When Edirol introduced the original R-09 in 2006, it was one of the smallest, lightest, high-quality stereo audio recorders made with swappable SD flash memory. In the wake of the R-09 came many handheld audio recorders boasting slimmer designs, enhanced features, and lower prices. To keep pace, Edirol has come back swinging with the impressive R-09HR ($450), which boasts an improved design, higher-resolution recording modes, and a larger memory capacity.
The R-09HR isn't the slimmest or lightest high-end recorder on the market these days. In fact, it's slightly longer and thicker than the original R-09. The R-09HR is still small enough to fit in your pocket, however, which is a major advantage over its closest competitor in sound quality: the Sony PCM-D50.
At first glance it's hard to see the differences between the R-09HR and its predecessor, but plenty of little improvements have been made. For instance, an upgraded rubberized exterior now allows the R-09HR improved sound isolation when placed down on its front or back. Also, the once indistinguishable black buttons lining the sides of the R-09 have now been labeled in white lettering, and a few buttons, switches, and ports have been rearranged for better ergonomics. Two of the most notable changes since the original R-09 are a larger screen and a more easily accessible battery compartment.
One thing that hasn't changed on the Edirol R-09HR, is its straightforward interface and large, illuminated record button. If a bright red record button attracts more attention than you'd like, however, you can set the button's backlight to automatically switch off during recording. The Edirol R-09HR's onscreen interface is intuitive and uncluttered, with a responsive meter and a legible indications of playback time, remaining recording time, and battery life. We still feel that the small black buttons used for volume and microphone levels make the R-09HR difficult to operate in a dark club or at night, but the new larger screen helps considerably.
The Edirol R-09HR's features are geared toward musicians, although it's a great tool for podcasters and journalists as well. The R-09HR's most cherished feature is the fantastic recording quality you can achieve using its built-in stereo microphones. To accomplish this, the R-09HR offers dedicated buttons for mic-level adjustment, high and low gain settings, digital limiting and automatic gain control settings, an adjustable low-cut filter, and a bevy of recording formats ranging from an efficient 64Kbps MP3, up through 24-bit, 96kHz WAV, with many resolution variations along the way.
Aside from a big bump in recording resolution, the Edirol R-09HR includes several other features lacking from its predecessor. You get a wireless remote control that can trigger recordings from up to 12 feet away, a handy built-in speaker for reviewing recordings, support for high-capacity SD memory (up to 32GB), bundled editing software, playback speed control, and the ability to split recordings on the fly.
There are also many excellent features carried over from the original R-09, such as separate line-in and microphone inputs, an included DC power supply, multiple reverb audio effects, an A-B loop mode, and the ability to directly monitor recordings over your headphones. We still wish Edirol would throw in a tripod mount and a windscreen with the R-09HR, but you can always shell out for them separately if you want them.
The sound quality of the Edirol R-09HR's built-in microphones is stunning, blowing away any competitor under $500. Listening back to recordings of piano made in both 16-bit and 24-bit recording modes, you can hear the extra detail Edirol's microphones are capable of capturing. While the microphones included on a competitor such as the Sony PCM-D50 offer improved stereo realism, you'll pay a high price for it and miss out on the R-09HR's smaller size and higher memory capacity.
It's easy to be impressed by high-resolution recordings, but the Edirol R-09HR's also offers great results at lower MP3 resolutions as well. Field recordings and interviews recorded at a modest 128Kbps MP3 setting were relatively free of compression artifacts and easy on battery life and memory, too.
Edirol rates the R-09HR's battery life at 5.5 hours of intermittent recording, or 4.5 hours of continuous recording--numbers that can be optimized with various power-saving system settings. Two AA batteries are all you need to get the R-09HR back on its feet.