Korg MR1000 as Analog Archiver

Category: Analog

I just received my Korg MR1000 "1-bit Professional Recorder". It's a very compact unit with a full complement of inputs and outputs, battery power (4 hr claimed life, yet to be confirmed), AC converter and gig bag. It's $1200-street from numerous sources. I bought mine from Music123, but most of the sellers offering recording devices have it at the same price. The case is aluminum and attractively finished.

A few weeks ago I purchased a Pro-ject RM10 with a Sumiko Blackbird cartridge. I've been mightily impressed with that setup. I've purchased a couple of dozen new pressings and continue to pull oldies out of my modest collection (about 800 albums) going back to the late 1950s.

At first I wanted to record my vinyl treasures so that I could also enjoy them at the office and on the iPhone as I travel. I was looking for the best quality I could find for the iPhone when I ran across an announcement by Ric Schultz www.tweakaudio.com that he'd be offering 1-bit 5.6 MHz recordings for playback on the Korg.

Before I knew it, I'd spent about an hour on the phone with Ric and then ordering a Korg for myself. Reading more about 1-bit recording, it seemed like the ultimate archival format. With headroom at 130dB and unfiltered frequency response up to 50,000 and beyond, if desired, it seemed like a recordist dream. As a founder of the Rocky Mountain Trumpet Fest, I get lots of opportunities to record trumpet ensembles and brass ensembles at this annual event and I already own several decent condenser mics, so this promised easy, two-channel, on-location recording was a giant plus to me.

I've been really busy since the Korg arrived Monday evening and won't really get time to work seriously with it until Thanksgiving weekend; however, I did take time to record four tracks off the Pro-ject. I bypassed the line stage pre-amp and went direct from my Pro-ject Tube Box phono preamp to the Korg, using Kimber interconnects and Radio Shack RCA/TRS gold plated adapters into the Korg's line inputs.

I set the recording levels so that they played back at about the same level as the RM10 played thru my system. This resulted in the Record level being at about 12-o'clock and left a good 20+dB of headroom above the peak levels of the music. (In the future, I'll get closer to the peak limits to achieve the very best s/n level possible, but I wanted to see how good performance would be at a "set and forget" type recording level).

OMG, the recordings were ASTOUNDING. First up was Eden Atwood singing "Blame It on My Youth" on her "The Ballad Sessions" on Groove Note 45rpm/180gram vinyl. When I played this one back for my buddies at Soundings, one asked "is that vinyl" because the disc is so quiet. Eden comes in a capella and is joined by bass after a chorus. Then flugelist, Tom Harrell, joins for a few choruses, stretching the limits of how soft flugelhorn can be played. It's a great cut where you hear every nuance of Eden's rich voice, together with the body and strings of the double bass. Harrell's sound on this cut is as much about air as flugel, with a very puffy attack and ppp levels. Amazing. I could detect no digital imprint.

Next up was Janos Starker. This great recording of the Bach Cello Suites on 180gram is a "must have" if you're at all interested in this music. This, IMHO, is the ultimate performance, extremely well recorded. You hear the music, of course, but you also hear bow noise, breathing, harmonics as the bow is lifted off the streams AND a mechanical rumble from the recording venue. It all comes through gloriously on the Korg.

Next was my old D2D Crystal Clear recording of organ and brass from Atlanta in the 1970s. Murray on a HUGE organ, playing the Bach Toccata and Fugue in D Minor. I played it at Soundings through their Vienna Acoustic Mahler’s driven by a big ole Rowland Class A amp. WOW! Our pants-legs were flapping. I don't know the SPL, but it was realistic. I've sat in the gallery below a big organ, playing trumpet and this was the all-enveloping sound that only musicians get to hear normally. Half way out in the orchestra seats it's not this loud. We experienced the clarity and full frequency response of the best vinyl and SPLs that would have overwhelmed the most massive TT system. The signal was so free of nasty artifacts that the high SPL was not tiring at all. It was invigorating.

Last up was Harry James on Sheffield D2D playing "In the Corner Pocket", a classic big band piece. Seldom has trumpet been better recorded. In trumpeting there's an effect from lead trumpet and some soloists that we call "sizzle". It's when the high notes resonate with a load of higher harmonics that makes the sound both carry and penetrate. Harry and the lead sizzle on this recording. Once again, at Soundings, we had the volume at a musicians-only level, such that you'd only experience as the director or in the trumpet section. I've been in both situations and this sound would have knocked me off the riser!!

Wow, wow, wow... this little Korg is killer. Also, accolades to the Pro-ject RM10 for providing such a great signal.

The only downside is a little noise in the input side. Once the signal gets going, it's hard to hear, but you'll hear it as you set up a recording level. Ric Schultz tells me that he's working on tweaks to fix this. I asked him to put me near the front of the line to have my Korg hot rodded. It's funny how when you get this near perfection, you can't do without that last little increment. This is an amazing machine as is, but if Ric can quiet the inputs it'll approach perfection.

BTW: The "Sizzle" on "Blues stay Away From Me" on the D2D Harry James is a better example of this style. (I have the JVC XRCD "Harry James and His Big Band".)

Enjoy ;-)
Seems like a nice unit. The only bad thing I see to it, is that it doesn't have a digital I/O. I mean there could be a improvment to be had by adding a better AD converter possibly. Other than that it looks like a great unit.

How much trouble is it to break up the LP tracks and assign them individual IDs?

It's got USB digital I/O. It won't run through an external DAC, but I don't know of one that'll handle 5.6MHz anyway.

So far, I've been marking the LP tracks manually as I record. Done that way, it's easy to jump from track to track and rename with descriptive name.

It would be ideal if it would "see" an external hard drive as its own. Then it could be used as a "player" and the hard drive as a library. Unfortunately you have to import and export files. That's not really burdensome, but using the 5.6MHz sampling rate, the files get large fast and use of the 40G hard drive surprisingly fast.

As an archiver, it's excellent. Making DVD-A allows for easy playback, but it's not quite as convenient as having a music server. That'll come soon enough, so I'm busy archiving at the highest resolution.

I use the Alesis Masterlink and just go with 16/44.1, but I'm only going as high of resolution as Apple Lossless. The recordings still sound better than other stuff when I am using my ipod even.

One intersting thing that I have never understood is that when I put the CD I recorded from vinyl into my Mac Mini, gracenote CD database is usually able to find what it is, automatically naming all the tracks and finding the album artwork as well!