Technology advances in the studio can be great. They help make our lives easier and improve the quality of the programming product that we broadcast. New products are becoming smaller, more powerful and easier to use. Unfortunately, these same advances tend to spoil us, as we always want more. This was the case recently in the news department of WDBO in Orlando. These reporters are not only some of the best journalists in the business, but are also adventurous enough to want to try the latest tools of the trade. Fortunately, they also have the ability pick up something new and learn to use it fast. It's this talent level that helped WDBO take home the station of the year award for 2005. It's also this talent level that demands the best.
Recently, the news department needed some new field recorders. They have been using Minidisc for some time, and also have a couple of flash card recorders. They also typically carry a laptop with them to edit their stories and send the files back to the newsroom. What they asked for this time was a recorder that's more reliable than their mini-disc recorders, and smaller than the flash card recorders that they were using. The kicker was that they also wanted something that would allow them to do some basic cut-and-paste editing on the recorder like they can do on their laptop computers.
In your pocket
In my search I came across the AEQ DR-100 digital field recorder, a Radio magazine 2005 Pick Hit Award winner. The first thing that impressed me was the size of the device. It's about the size and weight of a small cell phone, yet it is packed with features. The recorder is menu-driven using the navigation buttons and a 1.5" built-in LCD display. It comes with built-in flash memory capable of recording 4.5 hours of stereo audio, but it accepts external flash memory cards for even more recording time and flexibility.
Performance at a glance
Built-in FM tuner
Small and lightweight
Easy to navigate menus
Built-in waveform editing
Internal memory with external expansion
The DR-100 comes complete with everything you need to get started including the rechargeable battery and power adapter, an internal and an external microphone, audio cable, headphones, belt case, USB cable and software for the PC. It even features a built-in FM tuner to monitor the station.
I was a bit concerned at first when I saw that the recorder was menu-operated, but after only a few minutes with it in my hands I was recording, editing and transferring files with no trouble. The menus are clear and easy to navigate, yet for those more technically challenged, the basics like record and play are easily found. I was also impressed by all the information shown on the screen in record mode. The LCD display clearly shows the record format mode (MP2, MP3 or G.723), sample and bit rates, input level meters and input source. It displays timers showing the length of the recording, plus how much time is remaining on the memory card so you don't get caught short. There's even a small frequency spectrum meter shown. All of these are on the display at the same time so there's no fumbling through menus to find the needed status information.
Recording is easy and flexible. The digital recorder comes with a built-in microphone, which I found to provide good quality. It also comes with a small external plug-in mic, or you can use your own microphone for the best quality interviews. There is also a line input and output to record from media distribution boxes or other audio devices. The system can also record directly from its built-in FM tuner, or can input MP3 files from a PC. There are three recording modes, MP2, MP3 and G.723. The MP2 mode is the primary suggested mode of operation because it opens other features. Two sample rates can be chosen in this mode (32kHz and 48kHz) as well as several bit rates ranging from 112 to 384kb/s in the stereo mode, or 32 to 192kb/s in the mono recording mode. The built-in waveform editor is only available for MP2 files. The unit also offers the option to set recording levels or take advantage of the built-in AGC. Record options include instant start, start on first audio or delayed recording via the built-in timer. While recording, the user can push a button to place a mark making it easy to find desired material later.
While the recording features are nice, it's what you can do afterward that really makes the recorder shine. Once audio files have been recorded, you can open them in the Sound Editor mode and view the waveform on the display. Again, I was impressed with how easy it was to begin cut-and-paste editing. Within minutes of playing with the machine, I was already making edits and cleaning a file. This display may be small (1.5"), but the waveform fills the screen with a resolution that makes editing clear and easy. As with most editors, simply mark the start and stop points on the waveform. You can create rough edit points then go back and adjust if needed. You can even zoom in on the waveform display for precise editing. After the audio section is highlighted, you can listen to what's inside or outside of the selected area to hear how edits will sound. Next, you can choose to delete the section or save it as a new file. All editing is non-destructive, so you can go back and recover the original recording at a later time. To provide even more flexibility, you can merge other audio files into your edit decision list (EDL). This allows field reporters to record a news report and edit in their actualities on the spot. Finished audio files can then be downloaded to a PC to be e-mailed back to the newsroom. The system even has the ability to connect to a modem if you want to transfer the file via a telephone line.
In the field
Our reporters have been using the recorder in the field now for several weeks successfully. The one issue that I have heard some negative feedback on is with the battery. What makes this unit so small and lightweight is its cell phone-like design. It even uses a battery typically found in a cell phone. A full charge can provide about three hours of recording, editing and playback time, but when it goes dead, that's it. Find an electrical outlet to recharge it. Some of our other recorders use standard AA or AAA batteries, which the reporter can carry in the car or even purchase at any store. I suggest purchasing a spare battery with the unit and keeping it charged. I also suggest alternating the batteries to keep them fresh and active. One other feature that I personally would have liked to see is a built-in speaker. Nothing fancy, but just something that you could use to verify the recording. The DR-100 comes with headphones, but a speaker would be a nice addition.
The editing features go well beyond other recorders in this class, allowing our reporters to edit stories in the field without the use of their laptop. AEQ definitely deserves its Pick Hit Award for the DR-100 professional digital recorder, and from my understanding, the company has yet another model about to be released that will allow editing in some of the other recording formats as well.
Fluker is director of engineering for Cox Radio, Orlando, FL.
Editor's note: Field Reports are an exclusive Radio magazine feature for radio broadcasters. Each report is prepared by well-qualified staff at a radio station, production facility or consulting company.
These reports are performed by the industry, for the industry. Manufacturer support is limited to providing loan equipment and to aiding the author if requested.
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