One of the great fringe benefits that comes along with reviewing consumer electronics is that we occasionally get a hold of a device that we might never have known existed were it not for the fact that someone just decided to up and ship us one. Even better, sometimes these random gizmos turn out to be so awesome, we find ourselves wondering how we ever lived without them. The Olympus LS-100 is one of those devices.
Most folks associate Olympus with imaging products but you might recall that the company has some experience in the audio arena, too. In the 1980’s Olympus introduced the first microcassette and, with it, the Pearlcorder L400 which was, at the time, the smallest personal audio recorder ever made. Of course, technology has come a long way since then. Microcassettes have given way to solid state memory chips which can store a whole lot more content and at much higher quality. Olympus now makes several models of digital audio recorders; some for dictation, some just for fun.
But, the $400 LS-100’s arrival at our office was met by a few furrowed brows. These days, anyone carrying around an iPhone has a personal audio recorder in their pocket that is not only capable of recording sound, but also taking phone calls, pictures, video, and letting you play games. That being the case we wondered: Who would use this thing? What does it do? Who’s going to review it? Someone get the A/V guy in here!
The LS-100 is much more than a portable audio recording device. In fact, we think it’s fair to say that you could call the LS-100 a mobile recording studio, but even that doesn’t really capture this device’s versatility. Read on to find out just what the LS-100 can do and why we think no musician or audio enthusiast should be without one.
Out of the box
There isn’t a whole lot to de-boxing the LS-100. It’s a pretty box, but there isn’t much to discover inside other than the LS-100 itself. You get a manual (which is surprisingly clear and concise) and a carrying strap; everything else you might need is built right into the recorder.
Features and design
At its core, the LS-100 is a digital audio recorder. On its own, this isn’t groundbreaking, but the manner in which it captures audio, the quality at which it captures it, and the level of control and manipulation that can exacted on recordings is very impressive. Since the LS-100 can do so much, we’ll have to stick to some highlights.
- Better than CD quality: The LS-100 can capture audio at up to 96kHz/24 bit with the option of dropping the file quality of WAV files down as low as 44.1 kHz/16 bit (CD quality). The trade off at play here is storage space. At 44.1kHz/16 bit, the LS-100 can store about five hours of audio in its 4GB of built-in memory. At 96kHz/24 bit, that number drops to about an hour and a half hours. An SD card slot on the side of the recorder will accommodate up to a 64GB SD XC card. Of course, for more recording capacity, you could always record MP3 files, too.
- Multiple inputs: The LS-100 is outfitted with two built-in microphones –one for each stereo channel. They work very wel, but users also have the option of using outboard microphones and musical instruments as well. Two XLR/1/4-inch inputs on the bottom of the recorder allow the use of XLR microphone cables, ¼-inch TRS plugs or Speakon connectors. A ⅛-inch input jack lives on the left side of the recorder for smaller lapel microphones or just about any other audio device, really.
- Multi-track recording: You could record an entire album with the LS-100. It can store up to 999 tracks when in 44.1kHz/16 mode and allows editing of up to 8 tracks at a time. Once tracks are complete, they can be “bounced” together into one track, freeing up the other 7 tracks for more recording and editing.
- 48v/24v phantom power: Seriously. Is this a mixing board or a digital recorder?
- Adjustable microphone gain and auto/manual input level adjustment: This allows the user to optimize input level no matter what type of microphone is being used
- Headphone output
- Built-in tuner and metronome
- Lissajou: We had to look this one up. Turns out that the LS-100 can take readings from two microphones to adjust for polar patterns which might cause time delay differences when recording.
- 12-hour Lithium Ion battery: The LS-100 runs for a really long time between charges and charges up quickly.
Beyond the appeal of all these great features, the LS-100 is well built, easy to use and thoughtfully designed. Its chassis is rock solid and will likely stand up well to road wear. It can be placed on a tripod using a built-in threaded insert, or placed on a table with built-in rubber pads in place to protect it from surface vibrations. Then there’s the voice-prompt feature, which acts like a sort of GPS navigator as you work your way through the LS-100 system menus. The voice can be turned off or, if it speaks too quickly or slowly for your liking, its speed can be adjusted.
As serious a tool as the LS-100 is, we couldn’t help but have some fun with it. We ended up recording all sorts of sounds, both in bustling urban Portland and in surrounding rural areas where there was no shortage of wildlife making noise. After playing back the sounds we had recorded, it occurred to us then that the LS-100 would be a fantastic tool for Foley artists, film makers, bird watchers and samplers. We were seriously impressed with how natural and lifelike our little clips sounded. The experience had us wanting to find new sounds, just so we could have fun recording.
Eventually, we got around to taking a slightly more scientific approach to our testing. We were curious at how accurate the LS-100’s built-in microphones were and how they might hold up in high-SPL (sound pressure level) environments. We also wanted to see how external microphones would fare in comparison, and were eager to play around with the recorder’s multi-track feature. After some consideration, we formulated some evaluation plans
Our first “test” involved recording a music track being played back through speakers. We queued up Jamiroquai’s Virtual Insanity and played it back through a HeadRoom Micro DAC, HeadRoom Micro Amp and Paradigm A2 monitors. We recorded about one minute of the song at the highest quality setting with the LS-100 positioned about 3 feet away with each microphone aimed more or less at the center of the speakers. Once the recording was made, we imported the WAV file and did an A/B comparison between the original track and the recording we had just made.
The sonic similarity between the two was stunning. The LS-100’s built-in microphones picked up almost everything that the speakers had uttered moments before. Even the ultra-quiet sprinklings at the beginning of the track came through. Later in the song, when the bass gets heavy, we expected to hear most of the lowest frequencies cut out but, to our surprise, it was all there. Olympus claims these are the best microphones it has ever put into its recording devices. Based on our experience, we’re inclined to believe them.
Since the LS-100 was handy, we decided to use it to record the audio for a few of our product videos. For this we used a wireless Sennheiser microphone with the receiver plugged into the LS-100’s 3.5mm input jack. You can hear the quality of the audio for yourself in either our video overview of the LG 55LM6700 or Nike+ Fuelband.
Our final test involved recording a local band at a local live music venue. The room at the club is essentially a big box with plenty of hard surfaces for refracting sound. In other words: not ideal. However, the sound system at this joint means business. It’s loud, clean and capable of the sort of bass that makes you feel like you’re being punched in the chest. SPL readings at this place often flirt with 100+ db.
We intentionally set the LS-100 in a challenging recording location. It sat at the back of the room, against the back wall on a ledge about 6.5 feet up. Given that the room is already quite noisy, this placement near a reflective surface could have served to muddy up the recording considerably. We hit record and walked away. A little over four hours later, we had our recording.
With the performance still freshly ringing in our ears, we went back and listened to the last couple of songs. Once again, we were throttled at how excellent the recording sounded. The recording was dynamic, clean and true to life. The deepest bass and most sparkling treble came across equally represented. And, perhaps due to the LS-100’s microphone pattern, we got less room noise recorded than we witnessed live. It was like being there, only better.
Unfortunately, we weren’t allowed enough time with the LS-100 to play around with its multi-track recording feature very much –just enough to know that it is relatively easy to work with. This comes by way of the fact that the LS-100 is remarkably user friendly. Thanks to a well laid out menu system, carrying out what might otherwise be complex tasks was figured out by trial and error easily enough. Of course, there is a well written manual for those who prefer a more scholastic approach.
The LS-100 is a nearly perfect personal recording device. We managed to fall in love with it over the short period of time we had together. It’s a tool, yes, but an extremely fun one and, for the musician an especially handy device.
Our only suggestion for Olympus might be to suggest a slightly larger screen — maybe even a touch screen — for slightly easier navigation. Otherwise, we wouldn’t change a thing. Not even the price. We plan on purchasing at least one to use here at DT headquarters. That would make the LS-100 a literal Editor’s Choice.
- Outstanding sound quality
- Loaded with extra features
- Easy to use
- Long battery life
- Solid built quality
- Screen could stand to be a little larger