I have just completed a very intensive eight-week period using the new Sony HiMD recorder. I have used the machine for between twelve and fourteen hours a day, three to four hours in the field and eight to nine hours editing on the computer.
I was given the recorder in early December as a retirement gift. I took the recorder out of the box and started to read the manual. After a few pages I was lost, and as I was so busy with Carol and Christmas concerts, decided to leave it until the New Year. I in fact did not return to looking at the machine until early March, just before I wanted to start using the recorder. Fortunately for me this coincided with the arrival of the Spring 2005 issue of Wildlife Sound and the excellent article by Allan Haighton. This gave me confidence to get to grips with the recorder and I was ready and waiting for the weather to improve and recording to begin.
When I had every thing connected up, the first thing that I did was to turn off the irritating 'beep' that sounded every time one selected a control. To this day I have not unpacked the remote control unit as I did not feel there would be any advantage in using it for my work.
Having previously used a Sony MZ-R30 MiniDisc recorder I had a plentiful supply of blank discs but I did not fancy carrying a lot of them about, so I got a supply of the 1GB discs. At the time the cheapest source was Amazon, I have used four discs for the seasons work. I should perhaps explain that all the recordings made were part of my Cetti's Warbler research - now in its 25th year! That is not to say of course if something else of interest appeared where I was working a Cetti's that I did not record it, I did. So I ended up unintentionally with lots of Bittern, Marsh Harrier and Bearded Tit recordings. At the request of the Minsmere manager I also recorded an aberrant Willow Warbler and Blackcap at the end of a couple of Cetti's sessions.
The handbook states that with a 1GB disc you should be able to get 3.5 hours' recording using the supplied Ni-MH re-chargeable battery. The first two mornings out I only got 1.5 hours before the battery level was too low to record. From then on I used a combination of the re-chargeable battery and a single AA cell in the screw on battery case. Our local chemist chain was giving a free pack of six AA batteries with every colour film processed, so I had a ready supply. This gave plenty of power even for the longest recording session of four hours. I run the recorder more or less continuously through a recording session, just pausing about every five minutes to create a new track, which I finds helps with the editing process.
The only other 'niggle' on the recording side was the lack of back lighting for the LCD display, but a small Maglite torch (another promotional gift) and my reading glasses solved the problem
On the plus side the recorder is very light which is important with three hour long recording sessions. I used a Sennheiser ME80 short gun microphone and a pair of headphones, all of which fitted easily into a small rucksack carried on my back as I cycled to the recording locations.
Each recording session starts with a new group, so there are no worries about looking for the end of the last recording session on the disc, this is done automatically. I also found this useful when I moved locations during a morning's session, it enabled me to keep track of things when I came to edit the disc.
Once I had mastered navigating my way round the various menus, the recorder was very easy to use. I carried a list of prompts written on a 5x3 record card which fitted neatly into the cloth recorder carrying case. I particularly liked the ability of being able to adjust the record levels whilst recording. With the old MZ-R30 I had to stop recording to change the levels. So if a Cetti's comes and sits on the end of the microphone, the level can be turned down in a flash and you do not end up with an over-modulated recording. The recorder has no facility for selecting mono recordings which initially I took a little time to get used to.
Editing the recorded disc was the area initially I was most concerned about, but Allan's helpful explanation took the fear out of this process. I played the recordings back in real time through the computer sound card and edited using Adobe Audition. It took me about nine hours to edit out three hours of field recording but I ended up with finished sonograms ready to use, a vast improvement time wise on the old system. With the MiniDisc system I had to edit the disc and select the individual song phrases that I wanted to produce sonograms from. These were then copied as individual tracks onto another MiniDisc ready to be taken to the computer program that I was using at the time. I estimated that I saved overall about fifty hours work, not to mention the two hundred mile round trip to use the computer.
The manual recommends editing with the recorder in the charging stand. My only slight 'niggle' was that the angle this set the recorder at was such that there were a lot of reflections on the screen. I got over this by putting a thin notebook underneath to increase the angle which cured the problem.
Overall it has been a pleasurable experience working with this recorder and significantly better than the old MiniDisc.