The Musician's Pocket Memo
Have you ever come up with a song...or a riff...or some lyrics...but by the time you've gotten a piece of pencil and a paper (or whatever) they flew right out of your head? That all-too-familiar feeling is probably alone worth the cost of Musician's Pocket Memo, a handy new digital recorder from E.W. Bridge.
The Musician's Pocket Memo has a built-in microphone and speaker (quite decent quality considering its 3/4" diameter), a 7-button membrane keypad, two recording "speeds" which give you up to 25 minutes of recording time, two I/O jacks, and costs $119.95. There's also a more expensive model with twice as much memory ($239.95).
I've used the Musician's Pocket Memo to record such diverse things as impromptu jam sessions, my kid singing the ABC's, me singing with a "live karaoke band" (the Embarrasonics) at Bimbos 365, interviews with vendors at trade shows, and a drumming circle and Country Joe McDonald live at the Summer of Love festival in San Francisco.
The Musician's Pocket Memo is a bit bigger and thicker than a credit card, but as the name implies, you can easily carry it in your pocket (though a classy leatherette case is included). It has a very rugged metal (non-magnetic) case, which I have yet to see a single scratch on. In fact, after putting the Musician's Pocket Memo through my usual grueling tests, the only thing that's even slightly wrong mechanically is that the screw that holds the back on has some surface rust on it (no effect on operation or sound, obviously). Probably from all those boat trips. Anyway, I also took it apart, and it's built with the latest surface mount technology, high-quality components, nothing about to shake loose--these folks don't get many warranty returns, I'm sure!
There are four button cell batteries which have shown no sign of losing their power after a few months of use. However, I won't worry even if they do conk out unexpectedly, because the Musician's Pocket Memo uses flash memory instead of regular RAM, which means the memory should stay intact even if the thing sits in your drawer for months or even years with dead batteries. And being digital, the sound won't deteriorate over time, either.
The keypad is well laid out, and it's set up so that you can just hit one button and start recording. It stays in record mode till you stop it or it runs out of memory, so you don't have to stand there with your finger on the button. You'll be able to quickly get the hang of recording, switching between takes, etc. without looking at the buttons.
What About the Sound?
OK, first thing you should know is that the Musician's Pocket Memo isn't going to replace DAT. I don't expect to see a 4-track version any time soon, either. And forget "bootlegging" recordings at concerts, except for the most hardcore fans. It's designed strictly for quick recording at a decent amount of resolution, around 8 KHz. This works well for direct input into computer sound cards...I used Cool Edit 96 with an 8 KHz setting at 8 bits to get the above sounds into my laptop. Just get a 1/8" stereo male-to-male cord (with appropriate adapters if you want to use phono or 1/4" plugs), and you're in business.
The Musician's Pocket Memo has two stereo jacks, one each for input and output, so you could plug your guitar or synthesizer right into it if you wanted to, or just use the integral microphone. While the Pocket Memo records in mono, stereo I/O jacks are provided for output to two earphones or input from both channels of a synth. It has 26 dB of automatic gain control, and generally sounds pretty good, unless you're too close to some very loud sound (note the distortion in the Country Joe clip, some of which is due to the RealAudio encoding). There's a two-level volume control, which in practice is "normal" for listening and "low" for output to your computer. If even that's too loud, use one of those in-line volume controls they sell for headphones.
There are also two recording "speeds". Normal speed is high for best resolution; this gives you a total of 9.5 minutes of recording time with the standard 2 MB memory. Low speed more than doubles the recording time (to 25 minutes) but significantly reduces the quality to what's typical of similar recorders; this is good for extended voice notes. You can switch to low speed "on the fly" before you start recording, and playback automatically selects the proper speed, so no, you can't record your favorite Alvin Lee riff in high speed and slow it down (give it up; the guy's not human and you'll never catch him anyway... :-)
There are other, and even cheaper, small digital recorders around. But
I don't believe any of them have the combination of high audio resolution,
input/output jacks, no moving parts, and sheer ruggedness as the Musician's
Pocket Memo, at any price.
About the AuthorDavid Fiedler is an author and musician who has been designing and using electronic devices for over 30 years, has no connection to the vendor, and who spends entirely too much time on the Internet.
This article is Copyright © 1998 David Fiedler, Rescue, CA. All Rights Reserved. It is unlawful to use this article for any commercial purpose, including but not limited to CD-ROM distribution, paid online service, or print publication, without negotiating an appropriate license from David Fiedler, PO Box 220, Rescue CA 95672. If you want to link to it, though, be my guest.