ByPicardTOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon 17 September 2011
It goes without saying these days that Roland are, for the most part, an immensely unpredictable company when it comes to the value of their products. Glorified 'synthesisers' with old product names are often nothing more than the same patches contained with different shaped boxes, whilst the prices of their amps leave a lot to be desired. It came as quite a surprise then when I came across the R-05 Digital Recorder - a product that appears so effortless in design and operation that its hard to believe the same company are trying to flog a 'new' Jupiter keyboard that has nothing in common with 80's ancestors.
The chance are that if you're in the market for a Digital Recorder, you're wanting to capture sounds for a variety of different mediums. Were especially lucky today that a device of this size - no more than 4" x 2.5" - can capture the sounds around us and be instantly transferred to a DAW. And thats what the R-05 is all about; letting you do what you need, providing the features you want and including nothing unnecessary.
Contained within the box you'll find the recorder itself - an incredibly well built device which more than represents value for money in both size and quality. The construction is part aluminium, plastic and rubber, so it feels rugged in your hand when combined with the weight. This isn't a super-light device, but I admire the fact that the added mass makes it feel like it actually some value. Won't even mention Tascam recorders...
You'll also find a short USB cable to connect the recorder to the computer, although if yours has an SD card reader built in, then all you have to do is pop open the rubber hatch, remove the SD card and just shove (well, place...) it into your computer. This is probably the better option as using the USB cable requires the product to be switched on and draw power from the battery. Given how little it draws though, you don't need to worry if your computer doesn't have an SD card reader/adapter.
Finally, the box contains a muffle which can be placed over the speakers to help shield wind from your field recordings, or if you're capturing vocals, to answer the John Prescott's who "spray it" rather than just saying it!
Instructions, a Quick Start guide, 2 x AA batteries (which I haven't needed to change yet after almost 3 months!) and a 2GB SD card are also included in the box, so you're absolutely ready to get going. Even the 2GB capacity of the SD card is generous enough for WAV recordings, and I can't imagine ever needing a large one - although if I did, they're so cheap these days that it wouldn't be a problem. The Quick Start guide is flawless and only makes the normal manual appear more bogged down with all the features on offer and how to use them. The device is so simple to use though that I haven't need to rely on either, although because the Quick Start guide is so small, you could keep this handy in a case.
The I/O and external features of the device include:
- a 3.5mm headphone socket. This is handy for listening to your recordings and reviewing what you've done, since the device doesn't contain an internal speaker. Just as well really, as the quality would probably be poor, so kudos to Roland for avoiding that gag.
- a 3.5mm Line In socket. When it comes to capturing sounds directly from a source such as a mixing console or, to use one example, a DJ booth, this is a great option. With a whole array of cables on offer that allow 3.5mm to 1/4" jacks, you can capture from many different sources.
- a 3.5mm Mic socket. As above, except this is especially for microphone usage, whereas the former is for connections to a direct electronic source.
- DC-IN. Very handy for when you're recording for extended periods of time, as you can use the power from a wall plug rather than batteries.
- Mini USB. As mentioned before, the cable is included for connection to a standard USB 2.0 socket on your PC/Mac.
- Power/Hold switch. Combined in the same button, you turn the device on by sliding it to Power, and then you can 'Hold' it and avoid accidental button presses by switching it to Hold.
- Lanyard bridge. Although the box (sadly) doesn't contain one, they're often easy to come by and I think would make a nice addition to the safety of holding the device.
The screen of the device is backlit green/yellow and offers a nice quality matrix view. The buttons also light up to which is handy for dark environments, and those buttons included on the main interface are all relevant to making quick decisions when recording/playing back, which features such as 'FINDER' (to explore your recordings), 'REVERB' (to add reverb to your recordings within the device) and volume controls for playback/input, as well has Play, Stop, Record and more. The lights come to good effect with the Record button as a single press will start it flashing - telling you that you can check volume levels and get ready to record, whilst a second press starts recording and it stops flashing.
Even the Peak indicator light is handy and means you don't have to keep looking at the Input levels on the screen.
But when it comes down to the USP of the product, were obviously talking about sound quality, and the R-05 is absolutely no slouch. In fact, i'm amazed at the definition this little thing can pick-up through the internal microphones, which are housed in a metal tube at the top of the product. In some cases, the recordings rival what you would normally have to get with an external microphone on older devices, and as such you can be confident that you'll capture clear, realistic sounds whenever the call is needed. As someone who collects samples for music production, I have yet to use an external microphone that I had previous always needed, thats how good this device is.
Recording through the inputs represent even better quality though. I compared a DJ session recording that had been captured with a 3 year old MiniDisc player in a lossless format (live in a club and captured through the mixing console) and performed the same mix at home, through the same mixing console with the R-05, and the results were even better still! It just goes to show that even with a lossy format, the final quality still depends on the audio processing that the device offers. As such, I am now in the process of converting all my old Vinyl records to WAV, and putting them in iTunes!
A standout feature for me is the screw-hole on the base of the product which allows you to take a stand and put the R-05 onto it - ideal for just raising it up off the surface, or placing it on difficult. The best stand you can buy is the Joby Gorillapod Original as not only is this great for compact Digital Cameras, but is ideally suited to the R-05 because you can get really creating and 'clasp' it in the most difficult to reach areas. At one point, I placed it on a thick tree branch to record some distant bird songs, and I felt safe in the knowledge it wasn't going to drop. I don't trust them Squirrel fellas though...
And so, the R-05 is about as dissected as I could wish. It may be tempting to settle for cheaper products that appear smaller too, but the quality just can't match the product on this page. Given the quality of the microphone thats built in and the rugged nature of the product, you could easily pay far more and get another Digital Recorder and a separate microphone, and still only just match the quality that is present. The downside I have is that there are few 'skins' on the market that you can use to protect the R-05, and I really don't want to pay over the odds for Roland's own.