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

           The Sangean STEREO DAR-101 Digital MP3 "Stand Alone" Audio Recorder.
          Two Samples 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 else)

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 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 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 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 SanDisk "class 2" 2 GB SD and "class 6" 8 GB cards in testing (both worked well).

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 : 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.

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 . NOTE : 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 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 here
ALL DONE AT YOUR OWN RISK !


With test sample 2 the volume control knob binded up in rotation.
We 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.

 
Changes 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 receiver (uses 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 included).

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
- Record
  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 ?).

The DAR-101's 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 removed). (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 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 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 , line / microphone inputs or Reminder Mode. A top mounted "Source" button toggles between the microphone or line input.


DAR-101's 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 Photo)

Playback and record timer / Voice actuation / Has Shuffle Play Mode

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 where it 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.

Play Mode's Available (needs to be selected every time the DAR-101 is powered on) :
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 operate 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 sample.

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.

Dave N9EWO
© N9EWO, all rights reserved
Ver 3.5


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. 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 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 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. 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" option.

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).

Dave N9EWO
© N9EWO, all rights reserved
Ver 6.3
NOTE : This information has now been added / corrected in the later samples owners manuals on page 14.

Links for Additional DAR-101 Information (All Subject To Change Without Notice)

Universal Radio (USA) DAR-101 Page

E-Ham DAR-101 Reviews

Amazon DAR-101 Reviews (Date Sorted)

DAR-101 [Nov 2015] Later R-2 English "Only" Owners Manual (via Sangean US Web Site)


DAR-101 [Nov 2015] English Brochure


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