I went to the AES show this afternoon with my mind almost made up. My next field recorder would be a Fostex FR2-LE. On paper it’s the next step up from my Zoom H4. It has decent preamps, combo XLR/quarter inch inputs, the ability to make track marks/split WAV files without pausing your recording. Sure, the battery compartment is a bit hard to get at, but that’s a small price to pay for a $600 high quality device.
Like the PCM-D1, the D50 packs 4GB of internal flash memory, a Sony memory stick slot for expanded storage, high quality internal stereo condenser mics, and the ability to record 22.05 kHz, 44.1 kHz, 48 kHz and 96 kHz, 16 and 24 bit WAV audio. But the D50 is about one third the price. While the D1 lists for $1995, the D50 will be available in November and has a list price of $599, which is the same as the Fostex FR2-LE. The street price could be even lower.
So what’s the difference between the D1 and D50? The D1 has higher quality mics, old-fashioned analog VU meters, and a few more expensive components under the hood. The D50 has adjustable mics. You can change their position and the recorder will automatically adjust.
Here’s a shot of the two recorders side by side:
What does the PCM-D50 have that the FR2-LE doesn’t? On paper, not much. In fact, the D50 doesn’t even have XLR inputs or offer phantom power for external condenser mics. But here’s why I’m leaning toward picking one up in November:
- It’s compact, fits easily in the hand, and has excellent internal mics, making it great for grab and go recording. The FR2-LE has internal mics too, but they’re the kind of mics you’d find on a third rate digital voice recorder. I think my PDA has a better mic.
- When I plugged a dynamic mic into the FR2-LE I had to crank up the gain all the way to get a decent record level. When I plugged the same mic into the PCM-D50, I had to turn the record volume down to 3 or 4 to keep from clipping. This little puppy has some powerful preamps.
- The PCM-D50 automatically detects when you’ve got an external mic plugged in and switches between the internal and external mic.
I picked up the Zoom H4 earlier this year because it offered some of the same features as the PCM-D1 at a fraction of the price. I was on a budget and it seemed like a good buy. But here’s why I’m thinking about upgrading to the PCM-D50.
- I haven’t found a single external mic that sounds good with the H4. The preamps are way too noisy.
- When using the excellent internal mics on the H4, the unit is susceptible to handling noise. I detected almost no handling noise when using the PCM-D50.
- In order to save your track or create a new file on the H4, you have to stop your recording and start a new one, which causes a you to lose a few seconds of audio. The PCM-D50 lets you create new tracks on the fly.
- The PCM-D50 controls are super easy to use, and you can change record levels on the fly with a simple jog dial. On the H4, you have to go through a bunch of software menus which will result in handling noise if you’re using the internal mics.
- The H4 has a cheap plastic feel, the PCM-D50 has a sturdy metal feel.
There are more reasons, but for now I’ll just show you this side by side comparison:
- Runs on 4 AA batteries
- Estimated battery life: 16 hours with headphones, 20 hours without
- Weights 12.88 ounces (including batteries)
- Supports MP3 playback, but does not record to MP3
- Four separate circuit boards to separate analog audio, digital audio, digital recording, and power supply circuits
- Transfer recordings to your computer using USB 2.0
- High pass filter
- 5-second pre buffer when using record pause mode
I recorded some audio using with the PCM-D50, the Fostex FR2-LE, my Zoom H4, and a Sound Devices 702 (which is way out of my price range at $2000, but since the recordings were all made on the noisy show room floor I wanted to get a recording using the best gear I could find to use as a reference point).
I’ll post the audio tomorrow. Since these recordings were made in a noisy environment, I don’t have an answer to my biggest question: which device would sound best in a quiet interview environment. But I’m pretty sure the Fostex FR2-LE doesn’t sound enough better than my H4 to justify the price.
Update: Now you can listen to some sample recordings I made in the less than ideal setting of the AES show room floor.
Update 2: It looks like this digital audio recorder is getting a street price of $499.
Update 3: Sony has started shipping the PCM-D50, and I should be getting mine in early December, so expect a comprehensive review soon.
Update 4: It’s here!