Portable Recorder Review: M-Audio MicroTrack II

The brother of the mother of them all      28/11/08

No flash plug


   Windows Media 
10:53 mins
Next up in the series of Pocket Recorder reviews is the latest version of the one which started the whole mini-digi-recordi-thing - the M-Audio Microtrack. We first caught sight of the pre-production mock-up back in 2005 at the Musikmesse, and to be honest, we couldn't wait for it to be released. Up 'til then we'd been battling with portable DAT recorders and even MiniDiscs, in our quest to find the perfect show recorder - and one which allowed us quick digital access to recorded files. The Microtrack seemed an ideal solution, and as soon as we could we got hold of 3 of them. Now like all passionate affairs, the heady initial period was followed by the reality-check - the recorder was great, and certainly did help our workflow, but there were a few niggling doubts. The units were occasionally overwhelmed by really hot signals and we had to wire up & carry break-out cables with 10dB and 20dB pads, which weighed more than the unit itself; the nav-button was tricky to use in a hurry, and you often overshot in the menu, and the habit of going straight into 'Record' when setting levels could be irksome.
    -----Pros-----
  • Very straightforward to use - easy access to Record, Levels and Volume
  • Supplied microphone sounds great
  • Full 48V phantom power available
  • Analogue limiter works well and can be channel independent
  • 'Proper' Balanced 1/4 TRS jacks, and RCA Line-Out and SPDIF-In
  • 24bit / 96kHz recordings
  • Easy to use in low-light conditions
  • Compact Flash allows for high memory capacity
  • Records to BWF/WAV or MP3 (BWF allows Markers)
  • Can create seamless files over the 2GB FAT32 limit
    -----Cons-----
  • Built-in Battery
  • Plug-in Mic, rather than built-in
  • No onboard memory
  • No stand mount (have to use Blu-tac ;-)
  • Did I mention the battery?
But there was one Big Blunder which kept the Microtrack from being the ultimate mini-recorder (you'll have to watch the video to find out! ;-) Anyway, here we are a few years down the line, and several other manufacturers have picked up the ball and released their own models. They've had the benefit of building on the legacy of the Microtrack, and have introduced new features, one of the most significant being built-in microphones. Moving parts, either tape mechanisms or spinning discs, had made the previous generations of mobile Digital Recorders too noisy to use microphones on the unit itself, and the Microtrack still followed in this mindset, it seemed. Microtrack 2 is based on exactly the same form-factor as the original version, and also has a plug-in mic, but it has been significantly upgraded in other areas, notably in terms of the gain structure. You can now set L & R levels independently - this includes the onboard analogue limiter too, and it's no longer necessary to dive into the menus or change a slide switch to access the newly expanded range of gain. Looking back, it's clear that the designers of the Microtrack, given pretty much a clean sheet, got it right in many respects - it's a no-frills recording machine with the focus firmly on the practicalities of recording audio [apart from that One Thing] Summary
A great-sounding no-nonsense audio recorder, built for use out in the field rather than looking flashy on a desk - just don't expect to be out there too long.

Andy McCreeth Available now:

Check the Price - at these online stores.
£199.00 @ Dolphin | $299.95 @ zZounds | $299.00 @ MusiciansFriend.com | $299.00 @ Music123.com |
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11 Comments...  Post a comment    original story
digifish    Said...

Hi Andy, thanks for part II.

I was pleased to see you will do some self-noise testing in the comment section for the Yamaha Pocket Track 2G review, looking forward to seeing this. I have found that while recorders may work well for loud and close sources, if you are trying to capture delicate sounds, then self-noise quickly rears its ugly head, particularly using the internal mics.

I still think that recording with the internal limiters/compressors/ACG is useful but you also need to show what the recorders sound like with all that off and the level set to -12 dB peaks or some similar conservative headroom. In my experience this (when used with 24 bit mode) is a far better solution (with post processing normalisation or a few dB boost) than to drive up the levels high on recording and use any inbuilt gain modifiers.

FWIW: I am using a R09HR and pair it with a Sound Devices MixPre and go line-in for critical recording applications (quietude & solo instrument recordings).

digifish

29-Nov-08 09:08 PM


MC    Said...

Thanks for that review.

Could You please include some infromation about the boot-up-time for all the devices ? In many occasions when out hunting for sounds this is a very importand aspect that generally is not documented. So your review on this would be very apreciated.

Thnaks, MC.

02-Dec-08 04:31 PM


Andy Mac    Said...

Hi MC - I can confirm the boot-up time is much faster on the Microtrack 2 (8 secs) than the original (20 secs).

(On the Yamaha Pocketrak 2G it's a sprightly 3 secs, btw)

@digifish... In the intro I explain that I'm primarily looking at the performance of the units from the perspective of a journalist, videographer and musician - rather than someone who might be recording a musician. For most of those applications, a pocket recorder is likely to be used in a 'set & forget' mode, and limiters or Auto-gain will probably be employed.

For example, at the live gig, I used on-board limiters if they were available; similarly for recording voice. Musicians recording their own performances don't usually have the luxury of adjusting levels whilst playing, so I'd guess the same would usually apply there.

However, I agree that for the best quality recordings, manual levels are best - and for the purpose of these reviews, I chose to record the acoustic guitar *without* limiters, as I had time to set levels, and felt this would better demonstrate the qualities of the unit.

Btw, the MixPre is a nice choice... and one of the units I'll be looking at would be particularly well suited to using it ;-]

Andy Mac

02-Dec-08 07:22 PM


STRomzAeHLEr    Said...

Is it possible to record also by Soundman's OKM with this unit? They need just plug-in power...

08-Dec-08 05:49 AM


MC    Said...

"I can confirm the boot-up time is much faster on the Microtrack 2 (8 secs) than the original (20 secs). (On the Yamaha Pocketrak 2G it's a sprightly 3 secs, btw)"

Wow! The 3 seconds for the Pocketrack is killer ! Thanks for that info ! Keep them reviews cumming, can't wait for the rest. Maybe you can tell us what they will be and post the files soon. Your work is very apreciated. Thanks.

08-Dec-08 05:54 PM


MC    Said...

I don't know. As much as I apreciate Your work on testing these recorders… it dosn't make sense to me that You spread out the results across so many weeks… This just doesn't come across very professional. Hmm…

17-Dec-08 05:12 PM


Andy Mac    Said...

You're right, MC, it's probably not very professional at all.

But then I'm not a professional reviewer... I'm one of the guys who runs Sonicstate.com - unlike many other big music sites, we're not owned by a retailer or a publishing house, we are totally independent and self-run. That means we have many tasks to look after, and for me, I have to fit filming these reviews into a pretty heavy schedule... sure, I'd love to have time to do all of them in one long run, but it just ain't possible, especially at this time of year. I'll do what I can.

@STRomzAeHLEr - yes, it should be possible to use the Soundman OKM - the Microtrack can supply power to electret mics using the 1/8 inch minijack input.

Andy Mac

18-Dec-08 08:28 AM


sam    Said...

Hi Andy, great review!

Regarding the battery of the Microtrack II, have you considered / tried using an external USB battery pack to extend the lifespan both in terms of long recordings and beyond the point that the battery will no longer hold a charge?

There are a few available (I seem to remember them being a lot more common before the ipod changed socket type). One which I noticed is here:

http://www.pcworld.co.uk/martprd/store/pcw_page.jsp?BV_SessionID=@@@@1812353868.1229636128@@@@&BV_EngineID=ccdgadefmhdiflfcflgceggdhhmdgmi.0&page=Product&fm=null&sm=null&tm=null&sku=940556&category_oid=

I think this is the same product, you'd just need to use a USB to mini USB cable instead :

http://uk.kensington.com/html/15676.html

The other thing I've heard about the microtrack II is that if you use unbalanced sources in the 1/4" TRS sockets a "chirping" sound is introduced into your recordings, which makes the device a little less versatile if for example you want to plug a guitar / bass straight in to get an idea recorded (I also don't believe the inputs are hi-z, so it's not really designed for this).

Also, do you know if the unit is recognized as an ASIO device / sound card by the computer?

It ships with Audacity which is multi-track capable, so it seems feasible (and would be great with more capable software - though again the lack of hi-z inputs would be a consideration).

I look forward to your review of the Zoom H4, which whilst I have some reservations about in direct comparison to the Microtrack II, it does cover some of the issues I've mentioned.

I look forward to hearing your views.

18-Dec-08 04:48 PM


David011777    Said...

Hi Andy - I really enjoyed your thorough review of the Microtrack II, and would love to see one of the Marantz PMD-620 shown at the beginning of the video which you suggest that you'll be reviewing at some point in the future. Any chance of putting that up (or am I missing it somewhere?). Again, superb review!

20-Mar-09 03:59 PM


Russell Carter    Said...

can the yamaha poketrak 2G be good for recording metal? i need to know if i should buy it or not. thatnk you

30-Mar-09 11:14 PM


bluey    Said...

Given we can add an external USB battery pack, there is the capability to change external batteries *during* a recording, with the lithium battery providing power during the changeover. Has anyone tried this? Does it work on other recorders?

28-Aug-09 11:35 PM


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