If I were to design my ideal compact field recorder, here is my wish list: It would be tiny yet rugged, have a decent pair of microphones with sturdy windscreens, and record both compressed and uncompressed audio at a variety of resolutions. I'd be able to set recording levels with a thumb wheel and operate the transport controls with one hand.
It would have acres of memory, run forever on replaceable batteries, transfer files to my computer at the highest possible speed, sound great, look cool, and fit inside the accessory pocket in my ukulele case. Oh, and I shouldn't have to take out a second mortgage to buy it.
Tall order? Maybe not when you consider the new Olympus LS-10.
Although this is its first high-resolution audio recorder, Olympus has been in the game for quite a long time. The company's pocket voice recorders are well regarded by many users. With the LS-10, it looks like Olympus was paying attention to what musicians and broadcasters want, too.
The LS-10 fits comfortably in your palm and makes barely a bulge in your shirt pocket. Despite the recorder's diminutive size, the display is large and the controls feel reassuringly solid. There is little wasted real estate, yet nothing feels cluttered.
The rear panel sports two tiny stereo speakers (handy for spot-checking recordings, though not powerful or hi-fi enough for serious listening), a metal insert for a camera tripod, and a large door for two AA batteries. Olympus claims battery life up to 20 hours; I can't dispute that because I'm still using the original batteries after almost two months! A jack for an optional power supply is located on the bottom.
Two slider switches for the low-cut filter and Hi/Lo microphone sensitivity are within easy thumb range on the right side. Above them is the sturdy little Rec Level wheel. Next come a pair of mini jacks for an external mic ("plug-in power" is available) and a line source.
Olympus LS-10 Left and Right
On the left, a three-position slider turns the LS-10 on in a respectable four seconds (it takes slightly longer with a card inserted); moved the other way, it serves as a hold switch, locking out all the function buttons. Next comes a small flexible plastic door covering a mini-USB port. The LS-10 supports hi-speed USB 2.0, though transfers may slow down depending on the removable memory card you choose. Even better, the LS-10 runs off USB bus power. It will not double as an audio interface or record while connected, however.
Rounding out the left-hand side are a volume wheel for playback volume and a 1/8-inch jack for headphones. Watch out — the headphone amp gets loud!
You'll also find a slot for a memory card; SD and SDII cards up to 8GB are supported. But you don't need one to start recording, because the LS-10 also has 2 gigs of internal memory. I really like the flexibility of recording to internal or removable memory; it's handy for organizing files or quickly adding memory in the field.
Face the Music
The front panel is clean and well laid out. Stop and Rec buttons — one press puts you in record-ready, a second commences recording, and a third pauses the recorder — flank a red peak LED. The LED blinks rapidly if you're running out of memory — nice. A four-position click wheel with a multi-function button at the center serves double duty as cursor and transport controls.
Four small buttons run along the bottom; three call up the Menu, Folder/File lists, or repeat a short section of an audio file. The fourth button, labeled Fn, accesses an assignable menu function with a single button press. I set it to jump to the recording setup screen, eliminating a couple of button presses. Other options include turning the LED on or off, selecting internal or removable memory, toggling between normal and automatic recording gain, stepping through the various recording or playback effects, etc. It's a great little feature that I came to love.
The menu is well thought out; you navigate between sections using icons on the left side or scroll through menu choices on the right. For instance, selecting a little microphone icon jumps you to the Rec section; a wrench leads you to a menu of handy tools for setting the date and time, protecting individual files for accidental erasure, etc. No matter where you are in the menu, a quick press on the Stop button jumps you back to the main screen.
Would that were so in the List screens, where you select one of five folders for recording or playback (there's an additional folder for audio downloaded from a computer). From the List screen, pressing Stop brings up a momentary display showing the time and date; the only way to get back to the main screen is to press FF. Worse, if you enter the List screens via a menu option (as when you select memory location), you can find yourself in a loop that keeps jumping between the Menu and List screens until you remember to press FF. Not exactly intuitive, that.
The main display is easy to read with large meters active during recording and playback. Additionally, there is information about the file type and sample rate, elapsed time, current folder, the number of files in that folder, and the battery status. When recording, the LS-10 also shows the remaining recording time at the current settings; in playback the file length is displayed.
To save batteries, or for stealth recording, you can turn off the display's backlight.
Olympus LS-10 Back
Two small speakers let you verify you captured the sound without fumbling with headphones. (Click to enlarge.)
How's It Sound?
The LS-10 ships with everything you need to start recording, including the batteries. Rooting through the box, I was happy to spy a couple of foam windscreens that clip securely to the mics. Several other recorders I've reviewed skimp on this important accessory.
The LS-10 is one of the easiest recorders I've ever used. The transport (if I can use such a term for a random-access device) and level-setting will feel familiar to anyone who has even a passing knowledge of recording. I auditioned different audio file formats and resolutions, changed folders, etc., all without cracking the manual.