$499.99 MSRP; $374.99 Street
by Jon Chappell
Olympus is a leader in the consumer electronics field, having made classic cameras and portable audio recorders for decades. Just recently the company focused in on a more targeted market and produced several well-received high-resolution recorders built specifically for musicians. Now Olympus has released the flagship of their mobile recorder line, the LS-100, a pro-level mobile recorder that records up to 96kHz/24-bit resolution, in both wave and mp3 formats. Let’s take a look at this exciting release.
The LS-100 records in stereo as well as multi-track mode (one or two tracks simultaneously, up to eight) and sports high-quality/high-SPL onboard stereo mics, two combo XLR/1/4" inputs (each with selectable phantom power), plus an external 3.5mm stereo mic jack. It has 4GB of internal memory, expandable to 64GB through an SD card slot, and is powered by a rechargeable lithium-ion battery or an included AC power supply. Other ports include Remote (optional via Olympus), USB (for file transfer and charging via computer), and headphones. A nice touch is the onboard speaker, complete with a separate volume knob. The LS-100 is about the same size as others in its class, able to hold and operate comfortably in one hand, but its design, display, and interface have a distinctly more elegant feel than its competitors. For example, the input level controls are two concentric dials on the right edge of the unit, whose status is visible when facing the unit, due to a cutout in the front panel. Setting levels this way is fast and immediate (faster and quieter than clicking an increment button), and the dials, once set, move in tandem.
The LS-100 operates in five modes: Tuner, Metronome, Recorder, Multi-Track, and Lissajous (a phase-detection meter). Within these five primary modes lie a host of features purpose-built for musicians. For example, in the Tuner mode, you can specify Chromatic, Guitar, or Bass, and you can calibrate it to ±5Hz of A440. In the Metronome you can adjust the tempo, sound, meter, level, and apply a count-off (especially handy when recording). The sophisticated display serves these functions well, especially with Tuner resolution and Metronome beat divisions. Lissajous mode is a waveform display that tells you the phase relationship of two XLR mics, allowing you to optimally place your XLR mics far faster and more effectively than using your ears.
The two recording modes, Recorder and Multi-Track, are where musicians will spend most of their time. In Recorder, the LS-100 acts like a straightforward stereo recorder. The excellent-quality condenser microphones—the best Olympus offers—are placed in a 90-degree angle and handle high-SPLs (up to 140dB), which makes them ideal for situations where you expect to hear a wide range of levels, but don’t want to be forced into setting levels that are too low overall just to avoid clipping. The LS-100 was able to handle punishing dBs from the eighth row of an outdoor rock concert I attended as well as the subtlest transients on a mandolin rhythm part in an intimate setting. The mics and attendant circuitry have the right combination of sensitivity and headroom to enable recordists to capture sound from a wide array of different sources.
Two features act as a bridge between the Recorder and Multi-Track modes. Overdub allows you to record a second part over an already recorded file, creating a second, new file of the combined sounds while leaving the original intact. By contrast, Play Sync allows you to play along with a previously recorded file, creating a new track of only the live part. This results in two separate files that are perfectly synchronized, and which can then be bounced, assembled into a Multi-Track project, or brought into a DAW for further work.
Multi-Track mode allows you to record one or two tracks at a time, up to eight tracks. In playback, each track has additional controls, including mute, level, and pan, allowing you to create a mix during the tracking stage. You can bounce any number of recorded tracks—including all eight—down to one. You can also assemble previously recorded tracks into a Multi-Track project. Owing to the fantastic display and the logically implemented operations, it’s fast and easy to lay down multiple tracks. I often simply powered up in Multi-Track mode, even if I thought I was just going to record a mono or stereo track.
Other nifty features the LS-100 offers include an onboard wave-to-mp3 converter (handy for sharing when on the go), a burn-to-CD function (no computer necessary!), and several file-based operations such as indexing (adding memory points for quick recall and locating), track-bouncing, voice-sync (good for set-and-forget lectures), file search (using a variety of criteria), and more. Particularly nice are some of the musician-oriented functions, like variable-pitch playback (which works on individual tracks in Multitrack mode as well!), playback speed (slow down or speed up a track while maintaining the original pitch), and—wait for it, musicians—Segment Repeat, or user-defined loop playback. Hooray!
The LS-100 boasts excellent sound quality and operability, and the many musician-oriented features are seamlessly integrated into its sleek form factor, user-friendly interface, and elegant display. Whether you’re a practicing musician, sound designer, or creative type looking to capture audio and music in a variety of venues, the LS-100 will serve your needs with professionalism and class.
Jon Chappell is a guitarist and the Senior Editor of Harmony Central. He has contributed numerous musical pieces to film and TV, including Northern Exposure, Walker, Texas Ranger, All My Children, and the feature film Bleeding Hearts, directed by actor-dancer Gregory Hines. He is the author of The Recording Guitarist: A Guide for Home and Studio (Hal Leonard), Essential Scales & Modes (Backbeat Books), and Build Your Own PC Recording Studio (McGraw-Hill), and has written six books in the popular Dummies series (Wiley Publishing).