it gets hissy.

  • Jay Allison says:
    also…

    Jeff can chime in, but we’re planning a future Tools column on mics to use with these new recorders and we’ll include some low-cost options.

  • Jeff Towne says:
    Condenser Omni

    The mic Jay was mentioning is the AudioTechnica AT8010, which is a battery-powered condenser mic (you pop a AA battery in the handle) with an omnidirectional pattern.

    So it has the same general attributes of an RE50, or 635, or a Beyer M58, etc, with a bit more boost.

    I’ve only done some preliminary testing on it, but my first impressions are that it sounds pretty good, and does indeed have more gain than an EV 635, but I’m a little surprised that it’s not putting out a bit more volume.

    In a fairly rough test, I plugged a 635 and the 8010 into a Y cable that has two XLRs, wired to separate sides of a stereo mini. I plugged that into an Olympus LS-10. That only has one gain control, so the same amount of input gain is being applied to each channel. As expected, the condenser sounded louder, and maybe a little brighter (although that can be a perception artifact from it just being louder.) But when I dropped the soundfile onto Audioleak for a quick analysis of the levels, it reported that the condenser mic was only about 3 dB hotter than the dynamic mic.

    3dB isn’t nothing, but not as dramatic as I expected. So you’ll get a LITTLE more gain from the AT 8010 than you would from a 635, or RE50 or M58, but not lots. The good news is that the 80101 sells for less than $150 at a few places around the web, so it’s a reasonably priced mic no matter what.

    But the output of that mic is not THAT much hotter than comparable dynamics, so I’m not sure it’ll solve the hiss problem on a Microtrack. For that, you need a seriously high-output mic. As I’d mentioned, and as others reported upthread, the Rode NTG2 shotgun mic does the trick, and is only about $250 ish. The Sennheiser modular mics will be plenty loud, but they tend to be at least $400-600 for the power supply and the capsule together.

    There are some higher-output dynamics, but those will just be a little better, it’s hard to say whether it’s enough of a difference to solve your problem. If you’re lucky enough to have a store nearby that lets you try stuff, try a Sure Beta 58, an Audix I5, and Heil PR 20/22/35. Those are all dynamics, and cardiods, like your Shure SM58, but they have a little hotter output.

    As Jay mentioned, we’re in the process of trying some more mics, but we’re not done… stay tuned!

  • Chris B says:
    In Response Again

    Thanks to both of you guys. What would I do without Transom?

    I read through your comments and learned even more. Yet I still have some lingering questions. First, what (in the field) do dynamic omni’s like the RE50 actually record into with acceptable signal-to-noise ratios? MD recorders? Tape recorders? More pricey compact flash recorders? Presumably they record decently into something.

    I ask because, in a simplistic way, there seems to be two solutions to my current Microtrack+RE50 dilemma. Firstly, get a mic with stronger signal, which you both gave me some great suggestions on.

    Or secondly, fix the problem at the recorder end. I had to use the microtrack at an event last night. I don’t own one yet, I simply borrow it from my college campus’ radio station which has owned it for a year now. All the microtrack complaints I’ve read on Transom and in forums were coming to life. Of course, the hiss was definitely noticeable. And also, it takes too long to boot up for spontaneous needs, and being one year old, the battery was down to ~50% after only 45 min of recording. I know there are some quickfix ways around the battery (buying an energizer cell phone recharger) but those don’t seem practical (or like much fun). The point is, I’m now much more amenable to spending a little more on a AA-powered recorder. I’ve used PMD660′s before but they’re twice the price of a microtrack. Is there a solution to my problem in getting a different recorder that is still shy of $400? Marantz, Edirol, LS-10?

    Thanks. I also really look forward to that upcoming Tools column.

  • Jeff Towne says:
    a different recorder?

    The Olympus LS-10 definitely has a bit more gain, and a cleaner signal from low-level sources than the Microtrack, so you can indeed get decent levels with an RE50 into that recorder.

    I actually still like the Microtrack, but for particular applications: if I can use a digital input (like chaining it after a DAT recorder for a mixing-board tape or something like that) or if I can use line inputs, or if I need phantom power, and still want a small recorder.

    That said, with the Microtrack, the Zoom H2 and the Olympus LS10 at my fingertips, I don’t tend to grab the Microtrack that often, except in those particular situations.

    For your applications, I’d suggest getting an LS-10. You should be able to find them for less than $400. They used to be readily available for more like $300, but most places have them at $399 now (spring of 2009). Not sure why.

    The Sony PCM D-50 also has enough clean gain to sound good with an RE-50, but that’s going to run you $450 or so.

  • Chris B says:
    LS-10 Instead

    Thanks again. Yeah the PCM D-50 is probably past my reach, but the LS10 could be within reach if I shop around and save up.

    I had two questions then. Firstly, since you mentioned it, would the Zoom H2 give me decent gain? I know it’s even cheaper than the microtrack, but if it has better gain maybe that’d be a cheap solution? I was always under the impression the H2 was mainly good for its built-in mic’s and not much else. Also, do you know if the H4 would add much more gain than the microtrack can?

    Secondly, just a curiosity about connections. If I were to get the LS-10 (or the H2), I’d be going XLR-to-1/8 (instead of to TRS with microtrack or to xlr with pmd660). Would that weaken my signal much? How do connections affect signal?

  • Jeff Towne says:
    say no to Zoom

    For your purpose, the Zooms are not too great, at least the original H2 and H4 had even less gain, and hissier preamps than the Microtrack. There is a new H4 that looks interesting, but I haven’t heard it yet.

    As for the connections, the advantage of the Microtrack and the TRS quarter-inch inputs is that it allows the cabling to remain balanced, which does indeed allow the signal to remain a little hotter and resist external interference.

    Converting down to mini isn’t inherently a problem, and has no relation to the size of the plug, but that particular conversion does make the cable unbalanced. This theoretically exposes you to a greater chance of interference from radio frequency pollution, etc, but it’s rarely a problem when using a short cable.

    And in the end, one has to set aside the theory and look at the actual results, and that is that you get a hotter, cleaner signal plugging an RE50 into an LS10 with an XLR-to-mini cable than you do plugging that RE50 into the Microtrack with an XLR to TRS cable.

  • Chris B says:
    That Clears It Up

    Okay, well the LS10 is probably the way to go, regardless of what kind of mic I want actually. I looked around and found it for a couple bucks over $300 at amazon, and I checked and it’s returnable up to 30 days so I can test it out. Because you’re right, in the world of audio, practice seems to vastly outweigh theory.

    I guess I had one other question. I checked through your own reviews and it appears as though the only other compact flash recorder in the ls10′s price range that could rival its gain for external mics is the marantz 620. Its build quality seems inferior and they picked a weird place to put the headphone jack. But still, in your opinion, does the 620 give significantly better results with a dynamic mic than the ls10 or is the ls10 still good enough (relative to my needs)? Also, do you find the stereo-only nature of the ls10′s recordings to be too troublesome. Do you know if they’re planning on a firmware fix for this or something?

  • Kristine Crane says:
    M-Audio Microtrack 24/96-Micline

    Hi,
    I’m wondering if one is supposed to plug the micline into the dial marked R or L on the microtrack recorder, or does it matter?
    Thanks,
    Kristine

  • Samantha says:

    Question: Is there a way to mount this device on a stand or anything?

  • Betsy Krueger says:

    I have a Microtrak 24/96 that I haven’t used in several years. It works just fine, and has the joys and disappointments as noted in the original review here.

    I am gearing up to conduct some oral interviews for a historical society. I need a recorder and mic that I can just leave on a table within one foot from the interviewees. Will the Microtrak be adequate or should I try to replace it? We don’t have much $$ to replace it. I just read the most recent comparisons, and those recorder prices have gone up…

Leave a Comment