T30: Unattended timer recordings of radio programs
I posted the following almost 4 years ago at the following url.
It explains how I am able to use my T30 to do unattended timer recordings of radio programs. I also posted it at the Misticriver website but they disappeared. Anyways I always meant to post it here but never got around to it. Better late than never I guess. Also I thought that it would be good to have it on another site just in case.
I'm interested in recording radio programs for later listening. I started out listening to Art Bell back around 1997. The program was around 5 hours at that time. Anyways, I was losing alot of sleep keeping up with the program. So, I went out and bought two stereos with auto-reverse tape recorders that allowed you to do a timer recording to tape. It was very convenient and easy to to. Just set the on/off time of the timer and the radio station you wanted to record and pop in a tape. The auto-reverse feature allowed me to record both sides of the tape so that I could record two hours per tape using 120-minute tapes. For the 5th hour I used one of those mechanical timers that you use to turn your lights on and off and a boombox. keeping the timer correct for that was somewhat of a chore and I was glad when they went to 4 hours for the program. This setup worked out quite well for me for quite a few years. I think I bought around 8 Sony 120 minute tapes at the time to use for this. I was still using those tapes, the 3 or 4 that I had left, when the JVC shelf unit's tape recorder started going kaput. The auto-reverse mechanism wouldn't work reliably anymore so I could only use 1 side of a tape. I think this happened around, maybe 2005/6. I was able to keep going by pressing the boombox back into service this time using a digital timer to get the timing right to turn it on and off.
Of course we were already somewhat into the digital age of mp3 players and recording technology. I remember a number of times wondering if I could use one of these devices to do unattended timer recordings of my radio programs. I had searched the web on and off over a number of years after these devices started coming out but never found anything definitive in the way of people adapting them for the kind of use that I wanted to put them to. As time went on some solutions started showing up like the RadioYourWay. When I saw it a few years ago it was way to expensive especially with the Canadian dollars exchange rate. There were also the dedicated voice recorders but they initially didn't have a timer to turn the unit on to do a recording, although some had vox which might lend itself to
Then there were the mp3 players. The majority never had a line-input which I thought was a necessity for my purposes. Looking around I kept coming back to the IRiver brand of players. They seemed to be more innovative with their players and they were one of the few brands that actually offered a line-input on some of their models. In 2006 the model that I was reading up on was the IRiver T30 model. It had a line-input, direct to mp3 encoding and used a AAA battery but no FM radio. It also had a real-time-clock and an alarm function that allowed you to set the player up to turn on and supposedly playback through an alarm timer. However I didn't know if I could use this for timer recording purposes. I even asked about it in the following thread on the Misticriver.net website in july 2006 but it really didn't give me anything definitive to believe I could use it for my purposes.
At the time when these players were being sold they were going for 150 to 200 dollars new which was more than I was willing to pay. Also, IRiver did a stupid thing by limiting the transfer protocol to MTP requiring WindowsXP and eliminating the fm radio from the player. This was for the North American and European markets.
If you look back at the early reviews of this player you will see a lot of people really miffed about this. I think this effectively killed the sales of this player. In other parts of the world the player was released using the UMS protocol and included the fm radio. Since IRiver wasn't supporting UMS for the North American/European markets, people started finding firmwares meant for this player from other parts of the world trying to manually load them on the player to convert them to UMS. This was ultimately successful but the method was convoluted and fraught with some dangers. Eventually IRiver provided a firmware updating tool on their website allowing you to convert the player to either UMS or MTP at your discretion. These players started showing up on the refurb market probably in late 2006. I eventually found a local shop selling refurbs and bought my first ever mp3 player, a 512 meg unit for about 40 or 50 dollars in may of 2007. I used my friends computer to convert it to the UMS 1.71 firmware since I was using Win98 at the time. Since the price was reasonable I bought the player not really knowing if I could use it successfully for my purposes.
The player has a line-input and an internal microphone with which to record. I think of them as specific devices. That is, the line-input device and the microphone device. Each of these has 3 specific bitrates that are selectable for each corresponding to LOW/MID/HIGH. For the microphone device, which records in mono, you can select 32/64/128 kbps. For the line-input device, which records in stereo, you can select 128/256/320 kbps. Those are the only choices you are allowed for each specific device.
Each device has 2 recording modes, they are as follows:
1) Microphone device
This device records to a file in the form of "voicemmdd_xxx" and places it in the VOICE directory.
a) microphone device - straight record mode
In this mode the user initiates a recording and the player will record continuously to a single file until manual intervention ends the recording or until battery depletion forces a shutdown of the player.
b) microphone device - vox record mode
In this mode the user initiates a recording and the player will record to a single file, not necessarily continuously, until manual intervention ends the recording or until battery depletion forces a shutdown of the player.
The user must specify a LEVEL variable between 1 and 5 corresponding to the sound level above which the player will record. A TIME variable between 1 and 10 seconds must also be specified corresponding to the TIME interval for which the player will continue recording once the sound level falls below the threshhold level specified by the LEVEL variable. If the sound level does not pickup during the TIME interval then the player will stop recording to the file and wait until the sound level picks up to continue recording to the file or until battery depletion forces a shutdown of the player.
2) line-input device
This device records to a file in the form of "audiommdd_xxx" and places it in the RECORD directory.
a) line-input device - straight record mode
In this mode the user initiates a recording and the player will record continuously to a single file until manual intervention ends the recording or until battery depletion forces a shutdown of the player.
b) line-input device - multi-track record mode
In this mode the user initiates a recording and the player will "queue up" a file ready to be written to. The player will not write to the file until it detects a signal to the line-input device. Once a signal is detected the player will write to the file until a no-signal condition is detected. Once this occurs the player will continue writing to the file for a period of between 1 and 10 seconds as specified by the TRACK-SEPARATION variable. If no signal is detected for this period then the file is saved. The player will then "queue up" another file and wait for a signal from the line-input device. The user must also specify a LINE-IN VOLUME variable of between 0 to 31. This will continue until
manual intervention ends the recording or until battery depletion forces a shutdown of the player.
Note that in the case of a forced shutdown due to battery depletion, if the player is recording, the file will be saved. IF however you yank the battery from the player while it is recording then you will almost certainly lose the file.
The player also has an alarm timer function which can be set to turn the player on in play mode and begin playing at a user specified time. I could not initially determine a way to use the alarm timer to initiate a timer recording.
This player also has a resume function. However you cannot use it on files in the VOICE or RECORD directories. So any recordings you make should be moved to another directory for that to work. That of course requires the use of a computer to move the file as the player has no way to do it.
The player also has a skip feature called study mode which allows you to skip ahead up to a maximum of 3 minutes with one button push. I use the 30 second increment to skip through commercials.
The current consumption of this player is approximately 50 ma in play mode and 125 ma in record mode. The record mode current does not seem to be affected by varying the bit rate nor does it seem to matter whether it is writing to a file or has a file queued up waiting to be written to. This was determined from observations of using batteries of different capacities over time. I haven't actually measured it using a DMM.
So, there you have the essential layout of the player. When I first got it I determined that I could use the line-input in multi-track record mode to do unattended timer recordings. I would set the timer on my radio to turn on/off at the appropriate times. With the player and radio connected, but separating them by a foot or two to eliminate interference, I would initiate a recording in multi-track record mode with the radio off. The player would "queue up" a file and would wait until it detected a signal from the line-input. The radio would turn on by its timer, the player would record my program in one huge file. When the radio turned off the player would save it in the record directory.
I then became more ambitious and started recording multiple programs. To do this I constructed an external battery holder for a AA battery attached to a dummy AAA battery. The battery compartment of the T30 makes it easy to use this type of setup. Then I got one of those connectors that has two 3.5mm outputs from one 3.5mm input and could hookup two radios to the line-input jack. Using three of those connectors and inserting two of them into the third I could hook up to four radios at one time to the player. As long as the timers for each radio did not overlap, I could record multiple programs to their own separate files. I then bought another 512 meg unit so that I could rotate them between recording and listening duty. Even that wasn't enough because at 128kbps you are limited to 9 hours of recording time for 512 meg. Not enough capacity for two 3-hour and one 4-hour program. So I grabbed a couple of 1 gig units as their price had fallen to around 30 dollars and I would have some backups just in case. In hindsight I should have grabbed at least a couple of more.
In using my players to record my programs i've observed a number of glitches that would randomly crop up now and then. When using multi-track record mode the player is supposed to "queue up" a file and wait until it detects a signal from the line-input. However sometimes the player would get into a funk where it would start randomly generating 12 second recordings continuously even though there was no signal to the line-input. I was able to minimize this by building a better external/dummy battery contraption and reducing the LINE-IN VOLUME somewhat. However it still seems to crop up every now and then. The result would be that you would end up with a few hundred 12 second files in the RECORD directory. In this case what I would do is move my program recordings out of the RECORD directory and then come back, do a select all and delete all the files. Another glitch i've noticed is that the file will be queued up and when the radio turns on the player acts as if there is no signal to the line-input. It doesn't bother recording and just sits there. I've caught it doing this the odd time seemingly between recordings in multi-track record mode. It is relatively rare but does happen.
That is how I was using my players for about a year after I got my first one. I then discovered how to use the alarm-timer to initiate an unattended timer recording. The procedure is to set the alarm timer and enable it. Then initiate a recording on the player. The player will, depending on the device and recording mode selected, either "queue up" or start recording to a file. Then remove the battery for a split second and reinsert it. This will cause the player to hard-crash and shutdown. When the timer triggers, the player will resume in the record mode using the device that it was set to. A new file would be generated and it would start recording. Usually when you yank the battery during recording you will lose the file. However using this method sometimes it would leave an artifact that I call the zero-file. It would be a file with a size of zero bytes. When the alarm would trigger the player would generate a new file and record to it. So afterwards there would be two files, the zero-file and the file of my recording. If I go and play the recording there is no problem, it plays. If I then delete the zero-file and try to listen to the recording again it sounds like gibberish. The file has become corrupted by merely deleting the zero-file. Why i'm not sure but there is a work around to deal with it. My procedure is to move the file of the recording into my podcast directory. THEN I can safely delete the zero-file and listen to my recording. This is just a glitch of the hard-crash procedure. As an added safety precaution, before I move the file from the recording directory, I copy it to my computer. I've had instances of corruption from simply moving files around on the player. I think this may be due more to Win2k's buggy usb drivers as I don't ever recall having had any problems like this under Win98. I somewhat recently upgraded to Win2k.
As time went on I wanted to explore lower(32kbps) bitrate recordings from the player that were only available through the microphone-device. My reason for this is that I sometimes like to archive interesting Coast-To-Coast-AM programs. Unfortunately the line-input device's lowest bitrate of 128kbps would result in a file of about 240 MB which is unnecessarily large. This would require computer processing for conversion from 128kbps. That seemed like more work than I was interested in doing which is what got me interested in using the player in this mode. One of the requirements would be that I had to be able to do this in my bedroom while I was sleeping. To do this I used a boombox with detachable speakers. I placed one of the speakers in a cabinet, 12 ft from my bed, with the sound disabled from the other speaker and the boombox sitting on the floor. The cabinet has fold-out doors made of particle board which provide good noise suppression when closed. Using this setup and setting the player directly in front of the speaker I am able to reduce the volume to the point where all I can hear is a slight murmur. The microphone is actually very sensitive and the volume level of the recording using this method is acceptable. I use the alarm-timer to initiate the recording in straight-record mode. The quality of the recording through the microphone is also very good.
So that is how I use my IRiver T30 mp3 player to record my favourite radio programs. A couple of things I wish the player could do would be to be able to access lower bitrates from the line-input and to be able to set a power off or duration timer for when the alarm timer initiates an unattended timer recording. As it stands now the only way to end a recording is by manual intervention or forced shutdown from battery depletion. The way I deal with this is to use batteries with capacities that provide runtime slightly longer than required for a given program. This is mainly for the microphone-straight record method which I use quite frequently. There is a power off timer that can be set for up to 3 hours, however the boot-up process seems to reinitialize it to off so that it is unusable using the hard-crash method.
I guess I lucked out when I bought this player. I really didn't know if it could do anything other than record directly to mp3 from the line-input. It's not really apparent what you can do with these things until you play around with them.
Also, I posted a similar post to this quite awhile ago in a MisticRiver.net forum. I was going to post it here but I didn't like it. It rambled on a bit and sounded hokey to me so I rewrote it for this post. If you want to read it, as it goes into somewhat more detail, it is here:
With regard to the above the computer problems I think are mostly due to Win2k and its buggy usb drivers. I am able to copy files from the player to computer without any problems. I can, most of the time move files from one directory to another on the player without a problem. Sometimes though a file can become corrupted. This is why I always copy a file to my computer before I do anything to it. However if I try to copy a large file to the player from the computer it usually aborts with a delayed write error. This is one of those nebulous errors people seem to experience and which I haven't really tried to figure out what to do other than find a workaround for now. Although I will look to install Win98 to dual-boot for some flexibility.
[Update 2013: I think this player can only be written to at usb 1.1 speeds.]
In the time since I wrote the above post, I have been experiencing a new random glitch. When the alarm-timer triggers its supposed to generate a new file and begin recording to it. However sometimes it would just boot-up to the "ready to record" state. This player has three states it can be in. It is either recording to a file, playing a file or it is "ready to record". Think of it like your computer being at the dos prompt where it is waiting for the you to input a command. I've rebuilt my battery boxes and that seems to have helped a bit. It has happened to all my players randomly because I rotate them around. I will try to use some contact cleaner when I get a chance and see if that helps more. It also could be my batteries that are AA/AAA nicads that are getting somewhat long in the tooth. It seems to happen more than I would like and i'm still working on eliminating it.
[Update 2013: Solved: When I would set the alarm for the player to do an unattended timer recording I would use the lock feature. Now if you press the power button the player would try to boot up but would sense that the lock was engaged and would shutdown. However this would trigger the recording mode to revert back to the "ready to record" state. When the alarm timer would trigger it would be in the "ready to record" state and miss the recording.
Solution: After setting up the player for an unattended recording make sure you don't push the power button.]
So, that is my experience with using my T30 to record my favourite radio programs. I wrote the first post kind of in response to the request on this site, Dxer.ca for people to outline their digital recording techniques. Of course after writing it I thought it was crap so I didn't want post it here. I meant to rewrite earlier it but i'm somewhat of a procrastinator and let things slide a bit. Sorry about that.
I should mention that the player also has a number of equalizer sound effects that are actually quite useful. They can increase the legibility of difficult recordings somewhat and also minimize interference effects, such as hiss, to make the recording less fatiguing to listen to. These are sound effects like dance, live, pop etc. There's a whole bunch that are included as well as one called "user eq" that you can tweak for yourself. Also if you only have a mono cable to record from, the sound usually only comes out of one side of the earphone. If you use the "SRS" sound effect it will mix the left and right sides so that sound will come out of both earphones.
Radio timers are another area that become more critical when doing unattended timer recordings. I bought a Kaito K-1102 quite awhile ago that comes with three upto 99 minute timers. Just enough for C2CAM which is 4 hours as I would set timer 1 and 2 for 1.5 hours and timer 3 for 1 hour. However I found out later that the timers are more flexible. Normally when you turn this radio on it will automatically shutoff after 99 minutes. If however you quickly push the exit button after you turn it on it will disable this shutdown and the radio will stay on until you turn it off. You can also use this with the radio's timers. When you set the timer if instead of choosing 1-99 minutes you hit the exit button the radio will take that and interpret it as a do not shut-off condition. Thus the timer becomes a turn on only timer. You can then use the second timer at the end of your show to run for one minute which will then shutoff the radio.
For my Grundig S-350 the alarm-timer only comes on for 30 minutes. However it can be defeated so that it functions as a turn on only timer. The way to do it is to set the time for the timer to come on and enable it. Then turn the radio on and hit the switch to turn it off but do not release it. If you can jury rig something to hold the switch in the radio will be prevented from turning off when the alarm-timer triggers.
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