Review: Olympus LS-11 Audio Recorder

We envy modern college students. Years of scrawling notes left many get-gadget staffers with carpal tunnel, but today’s astute academics have high-definition digital audio recorders like the Olympus LS-11 to take notes for them.

Like its predecessor the LS-10, the LS-11 blends all the old-school charm of handheld audio recorders with the convenience and accoutrements of portable digital audio. And the advantages are amazing. Between the respectable 8 GB of storage and the 20-plus hour battery life, even the most scrupulous scribe can zone out, as the LS-11 handily records whatever lecture or meeting you’ve chosen to sleep through.

All convenience aside, the true draw of the LS-11 is aural quality. Recording indoor events like meetings and lectures produced clear, nuanced audio, while outdoor sessions in parks and subway cars were surprisingly intelligible. While listening to a recording of our morning meeting, we were not only able to hear the speaker, but also little details like people shuffling through papers, drumming their fingers on the table and scooting their chairs.

After the initial novelty of this detail wears off, the LS-11 still proves itself a versatile powerhouse. You can adjust pretty much all the settings, including volume, recording level, file quality and microphone sensitivity. And it makes for a highly expandable platform too: Over the course of a week we recorded staff meetings and phone interviews, and even patched in an external mike for bootleg concert tapes research purposes. Even as the weeks of audio deluge started to build up, the integrated mini-USB port made offloading files a no-brainer.

Of course, this all comes at a hefty price. Like it’s predecessor, the LS-11 is psychotically expensive — especially when compared to cheaper MP3 players that sport integrated microphones. But if pro-grade quality and rock-solid performance are mandatory, then the LS-11 is definitely worth saving up for.

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