Right out the box it was hard to imagine that something so compact and lightweight could record anything of value. Upon a closer look there are quite a few rich features packed into a 3.25-ounce device that has a smaller footprint than an iPhone.
Yamaha’s Pocketrak W24 measures 2 inches by 5 inches and less than 1/2 inch thick, just enough to fit one AA battery inside.
The Yamaha Pocketrak W24 (retail price $458, street around $299) measures just under 2 inches wide, 5 inches long and less than 1/2 inch thick, just enough to fit one AA battery inside. The recording battery life is amazing. Toting the recorder everywhere for an entire week barely put a dent in the remaining capacity. This was also taking into consideration that it was being turned on and off repeatedly.
Yamaha lists a recording battery life of 56 hours in MP3 or 38 in PCM. Batteries are a costly consumable, and having to stock legions of reporters makes the one AA a highly favorable aspect of this recorder. (I’ll tell you about its sibling Pocketrak C24 in a moment.)
Looking further at the external qualities of the W24, there is a nice bright orange LCD backlit display, internal stereo X-Y mic, internal speaker, 1/8-inch-3.5 mm mini headphone jack, 1/8-inch-3.5 mm mini stereo mic/line-in switchable input) and micro SD card slot.
The X-Y mic is not only aesthetically appealing, it is extremely sensitive. The heightened sensitivity was immediately noticed when a test recording was made of an acoustic musical performance. Placed a considerable distance from the musician, the audio was clear, crisp and captured all the coloration and depth of the tone very well.
Inside the Pocketrak W24 menus, there is a myriad of selections one can make to shape the sound and record in any situation.
The W24 records in PCM stereo (16-bit/44.1, 48, 88.2, 96 kHz) and (24-bit/44.1, 48, 88.2, 96 kHz) or MP3 stereo (32, 64, 128, 192, 320 kbps). In the PCM stereo 24-bit/96 kHz users get 53 minutes of record time on the internal memory (expandable with an additional microSD card), and that time increases all the way to 129 hours in MP3 32 kbps.
The unit also included many of the same features found on more expensive recorders such as ALC, mic sensitivity select, peak limiter, five-band graphic EQ and high-pass filter. The playback functions of the W24 allow the user to set a playback speed (MP3 recording) and simple file editing (split clips, fade in/out). It even includes a tuner and metronome for musicians. There is also a simple wireless remote control included in the box.
Author Laura Mir writes that the little sibling Pocketrak C24 ‘had a few problems keeping up’ with the W24.
When the W24 arrived, I was a bit put off by the feel of the device. There was a certain toy-like quality to the recorder. The case is plastic and didn’t feel robust enough for rugged location work. It wasn’t long after it was turned on that my initial reservations were put aside. The Pocketrak W24 really is an effortless recorder, and seemingly built well despite its flimsy, lightweight feel. The simple navigable menus, onscreen metering and really surprising stereo sound quality were immediately evident.
Test recordings were made using almost every combination of the selections listed above (16- and 24-bit/48 and 96 kHz PCM and 64, 128 and 192 kbps MP3). For rich musical recordings, 24-bit/96 kHz PCM recorded beautifully. The dynamics of the music weren’t lost in the ALC, and I fooled a few people who told me portable recorders could never do a concert hall justice. True, this isn’t 5.1 surround, but anyone being tasked with that would never use this recorder in the first place.
A bonus is the microphone stand adapter that comes with the W24. The introduction of a small desk stand or mic stand (in the case of the auditorium) really cut down on the handling noise that small recorders are accustomed to, and ensured that the mic placement was fixed for the duration of the recording.
Interviews were a breeze. Changing the recording format to 128 kbps MP3, spoken word was clear and highly intelligible. Utilizing the MP3 format added significantly more recording time using the onboard memory.
For field ENG use, because getting to a computer to transfer audio isn’t always easy, the expanded recording time came in handy without compromising sound. Field use also showed off the built-in high-pass filter. Even on a moderately windy afternoon at a busy intersection, a street interview had no problem breaking through the wind and car noise. The interview had a rich sound, and was not lacking low end warmth.
The ALC also performed well in the noisy situation, and appropriately normalized the interview without being overly compressing. A windscreen is included with the W24, should users wish to add another barrier. The addition of the bulky foam cover does make it a bit less friendly for carrying around in a pocket.
The Pocketrak C24 is the little brother. Coming in at 2 ounces and retailing for $300 — about $199 on the street — this recorder is tiny and lightweight. But it too packs a punch and comes equipped with a range of features like stereo mic, recording peak limiter, ALC, VAS (voice-activated trigger), tuner and metronome functions.
The C24 has the same recording settings as the W24, and supports a 2 GB internal memory that is expandable via the micro SD card slot. Data transfer is made using a sliding USB connector that is stored internal to the device when not in use. Last, there is a mounting clip that allows the C24 to attach to a mic stand or anything else that is less than about an inch thick.
PRODUCT CAPSULE Yamaha Pocketrak W24 Digital Recorder
Stereo X-Y mic
Small compact size
Easy to navigate menu and folder layout
Operates on one AA cell
Retail Price: $458
Yamaha Pocketrak C24 Digital Recorder
Easy to navigate menu and folder layout
Operates on one AAA cell
Sliding USB connector
USB mic clip
Retail Price: $300
For information, contact Yamaha in California at (714) 522-9011 or visit the website.
After I tried the W24, the C24 had a few problems keeping up. The C24 wasn’t in the same playing field with regard to sound, robustness and interfaces. The C24 comes in at a more affordable price; however there is a considerable difference in quality of sound.
The main difference was the mic. The C24 is a stereo recorder too, but the placement of the mics differs. They are presented in a left/right facing orientation, vs. the X-Y layout on the W24. It seemed this orientation necessitated better placement of the mic/recorder in order to capture a true sound. When the recorder was closer to the subject, the sound was less desirable than when the recording was of a conference room or auditorium.
For field use, there was too much ambient noise picked up, and not enough of the person in front of the mic being interviewed. The sound was still acceptable, but when compared to the W24, it was lacking in warmth, presence and clarity.
Another feature of both recorders was selectable mic sensitivity. In the C24, users can set mic sensitivity via the menu selections. The W24 includes this feature as a selection button on the case. In a quick recording situation, having the mic sensitivity selector as a physical button is a great advantage to the end user.
The folder and menu structure of the C24 mirrors that of the W24. Users can select recording banks and folders to better organize the clips and export the folder structure to their computer.
For exporting the sound clips, the C24 provided a sliding USB connector. This format forces the user to dangle the recorder from the USB slot on the computer or requires a USB extension cable to make transfers from or to the device. Furthermore, the connector is protected by a delicate plastic cover that hinges off when the USB is slid out from the rear of the recorder. For daily use it doesn’t seem nearly as robust as it should considering the amount of wear and tear it would be subject to.
This sliding USB connector also is how the C24 connects to the mic clip. Users must extend the connector and slide it into a matching receptacle on the mic clip. Essentially the USB is holding the clip onto the recorder. With the USB being the only physical connection into and out of the device (other than removing an optional expansion micro SD card), it seems like a poor design.
(Yamaha responded to my comments by saying the C24 is convenient and compact, and comes with a clip that has a second-generation design. They said I “need not be concerned with the robustness of the design, it has been ‘road tested’ and proven worthy … We think it’s a good thing that the user can plug right in to the computer with the unit, one less wire to worry about. How many times have users left USB camera cords in USB outlets?”)
For a basic entry-level recorder, the C24 performs well. The C24 is likely targeted towards musicians and recording band practices. For more serious recording and for broadcast, users would be better equipped with the W24. The Pocketrak W24 literally does fit in your pocket, and you will likely be pleasantly surprised at how much this little device can do.