The 4MS WAV Recorder is a 6HP module which is specifically set up as a hi-fi, low‑noise, two‑channel (stereo) audio recorder with a basic playback facility. A gain knob gives up to 20dB boost and simple metering means the module can double as a basic preamp. It will accept a wide range of input signals, from line-level, through headphone feeds, to ‘modular’ level (a concept which 4MS explore further in their forthcoming Listen mixer modules), which it then stores on a Class‑10 micro SD card (included) in lossless WAV format up to 96kHz/24‑bit. A single switch and its associated push-button toggle between recording and playback, and a trigger in jack allows you to synchronise either recording or playback to rhythmic patterns/external clocks. If you collect more than one WAV Recorder you can mult a start pulse to the relevant trigger sockets for multitrack recording. The input jacks are normalised; nothing plugged into the right input will see the left input routed to both channels (ie. a mono recording to both channels). The signal at the L+R out sockets is indicated by the meters and set by the gain pot.
Operation is straightforward: in record mode the push-button flashes red while you set the level using the gain pot and simple metering, and goes to a solid red when actually recording (ie. when you push it, or apply a trigger). Recording can be paused by flipping the play/rec switch to playback mode (the button will now flash), and recording resumes when the switch is set back to rec and the button is pressed again (or a trigger received).
In playback mode, the module will play back the most recent recording on its SD card when you push the button (it lights up green). If you want to listen to an earlier recording there is a browsing function which is instigated by holding down the push-button (in playback mode, lit up green) and turning the gain knob. If you have six files, then the four left‑side LEDs will light up as well as the top two on the right side of the meter. As you turn the gain knob, one LED will show brighter than the others. Now release the button, and playback of this file will occur when a trigger comes in, or you press the button. If you have more than eight files then it gets a bit more arcane, and I found it safer to resort to culling files from the SD card by slotting it into my PC and editing lists there. It is important not to remove the SD card whist the busy light is on, but hot-swapping cards is another way to keep file count/browsing/selecting feasible in a live context.
The remaining features are accessed by putting the unit into record mode and holding down the (red-lit) button. A two‑second hold will make the LEDs display how many hours of recording time you have left — the supplied 16GB card will record about 27 hours at the default 44.1kHz/16-bit settings. A five‑second hold whilst in rec mode will get you into the system menu (with a blue-lit button). Here you can select (by tapping the button and turning the knob) a bit rate of 16 or 24, a sample rate of 96, 48 or 44.1 kHz, and the mono or stereo option. Holding down the button whilst powering up the module gives you a flashing green light and the option to load new firmware.
The basic premise of this module seems to me to mimic a simple cassette recorder — the sort we all had as kids to record Top Of The Pops off the telly with — only at much better quality! What I found hard to work with was the arcane nature of selecting different ‘tracks’ — especially in a live situation. I found myself craving a dedicated fast-forward/rewind mechanism — such as that found on a basic CD player, etc — and some sort of assurance that I’d get the correct track when I pushed the green button. Also missing was an undo/delete option; when I messed up a take, there was no way to junk it directly. It stayed on the card until I did some offline housework later. I wondered if you could use the record trigger to do random/interrupted sample recordings, but as you have to flip the switch (manually) to cause a recording pause, this can’t be automated. In playback mode, new triggers cause a restart, so random playback with interruptions is also off the cards.
Don’t get me wrong, I like what this module does, and have already used it in anger live and in the studio. Whether flying-in ambient home/nature-recordings or capturing minutes of modular mayhem for future use, the WAV Recorder sounds great. You could use it to play back files created on your computer and burnt to SD card too. In many ways this module offers similar features to the Tip Top One, Erica’s Pico Drums, and MTM’s Radio Music units — and these modules have their quirks too — but I can see that 4MS have tried to keep things simple. My frustration — given how 4MS’s other modules are usually dripping with ways to interface external control — is that I think they’ve simplified too far, and basic file selection functions are too inscrutable. I would maybe prefer a ‘break-out’ option offering CV control of playback files, and a more sure-footed way of manually selecting them at the very least.
My reservations apart, 4MS have packed a nicely specified audio recorder into just 6HP, and made it easy to capture stuff on the hoof without a computer/studio. It will be interesting to see how the WAV Recorder comes alive when integrated with the forthcoming Listen series of mixer modules.