Inspirazione! : Is Superscope Super?

Reading the manual for a new piece of gear might be some people’s idea of fun. I am not one of those people. For me, if I need to read the manual for more than 15 minutes, I curse the blighters who designed the objet du jour, and move on with my life. Superscope’s PSD330 definitely passed my test for easy use without requiring much of a learning curve.

Other important criteria for me include: Does it do what it does better, cheaper, and faster or more easily than the multitude of other products out there these days? To that, I’d say both yes and no.

Another criteria I use is my “Inspirazione” meter. In other words, does it inspire me about singing in a new way? Superscope, I’d have to say, ranked fairly high. I was excited to have and use it. I recorded often and in situations I wouldn’t have recorded otherwise, and will be sorry to see the loaner go when I have to return it.

In this review, I’ll take you through what I see as the Superscope CD Recorder PSD330’s pros and cons, so that you can consider whether it might be right for your toolkit. At a list price of $749, you’ll want to do your own research before you buy.

What It Is

Superscope is an older company that began marketing portable cassette recorders in the ‘50s in partnership with Sony, and eventually moved on to manufacturing its own recorders, which featured built-in microphones. Superscope’s PSD330 is the latest in that long line. It records directly to CD. That is, to me, its greatest asset: You walk away with a CD.

The biggest drawbacks are a complete absence of editing capabilities and no ability to remix after recording. If you record 10 songs but aren’t happy with one of them, for example, you can’t erase it from the CD. Likewise, if on playback the piano is too loud and the voice too quiet, you can’t simply mix the voice forward as you would if you were recording with any number of computer programs. You can, of course, set levels before you record, and stop and start to avoid long gaps between songs.

How It Works

I was about 20 minutes away from leaving for a gig when I received the box from Superscope. “This’ll be a great test to see if I can get the machine up and running in time to use it tonight,” I thought. I was able to do that with no trouble, a testament to the simplicity of the recorder. You press record once, sing a few notes to see if the levels go into the red, then hit record again, and you’re recording! The PSD330 creates tracks each time you pause or stop, or you can set it to begin a track automatically each minute, or set the tracks manually. The recorder comes with a built-in microphone, plus digital inputs and two stereo inputs for external microphones. Levels are easy to set and you can listen back immediately to what you’ve recorded.

One major drawback is the placement of the built-in microphone. Pressing the stop button records a loud click on the CD (the levels spike and it makes a very unpleasant sound). Using the remote control to stop the recording is a bit better, but the machine still records a click. You can use an external mike to avoid this problem (which the manufacturer recommends), but that adds to the expense and makes setup a bit more complicated (and obvious). Results using a good quality external mike were far superior, but the recording quality with the internal mike was also quite good, and better than other, smaller digital recorders that don’t have the advantage of recording directly to CD.

I loved this machine’s low profile and ease of use. Without an external mike, people barely notice that you’re recording—and with the remote control, it really couldn’t be easier. When you’re finished recording, all you have to do is press “Finalize” and the PSD330 burns the CD in a little more than two minutes.

Is It for You?

When you consider whether the PSD330 is for you, consider your level of technical skill with recording gear and how you intend to use the recorder. If you’re generally not good with gear and want to do a lot of live, unedited recording, I’d say it might be just the thing for you. Even if you’re good with gear, it’s never ideal to be both performer and producer for a recording. This may be the only piece of gear I felt comfortable having at a gig while being in charge of recording myself. If you’re a teacher, and want to be able to offer your students CDs at the end of a lesson, it’s a great thing to have.

Regarding the editing limitations, I find it difficult to imagine many useful applications for an unedited CD. Even if it’s a live concert, you’ll want to edit out some of the “between” things, such as applause, or perhaps some announcements or introductions. In addition—especially if you don’t use an external mike—you’ll want to edit out those loud clicks. At a practical level, that means you’ll be taking the CD you make with the PSD33 and moving the tracks into another program to edit. (I’m a Mac user, so I put the tracks in GarageBand to shave off the “between” things, and even to edit a couple of takes together, change volume levels and reverb to match tracks recorded in different locations, etc.)

If you have a program such as GarageBand and have a laptop, or want to record mostly at home, I would say the Superscope recorder would be redundant for you. For the very good quality of the recordings, however, even using the built-in microphone, and for ease of use, it’s a great investment.

As for the expense, if you work for an educational institution you might be able to justify getting the institution to foot the bill. For myself, the price seems a bit high for the amount of recording I do, but some of my singer friends and I have discussed pooling our resources to buy one and then rotating ownership. If money is no object (I’d like to know what singer is going to read the rest of this sentence), Superscope offers other recorders that have even more capabilities, such as recording additional material onto an existing CD, or even transposing a recorded CD then adding your voice without erasing anything, so you could, theoretically, record your vocals to a pre-existing accompaniment in the key of your choice. The dual-level models with those abilities start at $899.

Superscope definitely passed the “Inspirazione” test. Using it made me put my thinking cap on about what I’d like to record. I made a practice CD to sell to my students, recorded several gigs, and was definitely popular at my local singer’s forum, sending everyone home with a CD of their arias.

Listening to yourself for pleasure and education is one of the perks of being a modern-day singer. Whether you do it with Superscope’s PSD330 or a cassette recorder you buy at the drug store, don’t wait or be a perfectionist about recording. Recording can be a great motivator to refine your skills and get serious about what you want to say artistically—but it also can be a tool for seeing, hearing and accepting yourself as you are right now.

Lisa Houston

Lisa Houston is a writer and dramatic soprano who divides her time between Berlin and Berkeley. She recently performed Wagner’s Wesendonck Lieder with the Kensington Symphony Orchestra and the title role in The Last Diva on Broadway with the Leipzig Kammeroper. She can be reached at Lisahouston360@gmail.com.