This pocket-sized stereo recorder is quite possibly the sleekest and thinnest of the growing number of fully-featured portable recorders of recent times. But being lean doesn't mean lacking in features-in fact, the W24 beats the competition in at least one respect.
As it comes
The W24 comes with a windscreen, USB cord, thread adapter for mic stands, a AA battery, a remote control with its own battery installed, a septualingual manual, and a DVD-ROM with Cubase AI5 DAW software.
The recorder is a featherweight, all of 3.25 oz (92 g) with the single AA battery installed. It is 5.068" long, 1.813" wide, and 0.69" thick.
The mics are set in X/Y configuration, fixed, behind a protective wrap-around rail. The screen is surprisingly readable for its size-the backlight can be set to remain off, or stay on for 5 or 15 seconds, or remain on until shut down. During recording there is an exceptionally helpful number of items on display, including, visible at all times, remaining record time and recording level margin in dB.
There are only three buttons and a 4-way-plus-center control on the fascia: Rec/Pause, Stop/Esc, Play/Speed. The button in the center of the 4-way control ring accesses menus (and Stop/Esc exits them). The right quarter of the 4-way ring increments file numbers in Play mode and recording level in Record mode. The left quarter of the 4-way ring decrements file numbers in Play mode and recording level in Record mode. The top and bottom quarters of the 4-way ring increase and decrease playback volume. All four do navigational duties in Menu and other modes.
Along the right narrow side are: The covered well for USB connector and MicroSD card, buttons for Delete, Scene, List and Folder, a larger button for Power On/Off, and the mini stereo socket for Line/Mic input.
Along the left narrow side are two sliders, Mic Sensitivity High/Low and ALC (Auto Level Control) On/Off, plus the mini stereo headphone socket.
On the underside are the Hold slider, the grille for the built-in speaker, the well cover for the AA battery, and the threaded 1/4" socket for a tripod or mic stand.
The W24 records in PCM WAV at 44.1 or 48 or 88.2 or 96 kHz, with 16 or 24 bits, or in MP3 at 32/64/128/192/320 kbps. The W24 has 2 GB of internal memory, and it accepts MicroSD cards; memory is configured into Folders and will record to whichever Folder A/B/C/D in whichever memory you select.
The W24 offers lots of useful features to make recording easier: There is a highpass filter to help prevent low-frequency rumble and wind noises (the supplied windscreen helps here too, of course). A limiter can be switched on when the unit is not in ALC mode.
Peak Hold can be displayed or not, from 0 seconds to 10 seconds or infinity. An Auto-Divider function can be set to start a new file when it detects extended silence. Voice activated record start is another option (and it doesn't have to be voice, of course), as is pre-timed recording start.
A number of setups are preset as Scenes, from Off to Practice (Voice Activated Start, MP3 @ 128 kbps) to Studio, Live, Outdoor, and 3 User memories.
Playback details and extras
A 5-band equalizer offers a User screen of ±6 dB adjustment at 150 Hz, 500 Hz, 1 kHz, 4 kHz, and 12 kHz. Presets are Flat, Bass1, Bass2, Pop, Rock, Jazz. There are the usual repeat modes with random or selectable A-B looping. Playback speed (at constant pitch) of MP3 files can be controlled, from 50% to 200%, without having to access the Menu. (There is no provision for changing pitch during playback.)
A tuner and a metronome are available, the latter in beat divisions of 0/4, 1/4, 2/4 etc to 8/4. It can be sounding during playback only or during recording (the metronome beep doesn't get recorded).
On-board deleting of files is easy, as are edits (Fade In, Fade Out, Divide).
Hail to the remote
I'm on record for having complained in many reviews to date about portable recorders that don't come with a remote control. And when there was one, it wasn't fully-featured, until now. No more need to touch the recorder and thus create handling noises when the built-in mics are in action. Just mount the recorder in place, leave it alone and use the remote. The W24's remote does it all -- not just Record start and pause, Play start and pause, and Stop, but it also allows you to adjust both the record level and the playback volume.
It is a wireless remote, it can only opearate if there is a clear line of sight tpo the recorder, specifically to the receiver nub on the lower end of the fascia. That nub is raised and I managed to trigger the recorder from acute angles, so this doesn't seem to be a problem. This remote sets the W24 apart from the competition and should be a huge selling point.
When connected to a computer the W24 shows up as a volume on the desktop, two volumes if there is a card installed. Drag and drop files as needed. The owners' manual is in a data folder and may be transferred to your computer, then erased. You can transfer audio files from your computer to the W24, they go into the Music folder and will be available for playback. If you wish to transfer audio files from the computer to the folder A/B/C/D, then the files have to be renamed to adhere to the naming protocol of the W24 as explained in the manual.
You can also store any other type of file, treating the W24 as a flash drive, as long as those files go into the Data folder.
I used the W24 extensively in various real-life situations. I recorded a full symphony orchestra and, on a separate occasion, a string quartet, both at various settings from 128 kbps MP3 to 24/96. I used it to record sound effects (subway trains, crowd scenes, street traffic), and I treated it like an ENG device when I recorded speeches and music played back over PA systems at tradeshow events.
With the recordings of classical music, where fine nuances and subtle tonal shadings are essential, the W24 did fine with its built-in mics. Not outstanding, just fine -- there was some harshness on brass and edginess on flutes, but with more practice of level adjustments (possibly a few dB less than indicated) and experimenting with directional placement I think I could get slightly better results before moving on to external mics. What I did get was not shabby, nice to listen to on my home stereo system, and a good indication of the quality of the built-in mics.
If I were to do more outdoor recording with the W24 I would get an additional windsock -- the extreme air gusts that a moving train in a subway station causes were too much for the W24 even with the HPF and the wind screen. But as soon as the gusts subsided, the W24 recorded the ambient noises with fidelity, so it could be a valuable and mightily handy tool for just such recording.
The newsgathering situations were a breeze, I managed to almost forget I was recording as I listened to the goings-ons; the W24 recorded faithfully as long as I kept my hand still while holding it.
Handy and lightweight as it is, the W24 still needs to be carried around securely, and I'm surprised that there is no provision for attaching a lanyard or strap -- I ended up attaching one to the rail that goes around the mics -- good enough in a pinch, but less than ideal, of course.
The Timer and Tuner and Metronome functions get short shrift in the manual, and the website is no help there, either. Setting the metronome turns out to be intuitive, but the others aren't and help would be welcome.
Some might wish for a pitch-control feature during playback at constant speed, so as to transpose a practice piece to a key of their liking.
If I'm singing the praises of the remote control, it's because there is no other portable handheld pocket-sized recorder that I know of that comes with one as fully-featured as the remote of the W24. Unless you have the luxury of recording with external mics or even with an external mixer, this is a big deal: No more annoying handling noises transmitted straight into the built-in mics -- make all your adjustments on the fly from the safety of the remote. End of sermon.
The Yamaha W24 did very well during my evaluation period, combining ease of use with good sound, all in a very manageable small package.
More from: Yamaha, www.yamahasynth.com/products/recorders/pocketrak_w24