We tested the Alesis ProTrack with a variety of iPods (including the second-generation iPod Touch, running the iProRecorder App from BIAS), and subjected it to a variety of recording situations, with and without the onboard limiter. Using the built-in stereo microphones, we recorded everything from backyard wind chimes and acoustic piano to electric guitar.
In general, recordings from the built-in microphones offered impressive stereo realism and clarity. Unfortunately, we noticed that recordings from the ProTrack's internal mics featured more background noise than similar recordings made with theand Zoom H2. We also found the Pocketrak's independent gain-setting dials for the left and right channels a little touchy, producing off-balance stereo recordings if the dials weren't precisely aligned.
Another issue we encountered was mechanical noise from our iPod creeping into some recordings. Specifically, recording with the ProTrack's internal microphones while using our fifth-generation video iPod produced intermittent low-level whirring sounds caused by the hard drive spinning. The sound disappeared when we used external mics or recorded to flash-based iPods (Nano, Touch) instead.
Luckily, using the ProTrack with external microphones produced great results across the board. We staged a pretend interview with Buzz Out Loud's Jason Howell using two Sennheiser MD46 cardioid mics connected over XLR, and walked away with a recording that was free of the background noise heard from the integrated microphones, and was more than suitable for podcasting. We also noticed that in this recording situation, the independent left and right gain dials on the front of the ProTrack were helpful for providing quick adjustments in a context where realistic stereo balance isn't the goal.
To test out the ProTrack's phantom-power capabilities, we hooked up a Rode Broadcaster microphone directly over XLR, hit the recorder's phantom-power switch, and watched the Rode's power indicator light right up. Again, the mic recording was more than adequate for a broadcast-quality interview or podcast. We see no reason why the same favorable results we experienced using external mics for vocal recordings wouldn't serve music recording just as well.
Alesis rates the ProTrack's battery life at 3 hours, or 2 hours while using phantom power. Those numbers aren't great, but the inclusion of an AC adapter may help smooth things over.
The Alesis ProTrack isn't small, and it isn't cheap, but it's one of the most affordable portable solutions we've seen that can take advantage of high-quality phantom-powered microphones.
If you're just looking for a quality stereo recorder for concerts and lectures, and mic inputs aren't a big deal, something like the Zoom H2 is a better value with a more convenient design.