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.