Edirol R1 looks good

by criggs - 3/6/05 10:01 AM

In Reply to: Edirol R1 looks good by Trampolin

Trampolin wrote:
"I found a new product that seems very interesting. Its closer to 400 than 200 dollars but its still a lot cheaper than comparable products. You record to compact flash in mp3 or wav-mode and transfer to computer via USB. Anyone who tested it?
http://www.edirol.com/products/info/r1.html "

Depends on what the meaning of the word "tested" is. I purchased one on backorder way back in December, but only got it this past weekend. For the last two days I've been tinkering with it extensively, and have useful operational information on it. However I have yet to use it "for real", so I have yet to know whether its presumed high quality is for real in the context of a "for real" job.

My personal need was a high-quality portable recorder that could record non-stop on one set of batteries in full bandwidth for 3 hours, on a storage medium that could hold a minimum of 6 hours. The short story is that, after extensive tinkering and experimentation this past weekend, I can report to you that this device can indeed do that, and as such gives promise of being an EXTREMELY POWERFUL, UNIQUE product.

Now, some of the details.

First the nuts-and-bolts specs of the device, for those unfamiliar with it who don't want to go hunting all over the web for the information: This is a portable recorder which utilizes Compact Flash Cards for media. One can make recordings from three analog sources only, an internal stereo microphone, an external microphone through a dedicated external stereo microphone input, and an analog source like an amp or a tuner or a CD through the external line input (of course, when attached to a computer via a USB 2.0 port one can also drag and drop any sort of sound files one likes from one's computer to the R-1's flash card). One can make original recordings on the R-1 all the way from a high compression low bandwidth MP3 file running at a data rate of only 64k up to MP3 files of 320k, as well as full-bandwidth PCM wave files either at 16 bits or the relatively exotic and high-end 24 bits. All recordings utilize the CD-standard 44.1k sampling rate.

That's the official description, and it's accurate. Here's the information I've collected which won't show up in the manufacturer's literature.

I pursued three major areas of clarification, storage space, record levels, and battery life.

With regard to storage space, as I mentioned, I needed a piece of media that could hold 6 hours of material recorded in full-bandwidth wave mode at the standard 16 bit rate depth. For that sort of space you need, at a minimum, a 4 gig Compact Flash Card.

However the R-1 says that it can only handle a maximum of 2 gigs in a Compact Flash Card. I had no idea what that meant, so I called tech support to see what the story was. They told me they had no specific reason for doubting that the device could handle the 4 gig cards. However, since they had only tested up to 2-gig cards, they hesitated to put the full faith and credit of Edirol/Roland behind anything longer. They furthermore informed me that the R-1 utilizes the FAT32 standard, which was a positive indication that it would probably handle the 4-gig cards okay since that is what the latter requires.

However no dice. When I tried to record a six-hour full-bandwidth 16 bit wave file onto the 4 gig card I purchased (not cheap: $300), the R-1 only saw two gigs, and automatically stopped recording after some three hours plus of recording. Thinking that the R-1 might have misformatted the card as a 2-gig rather than a 4-gig card, I took a look at the R-1 formatted 4 gig card through the USB 2.0 port on my computer. The R-1 had NOT misformatted the card. There, plain as day, the computer showed that there were almost 4 gigs of empty space on the card. In other words, the R-1 had clearly seen that there were 4 gigs of formatted space on the card; it just didn't give a damn and treated it as a 2-gig card anyway.

Somewhat disappointed, I went to Plan B, which was to treat the R-1 as if it was capable of only handling the FAT16 standard by utilizing the partition division switch on my 4 gig card and turning it into, in effect, two 2-gig cards rather than one 4-gig card.

And that worked fine. I can now get a full 4 gigs of use out of the card. The only fly in the ointment is that the R-1 can only access 2 gigs at a time, and at the end of 2 gigs of recording time one has to "turn the tape over" as it were (i.e. flip the partition switch) in order to access the other half of the 4 gig card for recording. This could be a headache if a 6 hour recording session doesn't divide neatly into two 3-hour halves, but it's the best solution for now. (By the way, an erroneous one-page manual addendum packaged into my R-1 states that one should not try to record anything longer than 2 gigs or the file will be completely lost and nothing will be saved. This is obviously incorrect; the recording stops automatically the moment 2 gigs of recording time is reached, nothing is lost, and the file is always properly saved. Looks like the lit depatment's left hand didn't know what the R & D's right hand was doing!)

Those were my results with regard to storage space.

With regard to the record level meter, it is very readable and quite large by portable standards. It employs 15 increments. HOWEVER they are not marked! If you're looking to see where your -10db level is, where your -20db level is, etc. etc., you will look in vain. Since this is obviously a professional quality machine intended for high-end recording, the lack of such markings is noteworthy, to put it politely. So I made several test recordings at various levels and loaded them into my wave editor to find out what the 15 increments actually stood for. I successfully created what I believe is an accurate conversion table for the 15 increments. For those of you who intend, like me, to use this product for serious recordings, my results may prove quite useful. Here they are:

1) -40db
2) -37db
3) -34db
4) -31db
5) -29db
6) -26db
7) -24db
8) -21db
9) -18db
10) -16db
11) -12.5db
12) -9db
13) -6db
14) -3db
15) 0db

I strongly recommend those of you planning the purchase of this product, and its professional use, to copy and paste the above table in a convenient place.

Finally, battery life.

The battery life claims provided by the manufacturer of this product are all over the place. Some of the lit says 2 hours recording time at standard 16 bit WAV mode. Some of the lit claims only one hour under those conditions. Some claim 2 hours recording time only at the maximum MP3 data rate (320k), etc. etc. This was one spec where I was very anxious. As I mentioned previously, I needed a minimum of 3 hours of battery life with full-bandwidth recording utilizing the standard 16 bit depth, so if the battery life turned out to be on the low side of any of the manufacturer's wildly varying estimates it would have effectively rendered the device useless to me.

In my previous life I was a DAT-head, so I had some knowledge of the lifespan and reliability of double AA batteries. In the past, when confronted with time-challenging recording projects, I had grown to depend on lithiums, which, on average, gave me about 50% more life than the more standard non-rechargeable alkalines. However, when I broached this question with tech support, they sounded skeptical that lithium batteries would significantly alter the R-1's battery life picture.

Balancing tech support's more intimate knowledge of the device with my own personal experience, I decided, modestly, that I had greater faith in the latter than the former. And it was on that basis that I finally swallowed hard and shelled out the green stuff for the R-1. No, the R-1 is not cheap, even for me who bought it a discount, around $400. But, for the price, it does more than any other device of its kind around, and that was why I was ultimately persuaded to roll the dice and just hope battery life would "work itself out".

And I am very happy to report that, in the end, my testing in this area proved to be spectacularly successful. I started recording a full 2-gig wav file at full bandwidth at the 16 bit depth and just let the device do its thing for a few hours non-stop. Two and a half hours -- no battery low warning and the recording calmly continued. Three hours -- still no battery low warning and the recording imperviously continued. Then, precisely at the 3 hour eighteen minute cutoff point for 2 gigs of space, the recording stopped smoothly and instantly AND STILL WITH NO INDICATION AT ALL OF THE BATTERY RUNNING LOW. Because in real life I would never attempt to roll the dice by demanding more than that from my lithiums, I decided to quit while I was ahead and to always change batteries at that point. It would be interesting, as an academic exercise, to find out how much of a SECOND 2 gig recording at full 16 bit bandwidth one pair of lithiums could sustain before getting into trouble, but, for now, my standards had been met, and I considered the outcome an unqualified success.

To sum up, one can get more than 2 gigs of storage space on one Flash Card but only in 2-gig increments, the record level meter is accurate and detailed once one has the information needed to decode it, and battery life is a minimum of 3 hours with lithiums when recording 16 bit wave files.

I hope the above information is useful to those of you in the market for a product like this. Personally, while my experience with this device is based not on years or months but days, I have to say I have seen much to impress me about it and not much to disappoint me. On balance, it is pretty much what the manufacturer says it is, a high-quality product which fills a noticeable gap in the needs of both professional and amateur recordists.

Happy listening,

Charles