Review: Olympus LS-100 Linear PCM Recorder

If you’ve got a smartphone, you’ve got an audio recording device with you. Anytime you want, you can fire up an app and record a conversation, a bit of a concert, or an audio snapshot.

The results are often only so-so. The crappy mono microphone at the base of your smartphone isn’t very forgiving, the allowed length is limited, and smartphone apps rarely give you much control over the nit-picky stuff: the recording quality, the input levels, or the resulting file type.

But it’s the nit-picky stuff that really matters if you want the best sound. A dedicated hand-held audio recorder like the Olympus LS-100 gives you the desired level of control, producing awesome (stereo) recordings that far surpass what you can capture with a mobile handset, even if you’re using a fancy accessory microphone. It’s great for recording bands, or performances of any kind. But what makes Olympus’ portable recorder really stand out are the multi-tracking features that transform the device into a bona fide pocket studio for musicians and songwriters.

At $400, the LS-100 is twice as expensive as like-minded models with fewer features. So the high cost mostly makes sense for working musicians or serious audio hobbyists who will take advantage of the advanced features. But if you’re in this camp, this is one of the best — and best-sounding — portable audio recorders you can buy.

There are several options in this space (models from Tascam, Sony and Zoom being the stand-outs) all of which have a few things in common: a pair of nice stereo condenser mics at the top; an SD card slot; combo line/XLR inputs with phantom power for external microphones; on-board editing and mixing; and the ability to record at multiple quality levels, from lowly MP3 all the way up to 96kHz/24-bit WAV.

I’ve been using a portable recording device for a few years (a Tascam DR-1) whenever my smartphone just won’t cut it — when recording a DJ set or a band practice session, when I want to roll “tape” for two hours or longer. Also, I use it a lot at nightclubs when a friend’s band is playing and we want to capture a sweet-sounding recording of the performance.

Threat Level reporter Kim Zetter contributed to this review.

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