Field Report: Yamaha Pocketrak W24

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I've been in radio broadcasting barely long enough to remember toting a thirty-pound reel deck and mixer to a location only to record two tracks of audio. For the readers who have been in broadcasting longer than I, you can attest to an even heavier, bulkier, more time-consuming way of life. Incidentally, I do have the scars to prove that I dropped that two-track reel machine on my hand.

In recent years portable recording devices have exploded onto the scene. With the availability of computer-based non-linear editing, capturing, editing and distributing audio has become sinfully simple. These portable devices in tandem with a laptop and USB connection are revolutionary to our line of work. Some portable devices are better than others – you always get what you pay for. Recently I stumbled upon a handheld recording device from Yamaha. It's the Pocketrak W24. Until now, I have never characterized a piece of equipment as fun. While its functionality and performance are second to none, the Pocketrak W24 is simply a blast to play with.

In the details

At first glance the Pocketrak W24 is smaller than most TV remotes and definitely smaller than cell phones these days (1.75"W x 5.0"H x 0.625"D). It comes with a mic stand adapter, DVD-ROM with Cubase AI for post production and editing, a USB cable, a remote control, batteries, windscreen and owner's manual. For typical close-miking during an interview, the windscreen is absolutely necessary. As far as the owner's manual goes, it is loaded as a PDF file onto the unit. If the hard copy isn't available, it can be opened from the W24 with a computer. The stand mount allows the recorder to be placed nearly anywhere, even out of reach. When the unit is out of arm's length, the infrared remote control will stop and start recording and playback in addition to adjusting levels for record and playback. The remote will work from about 21' away.

Two internal mics are situated in a 90-degree X-Y pattern atop the W24 and are surrounded by a protective bar. They perform extraordinarily well and reproduce strikingly accurate spatial imaging. After having undergone a crude left-right test, the stereo reproduction of the recorded live source was very natural. The mics perform true across the 20Hz to 20kHz range and handle high SPLs nicely. When an interviewee was asked to yell into the recorder at close range (using no ALC or limiting), the resulting audio file indicated no clipping or distortion. A stereo 1/8" mic or line-level input jack is available as is a 1/8" stereo headphone jack. A speaker is located on the back for playback of recently recorded material or audio files stored on the W24.

All in good fun

Now we will discuss the fun part of the W24. Some handheld devices are laden with unending menu trees to search through for settings and features. On this recorder, the menu layout just makes sense. It's short, and the most common features are clearly labeled. The unit comes with a tuner and metronome for musicians. Multiple MP3 and WAV formats are selectable under the record menu as are settings for the high-pass filter, limiter source select and several other features. One in particular is the voice-activated start, which tells the W24 to begin recording when audio levels reach a certain threshold. The ALC (automatic level control) and limiter behave as expected with ultra-transparent handling of transients.

The playback menu is home to features dealing with indexing and phrasing (great for indexing interview audio) and the EQ settings. The common menu takes care of internal settings within the W24 such as the clock, date and time, remote control settings, timer and alarm settings and several other device management features such as recycle bin settings. Recycle bin? Yes, the W24 has a file folder system. Recorded audio can be placed in folders designated by their source. The internal mic audio can be placed in folders A-D. Audio captured on the line input is stored in folder L. MP3s and WMA music files will play out of folder M, and M3U music playlists can be stored in folders P1 to P5. This is very handy on long airplane trips, as the W24 will playback hours of music.

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