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N9EWO Review :  Sangean DAR-101
Digital MP3 "Stand Alone" Audio Recorder

Sangean's STEREO DAR-101 Digital MP3 "Stand Alone" Audio Recorder. For the most part works very well. Instead of tape, it records analog audio in "Digital" using SD or SDHC cards. No computer required for basic use. My review below, and be sure and read the SD card format issues we had. Quality lacking a bit. The balance adjustment ring we could not get centered (in the detent) and the "enter" button was mounted upside down. IMPORTANT : Please note that later samples include a SWITCHING power supply which MAY make this product unsuitable with SW/HF receivers (not tested). See the bottom of this page for a possible better alternative. (N9EWO Photo)

Approx Serial Number of Sample : 060006xx
Software Version : V 1.05b1475 (The DAR-101 has firmware/software that is flashable.)
County Of Origin : China (not marked on products case or anywhere else)

N9EWO's Review : Sangean DAR-101 Digital MP3 Tabletop Audio Recorder

Recording a 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 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 AC adapter operation.

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 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).

SD card requires extra purchase / No direct computer connection available.

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 two “Standard Quality” SanDisk 2 GB SD card in testing.

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 ?

NOTE : More current production no longer features a USB Socket at all , as shown with older sample in the picture below (on the right).

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.

SD/SDHC 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 . More current production no longer feature a USB Socket as shown in the picture (on the right) above. (N9EWO Photo)

Construction / Ease of use

The DAR-101 is housed in a solid and attractive 2 tone plastic cabinet. The volume and recording controls have a rubberized cover around them to aid rotation. A balance control is also provided around the outer ring of the recording knob.

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. 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 sample arrived with the “enter” button mounted upside down. Also for some unknown reason this button did not always take on the first press.

Power options / AC Adapter / Built in battery charger

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 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 say forget the internal charger and use a GOOD external one such as the LaCrosse BC-700.

There is a power saving mode that turns off the recorders power after 1, 3, 5, 10, 30 and 60 minutes. With home use we found this feature to be more annoying than useful and selected to turn it off.

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 is 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 generally radio interference free as well. Just as it is with the Sangean ATS-909X receiver , the rating is 9 VAC at 700ma (a real AC transformer). Yes this is an AC in and AC out adapter.

Also found inside the box 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.

IMPORTANT UPDATE  **** WARNING ****: Please note that later samples include a SWITCHING power supply (HKP25-0750800DU) which MAY make this product unsuitable with SW/HF receivers (possible added RF noise of course , this version was not tested). See additional comments below and an possible alternative model.

LCD Display / Backlighting

The dot matrix LCD is a generous 2.3 x 1.1 inch size. 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.

The DAR-101's cool looking LCD. The VU Meter's 3 vertical dots located on the far right side is 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. (N9EWO Photo)

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 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 “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 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 phono jack).

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 legal.

Switch on the front panel selects telephone or line/microphone inputs. A menu selection toggles between the microphone or line input.

DAR-101's Rear Input and Output Jacks. Even has a coax type "Digital" output. 2 "1/4 inch" microphone input jacks are found on the front. (N9EWO Photo)

Playback and record timer / Voice actuation

MP3 and WMA files are supported in playback. MP3 bit rate 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.

You can select repeat once, repeat the entire folder or repeat all folders. Even a shuffle mode (random) is offered. There is also an A - B feature if you wish to play one segment of a file over and over.

On board is a 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 is no uncompressed WAV selection to be found.

There are 3 “quality” 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). 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.

We did experience a 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,” allows the 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 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 that important segment.

Overall the recording quality is more than adequate and very pleasant. We did find that it struggled slightly in achieving the proper 0 db level with some communication receivers but is close enough.

Internal software can be updated

The DAR-101’s internal software has the capability to be updated. Transferring the update file downloaded from Sangean’s web site to the SD card or USB flash memory. Then one selects “System Setup” > “Software version” and then “Search for update”. It will then automatically find the file and update the recorders software.

Of course if any software updates occur in the products lifetime is impossible to predict. But so far they have yet to release even one update (at the time this report was typed).

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 recordings is more than adequate for most “recording off the radio” uses and even music.

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. Be sure and read the memory card issue below.

Dave N9EWO
N9EWO, all rights reserved
Ver 2.2

The "TASCAM SD-20M" (a better "standalone" alternative now for "off air" radio recordings ?)

"CAVEAT EMPTOR" (Buyer Beware) : Later Sangean DAR-101 samples include a dreaded switching power supply, so use with HF receivers may not be so great anymore (this version was not tested) ? Best (in our view) to just forget the DAR-101 now go with slightly more grandeur model for making STANDALONE "off air-solid state" radio recordings. The TASCAM SD-20M above LOOKS to be a great candidate and is reasonably priced (around $ 300. US street). Indeed it too comes with an EXTERNAL SWITCHING power supply. Good news 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) , which last I knew were still a dead quiet power supply. Plus 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 amplified speakers or headphones) 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 card .

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. In MY testing : A standard " 2 GB " SD card MUST be formatted in FAT 16 and any SDHC card MUST be formatted in FAT 32 in order to work properly in MY DAR-101 sample.

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 . 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. Software version : V 1.05b1475 .

However I'm still having minor skipping issues (with the first file on a card) . "Rec Auto Save" still may be a very good idea to keep on . It's set at 1 hour as default .

NOTES : FAT 16 is just labeled as FAT in Windows XP as one does a format (using external computer). I would NOT use the "Quick Format" option .
Both SD cards used were a normal " 2 " speed class . We have not done testing with higher speed cards (4, 6 or 10) at time this report was done ??

Dave N9EWO
N9EWO, all rights reserved
Ver 5.0

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