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Microphone Month 5

HANDS ON: Korg MR-2000S

Here in the early 21st century, the digital audio world has settled into leading pretty much a PCM life. And, hey, PCM (Pulse Code Modulation) works perfectly well for most of our purposes. But, there are other alternatives. One example is DSD (Direct Stream Digital). In the consumer world, DSD has largely been confined to SACD (Super Audio CD), a format that hasn’t exactly set the world on fire. In my opinion, that’s too bad, as the SACDs I own sound phenomenal.

In the pro audio world, there are a few DSD stalwarts. TASCAM, for example, makes the DV-RA1000HD, which supports DSD recording. There’s also the Sonoma recording/editing system, and there are others. But, perhaps the biggest proponent of DSD lately is Korg, with their line of MR stereo recorders. I’ve been using the handheld MR-1 and the portable/desktop MR-1000 for years, ever since the recorders hit the market, and I love them – they’re easy to get around on, and they sound outstanding.

Needless to say, when Korg introduced the MR-2000S, I was intrigued. Here was a stereo recorder that offered the features I was looking for, in rackmountable format for the studio. Let’s take a look at what it brings to the table.

First of all, here’s a bit of background. The Direct Stream Digital system is a 1-bit system. This means that, rather than take a complete 16- or 24-bit sample each time the audio is measured, the system operates at an extremely high sample rate (up to 5.6MHz) and measures just the change in the audio signal, representing that change with a single bit of data. Because of the high sample rate, filtering impacts the system far less than it does with PCM or other digital formats. The result is high-quality sound that many feel has more of an “analog” quality to it.

The attraction, as far as recorders such as the Korg MRs go, is to capture the audio with the best sound possible, so that you always have archival quality data available that you can go back to in the future if/when digital audio delivery formats change. (To this end, the MR series comes with AudioGate software, which, among other things, can be used to convert among various other digital audio formats, including 16- and 24-bit PCM.)MR2000S-large

It’s probably obvious, but all of this makes the MR-1000 and MR-2000S recorders ideal for stereo capture of concerts and performances, live-to-2-track capture, mastering, stereo mixdown, and archiving precious audio content. (The MR1 handheld is more appropriate for high-quality location recording of events, rehearsals, and gigs, as well as other onsite applications. Don’t get me wrong, the MR1 sounds stellar, but it doesn’t feature the pro connectivity that the other MR models have.) Personally, I run my DAW outputs through a Dangerous Music summing system and then feed the Dangerous system’s stereo outs into the MR-1000 for final mixdown capture. I also use the MR-1000 to capture final mastered tracks. The results are awesome! And, since it has mic preamps, I also use the MR-1000 for recording stereo signals, such as classical guitar tracks, which are then brought back to the studio for clean up and polishing. It’s been a very handy machine to have around!

So what does the MR-2000S offer?

First, it’s rackmountable, which is more suitable for fixed studio installation or for carrying in a rack. It doesn’t offer built-in mic preamps, but it does have both XLR and RCA ins, and – this was something I’d been wanting – it has S/PDIF digital I/O. The S/PDIF connections can only be used for PCM recording (up to 24-bit/192kHz), not for DSD recording, but that’s not an issue, as nothing else in the studio supports DSD over digital connections, either.

The unit supports sample rates up to 5.6MHz, and there are 24-stage LED meters for viewing levels. Word clock I/O provides sync capability, and there is an 80GB hard drive built in for storing audio. (Up to 14 hours of 5.6MHz stereo audio can be stored on the internal drive.) USB 2.0 handles computer connectivity for transferring files. The front-panel LCD gives you plenty of visual feedback on the details, and just a few knobs and buttons give you all the tactile control you need to get around the simple interface. A headphone out is included, and there are buttons that let you drop up to 100 markers into the track as you record it. The specs for the MR-2000S are, as you would expect, stellar, with frequency response up to 100kHz available when you’re recording in 1-bit format.

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As mentioned earlier, the MR-2000S comes with Korg’s AudioGate software for Mac and PC. This application is used to convert the MR’s DSD files to other formats, including:

  • 16- or 24-bit PCM, up to 192kHz
  • FLAC
  • WMA
  • AAC
  • Apple Lossless
  • MP3

AudioGate can also be used to splice takes together, split a long file into smaller files (great for separating the songs recorded in a concert), control gain, add fades, normalize levels, apply dither, remove DC offset, and more. You can even use it to create DSD discs or audio CDs, complete with album artwork.

One last feature to mention: with the latest software, you can now chain up to four MR-2000S units together for 8-track DSD recording! This is perfect for when you want to capture multiple tracks of audio at once and later mix them down in the analog domain.

In use, the MR-2000S shines. The user interface quickly “gets out of the way” and becomes second nature. The connectivity is well matched to studio and live recording needs. The feature set lets you do what you need to do without cluttering things up with unnecessary bells and whistles. But, best of all, this recorder sounds wonderful. I was prepared for how good DSD sounds from my use of the other MR recorders, but I think the MR-2000S even improves on its siblings a bit – which is saying a lot!

The MR-2000S is one of those studio tools that justifies itself with both its versatility and with its outstanding sound quality. Use it for capturing live performances on location. Use it for direct-to-stereo recording in the studio. Use it for mastering. Use it for mixdown. Whenever you need to record extremely high-quality stereo signals, this is the recorder you should turn to. And to take it to the ultimate point, lock four MR-2000S recorders together to create the ultimate 8-track system!

I thought I was set with the MR-1 and the MR-1000, but now I’m considering adding the MR-2000S to the collection as well – one for handheld applications, one for portable/location work, and one for the studio. Yeah, that’s the ticket!

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