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Olympus LS-10 solid state recorder

Roger Boughton & Richard Mudhar

LS10 mounted on a tripod
OLYMPUS LS-10 mounted on a tripod

There has been a good deal of internet talk about this device so I thought it was about time the WSRS had a look at it so that we could evaluate it as a device for wildlife sound recording.

Thanks to Olympus UK we were able to obtain an example after a few weeks wait and I was eager to open the package when it arrived.

My first impressions were very favourable, a solidly built device a little larger than a mobile phone sat easily in my hand.  The dials and knobs came easily to hand and once I had found how to switch it on and off a good clear screen showed most of everything I wanted to know.

Obviously for a device of this size connectivity is by mini jack, there is also a mini USB socket for computer connection and a slot for an SD or SDHC card of your choice to complement the 2Gig of internal flash memory.  There is another switch for low and high gain sensitivity (more of that later), and a battery compartment that takes 2 AA batteries.  The alkalines that were in it when it arrived are the same ones I am using now a good few hours later and that had been used previously by Richard when he did his testing.  Olympus claim 10 hours and I feel pretty sure they will have done near to that by the time they are replaced.  There is also a socket for the receiver of a wireless remote that can be triggered from about 5 metres.

One must realize that with this sort of power source, 48 volt powering is out, but there is built in mic powering at the mic input which means that all my homemade mics worked a treat and also my favourite DPA 4060’s fired up without any bother at all.  I decided there and then that I would limit most of my testing to this type of mic, whether in a parabola or open, and there relationship to the Olympus on board mics.

I soon came to realize that for wildlife sound recording, unless you were recording a very strong signal, then the low sensitivity setting was too low.  This was a pity as in my opinion, a recording made of the same subject, using a high gain level with low sensitivity sounded better signal to noise recording than one made a low gain level with the high sensitivity setting. Listen to Vicki Powys’s Lyrebirds and see what you think.

Olympus LS10 with headphones

Olympus LS10 with headphones and Roger's homebuilt microphones

My subject though, on a misty morning in England were some birds in the hedge in my garden, House sparrows mainly.  Setting the parabola 50 feet away high gain setting was necessary to obtain the -12 Db recording level.  By the time I was 10 feet away I could record in low gain setting but the dial was near its 1-10 maximum.  This was the same for the inbuilt mics which did not sound as good as my homemades, but were not unpleasant.

Let’s step back for a minute and ask who would be interested in such a machine like this costing around £250 inc. vat in the UK.

  1. Firstly, recordists on a budget would find it very usable.
  2. Beginners who did not want to take too big a step into the hobby would find it a sensible first purchase.
  3. Old stagers who needed a very lightweight set-up would also find it acceptable.
  4. Other recordists who like to take some recording device with them when they go out for a walk.  This may avoid the “you’ll never believe what I heard when I was out without my recording kit” stories .
  5. A good back up machine for expeditions.

An example of this is the recording of Peregrine, two females probably, this year’s fledgling and mum, that flew over the house when I was taking the LS 10 to show my wife. I am glad I didn’t miss it.  I certainly would have made a better recording with my main kit, but I did get a recording.

Olympus LS10 screen

Olympus LS10 screen and mic foam windshields in place

The quality of the recordings made with the LS 10 with these home made mics is very acceptable.  If I had not told you the recordings had been made with cheap mics you probably would not have noticed the lesser quality.

Mike Skeet has found the LS10 interesting, and Mike shares his discoveries here.

Recordings

To get a feel for the quality of the LS internal mics, Vicki Powys has kindly given us this recording of some small birds in Australia. It is a composite recording of three tracks -

  1. Shure WL183s, low cut ON, volume 5
  2. Shure WL183s, low cut OFF, volume 5
  3. Olympus LS10 built-ins, volume 5


Small bird ambience composite recording

Roger Boughton made some recordings using the review sample, using a veriety of microphones and techniques:


Peregrine flyover using builtin mics


Cockatiel, inbuilt mics

Hedge of sparrows at 50 feet (about 17m)


Parabola, Low Gain setting


Parabola, High Gain Setting

Hedge at 20 ft / 6m


Parabola, Low Sensitivity Full Gain


Parabola, High Sensitivity Gain 4


Hedge of sparrows at 6ft / 2m, LS 10 inbuilt mics max gain


Parabola, homebrew mics, House Martins at 20ft / 6m High Sens Gain 4

Finally, a couple of Lyrebird recordings from Vicki Powys in Australia


Lyrebird


Lyrebird

Technical Measurements

Settings - Microphone input, max gain pad 0dB sampling rate 44.1kHz Source impedance 150Ω  

Sensitivity

Minimum input for 0dBFS = -54dBu  (mic sens set to High)

Minimum input for 0dBFS = -34dBu  (mic sens set to Low)

Noise

Ein = -116dBu (unweighted, 22kHz BW, mic sens set to High)

Ein (A) = -121dBu (A weighted, 20kHz BW, mic sens set to High)

Ein = -116dBu (unweighted, 22kHz BW, mic sens set to Low)

Ein (A) = -123dBu (A weighted, 20kHz BW, , mic sens set to Low)

Overload (Mic input, 1000Hz tone)

At mic sens set to High Vmax =  300mVrms

At mic sens set to Low Vmax = 300mVrms 

Plug-In-Power

Switchable from Menu

Open-circuit voltage = 3V

Source resistance [1] = 2.2k

Dimensions

(W x H x D), 55 x 135 x 24mm (without ext mic)

Weight excl batteries 200g

Current drain

about 120mA (recording, 44.1kHz, mic H, plug in power off, internal memory)

Conclusion

An excellent little recorder from ergonomic and technical viewpoints. The recorder is usable with one hand, it is a welcome relief to find a budget recorder where the mic gain is controllable via a knob rather than the infernal up and down buttons or even worse a menu function. Noise levels are very good, and enable the user to upgrade to studio mics while still performing well. The combination of 2Gb internal memory and the expandability with a SD card is excellent.

There is a lot to be said for having the mics available on the recorder. They aren't as good as almost any external microphone, and wildlife sound recording usually needs more directionality and sensitivity. But does mean the LS10 is more likely to be at hand for those serediptious recordings when the birds are flying overhead right now and you can stop the car and record something.

The plug in power on this recorder is a welcome change from the measly efforts on the Sony HiMD PiP inputs which need very low current mics indeed - those are 2.3V sourced via 6k8 which is not enough to power many PiP mics. Kudos to Olympus for providing enough power to run typical capsules like the Panasonic WM61A used in many homebrew mic experiments. At the rated 0.5mA drain of this capsule, the voltage would be 1.9V which is within spec, and the efficacy of this sort of thing is shown in Roger's last recording of the house martins. And it can be turned off, which avoids making the unbalanced 3.5mm connectors more scratchy than they need be if mechanically disturbed as the PiP is not being terminated uselessly in the microphone impedance.

Of the sub £300 recorders the LS10 and the Zoom H4 stand apart from the rest at the time of writing (August 2008). The Olympus is a smaller, neater package and is more ergonomically controllable, but does not offer P48 powering, XLR inputs or balanced inputs. The H4 is larger and more unwieldy in the field, but does offer P48 powering. It is quite possible to use the LS10 with P48 powered mics via an external Phantom powering unit vcosting around £25 - see microphone powering for how.

 
The Wildlife Sound Recording Society would like to thank Olympus UK for the loan of the review sample.

Review date: August 2008

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1 inferred from the measurement that V PiP loaded with 5.6k to ground =  2.17V

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