Anyone tracking to flash memory?

Discussion in 'Location Recording' started by Angus, Sep 28, 2005.

  1. Angus

    Angus Active Member

    Two days after the iPod Nano was released I noticed an article that reported the results of a comprehensive 'stress test' on one. They drove over it, threw it from a car moving at 50 MPH, all with no damage to the mechanism - indeed the music played throughout all this. This reminded me of a test I came across some time ago in which Compact Flash cards were subjected to various tortures - such as putting them through a wash cycle - to determine the durability limits. They finally got one to fail by nailing it to a tree. Even then, only the sectors of the card that were physically pierced by the nail were affected. Or maybe you noticed the stories of cameras recovered after the tsunami that, despite having been completely destroyed, contained flash cards that were entirely intact and contained all the photos. Obviously, a hard drive would never stand up to any of this. Although I've not yet had a problem with my current recording medium - disc mirrored 7200 RPM Firewire800 drives from a Powerbook - I admit to always feeling a bit uneasy about relying on these exquisitely calibrated little machines for recording. In contrast, flash memory - a medium with no moving parts, that is relatively impervious to shock, temperature extremes, and so forth - seems intuitively very appealing. I'm not interested in the stand alone CF-based units like the Nagra or Marantz but rather in the simple storage potential of flash memory as opposed to HDs. Several companies now make Compact Flash cards with sustained read/write speeds of around 20MB/second and 32 bit cardbus adapters provide bandwidth well in excess of that. Although this is still well below that of even moderately fast FW drives - not to mention SCSI - for location work requiring, say, up to 16 tracks, that is twice the required bandwidth, even at 24/96. At the same time, prices have declined dramatically just as maximum capacity has increased. Lacie just released their 8GB USP2 'Carte Orange' priced at $149 that claims sustained transfer rates of around 9MB/sec. 8GB 133X CF cards can currently be had for around $500 - a hugely inferior capacity/price ratio to hard drives but what price reliability? Anyone have thoughts or experience with this?
  2. DavidSpearritt

    DavidSpearritt Well-Known Member

    I don't think anyone doubts the suitability of flash cards for recording for obvious reasons, no moving parts, power economy, robustness.

    BUT, its how the manufacturer implements it thats important. For unknown reasons the Marantz recorder we have has dropped bits during record, the Nagras haven't.

    I would be very suscipious of M-Audio, Edirol, Marantz, Core Sound, iRiver, Creative (doomed) etc until proven otherwise. The Nagra, Zaxcom, Aaton, SD are expensive for a reason. Its the infrastructure and design integrity around and before the recording media that is all important.

    BTW, latop HDD have been "crazy reliable" to quote Howie, chief designer from Zaxcom and he should know.
  3. Angus

    Angus Active Member

    Interesting what you say about dropped bits in certain flash-based recorders. But these are all machines that offer functions - such as phantom power, conversion, etc. - beyond simple data recording. I have no plan to replace my usual pres or converters with one of these all-in-one units. Instead, I am considering the option of location recording to CF card via cardbus. As far as I can tell the only downsides to flash memory vs. HDD is price/GB and maximum transfer rates. Now that transfer rates have reached level in excess of what's needed for most multitrack location recording, the only issue in my mind is price, which might be justified if it buys greater reliability. While I personally have never experienced HDD failure while recording, I certainly know others who have, even using highly regarded drives. On the other hand I have not heard of flash memory failure which might simply be the result of it's not yet having been widely adopted as a recording medium. So I'm curious if there are horror stories out there from people who have gone this route.

  4. drumist69

    drumist69 Active Member

    on the low end...

    I can't speak from experience on the high-end units, but a friend of mine has one of those MR8 (Fostex?) recorders. His uses flash cards for recording, not a HDD. Seems like its been reliable so far. Sound quality aside (he's going straight into the box with an SM58 for vocals, and lines his guitar in), I don't think he's had problems with dropouts. I myself was thinking of getting some cards to use to backup music files. I have my doubts about the long-term viability of CD-R's, so I'm looking at flash cards as an alternative.
  5. TempSaint

    TempSaint Guest

    CF cards for recording.

    CF cards have a very limited read and write lifetime as compared to a hard disk. CF based system would work ok in a small, not heavily used home setup, but pro users would be going through relatively expensive CF cards quickly.... and heaven forbid you hit the end of the read write life cycle in the middle of a project... bad news!

  6. dpd

    dpd Active Member

    I recently purchased a Marantz PMD-671 Compact Flash recorder for the radio station. Records up to 24|96. Pretty cool box.

    However, the selection of CF cards for this thing is *CRITICAL*! Calculations indicate that a 6X speed CF card is sufficient to record at 24|96. But, I found out *stability* is more important (try to find a spec on that!). Most CF cards won't even tell you the sustained write speed of their cards - if they even know (or care, since they are mainly used for digital cameras and burst write speed is all they care about.)

    I need long-form (2 hrs uninterrupted) recording capacity which translates to 4 GB cards. So, I searched all over and purchased two 4 GB, 12X rated cards from Crucial (a great PC memory supplier).

    They don't work above 24|48. After 5-10 minutes they start dropping samples every few seconds. Marantz doesn't publish what cards work, unfortunately, although they do have *recommended* manufacturers. They just haven't tested the large capacity cards.

    Fortunately - Crucial is refunding 100% of my purchase price. (great vendor)

    The search continues....

    Moral of the story? Take your pick:

    * don't be an early adopter?
    * get explicit requirements from the manf if they don't publish enough info before buying
    * etc, etc.
  7. recordista

    recordista Active Member

    There's an interesting CF media speed comparison here. No audio-specific testing but I haven't found much else out there.
  8. dpd

    dpd Active Member

    ^^ thanks, Kurt. Interesting. BOTH Marantz & Fostex specifically do NOT recommend SanDisk products.

    I've received word from Transcend today that indicates their 45x cards can sustain ~ 6MB/sec (need just under 5 MB/sec).

    Had conflicting reports from two different people at Marantz about the high capacity Lexar cards (80x ones). Still checking on that.
  9. recordista

    recordista Active Member

    When I spoke with them early this year, Sound Devices said they were using the Lexar 80X media so that's what I bought. Fingers crossed, no problems so far.
  10. Cucco

    Cucco Distinguished Member

    My wife's a photographer and that's the ONLY media she'll buy. Never a failure.
  11. dpd

    dpd Active Member

    I just received confirmation today from Marantz that the Lexar 80x will work in the PMD series of CF recorders. Not cheap for a 4 GB card (~$450!).

    Why doesn't Marantz post this on their web site?
  12. DavidSpearritt

    DavidSpearritt Well-Known Member

    Easy. They don't give a damn.
  13. dpd

    dpd Active Member

    Just received two Lexar 2 GB 80x CF cards today. both of them made it through a one hour 24 | 88.2 test without any problems. The memory clocks out at just over 10 MB/sec (needs 5 MB/sec).

    Transferring files at 10x real time beats loading a tape into the DAW at real time!

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