Edirol R-09 Digital Digital Recorder Review
Intro from Jay Allison
Jeff Towne writes, “Anyone lugging gear around to interviews or events is always hoping for a device that’s small, sounds good and will run for long periods on batteries. It wasn’t too terribly hard to find a recorder that was two of those things, but all three has been elusive. As data storage gets faster, smaller and cheaper, those goals start seeming more achievable. But do any existing recorders actually include all of those attributes? How about inexpensive, durable, and easy-to-use?”
This week, Transom adds more reviews of portable digital recorders. Check out the Edirol R09 now, and come back in a few days for the Zoom H4, along with a comparison chart for all the recorders Jeff has tested.
From Jeff Towne
Anyone lugging gear around to interviews or events is always hoping for a
device that’s small, sounds good and will run for long periods on
batteries. It wasn’t too terribly hard to find a recorder that was two
of those things, but all three has been elusive. As data storage gets
faster, smaller and cheaper, those goals start seeming more achievable.
But do any existing recorders actually include all of those attributes?
How about inexpensive, durable, and easy-to-use?
The Edirol R-09 hits many of the targets: it’s tiny,
extremely easy to use, boasts long battery life and in many situations
sounds quite good. Unfortunately it comes up a little short on
sound quality, and lacks a few professional-level qualities that would
make it the ideal machine.
The good news
The R09 is the smallest of any of the currently
available flash-memory recorders, yet the controls are logically laid
out, and the display is easily readable and gives adequate information
despite its compact size. The best thing is that very few
controls are buried in menus, there are hardware switches and buttons
for most everything one most commonly accesses.
The machine turns on and is ready to go within
seconds (I clocked it at about 5) about the same as the Zoom H4, but
significantly faster than the M-Audio Microtrack, the Tascam HDP2 or
the Sound Devices 722. Once it’s powered-up, one press of the record
button puts the machine in record-ready, another press and you’re
input gain (volume) is adjusted by up or down buttons on the left side
of the unit next to the power button. Black-on-black might not be
the ideal design, but pressing the plus or minus button brings up an
input level display, so one gets immediate feedback about whether one
is hitting the right control.
The right side of the recorder has a headphone output
(which also doubles as an optical digital output, if one needs that for
some reason.) Headphone volume is controlled by increment/decrement
buttons just like the input levels, The headphone amp is a little
underpowered and doesn’t provide a lot of level even to sensitive
headphones like the standard Sony MDR-7506. This is frustratingly
common among most recorders like this, but survivable…
back of the recorder has hardware switches for Automatic Gain Control
(AGC), external microphone type, microphone gain (low or high) and a
low cut filter. It’s much better to have immediate access to
fixed controls for such things than to have to page through virtual
menus to make adjustments.
unit defaults to recording from the built-in microphones, but
automatically switches to an external mic if one is plugged into the
mini jack on the top of the recorder, or can take a line-level signal
on a separate stereo mini jack. No hardware or menu adjustments need to
be made to use external mics, just plug them in. The only mic input is
a mini jack, so this recorder cannot provide phantom power to
professional condenser mics. The unit can send “plug-in power” to
certain small electret mics. This low-level power can be turned on by
changing a menu setting.
Edirol has wisely made recording easy to start, and
hard to interfere with accidentally. If one tries to turn the power off
or press the menu button during recording, one merely gets an alert
that you are “now recording” and nothing changes. From stop,
pressing the record button once puts the machine into record-ready, and
a vivid red indicator light blinks obviously. Pressing record again
changes the record indicator to a solid red light. This may be
the best record confirmation of any of the machines. One stops the
recording by pressing the stop indicator on the four-way switch that
surrounds the record button. Play, pause, and skip forward and
backward are achieved with that same very logical control.
display and record indicator are easy to read even in the dark,
impressive given that the batteries last as long as they do even with
the display fairly bright. One can adjust the length of time before the
display dims, but it’s still fairly readable even at the dimmed level.
One counter-intuitive thing is that turning the display timer to “off”
means it never dims, rather than the display never being bright.
One click of the finder/menu button displays a list
of recorded files, which can be navigated and reviewed using that
four-way switch to scroll through options and clicking the record
button to select. Pressing and holding that finder/button brings up a
menu that allows making changes to basic recorder settings, such as
sample rates (44.1khz or 48khz) or recording mode (16 or 24-bt wav, or
several rates of MP3.) One can also reformat the memory card, set
the date and time (which is stamped on the soundfiles) and other
When navigating menus, the record button is used to
select items like an “enter” key would, and will not put the machine in
record until one exits the menu by pressing the menu button
again. This is pretty easy to get used to, and most functions can
be found without consulting the manual.
Transferring files to a computer is easily done by
simply connecting the USB cable to the jack hidden beneath the hatch
that covers the memory card and battery slots on the bottom of the
unit. Better yet is to remove the memory card and use an external
memory card reader, they’re inexpensive and transfer is faster.
The Edirol R-09 is powered by two double-A batteries,
and battery life is impressive. Brand-new Duracell Alkalines lasted
well over 6 hours in my tests. One will need to stop to replace
memory cards before having to replace the batteries. One can use
rechargeable batteries, but be sure to go to the power-management menu
and set the unit to either alkaline or NiMH as appropriate.
data is recorded to SD cards, the small, thin flash-memory chips that
are commonly used in digital cameras. These memory cards are
getting larger and more affordable all the time. It’s worth
noting that at this time the Edirol R-09 has a 2-gigabyte file-size
limit, and appears to only work with cards up to that size.
The built-in mics sound remarkably good, and are
especially well-suited to picking up stereo ambiences and music. It’s a
little unergonomic to get the recorder in the same position one would
hold a microphone, so the built-in mics are not ideal for interviews,
but the mics actually sound pretty good, so this can be used as a very
simple run-and-gun recorder, capable of being up and going in 5 seconds
with no wires to plug-in. One needs to be careful to avoid wind,
P-pops and other breath noises, but otherwise, the built-in mics do a
An external mic is still better for doing interviews
and cables that adapt the XLR output of professional mics to a mini
plug have long been used with minidisk recorders, small DAT machines
and video cameras, and generally work well if one buys a good-quality
The bad news
The Edirol R-09 is hissy. The promotional
materials claim one can, “Capture source material at a crystal-clean
24-bit resolution with your choice of 44.1 or 48kHz sample rates.” But
the reality is that “crystal-clean” is a rather unrealistically
flattering description of the sound quality. There’s a rather apparent
hiss when recording with most microphones, exacerbated by the fact that
it’s hard to get much level recorded if one is doing a typical
interview at normal speaking levels with the dynamic omni mics so often
favored by reporters. Those low levels can be boosted later in the
production process, but the hiss gets boosted along with it. 24-but
recording seems a bit futile on this machine, the low-level details so
beautifully preserved by 24-bit files are likely to be awash in a sea
In many applications the hiss is not an issue. When
recording loud events, or even average ambiences, one doesn’t notice it
at all. But when doing an interview in a quiet space, it becomes
impossible to ignore. This is partially due to the quality of
components used in making small inexpensive devices like this, and
partly due to the orientation of most of these consumer-oriented
devices toward recording loud sources, such as live amplified music.
Regardless of the hiss, it’s difficult to get healthy levels recorded
when doing a basic conversational interview, even with the mic
sensitivity set to high. In the end it’s a personal decision, but many
users will find the level of hiss to be unacceptable.
- Listen: internal microphones (mp3)
- Listen: dynamic omni microphone (mp3)
- Listen: condenser shotgun microphone (mp3)
- Listen: wind sensitivity (mp3)
- Listen: city street ambience (mp3)
- Listen: environmental recording (first half Zoom H4, second half Edirol R09) (mp3)
As with most recorders, the Automatic Gain Control is
disappointing. It may be helpful when recording rock concerts or
parades, but when recording spoken voices, it’s hard to get peaks
any higher than –14dBfs when AGC is engaged. Setting levels
manually, our tests showed peaks no higher than –10dBfs when
using a dynamic omni mic. (Ideally one would like to see peaks close to 0dBfs, but not hitting zero or creating distortion by going over that level.)
Much better results were obtained with a high-output
condenser microphone. Remember, this recorder cannot provide phantom
power to condenser mics, so if the mic requires phantom power, it must
have an internal battery in order to use it with the R-09. A Rode NTG-2
short shotgun mic provided enough level that the inputs could be
turned-down enough that the hiss became much less apparent. It was
still there, but not as obvious.
The Edirol lacks one record function that field
recordists like: the ability to make new tracks without stopping
recording. The Sound Devices and Marantz recorders allow a new track to
be marked without interrupting the recording flow.
And the Edirol ONLY records in stereo, there is no
single-track mode that can double the amount of time one can store on
any given memory card. On the up-side, monitoring is always to both
channels of the headphones, even when using a single mono microphone,
but one will need additional memory cards to do long recordings. SD
cards are dropping in price, but it’s still a significant expense to
consider when totaling the price of your recording set-up.
biggest concern is one of construction: like most of the affordable,
small recorders, it’s plastic and therefore unlikely to do well if
dropped. More worrying is the design of the door that opens to reveal
the battery and memory card compartments. It feels especially flimsy,
with an odd latch-slide system that seems bound to get mis-aligned or
broken. I suspect we’ll see a lot of these with duct tape on them in a
couple of years!
In summary, the size and ease of use of this recorder
makes it a strong contender. The level of hiss is going to be a problem
for some users, and not at all for others. Those doing recordings of
relatively quiet sounds, such as interviews, in quiet locations, will
certainly notice it especially if those recordings will be heard in the
clear. But almost any ambient recording, whether of music or of
environmental sound, has enough random background noise to mask this
problem. Those recording very quiet sounds, such as nature recordists,
are sure to be bothered by the noise floor, and with the wind
sensitivity of the built-in mics. Using external preamps with this
recorder’s line-in jacks reduces the problem, but using external boxes
defeats the point of this small, inexpensive device.
Podcasters who are not as concerned with pristine
sound, oral historians, concert recordists, anyone recording in loud
environments, and others looking for an easy-to-use, decent-sounding
machine will likely be thrilled with the Edirol R-09. Even those
requiring cleaner sound might be well-served to toss one of these in
the bag as a back-up. The long record times on easily-found replaceable
batteries make this an excellent tool for those out in the field for
extended periods, although the lack of a single-track mono record mode
dims that excitement a bit. The dead-easy operation and bright red
record indicator make it a good choice for novice recordists. But those
looking for sonic clarity might be disappointed in this unit’s noise
floor in some circumstances.