Street Price: under $300
Likes: record quality, small size, one-AA power
Dislikes: okay playback
More info: Yamaha Pocketrak W24
by Tom Jung
High-resolution recorders are getting smaller and smaller, while maintaining quality recording capability and desired features, such as quality microphones, removable media and up-to-date connectivity. But the most amazing thing about the Yamaha’s W24 Pocketrak is how well it works with a measly power source of one AA battery. It can operate up to 50 hours or more, depending on the recording and playback modes.
Slightly narrower and a bit longer than an iPhone, the $499 retail/under $300 street-priced Pocketrak allows up to 24-bit 96 kHz PCM recording. It contains 2 GB of onboard memory and is able to support up to an additional 16 GB with micro SD cards; thus, the W24 can record, in its highest quality mode, for more than 8 hours. A pair of built-in, cardioid electret condenser microphones set up in an X/Y configuration gives a nice wide soundstage for this tiny single pick up recorder. Hit the power button, and you are ready to record in just 4.5 seconds, which I believe is one of the fastest startups I have seen with this type of recorder.
The LCD screen is small, but readable. You can’t expect a huge graphic interface when the entire recorder is as tiny as a small remote control. The W24 is feature-rich — with record capabilities all the way from 32 kbps MP3 to linear PCM at 24/96 with all the necessary stops in-between. A built-in metronome and tuner, as well as a 5-band equalizer, make the W-24 perfect for simple rehearsal recordings.
The lack of color in my recording tells me that the A/D and mic preamps are quite good in the Yamaha Pocketrak W24.
My personal feeling is that musicians, more often than not, get all hung-up on the recording aspect of the process at the expense of making music. This is why a simple high quality recorder, such as the W24, can be such a useful tool. **Like most standalone digital recorders, the W24 audio files can be downloaded to a computer via the USB output jack. The W24 also comes with Cubase editing software so you can make tweaks to your music.
Other features include a built-in speaker, a standard 3.5-mm headphone jack, volume and record level controls, multi-speed playback modes, and peak limiter. It even comes with a wireless remote for handling noise free recording. Unlike most small high-resolution recorders we have tried, the W24 will not allow you to drag 24/96 .wav tracks from a computer back to the recorder for playback. It will play its own internally recorded 24/96 tracks only. You can drag high-res tracks from a computer to a Pocketrak folder, but they are not saved.
I am fortunate to live near Ernest Nicholas Miller who happens to be a world-class harpsichord builder (http://www.ernestmillerharpsichords.com/). Ernie recently finished a beautiful, single manual Flemish instrument; he asked me if I would record his new “baby” to sonically document its tone. What a great opportunity to check out the Yamaha W24 (way easier than ever before with conventional mics, stands, pre-amps and recorder).
The W24 did very well for such a simple-to-use tiny recorder. When I played back the recording through the W24’s headphone amp, the sound was a bit brighter than the harpsichord sounded in real life. I figured the extra treble was due, in part, to the small, onboard cardioid mics, which tend to be more peaky on the high end than omnidirectional microphones.
Overall, the ultra-compact, Yamaha W24 Pocketrak is a high-quality, high-resolution recorder in an incredibly small footprint. The onboard mics and A/D are really good.
When I got the recording back to my studio and uploaded it to my workstation, the sound from my pro playback rig was not as bright as it was listening through the headphones directly from the recorder; the W24’s recorded sound was more neutral and definitely high-resolution.
The lack of color in my recording tells me that the A/D and mic preamps are quite good in the Yamaha Pocketrak W24, but the onboard D/A and/or headphone amp are not quite their equal. Given that the playback is being powered by a 1.5 volt battery, onboard listening should be okay with the right headphones, but leave the critical listening for your computer rig or other higher-end playback system.
(Editor’s Note: The W24 needs to be matched with the right headphones to sound its best. With acoustic guitar recordings, for example, the W24 could not drive my high-impedance AKG K701s to loud levels without clipping; you can only get so much gain from a single AA battery with such a load. However, it drove a pair of lower-impedance Sony MDR 7509-HD headphones just fine.)
Overall, the ultra-compact, Yamaha W24 Pocketrak is a high-quality, high-resolution recorder in an incredibly small footprint. The onboard mics and A/D are really good. Match it with the right headphone and you also have a nice overall recorder/playback package. (Check out the harpsichord recording we made (no EQ) at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2vl3BWDCaAM.)
A professional audio engineer for almost 50 years (Sound 80, DMP Records), Tom Jung reviews home theater, audiophile and high-end recording gear for the Everything Audio Network, testing products from his home studio in North Carolina. He can be reached via email at email@example.com
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