I picked up an iRiver T30 MP3 player/recorder on sale at Circuit City with some Christmas money this week; recent posts on the DX email lists, initiated by Bill Harm's request for advice on hard disk recorders, got my interest piqued. I thought the unit might be useful for portable DXing or DXing on the road. I had read review of the T30 online that mentioned this unit was worth considering. For $45, I felt it was worth a try.
Features: The T30 has 512 MB of memory, USB 2.0 connectivity, and works with Microsoft's orphaned Play For Sure DRM scheme (this was of no interest to me since I use an Apple iPod for my music listening). It will play MP3, OGG and WMA format files. It can record with a built-in mic (useful for lectures or conferences) and most importantly will record audio from a radio with a line-in input. This was my primary interest for DX recording. Unlike similar units it does not have a built-in FM receiver. My previous experience with FM radio MP3 players is that they are generally poor in sensitivity, so I did not see this as a detriment.
Form: The T30 is about the size of a pack of gum, 3" X 1" in a triangular shape, and came with headphones & USB cable, but no carrying case. It does have a wrist strap. Lack of a case was a concern, since the front of the unit is mostly a clear plastic display which I could see scratching easily - I found a case from an old USB hub that fit the T30 perfectly. The T30 uses a single AAA battery and reported having a 24 hour playing time on one battery. It can use alkaline or rechargeable batteries, and features a menu setting to chose which was in place.
Function: This is where I wish this report was complete, but I ended up returning the unit (hence the title "partial review".) The first time I plugged it in, it worked flawlessly - I could transfer files to and from it like a USB memory drive. I listened to some of my radio recordings from my PC with no problem. However, the second time I plugged it into my PC, the player froze up and I couldn't find any of the MP3 files on it. The only way I could reset it was to remove the battery. Every time I plugged it into the computer it froze again. I did not try to record to it, so I cannot report how well that worked. Whether this problem is unique to my PC or a more pervasive problem with the unit, I don't know.
Hopefully, there are other portable units that might fit this price/form factor in the future. If anyone has any suggestions, please post them in the comments. Maybe the new year will bring another MP3 recorder for consideration??
As related in TR Tip #2, you can't record from two inputs on the same sound device (e.g. Line In and Mic) simultaneously. However, as related in TR Tip #1 it is possible to run two (or more) instances of Total Recorder simulataneously and it will record the same audio input device with different instances of the TR program. For example, if you have a scheduled timer set to go off at the top of the hour for the sound card Line In, but you are already recording audio from that input using the program, the TR Scheduler will fire off at the appointed time and capture the same audio; no conflicts will occur. This is nice since occasionally I accidentally leave TR running while I have the radio set up to capture overnight top-of-the hour IDs. Yes, I get two copies of the audio, but at least I don't lose anything.
Before I went to bed I did a level check on all the inputs from the radios to make sure the signals into the sound cards would be high enough to yield good recordings without overdriving. Nothing worse than a completely distorted recording to ruin things (on Total Recorder, I like to set the inputs so the VU meter level comes up 25-30%, never going into the yellow).
Since I was going to start the recordings when I went to bed (rather than fool around with setting the timers to automatically start the recordings) I checked to make sure there was enough free hard drive space to hold the recordings. For the length of these recordings (about 8 hours each) I figured I would need about 100-150 MB of space per recording. Across the three computers this wasn't a problem.
I wish I could have stayed up all night to listen live and chat on the #mwdx IRC chat on the Starchat network. Apparently there was quite a group gathered there, exchanging real-time reports. This is especially useful when DXers close to a target station can report what they are hearing - it can give those further away clues on what to listen for, and possibly pick out the target from interfering stations. Email lists like the IRCA, ABDX, AM-DX and DXHUB also were buzzing with real-time reports as the tests unfolded.
What became obvious the next morning, after reviewing the overnight email traffic and IRC log, was that KEIN, KLCY, and KGVO did not participate in the test. As a result, I did not review those recordings, although I still have them and may review them some point in the future to see what other interesting DX I may have picked up. The two most widely heard stations appear to have been KKGR on 680khz, and KERR on 750khz which did not run any Morse Code or sweep tones. I reviewed my recording of 750 but only heard WSB Atlanta which dominates that frequency from my location plus occasional Spanish that I assumed was Cuba. Had I been DXing live, I may have been able to phase them out to hear KERR. Bill Harms, who lives about 150 miles from me, was able to ID KERR several times. While 580 KANA was heard by some DXers with sweep tones, they didn't appear to make it to my area so I didn't check that recording, either. That left 680 KKGR as my only hope.
Imagine my horror when I went to the computer which had been recording the Icom R70 tuned to 680, only to see the Windows XP login screen rather than the desktop with Total Recorder running. What had happened???
Mark Connelly, well-known DXer in the Northeast US, recently posed a question on one of the MW DX email lists wondering if anyone had ever used the iSound recording software from Abyss Media for radio recording. I had never heard of it, so I downloaded WMA/MP3 Rec Pro yesterday and did a quick test drive. I find it to be very similar to Total Recorder, with an updated user interface. The scheduler works in a very similar manner as TR's. One slight difference is that the interface of WMA/MP3 Rec Pro displays the line in audio level all the time, as opposed to TR which only shows line levels while recording. WMA/MP3 Rec Pro did not require configuring MP3 recording, so that made installing a bit easier.
I'd say WMA/MP3 Recorder Pro a reasonable alternative to Total Recorder, and they both have a reasonable registration fee ($18 for TR vs. $30 for iSound). I did not try to configure iSound to record from multiple simulatneous sources so I cannot vouch for whether it's as flexible as TR in that regard. But, it appears to be worth trying out the free demo version.
You cannot record from two inputs on the same sound card at the same time with Total Recorder - for example if you try to initiate a recording from both the line input and the microphone input of the same sound card, you will receive an error when the second recording attempts to start. The only solution is to schedule the recordings from those inputs to occur at different times, or to use multiple sound cards in the computer (see Total Recorder Tip #1).
I highly recommend Total Recorder as the hard disk recording tool for DXers. The ability to schedule unattended recordings and literally fill your hard drive with hours of DX audio makes it indispensable. I've used TR for about four years and have upgraded (for free) to each new version.
You can have more than one instance of Total Recorder running simultaneously on your computer; this is handy for recording audio from two or more radios at once. To do this, you must have multiple sound card devices on your PC. This is easy to do in Windows XP - I use the motherboard sound (called "Intel Integrated Audio" on my Dell 4400), an ESS Maestro PCI sound card, and a Creative Labs external USB sound device called the MP3+. Since each is a different manufacturer's card, they all co-exist at the hardware and driver level.
Run Total Recorder as many times as needed; on each program click the "Recording source and parameters" button, make sure "sound board" is highlighted, and choose the appropriate sound board device. Also make sure you choose the correct input next to the "Use this line" button - I usually use "Line" input. Finally, you can save the various sound card input settings as presets, making it easy to select the one you want at any time. Just click the "save as" button next to the preset name, create a new preset, and save.
I typically have three Total Recorders running at any one time, with inputs from three different radios. This allows me to monitor one radio while recording from two others - very handy when the DX is hot and heavy.
Like many medium wave DXers, I tried for the recent (19 Nov 06) Big Sky Montana DX tests (link at DXTests.info web site) coordinated by Les Rayburn for IRCA/NRC and made possible through the efforts of the many people mentioned at the link. Over the past year I've added stations like 1340 WWNH-NH, 1360 WNJC-NJ and 1230 WODI-VA to my logs courtesy of these tests.
Since I like to mostly sleep at night, I will usually set up my computer to record the audio out of my radio using Total Recorder, a great little utility from High Criteria. That way, I can review the recordings at a more reasonable hour of the day and (hopefully) hear the station. Over the past few years I've used this automated unattended recording technique to add literally hundreds of medium wave and FM stations to my logs, without losing a wink of sleep. The older I get, the more appealing this becomes :-)
The recent "Big Sky" test presented an opportunity to hear Montana, which would be a new state for me at my location on the East Coast of the US. It also presented a challenge - how would I configure enough radios and computers to monitor several hours of broadcasts from *six* stations, all broadcasting simultaneously? The schedule of stations for this test was as follows:
KANA 580 kHz, 2am-4am EST KKGR 680 kHz, 2am-4am EST KERR 750 kHz, 2:05-2:58am EST KLCY 930 kHz, 2am-4am EST KGVO 1290 kHz, 2am-4am EST KEIN 1310 kHz, 2am-4am EST
The first step in the process, which turned out to be the easiest, was to assemble the six radios needed. Since all the tests would be broadcast at the same time, I could not have a single computer-controlled receiver hop to the different channels. So, I dug around in my basement and found some extra receivers and ended up with the following lineup:
Realistic DX-394 on 580 kHz Icom R-70 on 680 kHz Drake R-8 (the "workhorse") on 750 kHz Yaesu FRG-7000 on 930 kHz Ten Tec RX-320 on 1290 kHz (my "graveyard monitoring" setup - more on that another time) Icom R-75 on 1310 kHz
Out of the six radios, three are computer-controllable via RS-232 connections. However, for this test, I only had to actually control the RX-320 since it needs software to tune and adjust the output volume. All the others were controlled "by hand", set to their respective frequencies, then left on all night.
The next step was to figure out how to record six radio's outputs. Since I didn't want to get up in the middle of the night and turn on recorders, I used the Total Recorder software mentioned above. One my Dell 4400 WinXP desktop I have three sound cards - the internal motherboard audio, a PCI soundblaster compatible card, and an external Creative MP3+ USB soundcard. Total Recorder will recognize each as a separate sound input, allowing independent and simultaneous three-channel recording. I typically use the 32 kBit/sec, 22050 hz mono MP3 settings which give quite satisfactory recordings that take up about 300 kB per minute of recording.
For the next two radios I used an old Dell laptop running Win2000; I connected the left channel of the motherboard audio line input to one radio, and the right channel to another; I recorded this one in stereo. For the last radio, I dug up an old Dell 500 MHz desktop running Windows 98 and piped the audio to that computer. Finally - six inputs ready to record!
Computer DX Nexus is my little corner of the web where I intend to explore the nexus or "connection" between computers and radio listening. My personal interests cover medium wave, shortwave, FM and TV DXing as well as utility listening, but currently am focused on using computers to automate and augment my medium wave ("AM band") DXing.