Impressive Microtrack portable audio recorder

As a podcaster, I often record face-to-face interviews as well as presentations, workshops and other events for uses such as the For Immediate Release podcast series I do with my colleague Shel Holtz.

Such recordings take place on the road, ie, away from the office and the desktop PC-based recording set-up. So a portable recorder is pretty much essential.

I have an iRiver IFP-790 portable recorder which has served me very well on the road. At times, I use the combination of my IBM Thinkpad, external microphone (with a very long cable) and Adobe Audition software to make recordings, such as at the Delivering The New PR conference in London last month.

Microtrack 24/96 portable audio recorder
Now, I’ve taken a step up in portable audio recording with the M-Audio Microtrack 24/96 you see pictured here and which I received yesterday.

This is portable audio recording in a different league to recorders like the iRiver. It’s certainly truly portable compared to the Thinkpad method.

Here you have a gadget not much bigger than a cigarette packet yet packed with features and functionality that make high-quality portable recording simplicity itself.

Its core features are similar to the minimum you’d expect in any portable digital recording device. Choice of file formats, WAV or MP3. Recording options such as bit rate. Microphone, line-in jack, headphone jack. USB connection to the computer.

The Microtrack has all this and much more.

It has phantom power so you can connect an external condenser microphone. It comes with a plug-in stereo electret microphone. Connecting to the computer via USB also charges the rechargable batteries. There’s an external charger, too (with plugs that fit power outlets in the UK, US and continental Europe). There are twin mic/line in jacks. S/PDIF in. RCA line outs. A big LCD screen with sound level indicators. And sound level and clipping LEDs. See this picture for a visual spread of all the bits and pieces.

For its storage medium, the Microtrack uses industry-standard compact flash cards or microdrives. The unit ships with a 128-meg card, more than sufficient for most uses if you record in MP3 format, although I am going to buy a 1-gig card.

Let me also talk a bit about Dolphin Music UK from whom I bought this gadget. In two words, impressive service. I ordered the Microtrack from their website very late on Thursday night last week and had the order confirmation early on Friday morning followed shortly after that with the shipping notification including a UPS tracking number. Very easy to follow the progress of my order right to the moment of delivery early yesterday morning.

Bottom line – if you’re looking for a portable digital recording device that’s powerful, has a nice design and great form factor, is packed with the features you really need and is affordable, then I recommend the M-Audio Microtrack 24/96. And if you’re looking for an online place in Europe to buy it from, try Dolphin Music. [Edit: I didn’t mention the price as David Tebbutt points out in the comments. Might be helpful to know that! US list: just under $500 plus tax. Dolphin Music price: £319 including tax. Plus shipping.]

(Incidentally, M-Audio is a subsidiary of a publicly-listed US company called Avid Technologies. Avid is a company with people who clearly understand how to use social media to engage with their community – take a look at their collection of RSS feeds and the blogs.)

I’ve recorded a short podcast with some first general impressions of the Microtrack, which you can listen to or download from the links here. The MP3 is straight from the Microtrack, no editing other than adding ID3 tags. Pretty impressive.

Neville Hobson

Social Strategist, Communicator, Writer, and Podcaster with a curiosity for tech and how people use it. Believer in an Internet for everyone. Early adopter (and leaver) and experimenter with social media. Occasional test pilot of shiny new objects. Avid tea drinker.

  1. neville

    Listen to the podcast – I mention it there ;)

    But here it is. US list – just under $500 although widely discounted at places like Guitar Center. Widely varying prices in Europe (just Google it). Dolphin Music has the keenest that I could find. Plus simply great service as I mentioned.

    Dolphin price £319 including VAT but plus shipping. In the UK, £6, to here £15.

    (Actually, that’s made me pause – when I mentioned the price in the podcast, I think I said euro not pounds.)

    I think it’s extrenely good value. And it is a very good recorder.

  2. neville

    I’ve updated the post with the price, David. I should have mentioned it there.

    Re the Edirol, I’ve heard good things about that, too. Haven’t seen one yet myself. Overall features seem similar. Some major differences, though – built-in mike vs. external plug-on one in the Microtrack. The Edirol uses normal AA batteries vs. rechargables for the Microtrack. Just for instances.

    A quick Google search shows the Edirol is priced in Europe just a bit less than the Microtrack.

    It doesn’t look as nice as the Microtrack, though. Just my subjective opinion of course.

  3. David Tebbutt

    I used the Microtrack yesterday and it looks really good. Astonishingly (worryingly) light.

    A friend has been raving about the Edirol but I suspect she hasn’t got it yet.

    I’ve written for her views on Microtrack. (She’s a broadcaster turned podcaster.) If I learn anything new I’ll post it here.

  4. neville

    I’ll be using the Microtrack to record a panel discussion I’m speaking at this afternoon at the Club of Amsterdam (on a topic that you’d like!). A real acid test. I’ll probably also record with the iRiver as well. Just in case ;)

    Look forward to your further thoughts when you have them.

  5. Mark Bradley

    Neville, I have been using this product for almost one year in many situations and reviewed it at one of the techpodcast network round tables (there is a video recording of my presentation available for download)back in early May.
    I have used it in many situations including recording a conference in Taiwan),capturing the feeds from our biznetclub sessions (www.successful-innovation.com) and also using it with condenser mics to record our In Dialogue Interviews (www.indialogue.com.au). I have had good service and use a 4GB microdrive in the CF slot – gives 8 hrs of WAV files. I always record in WAV to allow me to edit and compress without quality reduction which occurs if you record in mp3 format. Also there are a few tricks to consider such as the right condensor mics which work with it ( only 30V PH) plus whatever you do – first to the firmware upgrades – critical, they solved a lot of early glitches with these upgrades. If you want to chat about it skype me on antipodean14 also I am happy to provide a short recordded comments review for FIR on it is deemed appropriate – let me know, cheers, Mark Bradley from antipodean podcast

  6. neville

    That’s quite an endorsement, Mark. Great.

    The first thing I did do after unpacking the box was visit M-Audio’s website and get the latest firmware update. Just one version up from what was on the device, so this Microtrack was manufactured pretty recently. As you say, it fixes some things and adds some functionality.

    I’m sure I’ll be looking at things like microphones as I get some experience with this recorder. The included mike is very good, though. I recorded the example podcast with this post on the Microtrack with the supplied mike. I think the sound quality is very good.

    Thanks for the offer of a chat and a review. I’ll be back with you on that once I’ve played with mine a bit. Compare notes perhaps!

  7. donna Papacosta

    Looks like a brilliant little machine, Neville. I am sure you will have lots of fun with it! Makes my year-old Edirol R-1 look like a dinosaur. Still, I’ve had a lot of use out of it!

  8. neville

    Is the Edirol the one you had when we were chatting in Vancouver, Donna? I was impressed with that, too.

    That’s the thing with new gadgets. Same as PCs – you buy a really good one with all the features you need, and then a newer one comes out with even more bells and whistles.

    If you wait until the exact right one comes along, you’ll wait forever. So I see this Microtrack as having a useful life for me for about a year or so. I bet something very cool indeed will be on the market by then.

    We might even be doing video as well by then!

  9. donna Papacosta

    Yes, indeed. The very one.
    You’re right. You can’t wait to purchase, because then you miss out on all the utility you would have gained. Over the past year, I’ve used my Edirol for lots of field recording, plus recording telephone interviews. It’s been very handy. I am going away this weekend and plan to take it with me. You never know when a recording opportunity will arise!

  10. Tom Keefe

    PC Magazine had a good review of the product. It’s an Editors’ Choice.

    Neville, have you found the analog interface to be any trouble? Here is a quote from the PC Magaine review:

    The downside of the MicroTrack is its analog interface. Overall button placement is fine, but the main controller—a pushable two-way rocker on the right side—is a nightmare to use. It’s oversensitive and nonadjustable, so getting it onto the right menu option or file is a pain. Pushing the controller straight in sometimes registers as multiple pushes and a sideways nudge, so you can wind up in the wrong menu, which in some cases can result in accidental file deletion.

    The price is only $349 US from one vendor–with free shipping. I’m getting ready to “discuss” the purchase with my significant other.

  11. David Tebbutt

    I’ve heard from my US-based broadcaster/podcaster and she said this:

    “I don’t know the M-Audio equipment in particular but I know that they
    are a strong brand that has been focused on providing very simple,
    entry level recording solutions for folks who are doing podcasting.”

  12. Mark Bradley

    Re Toms comment:
    but the main controller—a pushable two-way rocker on the right side—is a nightmare to use.

    The firmware upgrades pretty well fixed that issue – works fine for me now.
    Mark

  13. neville

    Also re Tom’s comment: I don’t find the rocker/push control a problem at all. And certainly not the experience the PC Magazine writer had.

    The rocker switch in functionality is a bit like the type of multi-function switch you get on, say, some models of mobile phone. My Nokia N70, for instance, has a rocker control which can be challenging to use, to say the least, especially if you have big thumbs!

    With the Microtrack and my use of it so far, I have no problem at all with that switch.

    Tom, I read the PC Magazine review. Pretty balanced, I thought. I agree with the conclusion:

    […] Overall, the MicroTrack is an extremely useful device for high-quality mobile recording, versatile enough to satisfy both recording enthusiasts and podcasters.

    And Tom, that’s a pretty good price you mention! Your significant other won’t be able to resist at that price.

    David, thanks for the feedback from your US colleague. That’s probably a good endorsement from a broadcast journalist although it’s a bit of a back-handed observation (“simple, entry level recording solutions for folks who are doing podcasting”) which doesn’t at all reflect the types of product M-Audio offers. I’d agree with “simple” as in “simple to use.” Hardly “entry level” though.

  14. neville

    One other thing. I spoke at an event yesterday afteroon, presenting on a panel and taking part in a general discussion.

    I recorded both of those with the Microtrack. Excellent recording quality. I also recorded one of the sessions with my iRiver IFP-790 (for insurance in case I hadn’t set up the Microtrack correctly – it was my first time with it on the road!).

    Interesting comparing those two recordings. Entirely different quality. The one on the Microtrack is far better sound quality, a more natural listening experience.

    Both of those recordings will be available soon via the FIR site as FIR podcasts. You can listen and decide yourself on the sound quality.

  15. Dan York

    Neville,

    Thanks for the post, the links and the resulting commentary. Like Shel, I’ve been using a Marantz PMD-660 for quite some time and have been very happy. BUT… as Shel has also said, the Marantz is NOT a device you just toss in your jacket pocket and bring along with you. As I have commented on FIR a couple of times, I’ve had some battery issues as well. So… I’ve been thinking about what to get as a *more* portable recording device.

    I guess my only concern with the Microtrack is the fact that the microphone is not built-in. One thing nice about the Marantz (or an iRiver or the Edirol R-9) is that I can just whip it out and start recording. I just worry that I’ll be somewhere and I’ll have left the microphones somewhere else.

    Anyway, thanks for all the links… I’ll continue to evaluate whether I, too, will be joining the ranks of Microtrack users.

    Thanks,
    Dan

  16. neville

    Glad you found the post and comments useful, Dan.

    I did consider a Marantz as well. Mostly the bulk put me off. I like the Microtrack’s size. It’s spec has eveything I want, so it’s a good solution for me.

    Good point about the microphone, though. Forgetting it is a point of concern, undoubtedly. Just have to make sure I never do that!

    In any event, I still have the iRiver. That’s always in my trouser pocket. Fallback solution for when I forget that microphone. It’s bound to happen sooner or later :)

  17. everysandwich

    Thanks so much for that, neville. Was your recording on this post made with an external mic using the mic pres or with the unit’s mics? On an only vaguely relate observation, for those interested in a tabletop firewire interface, I just bought the Focusrite Saffire and am astounded with how good it sounds. My rack audio gear from five years ago is just pitiful in comparison.

  18. neville

    I made the recording with the Microtrack’s supplied microphone. It really is very good indeed as the recording indicates.

    I also have a separate condensor mike that plugs in to the mike socket. That microphone comes with its own power (it has a battery), but the Microtrack can also supply phantom power if you need it.

    So I remain convinced that the Microtrack is a perfect solution for portable digital audio recording.

  19. Martyn Davies

    I bought a Sandisk Sansa e260, a 4Gb solid state MP3 player, good for listening to those long podcasts :-)

    Before I bought, I never thought about using it as a recorder (I’m a dinosaur and still use minidisc), but I tried it a couple of times, and it actually seems really good. It’s got an internal mic, and a button on the side to start recording. It records to 48kHz, 16 bit WAV files, so the quality is really very good. The mic is quite sensitive, but you’d need to be quite intimate to record in a group, with everyone under a metre from it. Highly recommended to anyone that wants a highly portable recorder and MP3 player. Dimensions are 9 x 5 x 1 cm.

  20. neville

    Long podcasts, Martyn, as in “hefty… but good”? :)

    The Sansa sounds quite good but, based on your concsie description, I wouldn’t use it for podcasting. If it only records in that one WAV format, that gives you very little flexibility. I’d want to be able to choose sampling and bit rates as well as have the option to record in MP3.

  21. Eric

    Hi Neville,

    I’m interested in your podcasted group discussion from June 28th. It sounds like you are the loudest (so I assume the microphone was closest to you), and everyone else is varying degrees of loudness. Now, I’m considering getting a Microtrack but I need it to be for panel discussions ranging up to 10 people. Not that you claim to be a microphone expert, but on the off chance that you can help, what kind of microphone would you advise using for something like that? Does the Microtrack support a diverse enough range of mics that i could find something to capture a large room sufficiently?

    Oh, and what kind of mic did you use for that group discussion.

    Thanks for all the helpful posts on this page!
    -Eric

  22. Martyn Davies

    Eric, I have a different device, the Zoom H4 Personal Recorder, but perhaps this comment can help.

    I have used my recorder for a small group (three people). If you go to the Dialogic podcast page and download the podcast called GlobalCall versus Diva Server SDK, you can hear what that is like. The topic of the podcast may not be to your liking :-), but we were sat in a semi-circle around the unit (which was standing on a tripod), each about 1.5m away from the mic. The mics are built-in on the H4, with an X/Y pattern that gives good stereo performance.

    I’m not sure whether that would scale up to 10, but you could certainly go to 5 using the same technique. For 10 you might want to get a mixer and use 3, 4 or 5 separate mics. Most of these portable recorders have a line-in port, so you can get the output from the mixer still record it using the same recorder. Mixers are pretty cheap, and cabling and mic stands need not be expensive, my studio set-up only cost about £250 ($450) including 2 dynamic mics, cables, stands and mixer. However, if you want top-grade mics you can get into serious spending with condenser mics.

  23. Chris

    I listened to the podcast and I am not sure if is the quality of my headphones (shure e500) or the recording, but I could even hear the music you were playing (very softly) in the background of your podcast. I am looking for a device like this to do podcasts for my company as well as record speaking events. this little recorder looks like it will fit the bill!! Thanks for the info!

  24. Up and running with Windows Vista at NevilleHobson.com

    […] Two products I use from M-Audio – the Microtrack 24/96 portable digital audio recorder (which I gushed about last summer), and the Podcast Factory marketed by Pinnacle Systems – are not compatible with Vista. Both still work using native Vista audio drivers but with limited functionality. I’m disappointed at M-Audio’s lame announcement on what they’re doing. Vista has been on the market since last November, so I’d expect a better indicator of availability by now. […]

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