Review: Olympus LS-10 WAV/WMA/MP3 Recorder
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Face the Music

The front panel is clean and well laid out. Stop and Rec buttons — one press puts you in record-ready, a second commences recording, and a third pauses the recorder — flank a red peak LED. The LED blinks rapidly if you're running out of memory — nice. A four-position click wheel with a multi-function button at the center serves double duty as cursor and transport controls.

Four small buttons run along the bottom; three call up the Menu, Folder/File lists, or repeat a short section of an audio file. The fourth button, labeled Fn, accesses an assignable menu function with a single button press. I set it to jump to the recording setup screen, eliminating a couple of button presses. Other options include turning the LED on or off, selecting internal or removable memory, toggling between normal and automatic recording gain, stepping through the various recording or playback effects, etc. It's a great little feature that I came to love.

The menu is well thought out; you navigate between sections using icons on the left side or scroll through menu choices on the right. For instance, selecting a little microphone icon jumps you to the Rec section; a wrench leads you to a menu of handy tools for setting the date and time, protecting individual files for accidental erasure, etc. No matter where you are in the menu, a quick press on the Stop button jumps you back to the main screen.

Would that were so in the List screens, where you select one of five folders for recording or playback (there's an additional folder for audio downloaded from a computer). From the List screen, pressing Stop brings up a momentary display showing the time and date; the only way to get back to the main screen is to press FF. Worse, if you enter the List screens via a menu option (as when you select memory location), you can find yourself in a loop that keeps jumping between the Menu and List screens until you remember to press FF. Not exactly intuitive, that.

The main display is easy to read with large meters active during recording and playback. Additionally, there is information about the file type and sample rate, elapsed time, current folder, the number of files in that folder, and the battery status. When recording, the LS-10 also shows the remaining recording time at the current settings; in playback the file length is displayed.

To save batteries, or for stealth recording, you can turn off the display's backlight.

Olympus LS-10 Back
Two small speakers let you verify you captured the sound without fumbling with headphones. (Click to enlarge.)

How's It Sound?

The LS-10 ships with everything you need to start recording, including the batteries. Rooting through the box, I was happy to spy a couple of foam windscreens that clip securely to the mics. Several other recorders I've reviewed skimp on this important accessory.

Once I set the date and time, I was ready to roll. I popped the recorder into its case (supplied), grabbed a mini tripod (optional) and headed out to a local pub (beer supplied) for an old-time session (banjos optional). I recorded in 44.1kHz, 24-bit WAV format, then converted the file to 256kbps MP3 in my computer for faster online playback:

The LS-10 is one of the easiest recorders I've ever used. The transport (if I can use such a term for a random-access device) and level-setting will feel familiar to anyone who has even a passing knowledge of recording. I auditioned different audio file formats and resolutions, changed folders, etc., all without cracking the manual.

Here's something from an Irish session later that week where we were scattered a little farther apart. I recorded this one as an MP3:

And here is an example showing how the LS-10 handles vocals and guitar (also recorded in MP3 format). To raise the recorder high enough to capture both the guitar and my voice, I fastened it to a standard-issue boom-mic stand with a Velcro strap I had lying around. Apologies to Mississippi John Hurt, and anyone else who expects some degree of vocal competence.

To find out how the LS-10 handled loud sounds, I took it to a rehearsal of Kevin Carr's band Charanga, which features Galician bagpipes, percussion, accordion, brass, and yours truly on electric bass. I recorded this one in 44.1kHz, 16-bit WAV resolution, and then converted to 256kbps MP3:

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