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In-Depth Review

Alesis ProTrack Handheld Stereo Recorder for iPod

The Alesis ProTrack is a handheld stereo recording device that uses your iPod* to store its recordings. Why might you need such a device? Well, its forte is recording live audio in stereo directly to your iPod without a cable and with one hand free.

ProTrack offers better sounding recordings than many other solutions. All recordings are 16-bit; high quality recordings are captured at 44.1kHz; low quality at 22kHz. You can use the pair of on-board cardioid condenser microphones, attached to the top of the unit in an XY configuration that works pretty well for stereo recording. Or use the pair of XLR/¼" inputs for any professional sound source such as condenser or dynamic microphones or output from a mixing board.

Unlike some field acquisition recording devices, ProTrack supplies 48V phantom power to its XLR inputs so you can use your high-quality condenser microphones with it. Better still, the phantom power is available whether you are running on battery power or using the included AC adapter.

Here's what the contraption looks like:

ProTrack

The design is thoughtful if a bit clunky. The front of the unit has a pair of rotary gain controls and a pair of LED level meters plus Menu and Enter buttons that mimic the Menu and Enter buttons on your iPod. Your iPod is covered by a clear plastic "sled" that lets you access its click wheel while protecting everything else. On the top of the device are its built-in microphones; on the bottom are the XLR/¼" inputs as well as an ⅛" headphone jack. On the sides of the unit you'll find switches for stereo/mono, limiter, phantom power, iPod charging, and master on/off, plus a rotary volume control for headphones. On the back is the battery compartment, a stand mount (for attaching the unit to a microphone stand; requires additional hardware), and three rubber feet that seem to provide just a little vibration damping when you sit the system on a flat surface.

Recordings are automatically imported into iTunes as WAV files when you sync your iPod.

I found ProTrack easy to use, with audio quality that ranged from pretty good with the built-in microphones to very good with good dynamic or condenser mics.

Overall the ProTrack is a fairly impressive mobile recording system, but it's not without its faults. The main issue for me was excessive noise when recording through the built-in microphones. Even the lightest touch produced loud noises in my recordings. So if you're thinking of using ProTrack for hand-held recording, you might want to think again. If you're using the built-in microphones, set the recorder on a flat, vibration-free surface and don't touch it.

That said, the stereo imaging with the built-in microphones was actually quite good. And, for what it's worth, noise isn't an issue at all when using external microphones.

The 4 AAA batteries provide between 2-3 hours of recording time -- less if you use phantom power and more if you don't. I was disappointed when the manual warned that using rechargeable batteries in the ProTrack was forbidden and could damage the device.

On the other hand, I almost always found an outlet so I could use the included AC power adapter, which, in addition to powering the ProTrack, allows you recharge your iPod at the same time (which you can't do when running on batteries.

*The ProTrack records to iPod Classic 7th and 6th generation, 5th-generation iPod, 3rd and 2nd-generation iPod nano, 2nd-generation iPod Touch, and iPod nano-chromatic. Sleds are not included for nano-chromatic and nano 2G. iPod not included.

The Bottom Line

Alesis ProTrack is a good portable recording solution for those who already own a supported iPod. It's also one of the few inexpensive portable solutions that provides phantom power for condenser mics. At the suggested retail price (a whopping $399), I would be hesitant to recommend it. But at its street price -- under $200 -- it's a viable option for mobile stereo recording.

Just The Facts

Pros:

Good quality recordings, good stereo imaging with built-in microphones, XLR and ¼-inch inputs, 48v phantom power.

Cons:

Mediocre battery life, can't use rechargeable batteries, noisy if touched while recording with built-in microphones.

3 comments from the community.

You can post your own below.

Mr. Reeee said:

This looks like an interesting device, but NOT being able to use rechargeable batteries is irresponsible design!

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Bob LeVitus said:

Yeah, I agree. Rechargeable batteries would have made it a lot easier to love.

Bob

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Synthmeister said:

This works well with an iPod touch but you also have buy a $10 App from the app store to use it and the iPod touch doesn’t quite fit into the sled so you can’t use the clear plastic cover. Also some of the software defaults are kind of weird, i.e. the default recording mode is set to mono instead of stereo which I find strange and it’s also set to a lower quality resolution. And the interface is a little weird and it’s a bit of a pain to get the recorded files onto your Mac. Why don’t the file simply transfer back into iTunes like with the iPod classic. Instead, you have to use wifi or upload the files to their website or something. Good options, but why not use the USB2 cable interface, which would be much faster?

Otherwise, it does a pretty good job of recording for a $200 device.

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