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I arrived home to the latest issue of Electronic Musician and, pertinent to
our recent thread, the cover story was all about digital field recorders.
Basically, none came out ideal and they all seem very costly given the
comments about features and sound quality. The best overall value and also
scored surprisingly well on subjective sound quality opinions was the Edirol
R-4:
http://www.edirol.com/products/info/r4.html

Edirol makes a unit, the R-1:
http://www.edirol.com/products/info/r1.html
that seems a direct competitor to the Marantz and M-Audio units we've
discussed.
It was not very favorably reviewed in the EM article, nor was the Marantz
unit.

I also did a bit of digging on the M-Audio unit and I think this may be a
piece of gear that originated in an Asian design lab and then was peddled
around for a known pro-audio company to brand and sell. A lot of MP3 players
and networking gear sold under various established brand names are done this
way. I think some of the short-comings of the M-Audio unit (low phantom
voltage, not genuine pro balanced ins and out, etc) may be due to a lack of
understanding of what constitutes pro-grade vs. a souped up piece of
consumer gear.

The Marantz unit we've discussed is a first-generation unit and I predict
they'll come out with a unit at that price point that will be superior and
address the many complaints (the EM article also noted the terrible mic
preamps but added that the Marantz unit already has a large foothold with
radio news-gathering -- even though it rated low on subjective opinions of
spoken-word recording).

I'm pretty sure Marantz and Edirol/Roland design their products in-house and
have them built either in their own Asian factories or in factories that
they have some control over. I'm not positive about the M-Audio unit, which
may be done like many pieces of commodity-priced networking gear, digital
cameras and digital music players: designed and built to a price point by a
3rd party and branded and sold by a domestic company. Given the complaints
I've read about the M-Audio unit, I bet the Avid parent executives are not
pleased. But, I should quickly add that they were ambitious in their goals
and claims and should get some credit for it.

Bottom line, for me anyway, is that I'll stick with my trusty Sony Pressman
cassette recorder until a much better digital alternative comes along at a
reasonable price point (ie under $200). Also interesting to note in that
same issue of EM is the New Products announcement of the M-Audio device
(which apparently came out too late for the comparison article) and also the
new Sony MiniDisc Pro machines. If one hears good reports about the media
and recorders being durable enough for field use a year or two down the
road, those MD Pro units may be a compelling alternative until the
solid-state memory devices get better and cheaper.

One man's opinions, YMMV, etc.

-- Tom Fine