Review: Olympus LS-10 WAV/WMA/MP3 Recorder
Pages: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

Zoom Zoom

One of the LS-10's more intriguing features is a digital signal processing effect called Zoom Mic. Licensed from DiMagic, the Virtual Microphone Sound Pickup System purports to change the stereo field from normal through ultra wide to mono. It's the audio equivalent of a zoom lens, which makes sense, given Olympus's camera background.

I first tried out the Zoom Mic presets at the Charanga rehearsal. With the effect on, levels were well within the safe zone; as soon as I switched it off the peak LED blinked almost continuously. And the audio playback was just plain ugly — distorted and choked of all dynamics. That was odd.

When I loaded the files onto my DAW, I found out why (see Figure 1). Even though the levels were well below the ceiling, the audio clipped horribly. So take that as a warning — set your levels before engaging the Zoom Mic effect.

Zoom Mic Waveform
Fig. 1: Engaging the Zoom Mic effect dropped the level considerably, yet also drove the signal into clipping distortion, as you can see from the squared-off waveform. (Click to enlarge.)

To test the effect in a more controlled environment, I then created a short loop in Apple GarageBand, recording as it played through my speakers. This test confirmed that the Zoom effect seriously messes with the gain; the more extreme the effect, the more attenuated the signal (see Figure 2).

Zoom Mic Preset Waveform Comparison
Fig. 2: All of the Zoom Mic options altered the signal level. (Click to enlarge.)

To give you a taste of what it sounds like, I edited several takes together in the order the presets appear in the menu: Off (no effect), Wide, Standard, Narrow, and Zoom (dual mono), ending with a reprise of the unprocessed file. Because Zoom Mic only works with 44.1kHz, 16-bit recording, I uploaded the example here as an MP3 for faster download:

Olympus LS-10 on White
You can turn off the backlight and LED for stealth recording. (Click to enlarge.)

Not especially appealing on music, but the extreme Zoom Mic settings are designed to focus the stereo mics, as when you need to capture a speaker at the end of a long conference table. To test that, I recorded myself walking to the end of my studio. I purposely positioned the recorder near my air conditioner to simulate the kind of hubbub you might find in a lecture hall or boardroom. After boosting the Zoom Mic track's volume, I edited the two takes together in my computer and converted them into an MP3:

As you can hear, the Zoom mic does a good job of ignoring the fan while focusing on the sound coming directly in front of the mics.

Euphony and Reverb

In case you've ever wondered what your band sounds like in the MegaDome, the LS-10 offers a handful of reverberation effects. These only apply to playback, which means you cannot accidentally ruin your recordings. How do they sound? Let us just say you will not want to sell the rack gear. Still, a little 'verb eases ear fatigue when listening to extremely dry recordings (or lectures).

Another effect, Euphony Mobile, attempts to create faux surround from two-channel audio. One setting, aptly named Power, acts mainly as an unsubtle bass boost; the other two (Natural and Wide) try to create a more expansive soundstage. I say "try," because I am not convinced; I listened to a number of recordings using my Sony MDR-7506 headphones and could not hear much difference with either setting.

If you get the idea that I don't care for the DSP effects, you're right. That's not to say you won't like them, but I don't want anything to color my recordings until I'm ready to mix. The effects are there if you want them; the good news is they don't get in the way when you don't.

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