Functions: Total record time of 13 seconds (or 26 seconds with in Record x2 mode), Loop Start/End, Continuous Record, Playback at 2/3 or 1/2 speed, 3-band EQ filter switch, Transpose and Fine Tune functions, Note Grabber. Headphone Out, Line In/Out, Instrument In, Line In Level, 10.5V DC Jack.
Interface: The controls on the Akai unit are well laid out and attractive. The whole unit is very light but the buttons and switches feel solid. It was very easy for me to begin using the unit without consulting the manual. Recording a piece of music and playing it back, either whole or in little loops, was easy. I did, however feel as though I spent more time punching buttons than practicing music. Some of the functions that took two or three keystrokes should only take one or two. It was good having all the LEDs there to help me figure out what was going on.
Sound Quality The 2/3 and 1/2 speed playback sounds almost like you're hearing the music through a bad phone line. This is not the fault of Akai but just the by-product of the technology. From what I understand, the individual samples are "cut and pasted" to lengthen their duration. This causes a warbling noise in the music. It is NOT a problem when transcribing; you can still hear what you need to hear just fine. The Transpose function tunes the pitch 6 semitones either way, which can be handy if your want to tune the music to your guitar (like those old Charlie Christian records). The Fine Tune adjusts the pitch 50 cents. I swear I couldn't hear a difference.
General Impression: This is a snazzy unit and it has some features the Riff Master doesn't have, especially the Transpose, yet the overly designed control panel with altogether too many controls left me wondering if the Riff-O-Matic wasn't designed by a committee. But the killer was the fact that this unit can't playback at below 1/2 speed. If you can live without that, and need to be able to transpose the music you transcribe, the Riff-O-Matic just may fit the bill.
Functions: Simple and rugged contruction, Max record time of 20 seconds, Replays at 1/2, 1/3 and 1/4 speeds, Zoom function, Select Left/Right input channel, Headphone level. Instrument In, Line In/Out, Headphone Out, 9V DC In or 9V battery.
Interface: This little box could hardly be simpler: two knobs and two buttons. There is also a slider switch on the side. It is as light as the Akai, in fact, it's so light as to feel like an empty plastic box. The knobs control playback speed and volume respectively, and the two buttons control the Record/Zoom and Play functions. The controls are almost intuitive. Like the Akai, I didn't even look at the manual (that's always my Acid Test). Just hit the Record button to grab some music from your CD or tape, hit it again to stop. hit Play to hear it back, hold and relase the Zoom button to zero in on specific spots. Control the headphone level and playback speed independently with the knobs. There, now you don't need the manual! In no time, I was off and running.
Sound Quality This unit samples at 8 bit/13KHz. The playback sound quality is, to my ears, identical with the Akai. I'm sure the chips are the same. You can also switch the input to Left or Right so as to better record the program material (this was especially handy when I popped in an old Wes CD that had everybody hard panned to the sides). The Big Difference is that the Riff Master can play back at 1/3 or 1/4 speed. You would be suprised how you will come to need that ability when you are copping Pat Martino or John McLaughlin licks. The digital noise gets a little worse the slower you go, but it doesn't get in the way of the music.
General Impression: This unit was my favorite. The fact that it could play back at 1/3 and 1/4 speeds and that it was SO simple to use carried the day. JGO recommends the RiffTech Riff Master!