ROLAND R-07 HIGH-RESOLUTION AUDIO RECORDER

 

In a press release for CES, Las Vegas, NV, January 8, 2018 Roland announced their new R-07 High-Resolution Audio Recorder, a “convenient handheld recording device for musicians, journalists, students, and anyone who needs to capture sound on the go”. Here we take a quick hands on look at the recorder, and it’s practical implications for educators and musicians. The R-07 is Roland’s first consumer audio recorder since the very popular R-05 released in 2010. Many features carry over from the R-05, but the R-07 is smaller, about the size as a deck of playing cards, and has some new and innovative tricks up it’s sleeve. Highlights include : 

Bluetooth Roland supply the free R-07 Remote app for iOS/Watch OS and Android devices. This is not the first portable recorder that can be controlled remotely by Bluetooth, but it’s the first to enable both remote control and audio monitoring over Bluetooth, on two independent devices, simultaneously! 

Scenes Pre-programmed into the R-07 are a variety of customisable settings configurations with the aim of rapidly gearing up for recording in a variety of situations.

Dual Recording and Limiter To avoid the problems of clipping (distortion due to excessive gain) the R-07 has a limiter and dual recording mode. In dual recording mode two recordings are made simultaneously with one at a lower recording level, so if the main recording clips you can utilise the quieter recording.

Other Key features :

  • Compact low cost hi resolution recorder
  • AD/DA conversion : 24 bits, 44.1/48/88/96 kHz
  • 128 x 64 dot LCD display with backlight
  • Supports microSD/microSDHC up to 32Gb?
  • Supplied with microSD card (inserted in the R-07) and batteries
  • Internal stereo high quality omni condenser microphone
  • Input jack for external mono/stereo mic or AUX sources
  • Variable speed playback (50%-150%) without changing pitch
  • Metronome function for standalone use, or monitoring with headphones whilst recording
  • Chromatic tuner, with two graphical modes, adjustable reference 435Hz – 445hz and reference tone
  • Internal Speaker for playback (mono)
  • Up to 100 R-07’s paired with remote apps can operate in the same space by assigning identifier numbers
  • Tripod mount, strap hole
  • USB port: USB Micro-B type
  • Transmitting Power: Specification Power Class 2 Line of sight range 10 m (30 ft)
  • Weight 150g/6oz (including batteries)
  • 15 hrs play/record time (approx) from 2x AA batteries
  • 61 (W) x 103 (D) x 26 (H) mm

Design

The R-07 is a small, lightweight pocketable soapbar shaped recorder. Ergonomically the input and output volume rockers are positioned so the thumb falls naturally over them, with other buttons within reach for single handed operation. The record button illuminates fetchingly in red and green, for record and play, blinking when paused or armed to record. A peak (clipping) LED at the front above the Bluetooth LED is accompanied by two other red clipping LEDs, to the top and bottom of the front. These blink rapidly if the signal is clipping giving clear visual feedback. 

The high-quality stereo condenser mics are caged behind a robust plastic frame. This offers some protection over designs with exposed protruding mics which can easily be damaged or broken off. This mic area is tilted forward slightly so the mics are better orientated when the recorder is laid flat on a surface. At the rear is a semi-rubberised area, where we find a tripod mount, internal speaker, microSD card cover and a cover for two AA batteries. A micro-USB socket to one side can also supply power in the absence of batteries (this worked fine when tested with a power bank) and for file transfers. Below that we have a switch which when pulled down powers the recorder on/off and is non-latching (to prevent accidentally changing the power state in the pocket), in the other direction it acts as a HOLD switch, and latches into position defeating button operation to prevent spoiled recordings. To the opposite side is the headphone socket, and at the top we find an input jack for external microphones, or auxiliary sources such as a CD player or mobile phone output.

The R-07 comes in “three stylish colors” red or white or black. Practically speaking, the black is more discrete, the red and white might be easier to locate in a dark environment. As the LEDs on the top of the unit are red, they are most discernible against the white or black surrounds

 

For added protection, Roland supply two accessories. Very reasonably priced, the CB-BPR07 is a durable pouch with fleece internal padding, and the CB-BR07 is a carry bag with a shoulder strap designed to hold the Roland R-07 High-Resolution Audio Recorder and a few small recording accessories. Either would be a good idea to protect the recorder from bumps and knocks in day to day use.

 

Practical Application

The R-07 is a versatile recorder which has a number of ease of use features we believe will appeal to educators and musicians alike. The Bluetooth element is a genuinely useful addition to an already high quality portable recorder. Placed out of reach, Roland’s Remote app allows solo musicians, bands and ensembles to remotely set levels and control recordings or playback without getting out of the seat. It could likewise be deployed at meetings, lectures or discussions, any scenario where you might want to set the recorder in an optimal position which quite close to hand. The Rehearse and Scenes functions can be operated remotely, enabling you to quickly select appropriate settings for your recording environment, and you can simultaneously monitor in realtime with compatible Bluetooth headphones.

In the classroom, the recorder is light and easy to carry around and record whilst engaging with students, and you can speak close into the microphones similar to a dictaphone. It’s suitable for transitioning quickly from practice room to classroom to auditorium. Dual recordings can be made in high quality WAV and mp3 simultaneously, so you have compact compressed files for uploading ready along with higher quality recordings for archival. Basic editing, splitting and trimming recordings, can be done within the recorder to avoid the need for audio editing software. We think the built in metronome and chromatic tuner will prove useful to musicians, along with the 50%-150% variable speed (without pitch shift) which makes the R-07 suitable as a phrase trainer for guitarists and other musicians, or for language or vocal study.

With the tripod mount, the recorder could be used in conjunction with a video camcorder. It’s also compatible with Roland’s excellent binaural microphones / earphones: CS-10EM, and can even be used as a Bluetooth audio transmitter relaying audio signals from the AUX input, wirelessly to a receiver connected to a replay system.

 

In Use

Holding down the non-latching power switch the boot up time measured almost exactly 10 seconds. The LCD proved readable in daylight conditions. The backlight works well, though it is limited within the settings menu to a maximum of 20 seconds. I found myself using the buttons to extend backlight time and wondering if this is something Roland would consider extending in a firmware update, particularly in view of how helpful it is to have backlighting for the built in tuner. Eager to test the remote app a copy was downloaded from the Apple store and installed on an iPhone, which was then paired with the R-07. This is not done through the usual Bluetooth settings but via the app itself. The amount of functionality in the iPhone app is impressive and self explanatory, so please see the screenshots below. Swiping left and right moves between play and record screens, and other features are accessed with a tap. Though I didn’t have an Apple Watch or Android device to hand, clearly the Apple Watch app is a simplified version due to screen size, but Roland have still managed to cram in marker and input and volume controls. It’s worth noting that the R-07 clock can be set automatically when connected to an app, so I would recommend selecting that option in the menu rather than manually inputting the time.

 

 

In the playback screen above, the playback speed slider is locked at 100%. It was at this point I first turned to the manual. Playback speed is not available for 88.2kHz or 96kHz sample rates. It’s worth being mindful of this when recording, and reading the manual to understand the few limitations that apply. Also worth noting, playback speed can be changed from the device itself by using the input rocker.

To test Bluetooth monitoring I used a Panasonic Bluetooth speaker and an Arcam irDAC II. Once paired these devices were retained in the R-07’s stored list of Bluetooth devices, and the R-07 automatically connected with the last device used on power up, if it’s available. A Bluetooth information page on the LCD displays the device you are connected to, if any, and likewise whether the remote is connected. The Bluetooth speaker worked as expected and once associated, connected quickly. Whilst I didn’t have any Bluetooth headphones to hand, I’m sure they would work much the same.

The Arcam irDAC II is a HiFi separates component with Bluetooth. It supports low latency mode, with a slight audible delay that isn’t quite suitable for a musician to monitor themselves in realtime. The responsiveness was however impressive. The Arcam is also supplied with a handy IR remote that provides transport control, ostensibly for control of a PC or Mac USB sources via HID (Human Interface Device) control. I was intrigued to find the remote also controlled the R-07. I wondered if a signal connected to the Roland’s AUX input would transmit over Bluetooth, and I confirmed this by connecting the headphone output of a phone to the R-07 with a 3.5mm jack lead. I was able to wirelessly play recordings from the phone to a Bluetooth equipped HiFi via the R-07. 

The Rehearsal feature is not new to Roland it is an excellent way to set recording levels. In Rehearsal mode simply generate the loudest sound you expect to record and the Roland adjusts gain to the optimal level. You can use a predetermined time period to do this, but I found manual operation more convenient. If you will cannot predict or anticipate sound levels in advance, the R-07’s dual recording and limiter are there to help you avoid a spoiled recording.

Scenes is a feature I did not expect to use. Typically I lean toward manual control modes for tech devices, as the convenience features often involve compromise. As it turned out, Scenes is a timesaver and great for impromptu recordings. I used it extensively during my time with the R-07. It stores and recalls settings for the sample rate, recording mode (eg 2x WAV-24bit dual recording mode, MP3-128kbps etc), limiter, low frequency cut and input level. Scenarios include “Field”, “Voice Memo”, “Loud Practice” and so on. The pre-configured settings and titles are well chosen, but are easily customisable and can be overwritten. Defaults are easily recoverable too. Once you recall a Scene from the dedicated button you are not tied down and can use it as a starting point, from where you can change any of the settings.

Laying the recorder facing toward me for a guitar recording I was able to flip the display vertically with a long-press of this Scene button. The clipping LEDs on top and bottom of the unit provided satisfyingly clear visible feedback (and this proved equally true for handheld use). Better still was placing the recorder in recording position with the remote app to hand. I was reminded of a past experience recording acoustic drums, solo, where I’d placed a phone down in front facing the drum kit then set it to record. So I thought, but after a good session drumming I returning to the phone to discover it was still armed. So I tried again and returned to the drum stool. My second attempt was also a fail – the audio was overloaded and distorted. This is exactly the sort of situation where having the remote app in your hand is a real boon and would avoid such problems. I also appreciated the remote functionality when field recording bird sounds. I was able to place the recorder down and operate it from a distance without disturbing the wildlife. I found whilst the recorder can stand upright, it’s not exactly stable. Laying it flat or on something or using a small tripod works better. I would also recommend a windshield for recording outdoors on a windy day. Whilst the low cut feature may help eliminate rumbling sounds, it cannot prevent wind buffeting against the microphone elements.

Other features include the built in speaker. This is fairly basic and quiet and best suited for reviewing material. There is the built in tuner which has two graphical modes, and a rather nice strobe function is seen at the bottom on each that worked rather well. The metronome is as expected pretty basic, but serves it’s purpose and can be used standalone, or through the speaker or over Bluetooth, or monitored through headphones whilst recording.

The recorder has some file management functions built in. Basic practical stuff. For example you can trim a suitable WAV, compress the result by converting to an mp3 so it’s a suitable size for emailing without touching computer audio editing software. A question I’ve seen asked a few times already is whether files can be transferred via Bluetooth. The answer is no, files are transferred via a USB cable in the usual manner. You also have the usual wave marker functions which can also be accessed via the remote app.

For a high resolution recorder we are obviously interested in sound quality. So how does the R-07 sound? Subjectively, the results were very pleasing indeed. Some background noise is to be expected with the type of inbuilt mic built into this type of recorder, but the Roland is impressively quiet for this class of recorder. It has a lot of headroom as well, and delivers crisp recordings at high volumes and nuances at ambient levels. From rock bands to field recordings. Auditioned through Beyer Dynamic analytical reference headphones, and a revealing audiophile grade audio system with Focal monitoring, recordings were natural rich and clean, with a warmth and presence that betters it’s predecessor the R-05. The high frequency range was impressively smooth and detailed throughout. For the price, it’s very good. Some sample recordings are provided at the end of this review.

Summary

I approached the R-07 without referring to the reference guide to see how intuitive it is. For the most part it’s very easy to use, and I think on average a person would get to grips with the basics and achieve excellent results just by exploring the controls and dipping into the menus. The recorder is ergonomic, well laid out and controls like fast-forwarding and rewinding are responsive. I liked the visual feedback from the LEDs on the top and bottom of the device and the microphone elements being protected. Rehearsal mode and Scenes greatly enhanced ease of use making it very fast to work with, and the Bluetooth functionality offers a genuine advantage in a variety of situations. I can recommend the R-07 for it’s versatility, ease of use, and best of all – excellent sound quality for the price.

 

Samples

We’ll post a few musical recordings in the near future, but for now here are just a few ASMR type snippets. These are unedited from the device except for normalisation (volume) in a couple of examples. The full uncompressed 24bit, 96kHz wav recordings can be downloaded from this link : Sample Recordings (Raw)