Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Windows tablets might now be the Voice Actor's best travel recording companion solution...

A while back I wrote a cranky editorial about how we didn't have good mobile audio recording solutions for Android phones and tablets. One year and nine months later, the situation still hasn't improved much. Android still doesn't natively know what to do with USB audio devices.

It's long been the one major advantage iOS gadgets have enjoyed. Pop in a USB audio device, and the phone or tablet will start using it. Easy peasy. I honestly don't enjoy the iOS ecosystem, but if the primary use for a gadget was to work as a recording solution, then in all responsibility the only products I could recommend were Apples.

Until now.

At the time of this writing, I'm literally two hours into breaking in a Microsoft Surface 2. I like it better.

Mind you this isn't a Surface Pro 2. The Surface Pro 2 is a full fledged Ultrabook computer as powerful as a MacBook Air and runs the full version of Windows. The regular Surface 2 is a consumer tablet like any Android or iPad. To really over-simplify, you can think of it like a large Windows Phone.

But it's not quite like those other tablets. It has a full sized USB port. Of course, the primary use of such a port is to connect USB flash drives or a mouse, but I had to see how it would handle something more complicated.

Plugging my Olympus LS-100 (a Zoom-like device) into the port, the portable recorder fired up, asked what it was connected to, I selected PC, and it auto-magically transitioned over to its audio interface mode. That was it. From that moment on all audio input and output had transferred over to the Oly. The speakers and microphone on the Surface shut off. All of those functions were replaced by the USB object connected to that glorious full-sized USB accessory port.

Now, this functionality bests all of the Android tablets I've used, and you'd think this would only bring it up to parity with the iPad, but I'm a stickler for file management. The videos, pictures, and audio files we own and create should always be under our control. Our complete control.

Even after updating to iOS7, Apple still gets to decide how things like audio files are handled. You can't attach an MP3 to an email on an iPad. Recording apps have found clever ways of skirting this, uploading a raw audio file to an offsite server, which then converts the raw audio to an MP3, and then sends an email on your behalf with the MP3 attached. It's a nice end run around Apple's limitations, but those barriers simply don't exist on Windows RT.

You record. You save it as an MP3. You attach it to an email. You hit send. Done.

Neither the end user nor an app developer have to jump through any hoops to provide functionality which is pathetically basic in this day and age. You can even use USB Flash drives or MicroSD memory cards to "sneaker-net" files to other computers and gadgets.

The hardware is there. It's ready to go. Now we just have to wait for some slightly more robust software solutions to make use of it. You can get the basics done, cutting, pasting, fade in/out, normalize with the free app 'Sound Editor'. If you're REALLY hip you can try jail-breaking your Windows tablet and installing a re-compiled version of Audacity, but I really hope to see a native ModernUI, touch-optimized recorder soon.

Even with this software deficit however, I now have an option to recommend when people are looking for a mobile or travel studio for spoken word recording. Choices are good. Choices make me happy.

Microsoft Surface 2
Olympus LS-100 on Amazon


  1. No matter the technology, I have a hard time trusting anything from Redmond. Few things I have bought from MS have worked well on a consistent basis over a reasonable amount of time. I too would like some better audio recording options, but am not sure I could ever plunk down another time to MS.

  2. The nice thing is we're finally talking options. Starting with the iPad 2, Apple was the only game in town. Now that there's the potential for some competition in this space, hopefully it'll mean more accessories, mics, recording interfaces, and software will start focusing on mobile computing. That's a win for people regardless of what platform they buy into.

  3. Good for sending in remote auditions perhaps.... but gigs from the road? WAV files? Macbook pro, apogee duet, 416 and skype phone patch has yet to be improved upon for me.... altho source connect eludes me.