Put a Couple of Gigs in Your Pocket

New Olympus LS-10 Recorder Takes Field Audio by the Hand
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Building on its experience in developing solid-state business/dictation recorders, Olympus recently entered the pro audio/ENG market by introducing the LS-10 Linear PCM Recorder. While the field of such units is getting crowded, the LS-10 is on the short list of those that fit the bill for a variety of radio uses.

Sizing it up

LS-10 strikes a nice balance between small and too small. It fits nicely in the hand. The aluminum and high impact plastic construction has some heft.

Olympus LS-10 Handheld Recorder

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Thumbs Up

  • Rugged
  • Good size, selection of analog controls
  • Simple operation

Thumbs Down

  • Sensitive to handling noise
  • P pops an issue esp. with automatic level controls
  • No mono recording option

Price
$399

Contact
Olympus | (888) 553-4448 | www.olympusamerica.com The backlit LCD screen is large enough to not cause eyestrain. The unit's form factor also allows for human-sized buttons, switches and control knobs. Also, it has analog controls for more than just the basics and includes a number of useful functions such as the low-cut filter/auto gain (300 Hz) — controls that might be relegated to the hassle of menu-driven manipulation as a sacrifice for greater miniaturization. Alas, it is not quite big enough for XLR connectors, just the usual pocket-sized 1/8-inch mini jacks.

The layout of the LS-10 is logical and intuitive, reminiscent of Olympus' business recorders.

The top features the backlit screen flanked with the built-in and 90 degree angled stereo mics. The middle has stop and record buttons separated by a peak level indicator. The multifunction control dial (for playback and maneuvering menu items) sits over a row of four buttons. These give access to the menu, various playback options and instant access to the list of recordings. One of the buttons is user-programmable, a terrific feature that allows you to place the menu-driven item of your choice (e.g., toggling between manual and automatic recording levels) up top.

The left side has a 1/8-inch headphone jack, volume level control, SD/SDHC memory card slot, USB 2.0 port and power switch. The right side has 1/8-inch line-in and mic jacks, a manual record level dial control, a high/low mic sensitivity switch and the low-cut filter switch. The bottom/back has the battery compartment for two AA cells, the baby stereo speakers and a tripod/mic stand adapter. A remote control jack and AC power connect are at either ends on the top/bottom sides.

The menu options open with recording selections — uncompressed PCM in six levels from high-density 24-bit/96 kHz to standard 16-bit/44.1 kHz; MP3 in 128 kbps, 256 kbps and 320 kbps; and Windows Media Audio (WMA) in 64 kbps, 128 kbps and 160 kbps.

Using the internal 2 GB memory, this allows for recording times of one hour for the highest PCM resolution, 24-bit/96 kHz to nearly 70 hours with the highly compressed WMA at 64 kbps. Adding a relatively inexpensive SD memory card can add considerably to that, if needed.

Other recording menu items include microphone levels and effects. The "zoom" mic options alter the characteristics of the internal mic from omni to a tighter ("zoom") cardioid pattern. The remaining controls allow for customizing the LCD brightness, auto shutoff times and the like.

In the field

The LS-10 passed the "no brainer" test with flying stripes.

Without looking at the manual, it is obvious how to turn it on and start recording immediately. You just hit the big red "Rec" button and it starts capturing audio at whatever codec or quality it is set at with the internal mic.

If you plug in an external mic, it automatically switches to that. Going deeper to choose between automatic recording levels and setting them manually also is obvious. Even the more advanced settings should be pretty clear to someone with a limited understanding of audio tech.

The internal mic system delivers perfectly acceptable sound that is a bit harder and lacks the "warmth" of my beyerdynamic MCE58 condenser mic. Still, you can't beat the convenience of not having to bring along a mic and cables. The recorder is fine for interviews as long as you are mindful of handling noise. For gathering sound at a conference, just set it in a podium or table and it's good to go. Rubber "feet" on the bottom dampen vibration.

I ran into minor difficulties going handheld with the internal mics and the recorder set to auto levels. The mics seem prone to popping Ps; when that happens, the auto levels compound the problem by dropping levels as if a gate were being activated. As the recording recovers, you are left with a significant glitch instead of a simple popped P.

The two easy fixes are to add the funky windsocks provided in the accessory kit and to set levels manually. You may also want to give yourself some added distance from your subject and the unit.

Fortunately, menu options include the ability to turn off the consumer phantom power ("plug-in power") for cheapie electret external mics. This means you can use a good dynamic mic and not worry about contaminating recordings with the characteristic "crackle" the plug-in power adds. Testing with a venerable Electro-Voice RE11 proved that. The only menu option missing is for mono recording. With a typical mic cable, you capture on one channel only. Oh, operating time with a pair of 2700 mAh NiMH batteries was a solid 10 hours and 40 minutes with the backlighting off, just over 8 hours with it on

The LS-10 may not suit everyone's tastes or needs, but it should be right at home in most radio news operations. Any outfit that works with amateurs gathering sound will benefit from the "no brainer" operation. Pros will appreciate the light, easy-to-tote form factor and audio quality. Olympus has done an exceptional job with its first entry in the pro audio market, and we hope this is just the first of many happy returns ahead.

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