The Edirol R-09 handheld audio recorder ($399) is designed primarily for the needs of musicians and songwriters who want a simple, all-in-one gadget for capturing recordings of their performances and song ideas. Its compact size, outstanding sound quality, and affordable price make the Edirol R-09 equally well-suited for less glamorous applications such as recording interviews, mobile reporting, and field recording.
Measuring 4 inches tall by 2.5 inches wide by 1 inch deep, the Edirol R-09 is one of the smallest high-end portable audio recorders available. The top edges of the Edirol R-09 include a pair of stereo condenser microphones covered behind a rugged perforated metal grate. Also found on the top of the R-09 are two 3.5mm jacks for an external microphone input and line-input, as well as a loophole for a lanyard or wrist strap (not included).
The face of the Edirol R-09 is designed with a small 1.2-inch backlit monochrome screen on the top half, and navigation and playback controls on the bottom. The navigation and playback section of the Edirol R-09 is comprised of a four-way direction pad with an illuminated center record button, and three smaller buttons above the pad which that are used for accessing the menu, activating reverb effects, and creating repeating audio loops.
On the right side of the Edirol R-09 you'll find a hold switch, a headphone volume control, and a 3.5mm headphone jack that doubles as an optical audio output. The R-09's left side includes buttons for power and recording level adjustment, as well as a power adapter input jack. The back of the R-09 features four small switches for features we're happy aren't buried in menus, including automatic gain control, mono/stereo microphone type, low-frequency filter, and low/high microphone sensitivity.
The Edirol R-09's compact and attractive design is hard to find fault with, however, there are some missed opportunities. For instance, the black buttons found on the sides of the black and silver model of the Edirol R-09 are very hard to distinguish in dim-light situations. In contrast, the red, illuminated record button on the face of the Edirol R-09 shines out like a beacon, which is a disadvantage if you're attempting to capture a recording undetected. We also noticed that unlike the Sony PCM-D50 and Zoom H2, the Edirol R-09 can only be mounted on a stand with the purchase of a $60 case.
Edirol packs the R-09 with plenty of features, however, its most competitive asset is its capability to fit in your shirt pocket. Size aside, the R-09 includes desirable features such as a low-cut filter that decreases ambient rumble and wind noise from recordings, an automatic gain control that takes the guesswork out of finding the ideal recording level, and the capability to record directly to MP3 files while maintaining an unexpectedly high level of audio fidelity.
The Edirol R-09's remarkable size and audio fidelity are hard to beat at this price, but there are a few missing features that will give pause to some users. For instance, the Edirol R-09 does not offer a way to edit, split, or bookmark recordings internally, making it difficult to manage long recordings without offloading them to a computer. The Edirol R-09's maximum recording resolution of 24-bit, 48KHz WAV, while outstanding, is short of the 24-bit, 96KHz ceiling offered by many of its competitors. For those of you interested in the Edirol R-09 as a solution for transcribing dictation or lectures, the lack of playback speed control could be a deal breaker.
Support for SDHC memory expansion cards is one of the Edirol R-09's hidden advantages over expensive competitors. A measly 64MB SD expansion card is included in the box, but support for swappable SDHC cards up to 8GB means that the Edirol R-09's storage is limited mostly by how many memory cards you feel like carrying around. Unless you already have some high-capacity SD memory cards lying around, expect to spend an extra $10 to $30 to outfit the R-09 with a healthy amount of storage.
While only separated by an inch and a half of space, the stereo separation achieved by the R-09's built-in microphones offer exceptional realism. Walking around the block with the Edirol R-09 in hand, we were able to capture detailed and lifelike recordings with relatively minimal distortion caused by handling and wind noise. Using the R-09's headphone output, you can monitor recording in real time, at volume levels capable of drowning out even the loudest concert. Unfortunately, if you're considering using the R-09 outdoors, we found that the onscreen recording level meter is difficult to read in broad daylight, even with the LCD contrast set to maximum.
The Edirol R-09's maximum recording resolution of 24-bit, 48KHz WAV is worth bragging about, but it's not practical for general use. Fortunately, the R-09 does a great job recording directly to easy-to-use MP3 files (64, 96, 128, 160, 192, 224, and 320Kbps), as well as 16-bit/44KHz WAV. Using only the R-09's built-in microphones, we found MP3 recordings held up just as good to our ears as uncompressed WAV.
Edirol rates the R-09's battery life at 5.5 hours of audio playback and 4 hours of recording. While it's not the 12 hours of battery life boasted by the Sony PCM-D50, four hours is a good sweet spot that's adequate for recording most concerts or lectures. If you really need to go the long haul with your recordings, the Edirol R-09's use of two common AA batteries means that you can quickly replenish your power with a minimum of fuss. By using the included power adapter, the R-09's only recording limitation is the capacity of your memory card.