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Olympus LS-10 in use with Mike Skeet

There are an increasing number of ‘in the hand’ audio recorders becoming available – Edirol, Zoom, and Olympus come to mind.  For my usual location music recording, and Binaural Sounds activities, the facility list of the Olympus LS-10 took my fancy.

The initial attractions were the PCM 16 bit, 44.1 sampling, plus higher rates if needed, and having an on-board 2 Gig Flash Memory, apart from the alternative use of SD Cards.  You also have an analogue line input, plus a Plug-In-Power microphone input for the external use of electret mics.  The built-in mics actually proved to be very useful for recording some spoken voice inserts for a separate concert recording.

After delivery from CPC, I saw more essentials to drool over!  The level metering scale is as wide as the slim body allows, with the neg.12dB point about half was across the display – essential to be able to see the peaks getting into the area above neg.12dB.   The screen back light can be set for differing active times or can be continuously on.

The record button is very visible and glows red when on, initially flashing in pause mode.  There is a red Led, in the middle of the body, showing any clipping over 0dBfs.  This also reminds you about what has happened, when playing back!  There is the usual USB out to a computer, although I would have loved a direct SPDIF digital out!  Incidentally, an Infra Red remote control is promised.  Deleting recorded tracks is very easy, a special erase button being provided to start the process, with a separate confirming action needed.

Initial Uses

Before moving on to the installation of the LS-10 onto the back of an Amberwood Reflector, there were some other initial DIY activities, suiting my usual music recording and Binaural activities.

Since the latter part of the last century, I have had a Sharp MiniDisc recorder built into the back of a DIY Dummy Head with DPA4060 mics, placed in a pair of ‘rubber’ ears The Olympus LS-10 ‘leaped’ into the back the head as a replacement – Velco holding it in place.

Olympus LS 10 with Dummy Head
LS10 with dummy head.   Photo: Richard Walton

The combination performs very well indeed, good to have left and right signal levels showing, as the MD’s only had a single overall display.  The LS-10 has a mic ‘sensitivity’ switch with at least 20 dB differences in level settings.  If only there were more choices, with less wide steps of ‘mic sensitivity’ settings, in all portable recorders, as with the earlier Sharp MiniDisc recorders.

For the head’s DPA4060 mics, the ‘low’ switch position was used for situations such sitting behind the conductor of  the Woburn Sands Band at a Charity Garden Fete concert, as one does! – that is another form of ‘wildlife’ recording, you know!

Inside the dummy head

Internal detail of dummy head.   Photo: Richard Walton

Incidently, one of the advantages of MiniDiscs has been the on-board editing – Divide, Combine, Move, Erase, and Undo the last edit performed. A mains machine being particularly useful for the editing as you also have Trim and Rehearsal.  If only Hi MD had taken off with its CD quality and some mains machines with the full editing facilities.  None of the new Flash Memory/SD Card recorders emulate this on-board MD editing facility.

Use with a Parabolic Reflector

LS10 on the back of an Amberwood reflector
OLYMPUS LS-10 on the back of an
Amberwood reflector. Photo: 
Richard Walton

Being used to holding up a Dummy Head in front of me, with its built in recorder, and simultaneously being able to see the signal levels and to where I am pointing the head, I have always found it awkward with a Parabolic Reflector, and using a Tascam DA-P1 DAT recorder over my shoulder, to see the levels and keep the reflector properly aligned.

Now with a Olympus LS-10 neatly installed at the back of a wonderful Amberwood Parabolic, you have the real bonus of seeing both the levels and the positioning of the reflector, along with the lightweight addition of a mobile phone sized recorder.

As seen in Illustrations 3 & 4, a 4mm thick plywood box, glued together with Evostik adhesive, has been constructed to hold the LS-10 in place and it proved easy to mount it on the back of the reflector, by ‘hooking’ under the nut fixing in the centre rear and then, with an angled piece of aluminium, all is held in place by the reflector’s own screw-in handle!

For reliability a Switchcraft Mini ‘XLR’ is used on the side of the box, for the mic feeds.  I do not trust the usual mini jack plugs, in case they get moved.  The Mini ‘XLR’ socket is, of course, connected to the LS-10 via a stereo mini jack, but held in the plywood box so it cannot move.  Two ¼ inch jacks are provided at the base of the box for headphone use, handy to share the listening with someone else.

Parabolic Miking

In my own way I have experimented in this field – even back in the 1960s with a Grampian reflector and a Grampian omni dynamic mic, still in the house in a cupboard somewhere!   But it is now stereo miking with a parabolic reflector that really interests me.  It was probably  knowing about the Telinga system, although not actually trying it out, that prompted me to put two DPA4006 ‘studio’ omnis in an Amberwood, with a plastic ‘baffle’ between their business ends, and use them phantom powered, from a Tascam DA-P1.

I found the Parabolic’s stereo could be enhanced by using a DIY Sum & Difference stereo width controller, to widen the narrow stereo that the system inherently produces.  The principle involves changing the stereo signal into two other components – the Sum and the Difference signals.  These are then just like ‘Mid & Side’ signals and you decode them back to stereo in the usual way, the variable width being your choice.

The most interesting thing I found was that the centre image is not really affected, but the ambient sounds are nicely removed away from the centre, especially the lower frequencies, where they are obviously centre concentrated due to the two mics having to be very close together in the first place, with a small baffle between them.

Microphone choice

They have to be the pre-polarized electret capacitor type, with single conductor screened lead, which then have their on-board micro electronics powered by the +ve single figure DC voltage provided by the ‘plug-in’ mic system.

In the package I received with the Olympus LS-10, I had also asked for the pair of Olympus ‘conference’ mics with two small table stands.  Actually they do sound quite good with spoken voice, are not bass light and sibilants are not muffled, so I have used them either side of the plastic sheet baffle in the parabolic reflector.

Shortening the leads and terminating in a mini ‘XLR’ plug, their signals arrive at the LS-10 box at the rear of the reflector, passing out under the wind gag.  Being omni directional, they are very immune to any handling noise as we hold the reflector.

Experimentally I have a shallow curved surface immediately under the business end of each of the mics.  I have always suspected a ‘coloration’ when there is just a flat reflective surface under the mics.  I feel this experiment has proved to be advantageous!

When the current July UK wind ceases, maybe some birds, other than pigeons, will appear on neighbour’s roofs and TV aerials.  As one pigeon decided to go elsewhere as soon as I pointed the reflector at it, the only thing left was to put a timer alarm on the wall at the bottom of the garden and use that as a source of a sequence of high frequencies.

Too much wind in the trees and traffic noise for serious results, but the widened stereo is there, the alarm bleeps dead centre when properly aimed at, and noticeably drops in level when heard off axis.  Gallivanting  to some quiet woods should be possible shortly………. .

Finally, how about this.  At one of the local band concerts, I found that in PCM mode I only had 33 minutes recording time left.  I wanted to keep the current content.  Ah, what about the MP3 facility?  Going for the highest rate of the three available, I got eleven hours instead of the 33 minutes.  Actually the results sounded very acceptable – must soon do some A B comparisons.

Review date: August 2008

Mike Skeet

Operation and technical review of the LS10

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

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