EVERY YEAR IT SEEMS PORTABLE DIGITAL recorders sound better, offer more features, and
become easier to use without getting more expensive.
This is certainly the case with the latest pair
from Olympus, the LS-12 and LS-14, which are
designed with musicians in mind (that impatient
bunch who want to record right now without fuss).
|While nearly identical at first glance, the ls-14 includes a third internal mic and comes with additional accessories.
Olympus endowed its new recorders with
upgraded mic capsules and preamp circuitry, and
increased the separation between the audio and
system electronics. The result is higher quality
recording with less self-noise. The cardioid condenser
mics on both units are positioned at a
90-degree angle, similar to what professionals
call N.O.S. stereo. This captures a wide stereo
field that is perfect for documenting a show or
tracking a pair of acoustic guitarists sitting next
to each other.
Except for the color, the LS-12 (gunmetal gray)
and the LS-14 (black) look identical. And in fact,
they are identical in many ways, though the LS-14
adds some very cool features that are well worth
the extra 50 bucks.
For starters, the LS-14 has an omnidirectional
mic positioned between the cardioid pair. When
the third mic is on, its output is mixed into the
stereo file. In addition, the omni mic extends the
unit’s bass frequency capture from 60Hz down to 20Hz, so it adds low end while filling in the
Another distinguishing feature between the
two units is the amount of built-in flash memory—
2GB in the LS-12 and 4GB in the LS-14. With
4GB of internal memory, the LS-14 will record
1.5 hours of music at 24-bit/96kHz, and a lot
more at lower resolutions. Both units support
SD/SDHC cards up to 32GB in size, allowing
you to further extend your recording time. On
top of the included USB cable and AA batteries
that ship with both units, the LS-14 comes with
a carrying pouch and a plastic mounting clip.
Olympus really nailed the ergonomics on
these recorders. Whether you’re navigating the
menu system or using the function buttons and
data wheel, the majority of features are accessible
with a press of the thumb. One particularly
useful addition is the Mode Select dial that you
use to select one of three record modes—Quick,
Manual, Smart—or the chromatic tuner. That’s
right, you don’t need to surf menus to get to the
tuner! Hit the Record button in Smart mode and the unit automatically sets the input level as
the timer counts down from 30 seconds, then
it starts recording. In Quick mode, you’ll start
tracking as soon as you hit the Record button.
In fact, speed is one of the main assets of these
recorders: they boot up in less than five seconds—
faster than any other portable recorder
I’ve seen. And with their two-second pre-record
function, you won’t miss sonic surprises that
catch you off guard.
While musicians will enjoy the recorders’
metronome, playback speed control (50-300
percent), and built-in mono speaker (for quickly
checking your recordings), one of the most
attractive features of the LS-12 and LS-14 is
the ability to do sound-on-sound overdubbing
at 16-bit, 44.1kHz resolution. Select the file you
want to add to, hit the function button below
the words Over Dub, and the selected track
immediately begins playing. As you record the
overdub, you create a new file that combines
the previous take with the new one, so you
never have to worry about ruining the original
recording. If you want to do more overdubs, hit
the function button again to create a new file
with the additional material.
The devices can record 16-bit WAV files at
44.1 or 48kHz, 24-bit files at 88.2 or 96kHz,
and MP3 files at 128, 256, and 320kbps. If
you’re simply recording a lesson or lecture and
want increased recording time, you can record
in mono at 44.1kHz or 64kbps. All the handy
features you’d expect on a portable stereo
recorder are here too: limiter, low-cut filter
(100 or 300Hz), line-level input, and external
mic input with plug-in power. Once you’re
done recording, you can perform basic edits on
the files, such as move/copy, trim, divide, partial
erase, and lock.
Despite their diminutive size (roughly 5.5"
by 2"), the recorders have a large (1.75") LCD
screen that is easy to read. They also include
a voice guidance system, which benefits the
visually impaired. When the guide is on, the
recorder tells you verbally where you are in the
menu system and what feature you’re selecting.
Ultimately, a portable recorder is only as
good as its audio quality, and both the LS-12
and LS-14 sound terrific. The stereo separation
is exceptional for recorders at this price,
thanks to the directionality of the mics, and it
has never been easier to record quickly and get
such great sounding results. While the LS-12 is
an exceptional value, I wouldn’t hesitate springing
for the LS-14, with its extra mic, additional
storage capacity, and accessories.
OLYMPUS LS-12 AND LS-14
PRICE $149 street/$199
INPUTS Two cardioid
mics, omni mic on
the LS-14, stereo
mic input, stereo
line input, wired
OUTPUTS Stereo headphone,
USB ,built-in speaker
KUDOS Sound quality. Interface.
CONCERNS Only overdubs at