Imagine an iPod-sized MP3 player/recorder that can also tune in FM and AM radio broadcasts — and record them. And not just record them, but allow you to schedule recordings based on time, date and frequency.
Then add in a built-in microphone, a mini-plug jack for plugging in a broadcast microphone for recording voice interviews, onboard 2 GB storage (with USB file transfer) and a slot to add a 16 GB compact SD memory card.
The CC Witness is an MP3 recorder-player with both FM and AM radio reception, priced at $229.95. Throw on inboard stereo microspeakers, an LCD display and an iPod-style user interface and what do you have? The C. Crane CC Witness, sold for $229.95.
"We knew we had a good product as soon as we saw it," says Bob Crane, owner of the California-based company. "It was originally made in South Korea for the Japanese market. C. Crane did have to spend a few tough months developing the interface to normalize it to American culture."
Measuring 4 inches tall, 2.2 inches wide and 0.6 inches deep, the 3.6 oz. CC Witness feels like a hefty iPod. It is built in a matte black plastic case with silver metal trim, and displays its operations using a 1.85 inch monochrome LCD display.
Below the display are located buttons for Edit (left) and Record (right). Under these resides the interface-wheel. The wheel has four function positions located at the 12, 3, 6 and 9 o'clock positions. In the center is a Play button. Around the wheel are four buttons designated Menu, Play Speed, Back and INT/SD A<>B, the last of which allows you to toggle between the internal memory and the SD card, among other functions.
I would describe what each button does in detail, except that each does so many things.
For instance, the Play button turns the CC Witness on and off; opens a highlighted file folder; selects, plays and pauses a highlighted file; saves timer settings; and lets you save an AM or FM station as a preset (10 of each).
Other features: The CC Witness has a pair of built-in 0.6 W speakers and a built-in mic; a headphone jack and a Mic/Line in jack; a Lock switch (to prevent accidental powering on when in transport); an SD card slot, a USB connection for transferring files directly to your PC/Mac; and a volume toggle switch.
The CC Witness uses a long-life lithium battery that recharges when you plug it into your computer via a USB cable. C. Crane also sells an optional AC adaptor, charging cradle and protective silicon case. The battery is not replaceable by users.
Functionally, the CC Witness interface is built on a series of file folders, which you access by using the wheel interface. You can create new files on your PC/Mac, then transfer them over directly via USB. The CC Witness does not require special software to do this; it's plug-and-play.
Worth noting: C. Crane offers firmware updates on its site. The most recent, version 2.32, added One-Touch Recording (with time intervals preset at one, two, three or four hours for talk shows) and an SD card incompatibility fix. When you update the CC Witness' firmware, be sure to save your files externally first. The firmware wipes the unit's internal memory clean when it installs.
An accessory kit includes charging cradle, AC adapter and silicone cover; it retails for $39.95 Bob Crane decided to brand and sell the CC Witness because of its radio recording capabilities, plus the fact that it offers AM tuning.
"In most MP3 players, the circuit noise is too strong to allow AM reception," he explained. "But the Korean firm who builds the CC Witness has found a way to keep the noise down through shielding. This matters in their home market, because students there hear and record lessons carried on AM radio."
The CC Witness timer makes it easy to record your favorite radio program. You drill down into the Set Timers screen to preset up to 20 timers, the source for your program (AM or FM), then the frequency, date and start/stop times. The feature is easy to set up and works as advertised. The result is that your preferred shows can be waiting for you, the next time you use your CC Witness.
The FM side of the CC Witness works very well while the AM radio has reasonable dynamic range thanks to the unit's 7 kHz bandwidth filter (the C. Crane Web site provides detailed specs as well as the user manual).
On the downside, this wide filter results in powerful AM stations slopping over onto adjacent frequencies as you tune; that's what happens when you trade off selectivity for improved dynamic range. As well, I did have some problems with intermodulation, where lower-band stations ended up ghosting on higher harmonic frequencies.
("Is the AM reception any good?" C. Crane asks in its online FAQ. Its answer: "The AM reception is good when tuned to a strong signal. The AM tuner in the CC Witness will not receive distant AM stations like the CCRadio plus. With the display screen off reception is better. It is also possible to record from a better AM radio using the CC Witness input jack.")
The CC Witness is easy to load with music files, and plays them back with excellent audio quality via the included earbuds. The onboard speakers are a bit tinny, but the audio is clear. Functionally, this device works like most MP3 players: You can play one song at a time or all the songs in a given folder, with or without repeats, and you can set the CC Witness to play them back randomly (shuffle mode). The search function consists of looking through the files on the CC Witness' LCD screen.
As for recording interviews: The CC Witness can indeed be used with an external microphone to serve as a radio news recorder. The unit even allows you to select the quality of recording you want, in order to maximize its storage time.
Product Capsule C. Crane CC Witness
- AM/FM/MP3 player/recorder functionality
- Long battery life
- Onboard recorder can be used for broadcast; accepts external microphone
- Timers can be set to record radio broadcasts
- Ruggedly built
- Confusing user interface
- AM radio reception prone to intermodulation
- Speaker audio tinny
- No HD Radio
www.ccrane.comFor instance, recording at 32 kbps will give you 140 hours on the 2 GB memory; add a 16 GB flash card, and you get a total of 1,260 hours (or 52.5 days). In 256 kbps, the onboard memory can hold 17 hours; with the card added, you get 153 hours (6.375 days). The CC Witness also lets you choose between using a mono or stereo microphone. Once back at the station, you can drag and drop your MP3 files directly to your editing program.
"We are currently researching which microphones work best with the CC Witness," said Crane. "To this end, we are asking broadcasters to provide us with their results, and we'll post them on our site."
The CC Witness is relatively intuitive. Still, for reporters accustomed to the simplicity of sliding in a cassette tape and hitting Record, using it will take a bit of practice.
The graphics on the CC Witness are pretty basic and not always easy to read. At times, you may think you have been taken back to the days of DOS and 286 PCs.
Radio station intermodulation on harmonic frequencies is an issue on the AM band.
The CC Witness does not support HD Radio, nor does Bob Crane have any plans to do so with future models.
Although the optional silicon case does provide padding to the unit, it leaves the LCD screen and certain buttons/slots open to the air. This means that the CC Witness cannot be assumed to be waterproof. There is also nothing in the specs about its operating temperature range. Thus stations wanting to use the CC Witness outdoors in extreme weather should run tests first to see what it will tolerate and what it won't.
The CC Witness AM tuner is not a DX machine, and cannot accept an external antenna as the FM tuner can. (You can record from another through the line-in jack.) Crane plans to come up with a version of his external Twin Coil Ferrite AM antenna that will link to the Witness' antenna inductively. Until then an inductively-connected Select-A-Tenna should do the job, but you may suffer from adjacent interference due to the CC Witness' wide bandwidth filter.
Limits notwithstanding, the CC Witness is an impressive all-in-one AM/FM/MP3 player-recorder. For radio stations or freelancers wanting something small, versatile and affordable, it is a tool worth checking out.