N9EWO Review :
Digital MP3 "Stand Alone" Audio Recorder
STEREO DAR-101 Digital MP3 "Stand Alone" Audio Recorder.
were tested for this report (early and later production).
For the most part it operates very well. Instead
of tape, it records analog audio in "Digital" MP3 format using SD or SDHC cards.
No computer required for basic use, with it's line input makes for easy
direct connection to a receiver "line out" connection. My review below, and be sure and read the SD card format issues we had. Quality
is lacking even being on the market for years. For one the volume
control on sample 2 was binding up making rotation difficult (fixed
with a proper size X-ACTO ® knife and a CAREFUL 15 minutes) and the "enter" button
was mounted upside down on sample number 1. Please note that later samples include a SWITCHING type power supply (see text). Also see
the bottom of this page for a larger alternative from Tascam. (N9EWO Photo)
Serial Number Sample 1 : 060006xx
Serial Number Sample 2 : 0740199xx
Software Version (sample 1) : V 1.05b1475
Software Version (sample 2) : V P01 (P "zero" 1)
County Of Origin : China (not marked on products case , box or anywhere
N9EWO Review : Sangean
DAR-101 Digital MP3 Tabletop Audio Recorder
(as used with a HF / SW radio receiver for "off air" recording)
Recording a "off air" short wave radio catch or scanner activity for future
enjoyment in years past was done to a compact cassette or even an
open reel tape machine. Using a personal computer is a more
modern way to store audio, but creates room noise if an earshot
of the receiver and not to forget the possibility of generated
radio frequency interference.
Professional "larger" stand-alone flash memory based recorders have been
around for a few years, but at fairly steep prices. These are
near perfect as one can transfer the audio files to the computer
later, do any enhancement and/or editing to remove unwanted
segments to then burn to a compact disc (CD).
Indeed there are now lower cost flash memory based recorders
available today on the market, but these are in the pocket
variety so not so convenient for home use. Many do not even offer
a playback speaker (or are dime sized), let alone any easy AC adapter
Sangean’s first stand-alone digital audio recorder
From the receiver manufacture Sangean comes the consumer DAR-101
digital MP3 “stand alone” desktop recorder. This is not
the first portable audio recorder from the manufacture. An analog cassette model QSR-1
“VersaCorder” had been marketed in Europe for a number of years (was sold
and distributed in the USA by C. Crane). It uses auto-level recording (arg!). Now long discontinued.
SD card requires extra purchase / No direct computer
The DAR-101 requires a low cost SD (or SDHC) flash memory card to
store its recordings, which is not included. This card is then
moved over to a computer for transfer of the recorder generated
audio files to its hard drive. Host computer will need to have an
on board SD card reader or an external SD to USB adapter will do
the trick. It can use up to 32 GB SDHC cards as well. We used SanDisk
"class 2" 2 GB SD and "class 6" 8 GB cards in testing (both worked
Early promotional advertising for this product indicated:
“To transfer files, all you have to do is plug the recorder
into a computer's USB port.” Well after we scratched our
head for awhile with no answers in the owners manual, we
contacted Sangean USA and they informed us: “The USB jack
cannot be connected to the PC host, it can only play the MP3/WMA
music with USB memory”. So it appears this product feature
was removed before it hit the marketplace? Yes, it has a USB jack
(Male A type), but this is for connection of a flash memory
device and is for file playback only. This arrangement worked
properly and did a good job-hunting out the MP3 files. But why
the direct connection feature was removed is a mystery ?
: Later production no longer features a USB socket at all , as
shown with older sample in the picture below (on the right hand side).
Included 32 page printed owner’s manual gives basic
information to get you started, however it misses the boat
entirely in some areas. One basic but very important topic that
the manual left out: Always be sure that power is off when
removing or installing an SD card. The English manual included with the
second test sample was improved and now 41 pages long but is lumped together in 5 languages
so is a very thick 210 pages.
card slot and USB jack located on the DAR-101's right side inside
a flip down door.
The USB jack can only be used for PLAYBACK of files on "Flash
Memory" sticks. Had a format issue which locked up the recorder. We cleared this
up, but without any help from Sangean. WARNING
: Take note
this is locking type of SD card slot being used, or what I call a
"click in", "click out" type. You can't just insert without locking "clicking" (pushing)
it into place or clicking (pushing) it in again to remove it . NOTE : More current production no longer feature a USB Socket as shown in the picture (on the right) above. (N9EWO
Construction / Ease of Use
The DAR-101 is housed in a solid and attractive 2 tone plastic
cabinet. The main operation keys / volume and recording controls have a rubberized
cover (coating) around them. A balance control is also
provided around the outer ring of the recording knob. UPDATE : With the later second test sample, the rubberized coatings are no longer used which is plus.
Major cabinet Bug-A-Boo with
sample 2 was the volume control was difficult to rotate (almost
binded up completely in one spot). This was because the control was mounted off
center (to the cabinet opening) and the case top is more recessed
(thicker) and in rotating the knob was heavily rubbing on the case.
Issue was resolved by removing the "pull-off" knob and using a proper
size X-ACTO® knife and CAREFULLY removed (scraped) enough cabinet plastic for it
to clear. This is one that drove me CRAZY !
I will NOT be held
responsible for any info that is listed
ALL DONE AT YOUR OWN RISK
With test sample 2 the volume control knob binded up in rotation.
removed the "push on" type knob and used a proper size X-ACTO ® knife to
CAREFULLY enlarge the
opening on the left side of the "top silver half" as shown above
(volume control shaft was was off center to the case opening). We did
NOT open the case to fix this. As you can see it took a bit of plastic
removal for the knob to turn totally free. (N9EWO Photo)
With a large 7.1 x 5.2 x 2.0 inch cabinet; it features a built in
3-inch playback speaker and a beefy 1-watt audio amplifier. It
surprisingly sounded above average even if it is just one speaker
(mono) and no tone controls. When recording using the
“Line” input, the speaker output still functions in record (selectable on later samples). 4
foam type feet on the bottom help to protect the tabletop and
keep it from sliding around in use.
To help access the menus and audio files, there is a jog shuttle
wheel and a enter button. Between this and a pleasing menu layout
make the recorder extremely easy to use. Our first sample arrived with
the “enter” button mounted upside down. Also for some
unknown reason this button did not always take on the first press. Good
news is this was cleared up with the second test sample (firmware
?), so no more sluggish operation.
Power options / AC Adapter Changes / Built in battery charger / Carrying Case No More
4 alkaline AA batteries provide power for portable use (not
included). If you purchase and install nickel cadmium or nickel
metal hydride rechargeable cells, these can be charged using the
DAR-101’s built in circuit. Charge rate is at 500 mah and an
overheating sensor is provided. There is a small switch nestled
in the battery compartment to select between alkaline and
rechargeable batteries. Charger only operates when the recorder
is off. However , I would recommended to forget the internal charger and use
a GOOD external one such as the LaCrosse BC-1000. The internal charger was not tested.
There is a power saving mode that turns off the recorders power
after 1, 3, 5, 10, 30 and 60 minutes (or OFF). As can be figured this
feature is only useful with battery "portable" operation (turn it OFF with AC Adapter use).
Battery cover is hinged to prevent loss. It was a bit difficult
to get it open however. A battery indicator is provided on the
LCD including a flashing “low” warning.
The included AC adapter with the first test sample was of a linear-analog type. So this rules
out any radio frequency noise being generated by the use of a
switching type power supply. Recorder itself was found to
be generally radio interference free as well. Just as it is with early
Sangean ATS-909X receiver samples, the rating is 9 VAC at 700ma (a real AC transformer). Yes
this is an AC in and AC out adapter or we have to say it WAS.
OK with early production (old adapters) they were a 9 V AC output (transformer).
The bridge rectifier and filter were inside the DAR-101. With
later production they went to a 7.5 VDC 750 ma "switching type
adapter", the internal bridge rectifier was
removed. Have a look at the schematics below. This new AC Adapter
(HKP25-0750800dU) could make the DAR-101 unsuitable with SW/HF
receivers with possible added RF noise of course (depending on the antenna used).
Having said that, we checked out
to see how RF noisy the new included switching adapter was in the SW/HF
part of the spectrum. We were
pleasantly surprised. It was pretty clean above say 5 MHz. But below
that is more noisy (especially if you use near field or other nearby
indoor antenna's). However WE despise ALL switching power supplies
around MW/SW/HF receivers, so used a "home built" regulated 7.5 volt DC
linear (transformer) supply using a LM317T regulator IC, no added
self-inflicted noise. But for most will be usable with outdoor antenna's on the host receiver.
made to the Sangean DAR-101's included power supply /
internal power input circuit (AC to AC vs. AC to DC
adapter). As you can see the bridge rectifier and a diode(s) were
removed from later samples. This is also valid for the Sangean ATS-909X
the same external power supplies and circuits). Of course do NOT
intermix these adapters. Cabinet markings are so marked. PLEASE NOTE :
Schematics above were N9EWO
developed, not official and for basic information only. (N9EWO photo)
Also found inside the box with
the first test sample was an excellent padded carrying case (with
that new tennis shoe smell), and a 2-pin connection cable for
connection to a modular telephone jack. Sadly with the later second
test sample the carrying case went AWOL (that is it's no longer
|N9EWO Test : Sangean DAR-101 Current (second sample)
|Test Meter : Fluke 77 IV
Current PEAK at 7.62 Volts DC (Regulated Linear Power Supply)
(current tests were not made using AA batteries, but should be similar ?)
- 8 GB SD Card (Class 6)
- Moderate speaker volume
- LED Backlight ON
- Brightness : 9 Contrast : 12
- Playback : 164 ma
Peak LED ON : 194 ma
Peak LED OFF : 182 ma
- Battery Charging : (Not tested but will be 500 ma or more)
(NOTE : Early 9 VAC input version, not tested)
Included DAR-101 AC Adapters with Early and Later production (see text).
WARNING : Internal circuits were also changed with this switchover.
This information is also valid for the ATS-909X receiver. (N9EWO Photo)
Early (Output 9.0 VAC Transformer) : HK41UA-9.0-700
Later (Output 7.5VDC Switching - positive tip) : HKP24-0750800dU
LCD Display / Backlighting
The dot matrix LCD size is 2.3 x 1.1 inches. Negative
type monochrome that is backlit with a blue-white color and has
brightness and contrast controls. Also can be tilted for ease of
viewing and when flat has a lock so it has no chance of becoming
loose in transit.
When the jog knob or any button is pressed the brightness is
automatically forced at maximum 9 level. After a few seconds it
then automatically switches to the “brightness” setting
as stored in the menu. At the 1 level setting it shuts off after
the timed period, only coming to life when a button or job wheel
is touched, perfect for portable use to help increase battery
life. With the later production second test sample, the preset
brightness and contrast were not recognized until it was accessed in the
menu's, and then it was good again until powered down (a new firmware bug ?).
cool looking LCD.
VU Meter's 3 vertical dots located on the
far right side was told by Sangean to be 0 db. We found in testing this
meter value to be a bit low (but close
enough). Level indicator works in playback as well. With later
production the USB indication is no longer valid (jack and function was
Input and Output jacks
On front panel there is a common 1/8-inch stereo headphone jack.
As usual the internal speaker is disconnected when inserted.
Also on the front panel there are two plastic 1/4 inch phone type
microphone jacks. For certain short wave receivers (the Sony ICF-2010
and Kenwood R-1000 to name 2) require a higher mic gain input and
the DAR-101 provides this. A proper Y-cable and or adapters will
be an extra cost option however. There is a microphone gain
setting (hi or low) accessible in the menu. We used
“hi’ in testing and worked properly.
Most communication receivers and scanners will use the rear
mounted plastic “line in” and “line out” jacks
connected to the receiver’s line or headphone/speaker output.
Another Y cable or audio adapter may be needed again if you wish
the recording to appear in both channels.
A plastic 1/8 inch phone jack marked “Remote” allows the on-off
triggering with certain receivers including the Sangean ATS-909,
ATS-909X, CCRadio plus and RadioShack DX-398.
Digital SPDIF "coaxial" output is also provided on the rear panel (RCA
Last but not least there are two jacks that are used with the
included cable to record off the phone line. The recorder can
provide a tone “beep” on the phone line to help keep it
Switch on the front panel selects telephone , line / microphone
inputs or Reminder Mode. A top mounted "Source" button toggles between the microphone or line
Rear Input and Output Jacks.
Even has a coax type "Digital"
output. Two "1/4 inch" microphone input jacks are found on the
front panel. (N9EWO
Playback and record timer
/ Voice actuation / Has Shuffle Play ModePlay Mode's Available (needs to be selected every time the DAR-101 is powered on) :
MP3 and WMA files are supported in playback. MP3 bit rate in playback is not
tied down to the 3 record selections.
Playback is a fairly easy feat with the DAR-101 too. Press the
file browser button along with the jog wheel to view the menus
and files with the SD card or USB memory device.
To move (or go back) to the next audio file within that folder
you just hit the fast-forward or rewind buttons. Pressing down
and holding these buttons gives fast-forward or rewind functions.
IMPORTANT NOTE : When stopping playback it does NOT remember exactly
left off (will start at the beginning of that file when LAST TURNED ON,
and stores that even if switched off and power is disconnected). The
way around that of course is to just use "Pause". UPDATE : "Sometimes" we were able to continue play in the middle of a file after completely stopping PLAY, but not always.
REPEAT 1 (Number 1 with counterclockwise arrow) : Repeat play of the current file being listened to.
REPEAT FOLDER (Letter F with a counterclockwise arrow) : Repeat
play all of the files in the current FOLDER being listened to.
REPEAT ALL (Letter A with a counterclockwise arrow) : Repeat play of all files.
RANDOM (Two Twisted arrows) : Shuffle play of all files.
(with no Play mode selected, wil play all files once and then stop)
On board is a "real time clock" that is selectable in 12 or 24-hour format. A
one-event timer for record or playback is also featured.
The VAR function (Voice Activated Recording) is perfect for
scanner receiver use. It has 3 sensitivity levels, with High
being the most sensitive. In our testing “Low” was the
proper for radio scanner use.
Record with 3 bit rates / Peak level indicator
Unlike most other flash based recorder devices, the DAR-101 is
limited to recording in the MP3 format only. There are no
PCM-WAV record selections to be found.
There are 3 “quality” MP3 bit rates available : 64, 128 and
192 kbps. With a 2 GB SD card (as tested) gives approximate
recording times of 69, 34 and 23 hours respectively.
Peak reading “left and right” record level meters are
featured. These operate in playback as well. There is a total
lack of any scale indicators however. Another answer from Sangean
USA told us that 0 db is the 3 little vertical dots on the far
right side of the scales (see photo above). Unlike analog tape
recorders, one should never go over 0 db at any time.
We found the usefulness of the provided orange LED
“peak” indicator to be limited. If you believe the
information as found in the owners manual, it activates too soon.
Even near the proper 0 db level it flashes on and off at a pretty
good interval. With extensive testing and viewing using a
professional audio program and DAR-101 generated files, as long
as it was not a steady glow and meter levels not past or hitting
0 db excessively, it made for a acceptable recording level (so it can flash on and off a bit and still be OK).
We did experience ever so slightly lower level indication with the
meters on playback verses when it was recorded.
While in the record mode and when you hit stop, only then is the
actual MP3 file saved to the memory card. If a power interruption
takes place in the middle of a recording being made, that entire
“recorded” file will be lost. “Record Auto Save”
feature allows the DAR-101 to force a file save at 30 minutes, 1, 2 or 4
hours. If you are making critical recordings or in battery
operation, its recommended to make use this very useful feature. However it
will leave a gap (and miss a few seconds) while it saves and
starts a new file, which is done automatically. Using this
feature will also help break up files so helps in hunting a
series of long files for locating that important segment.
Overall the recording quality is more than adequate (especially in 128
or 196 kbps / 44100 KHz settings) and very
pleasant. We did find that it struggled slightly in achieving the
proper 0 db level with some communication receivers with weaker "line
output" level . It functioned adequately here as long as it made at
least say 75% deflection (this can be corrected later using a free computer program such as Audacity).
Improved Firmware on Later Sample
With our later second production sample, the P01 firmware was near
bug free, no more sluggish controls/menu adjustment and just seemed to
more solidly over the early unit. Once in awhile the early sample would
scramble the recorded files (those would be lost forever), no such bug
like this as least as this report was compiled with the later test
So welcomed improvements overall,
except for the the
preset brightness and contrast were not recognized until it was accessed
for a second in the menu's (this was not an issue with the first earlier sample) .
The Bottom Line
With its attractive low price,
beefy size and above average
internal speaker and amplifier the Sangean DAR-101 makes a very
desirable "stand alone" digital audio recorder. The quality of the
MP3 recordings is more than adequate for most “recording off the
radio” and archiving. Sounds great with music files as well. We did not
test the recorder with telephone use.
One needs to add the cost of a SD card and computer card reader (if
your computer lacks one) with perhaps a few audio cables to the
final price. Even with it's bugs we find the Sangean DAR-101 to
be a real winner for radio "off air" recording warts and all. Be sure and read the memory card information below.
© N9EWO, all rights reserved
The "TASCAM SD-20M" (a more "grandeur" model for about $ 300. USD). An alternative more grandeur home model might be the TASCAM
SD-20M shown above. Appears to be a nice recorder and is reasonably priced
(around $ 300. US street). Indeed it too comes with an EXTERNAL
SWITCHING power supply. Good news (again) is that it uses a standard DC voltage
for operation (12 volts at 1 AMP) so one can easily connect a nice "RF
quiet" linear regulated power supply. So it COULD work with the Jameco 170245 linear (regulated) transformer type power supply
(wall wart, provided the actual current
requirement is say around 500ma or below), which last I knew were still
a dead quiet power supply.
side is it can record not only in MP3 but also in WAV format as well
for better quality. It can also operate on 4 AA batteries. The rack
ears are removable.
There is a optional RC-10 wired remote control that plugs into the
front panel (around $ 40. USA street). Downside is that you need to use
an external amplifier/speakers (or headphones or amplified speakers) to
listen to the output. Click on photo above for more
information. PLEASE NOTE : We have NOT tested this recorder at the time
this text was added (information here only as in my research).
SD Format Card Issues. Sangean Does Not Know What "Format" REALLY Means !!
|Here is the Lowdown:
Was getting lockups / dropouts and with DAR-101 generated-made
recordings (files). This intermittent bug happened sooner or later
and sometimes the file got totally corrupted. Another nasty is with
some minor file skipping , more so with the first track on a memory
Now for the Cure : I was doing incorrect type
FAT (file system) for the card being used (done in the host computer) ,
so was getting these errors and corrupted files. To do a format of a
card it has be done in the "host computer" and not in the DAR-101. Duh....as normal (computer 101 stuff) : A standard " 2 GB " SD card MUST be formatted in FAT 16 and any SDHC card (over 2 GB) MUST be formatted in FAT 32.
Any brand new 2 GB SD card "out of the package" should be pre-formatted
in FAT 16 (will show as FAT) and any size SDHC in FAT 32 . Again this is
"standard" basic computer stuff here of course. However, it would not
be a bad idea to format any brand new card just to play it safe, but
again NOT in the DAR-101 .
Here is the part that threw me off base : Sangean informs me that the DAR-101 does NOT
do an actual card format but just clears the data (recordings). So the
"on board" format function is [somewhat] improperly labeled, and continues to be with firmware P01.
However I was still having minor skipping issues (with the first file on
a card) with the first test sample. UPDATE : With the second test sample (Firmware P01), this issue has been totally fixed !
NOTES : FAT 16 is just labeled as FAT in Windows as one does a
format (using external computer). I would NOT use the "Quick Format"
SD cards used in testing were a basic " 2 " class and a higher quality "6" class (both SanDisk). Both worked properly with no issues as long as the format was proper. We recommend using SD Card formatter program to format any SD cards (version 5.0 and up).
© N9EWO, all rights reserved
: This information has now been added / corrected in the later samples
owners manuals on page 14.