Monday, August 04, 2008

Kids Podcasting Kit for Africa?

I plan to test one of these to see whether it (or something like it) could be useful for a community radio station project in Africa. The kids are looking for something cheap and easy to use in interviewing their parents. The so called "Easi-Speak" lets you record directly into the microphone. The same device can be used to playback remotely or you can download your files straight to your PC through the attached USB. I think the 128MB memory is on the small size, especially if you pick WAV rather than the MP3 format. At the same time, having a limited memory does encourage you to get to the point, rather than trying to save an interview in post-production.

The microphone (retailing in the UK for 25 quid) comes with a copy of the Audacity Music Editing Software (this is open source) and it doesn't need a battery, since that is charged through the USB.The good news is that it will record directly into the MP3 format without the need for conversion software and it would appear the buttons are large enough for young children to use.

This microphone has been around for a few months, but I see the 128MB version is only just appearing (was 64MB).

Thanks to the ever resourceful Podcast Princess, Karin Hogh, in Denmark for the tip.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

HP Mini HP-2133 for the mobile audio reporter

I am currently very interested in what's happening in the low-cost, light mini-laptop market. If you're reporting from the field, every gram counts against you. This useful review by Shawn Powers of the Linux Journal persuaded me to wait. The HP-2133 has now arrived in Europe priced in Holland at €465,- ex VAT including Vista Business (other configurations available, including Linux). Compared to the Eee-PC, I think HP has come up with a better built device, as well as a larger screen.

The laptop comes with a standard battery which works for around 2.25 hours. There's an extended battery as an optional extra.

The 92% key-pad means the keypad is only slightly smaller than a full-size keyboard. This is a GREAT keyboard if you write a lot. The on-board speakers are loud - useful if you're doing some sound editing and don't want to use headphones. Skype audio seems to work fine. The screen has full resolution too - better than the Eee-PC.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

The Dance Powered Phone, Radio & Battery Charger

The UK branch of the French mobile phone company Orange has announced the launch of a mobile phone charger prototype that is powered by dance energy! Working with renewable energy specialists, GotWind, who were also responsible for last year’s Orange Wind Charge and this year’s Orange ReCharge Pod, Orange also commissioned research into a kinetic energy portable phone charger that would harness the energy created by festival revellers dancing to their favourite bands to ensure a clean and renewable energy source.

Whilst the research of the Orange and GotWind team is still in its infancy and continues to be developed, Orange has already built fully functioning prototype models of the Dance Charge that were tested at this year’s Glastonbury Festival, taking place at Worthy Farm in Pilton, Somerset last week.

The Dance Charge prototype weighs in at only 180 grams. It is approximately the same size as a pack of cards and the same weight as a mobile phone. The Dance Charge unit comes encased in an elasticated, black, neoprene strap with Velcro attachments which is attached over the wearer’s bicep in a similar fashion to a runner’s arm-mounted mp3 player.

As the user moves their arms along to the music – a specially designed system of weights and magnets, similar to that found in kinetic energy watches, creates an electrical current which provides a top-up of charge to a storage battery. So whilst festival goers are out dancing to their favourite bands, the charger stores dance generated power in the reservoir battery, ready for when they return to their tent each night to recharge their phone.

Ben Jandrell from Shropshire, UK founded Gotwind in 2006 with the purpose of sharing his 25 years experience in the design and making of small scale renewable energy projects, focusing in particularly on wind and solar power.

Ben launched his website initially as a hobby to share his passion with the world, as renewable energy has become more and more prevalent, Gotwind and its unique DIY approach has received a lot of interest worldwide.

Personally I see an application in Africa, not only for dancers but simply for people who walk a lot as part of their trade and have a need to be connected - either through a mobile phone or the FM radio inside around 25% of all mobile phones sold in that region of the world. No word on the cost.

All this reminds me that in 2001 the inventor of the wind-up radio, Trevor Baylis completed a 100 mile walk across the Namibian Desert demonstrating some electric Shoes and raising money for the Mines Advisory Group. The "electric shoes" used piezoelectric contacts in the heels to charge a small battery that can be used to operate a radio transceiver or cellular telephone. The shoes were invented by Dr Jim Gilbert, a lecturer in engineering at Hull University, who was asked to develop an idea by Trevor Baylis, But I don't think the Electric Shoe Company managed to make the idea into a commercial product.

Monday, June 30, 2008

When the Going Gets Tough, the Sansa Clip

This is a small multifunction recorder/player that fits in the palm of a small child's hand! It comes with 1 GB, 2GB, 4GB, 8GB and 32GB Flash memory. Initially, the 2 GB version was priced at around 60 Euros, but as the new 8 and 32GB versions have come out, so the 2GB version has been dumped into special offer already for around 20 Euros. This would make an idea second or emergency voice recorder for use in the field, especially for recording long events like press conferences. You can also imagine it being used in more clandestine settings for investigative reporting. The audio quality of music playback is superb as well. It also features:

* 4-line, 2-colour OLED screen
* FM tuner with 40 channels (you can make presets or scan. There is frequency readout so you are not tuning in the blind.
* Voice recording with built-in microphone - excellent fidelity, better than you'd expect.
* 92dB signal-to-noise ratio
* Formats: MP3, WMA (including protected), Audible
* Battery life of the internal rechargeable battery: 15 hours
* Dimensions: 2.2" x 1.4" x 0.5"

Despite its small size SanDisk has included a number of extra features that distinguish it from its main competition, the iPod Shuffle and Creative Zen Stone. Most notably is the inclusion of the 4-line OLED screen that lets you browse through your audio collection and toggle settings from the player itself. Alongside the radio functionality is the ability to record FM broadcasts off the internal FM radio, and record interviews through the integrated microphone. All recordings are saved in the WAV file format.

On the format side the standard formats are supported, but no support in some of the older versions for some of the less popular audio formats such as Ogg Vorbis. The Sansa Clip was released on October 9, 2007. The player has a similar design to the second-generation iPod shuffle, but the clip is removable and a 4-line OLED screen is built-in (one line orange-ish yellow, three blue.) The Clip has an FM tuner/recorder (optional in Europe) and a built-in microphone. The flash-based player ships in capacities of 1 GB (available only in black), 2 GB (available in black, blue, red and pink), and 4 GB, 8 and 32 GB (available in reflective silver).

Firmware version 01.01.29, released in May 2008, enables Ogg Vorbis compatibility for the Sansa Clip. However, OGG comment (the counterpoint of MP3's ID3-tags) support is still buggy.

Support for Audible audio books, and protected WMA support are both notable features of the Clip. It also integrates with Rhapsody's subscription service available in the USA and lets you mark songs so they are automatically purchased next time you sync the player with your computer.

One con: The internal battery can only be charged through a USB port, or from a separate USB charger. No quick battery changes here, so keep it charged.

The new firmware is free and has various bug fixes, including key fixes listed below, as well as enhancements. Upon completion of the firmware upgrade, the device will turn off. Power on the device to complete the upgrade process. If the device does not initiate or complete, press & hold the Power switch for 6 seconds to reset the device and then release and press again to restart.

Bugs Fixed:

Rhapsody Licenses
· Rhapsody licenses expire early.

Battery Indicator
· Battery indicator is not linear with respect to the play time remaining.

Fast Forward / Rewind Long MP3
· Device will skip to next song if fast forward past halfway through a long vbr mp3 file.

Genre (Tag Encoding)

· Same file with same genre appears twice regardless of the format (mp3 or wma).

FM Autoscan
· Device does not return to FM tuner display after scanning for stations.

Custom EQ Settings· Custom EQ settings get cleared after power cycle.

Miscellaneous Deleting files on the device is not stable.


* Device highlights “Play Previous” after returning to Music from FM playback
* Increased Brightness for 4 GB devices for better reading under the sun.
* Added OGG-Vorbis (*.ogg) Decoder Support in MTP and MSC mode:
• Note: PC with WMP10 will not be able to drag and drop OGG files to device under MTP mode
• Workaround: Install WMP11 to PC or use MSC mode instead.
* Audiobooks and Podcasts sorting and resume features:
• Content placed in Audiobook or Podcast Folders are now accessed separately from Music.
• Content with Genre tags of "Audiobook" or "Podcast" are now handled from any location and sorted by the UI.
• PodCasts and Audiobooks are now organized by 2 level hierarchies.
• Podcast content is sorted with newest episode first.
• Auto Bookmark: will prompt the user with "Resume?" or "Restart" option when restarted.
* Much better shuffle algorithm to maintain the sequence of up to 2000 songs. User can skip to the previously played songs without reshuffling. Sequence is preserved after power off and on.
* Handle playlists up to 1000 songs. Fixed playlists with large count taking long time to load.
• Note: Playlist limited to 1000 songs only applied to .pla playlist. For .m3u playlist, there is no limitation.
* Battery power percentage is now displayed on the “Settings > System Info” screen.
* Device auto powers off if the radio is paused / muted.
* Add support for Melon SKT (South Korea Telecom) MusicDRM v1.4 (For Korea market).
* Performs faster, more complete MTP Format operation.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Sanyo Xacti HD1000 & HD1100

Jancam in action with Sanyo Xacti HD1000 from Jan van der Meer on Vimeo.

There is an even better handheld HD Camera coming out next month, the Sanyo HD1010. The new camera also has slow-motion capabilities. But these guys on the Dutch North Sea coast are doing great work for videographers.

I like the Sanyo HD cameras because they have an input for an external microphone (unlike some Sony HD handhelds for around the same price. Why don't manufacturer's understand the necessity of good sound? I understand that by using a wifi-enabled memory card, you can quickly and easily download files from the camera. No tapes needed, just a large memory card.

Boomstick 360

Now this is interesting for some video reportage experiments

The Boomstick360 costs 169 dollars in its standard version (sports version slightly cheaper). It claims to be a safe, secure way to capture unique, intense and memorable video moments. Made with High Grade Anodized Aluminum with Stainless Steel Lock Pins, and flexible composite shims, Boomstick360 attaches to any round tube or shaft with a diameter of up to 2 inches. They include shims to help you attach to smaller diameters. Boomstick products will attach to any camera with a tripod inlet on the bottom. At only 2.2 lbs., this light weight durable mounting system will provide you with unlimited possibilities.

For what I hear you cry? Attaching a video camera to a bike, hang-glider, motorbike. Once positioned, the Boomstick 360 allows the camera to record angles previously impossible while riding. Perhaps the most impressive is the “handlebar looking back at rider” view. Due to the flexibility in the system, expect footage to roll smoothly even over terrain that would normally appear shaky or downright jarring. The video below comes from the manufacturer

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Tascam DR1

Tascam in the US have just released an interesting little portable flash recorder that uses SD-cards (1 GB included in the price). I guess designed for the music industry, but we're interested to see how it will fair for journalists and podcasters. Costs US$299 in the US, which is rather cheap in Euro land. Cannot imagine importers will sell it for that in the Netherlands. But we shall see. Below is the manufacturer's blurb...have not yet tested it independently. Thanks to Pierre-Yves Mutrux in Austria for the tip.

* Portable, Handheld Recording
* Built-in High-quality Stereo Condenser Microphone
* Variable Angle Microphone Mechanism with A/B Configuration
* 48 or 44.1kHz 24-bit Recording Resolution
* MP3 and WAVE file Recording and Playback
* Switchable Low Cut Filter
* Analog Auto Gain Control
* Analog Limiter
* Rechargeable/Replaceable Lithium-Ion Battery
* USB 2.0 Connection to Computer
* Built-in Tuner and Vocal Cancel Features
* Overdub Feature to record narration, singing or instruments over an existing recording
* 1/8" stereo microphone input with 2.3V power
* 1/8" stereo line input
* 1/4" stereo microphone input
* 1/8" stereo headphone output
* WAV recording resolution: 44.1kHz/48kHz, 16-bit or 24-bit
* MP3 recording rate: 32-320 kbps
* Battery life: About 7 hours when recording MP3 format with the built- in mic (varies with operating conditions)
* Dimensions (not including protrusions):
o 70 (W) x 27 (H) x 135.3 (D) (mm)
o 2.8 (W) x 1.1 (H) x 5.3 (D) (inches)
* Weight: 208 g (7.34 ounces) including battery

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Panasonic Toughbook

Its been some time since I have seen the Panasonic Toughbook range, but the latest versions have got the point that they are ideal for (photo) journalists operating in tough terrain. They are in the 3000 Euro range, which is a lot for a laptop these days, but then you can continue writing out in the rain. I once saw someone who tried to test such a computer by throwing into a swimming pool. Bit like putting it in a blender - not a good idea. It's shower proof and the various outlets are protected against moisture - but not designed to be submerged. The spec for the hard-drive is on the slow side for fast video editing, erring on the side of robustness rather than speed. The screen can be swivelled around and is bright enough to be usable in quite bright sunlight. Options exist to remove the hard-drive easily, so that different users can swap disks, complete with the Windows Vista operating system.

Edirol R-09HR Spotted

The new Edirol is out but apparently heavily back ordered. Spotted this at a call-centre exhibition last week in Utrecht. This recorder was being used to record conversations between stockbrokers using mobiles - as a record in case of later disputes.

Snapper Audio Tool Updated

If you edit audio on the Mac, with something like Pro-Tools then the latest version of Snapper is worth getting. It allows you to manipulate audio very quickly and send off entire files (or bits of them) as MP3 files to e-mails. A new version was released today and I like the fact that they offer a 100 day trial so you can really test it out before you part with your hard-earned cash. I'm guessing a Dutch connection from the name "Peter Bakker", though I guess they're on the West Coast of the US rather than the West Coast of Europe. Check out the 100 second demo.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Packshot Creator

A French company makes this photo-studio in a box, selling it as a complete solution for people who run shops from their home (e.g. selling on E-Bay). It is a fast way to make a product shot that give enough detail and which looks professional. There's a version which has what looks like a microwave turntable inside to made 360 shots. You can't buy the light-box on its own - you have to buy the camera and the software as least that's what the Dutch dealership told me. I was impressed by the quality and the compactness of the studio. Would be interested myself (to be able to photo equipment I have tested) but don't need the camera. I can imagine this might be useful for broadcasters making websites who want to photograph small objects to illustrate articles, perhaps avoiding high copyright charges on agency material.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Edirol R-09HR Update

Back in 2006, Tim Locke and Engadget spotted a new recorder from Edirol. We were disappointed in earlier models which had rather insensitive microphone inputs leading to far too much hiss.

David Zantow in Wisconsin tells me Roland, who make Edirol, have just updated the R-09 digital recorder to the new R-09HR model. It was shown a few days ago at an audio show in Frankfurt, Germany. It now includes a wireless remote control and reports tell us that they have addressed the hiss and shielding issues that plagued the original R-09.

The new specs says

- 24-bit/96kHz linear PCM high-resolution, low-noise recording
- Newly developed Isolated Adaptive Recording Circuit (I.A.R.C.)
- High-grade, high-sensitivity stereo condenser microphone built-in
- Records to SD or SDHC memory card (Up to 8 GB)
- Compact, hand-held body for convenient portable use
- Wide view-ability on large OLED (Organic Light-Emitting Diode) display
- Preview speaker built-in
- Wireless remote controller included
- High-speed file transfer via USB 2.0 connection to computer
- Cakewalk "pyro Audio Creator LE" wave-editing software included

Small enough to fit in a shirt pocket, the R-09HR has a new tactile feel that is easy to grip. It also has a user-friendly OLED (Organic Light-Emitting Diode) graphic display for easy operation. The large display provides a wide view with easy-to-see level meters, peak indicators, and additional recording information onscreen. A built-in preview speaker allows instant playback of the recorded sounds —no headphones required. With the included wireless remote controller, transport functions can be accessed from a distance. Style wise, you either love it or hate it.

The R-09HR can connect to computers via USB for importing/exporting audio files. It supports Hi-Speed USB (USB 2.0) mass storage so file transfers are quick and convenient. Included with the R-09HR is Cakewalk's pyro Audio Creator LE software —a perfect companion for WAV/MP3 audio file editing. With pyro, the R-09HR package becomes a complete recording solution suite, from recording to CD-burning.

A wide variety of optional accessories are available for the R-09HR, including: Cover/Stand Set (OP-R09HR-C), Silicone Rubber Case (OP-R09HR-S), Carrying Pouch (OP-R09HR-P), Microphone Stand Adaptor (OP-R09M), Stereo Microphone (CS-15), Carrying Case (CB-R09S), Roland Stereo Headphones (RH-300) and Roland In-Ear Headphones (RH-iE3).

The guys from SoundOnSound in the UK, have posted a video shot at the Frankfurt Messe

Most significantly, the new device is capable of recording 24-bit WAV files at 96kHz, where the predecessor was only equipped to record at rates of up to 48kHz. But there are other improvements that make it even more appealing.

Edirol say that both the internal and external construction of the device has been improved over previous models. Externally, there's a new, brighter screen and it's got a much more robust, rubberised shell. What's more, the battery/USB socket/SD card access arrangement has changed, with the battery compartment on the back rather than on the bottom, which will come as a welcome improvement to existing R09 users.

Internally, the circuitry has been improved to lower the noise floor, and there are new, better mics fitted in the same arrangement as with the original R09. There's even a built-in speaker, which lets you listen to recorded audio without the need for headphones or portable speakers. All that is missing now is news about the final price.

David adds the he's getting along fine with his old Edirol R-1 with a 2 GB card. "I never use it portable so I prefer it on the larger side anyway."

Korg MR-1

This blog already lists several MP3 players with built-in voice and line recording capabilities--but they never seem to offer everything we want in a portable recording device....usually they have a noisy/hissy performance on speech. CNET reports the Korg MR-1 (US$899) handheld audio recorder lives at the opposite end of the spectrum, offering a dedicated portable recording solution with incredible recording flexibility and audio quality.

Measuring 4.75 inches tall by 2.5 inches wide by 0.8 inch deep, the Korg MR-1 has the chunky feel of a first-generation iPod. Five well-spaced buttons dot the mirrored face of the Korg MR-1, providing intuitive control over recording and playback. The left edge of the Korg MR-1 includes jacks for the power adapter and USB 2.0 connection, while the right edge features a multifunction scroll wheel, controls for playback volume, a menu button, and a power switch that doubles as a button hold. On the top edge of the Korg MR-1, above its monochrome 2.2-inch screen, are four crowded 3.5mm jacks that act as a stereo headphone output, stereo line output, and separate left and right recording inputs.

The Korg MR-1 lacks many of the features we've come to expect from competing products, such as built-in microphones, RCA or XLR inputs, or flash memory expansion. Korg's golden feature with the MR-1 (and its bigger brother, the MR-1000) is a trademarked Direct Stream Digital 1-bit high-definition recording technology (documented by Korg in this PDF whitepaper). The gist of Korg's justification for the DSD recording feature (and for the MR-1), is that recordings made using DSD are versatile for stepping down into whatever format you later choose, with minimal loss in audio quality. For audio archivists reluctant to record using today's CD-quality standard of 16-bit/44.1kHz, fearing that the format may become outdated, DSD recordings offer a new recording option that may hold up better over time and meet the demands of bouncing down master recordings to mediums with different audio requirements (DVD, CD, MP3).

Once you get past Korg's DSD recording feature, there's little else the MR-1 can brag about as a portable audio recorder. The Korg MR-1's built-in battery holds a measly 2 hour charge, the internal hard drive caps out at 20GB, the audio input jacks have to be adapted for most microphones or line-input cables, the included microphone feels like an afterthought, and the power adapter is larger than the product it's powering.

However, the Korg MR-1 does have excellent recording format support, supporting several proprietary high-resolution files such as DFF, DSF, and WSD, as well as common file types such as MP3 (192Kbps/44.1kHz) and WAV (up to 24-bit/192Khz). Once your recordings have been transferred to your computer, you can use Korg's included Audiogate audio software (Mac/PC) for converting the files into your desired final format.

The Korg Audiogate software is basic and offers little in the way of editing. It's necessary, however, if you want to convert recordings made in the DFF, DSF, or WSD file format, into more useful WAV and MP3 files.

It's hard to find fault with Korg's unprecedented recording quality and file format resolution, but the MR-1's poor suitability as a truly mobile device makes it tough to recommend. Rated at 2.5 hours of battery life while recording WAV files, or just 2 hours for DSD file recording, the Korg MR-1 just isn't cut out for the demands of mobile recording. To be fair, running an audio chip at the unprecedented 2.82MHz required to handle DSD audio, must require some serious power--but if you can't take it away from a wall socket for more than 2-4 hours, then its usefulness is limited as a mobile solution. As of January 2008, Korg is now shipping the MR-1 with an extra external battery pack that doubles the device's recording time. Unfortunately, the external battery pack adds awkward bulk and still places the MR-1's battery life short of the 12 hours boasted by the Sony PCM-D50. To make matters worse, we also found the Korg MR-1's charge time to be painfully long. During our unofficial preliminary testing, it took the Korg MR-1 between 3-to-4 hours to reach full charge using the included power adapter.

The small lavalier condenser microphone included with the Korg MR-1 barely taps into the device's sonic potential. Recordings made using the microphone in both indoor and outdoor situations were riddled with microphonic artifacts caused by movement of the cable, or transference from the surface the microphone was placed on (using the included stand). If you're determined to use the Korg MR-1 for nature or concert recording, expect to shell out some money for a better microphone.

My Conclusion

Looks like a really expensive bit of kit for only medicore results - especially if you're going to need an external microphone. The Korg website does do a good job in explaining the different audio formats that are around. Wav and MP3 are fine for my purposes.(Jonathan Marks)

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Solio Solar Chargers

Solio Solar Charger
Originally uploaded by Jonathan Marks
One of the better portable solar chargers on the market, folds away nicely. It has a battery built in and an "intelligent" plug into to the mobile phone itself which knows what voltage to deliver. Takes about 4-5 hours to charge a mobile phone when put in the sun. One Solio unit, when full, can fully charge two phones. I think they might want to think of an option to simply charge a couple of NiMh penlights this way so you could charge your audio recorder in an emergency. Power is a serious challenge in most remote areas. Cost? Currently US$99.95 on the website.

They now offer a special Magnesium version of the Solio at US$199.95, obviously targeted at the "serious adventurer" community. This unit is also hybrid because it can accept power from either the wall socket or Sun storing this energy within Solio's internal rechargeable battery. Solio then uses this energy to power your gadgets at the same rate as if they were plugged into the wall. Solio will also hold its charge for up to a year.

Other manufacturer's stats

One hour of sun will give you enough juice to play your iPod™ for about an hour or provide up to 25 mins of additional talk time on most cell phones.*
Provides an emergency power source when away from power outlets.
Adapter tips allow you to power multiple gadgets with a single charger ( tips for most products included in pack.)
Works with multiple gadgets, including mobile phones, iPhone™, Bluetooth® headsets, smartphones/PDAs, MP3 players, portable gaming devices, digital cameras, GPS and much more.
Reusable - use it again and again.
Compact lightweight design - convenient for travel or emergency use.

More details at their website

Motorola Alternative Energy at MWC

I haven't posted for a while, having been travelling a lot, but still keeping the serious gadget reporter in mind. Currently looking through a wealth of material I collected at ISE Europe in Amsterdam and Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, last month. I am looking at alternative energy solutions, both for radio/TV stations as well as reporters. This Motorola project in Namibia, started last April, is generating some excellent results, literally.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Happy New Kaspersky 2008

Taking Norton off all my XP computers at all the stations I work with and putting Kaspersky in its place. Been ripped off with clunky, buggy software from Symantec 1 time 2 many, a customer service desk that just tells you to re-install a newer version of the software and mysterious problems with other programs that all came back to the Norton Firewall in the end. Oh, and don't ever try to buy a symanted licence in one country for use in a different language in another. The nightmares are over. Kaspersky lets you try before you buy, so you can iron out any glitches in the first month before parting with hard earned cash. Installed it on four computers, no problems at all. Highly recommended (and no commercial connection with these guys).