Olympus LS-7 PCM Pocket Recorder
If you want more functionality, capacity and quality for your on-the-move sound recordings than are offered by the several (excellent) “memo” systems available on your iPhone, yet do not want to stretch to the hi-fi quality of a unit like the Edirol R-09HR, which is almost in a class of its own, Olympus has a number of offerings. The new LS-7 “Pocket” Linear PCM recorder may well fit the bill.It’s compact, was reliable in testing and has a lot of easy-to-use features, offering better-than-average quality.
The Olympus LS-7 measures just 4½” x 1½” x 5/8″ and comes in a simple black pouch, operating on two supplied rechargeable AAA batteries. It has a solid and durable feel to it, while weighing only 3 ounces. On the unit’s top are the stereo and center microphones (whose sensitivity can be adjusted in the on-board software). On the bottom, the USB receptor (not tested). On the back the speaker and a standard ¼” tripod socket. On the front: the backlit screen – about 1¼” square – three buttons immediately underneath for a variety of operations; a large, central, navigation/volume control and the ‘Stop’, ‘Record’, ‘Erase’ and ‘List’ buttons. On the left of the LS-7: 3.5mm sockets for earpiece and an optional wireless remote control, and the power/hold slider. On the right the microphone jack socket (also 3.5mm), cover for the removable microSD/SDHC media card (not tested) on which up to 32GB of your audio is recorded (over and above the 4GB built-in memory); and the strap anchor.
This is a sensible layout; the unit is easy to operate, insertion of batteries and SD card included; nothing is too small or fiddly to operate. At the same time, the convenience of the LS-7 as a pocket device is not compromised. Don’t lose it, though: it’s expensive. The exposed state of the USB and jack receptors does mean that the LS-7 is not really even water-resistant.
The LS-7 uses two condenser stereo microphones on the top of the device and an omni-directional one at the center, which is designed to capture lower bass ranges down to 20Hz. The outward-facing tilt (at 45°) of the other two microphones enables recording with wider stereo sound. A flat frequency response is claimed. A switchable low-cut filter means that you can eliminate LF sound from 100Hz and 300Hz if need be. This took care of most of the background noises (traffic rumble, ambient surroundings etc) during work with the recorder without any appreciable loss in the target sound sources. There was, though, the expected degree of hiss during testing. Few devices except the very high end ones are immune from this. It’s the downside of the high gain for which many users of this unit will be grateful.
Linear PCM, MP3 and WMA sound formats are supported. Claimed capacities are: over 11 hours (Linear PCM), over 131 hours (MP3), over 1,007 (WMA) using the built-in memory. So the least you’ll get without the microSD card at the greatest quality is almost two hours. On an accompanying CD comes the Olympus Sonority Sound Editing Software; this was not tested but aims to simplify managing and editing audio recordings using your computer.
The significant item here is the uncompressed 24 bit/96kHz Linear PCM recording capability; this is greater than CD-quality, which means that you can record certain musical, natural and ambient sound as well as speech under certain conditions.
Otherwise claimed frequency-responses range from 40Hz to 44KHz in the case of Linear PCM at 96KHz/24 bit down to 40Hz to 3KHz for mono WMA. Claimed corresponding battery life (WMA mono earphone playback with alkaline, PCM recording with Ni-MH) is between 51 and 22 hours.
Two seconds of sound is captured in the LS-7’s buffer right before the Record button is pressed – just in case you don’t get to your source in time; a useful touch. In fact, this is one of several nice functional touches that contribute to the fitness for multiple purposes of the LS-7. Another is the voice-guidance system which allows control without having to see the text on the screen, not that the latter is unclear – but evidence that Olympus has thought carefully about a wide range of potential users’ needs.
A frequent stumbling-block of recorders that have an inbuilt “filing system” such that you can categorize and organize where your recordings are kept is difficulty of navigation… hierarchies are all very well if you can visualize them. It’s useful in this context to have such thorough documentation: over 100 pages, well-illustrated and nicely searchable. It’s no surprise that a significant number of pages is devoted to understanding and manipulating this folder structure. Indeed, credit must go to Olympus for almost exemplary documentation… clear, for the most part unambiguous (even though “PC” in places includes Mac). The PDF includes useful advice on which recording formats suit which environments best, troubleshooting, alarms and errors and generally how to get the most out of and make operation simple of what is a sophisticated piece of equipment.
The LS-7 is not quite switch-on-and use; though it’s close: navigation of the many useful features is relatively intuitive, though will probably take even the quickest user a minute or two to find their way around… when to use the ‘OK’ button, one of the arrows, the menu, F1 and F2 buttons. But it’s all logical once you’ve got used to it. That there is such a variety of settings (many of which need to be returned to infrequently if ever) is a good thing. Managing them comes naturally after a while. But be prepared to put in some effort – preferably with the docs. The voice which guides you as you navigate the device does a good job of preventing errors and warning before erasing etc.
The Olympus LS-7 is compact, versatile, likely to provide what most demanding users need, and capable of high-quality and high capacity sound recording. It is a specialist product in that, for casual use, there are cheaper, simpler devices available. But if recording in the field or with any regularity is your bread and butter, it’s well worth a close look.
Pros: sturdy; useful, well-implemented features; easy to use; good sound capacity and quality; functionality will not interfere with everyday use; compactness combined with sturdy feel
Cons: high price; slightly, but perhaps necessarily, steep learning curve to become used to the onscreen settings and controls
MyMac.com Rating: 9 out of 10