MMW-122 -- Competition Heats Up For Portable Audio Recorders

J@pan Inc Magazine Presents:
Commentary on Japan's music technology news

Issue No. 122



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++ FEATURE: Competition Heats Up For Portable Audio Recorders

** ** SoftBank Mobile to release 3G iPhone in Japan on July 11
** Q Entertainment to help localize rock band for Japan market
** Yamaha offers online piano lessons via Skype
** Label Gate offers music via SoftBank player software for PC
** Dwango starts mobile Flash service for artist info

++ FEATURE: Competition Heats Up For Portable Audio Recorders

The 'must-have' gadget this year for musicians, podcasters, and
live music aficionados is the portable digital audio recorder,
and music stores in Tokyo are currently having a hard time
keeping up with demand. Five new models from major Japanese
manufacturers have been released in just the past six months,
with more reportedly on the way. Whereas previous handheld
recorders were intended primarily for business use and recording
speech, the newest batch of recorders features 'better-than-CD'
sound quality (24-bit digital audio sampled at 96 KHz) and
powerful built-in stereo microphones. These little devices have
become a familiar sight at rehearsal studios, concert halls,
live spots and other places where musicians tend to congregate.

In 2004, Roland (through its Edirol subsidiary) became the first
company to come out with a handheld PCM recorder that could
record straight to WAV or MP3 with passable sound quality. For
a few years, this device - called the R-01 - and its successors
from Roland were the only viable option for people looking to
record live music. While there were many products from other
manufacturers that were suitable for recording business meetings
or class lectures, Roland's R-0x series of recorders were the
only ones that could record CD-quality sound and allowed
adjustment of volume levels to prevent distortion. The device
quickly became a hit among musicians, who for the first time
were able to get good quality recordings of their gigs without
having to lug around expensive external microphones.

As word spread, and the Roland recorders began finding use in
the creation of podcasts and other mobile audio content such
as realtones and voicetones, it became clear that this was more
than just a small niche market. Now competition is starting to
heat up as other manufacturers move in with their own entries.
Last November, Sony released its PCM-D50 recorder, also aimed at
the high-end market for musicians and sound creators. In
February, Kenwood and Olympus both came out with competing
recorders, followed by an updated R-09HR from Roland in March.
In April, Sanyo began selling its latest model, the ICR-PS1000M.
A summary of the features and key characteristics of these most
recent recorders is presented below:

1. Sanyo (ICR-PS1000M)
Released: April 2008
Storage: Micro SD card only (no internal memory)
Weight: 92g
Price: JPY 35,000 (US $330)

2. Roland (R-09HR)
Released: March 2008
Storage: SD card only (no internal memory)
Weight: 174g
Price: JPY 40,000 (US $380)

3. Kenwood (MGR-A7)
Released: February 2008
Storage: 2.6 hours internal memory and SD card
Weight: 95g
Price: JPY 35,000 (US $330)

4. Olympus (LS-10)
Released: February 2008
Storage: 1 hour internal memory and SD card
Weight: 165g
Price: JPY 50,000 (US $475)

5. Sony (PCM-D50)
Released: November 2007
Storage: 2 hours internal memory and memory stick
Weight: 365g
Price: JPY 60,000 (US $570)

All of the recorders listed above are able to record 24-bit
audio at 96KHz, with the exception of the Kenwood recorder,
which tops out at 16-bit and 48KHz. Perhaps the most surprising
feature of all about these devices is their deceptively small
size. At 72 x 155 x 32 mm, the Sony unit is the largest, and
they can all fit comfortably in a pocket.

For most performing musicians, these handheld recorders have
become indispensable tools, allowing them to easily record live
performances straight to MP3 and then quickly transfer the audio
files to their websites and SNS pages. Now that there is some
serious competition in this space forming among Japan's
manufacturers, prices should start to come down a bit and
expectations will no doubt be high for the next wave of upcoming
models. In particular, it should be interesting to see what
Roland comes out with next. As the pioneer and current market
leader, Roland has the most incentive to innovate, and will
likely push the envelope a bit in order to maintain its edge
over the newcomers.

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** SoftBank Mobile to release 3G iPhone in Japan on July 11
In brief: Softbank Mobile announced that it has concluded an
agreement with Apple Computer to distribute the iPhone in Japan,
and planned to release the first Japanese iPhone on July 11. In
addition to Japan, 21 other countries will also see the release
of the first 3G iPhone.

** Q Entertainment to help localize Rock Band for Japanese market
In brief: On June 3, Tokyo-based game developer Q Entertainment
announced it had entered into a contract with Harmonix and MTV
Games to help bring the Rock Band console game to Japan. Known
for Lumines, a music/puzzle game, Q Entertainment will assist in
localizing the game for the Japanese market, including the
adaptation of popular Japanese songs for the game.

** Yamaha offers online piano lessons via Skype
In brief: Yamaha Music Media has started a new service called
Piano Navi, in which piano students receive private one-on-one
piano lessons using Skype and a web camera. Students first
choose an instructor, the song they wish to learn, and reserve
a lesson time online. A single lesson lasts for 25 minutes and
costs JPY 2,100 (US $20).

** Label Gate offers music via SoftBank player software for PC
In brief: Label Gate, which operates the PC-based Mora online
music store, announced that it will begin offering access to the
Mora catalog through the PC software distributed by SoftBank
that allows users to transfer songs from their PC to their
mobile phones. Users of the SoftBank software will be able to
purchase songs from the Mora catalog and play them from their

** Dwango starts mobile Flash service for artist info
In brief: Dwango has started a new mobile service for
distributing artist information using Flash Lite. Called 'Flash
Magazine,' the new service will focus on one artist at a time,
preparing special content in Flash for each one. The first
artist to be featured is the popular J-Pop band GReeeeN.

-- Steve Myers

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