One of the first things I did when I got my Sony PCM-D50 recorder was put it through the paces (quickly) and write up as thorough a review as I could without having spent months with the recorder. Mark Nelson at O’Reilly Digital Media took another route and spent a month with his review unit before writing up his thoughts.
We both reached pretty much the same conclusion: You’ll be hard pressed to find another recorder for under $500 that’s as versatile as the PCM-D50.
That said, Nelson did discover a thing or two that I had originally missed. First, the reason Sony included a 2GB file size limit is because Sony wanted to use the original Microsoft WAV specifications. While newer devices let you record a single track up to 4GB or larger, some older computers might not recognize those files. And second, the limiter feature is even cooler than I’d originally thought. The PCM-D50 is always recording two tracks, one at your set volume and another 20db lower. When a loud sound comes across as overmodulated, the recorder switches to the lower track, but it will actually boost the volume so that you really shouldn’t notice any change at all. I think the reason this didn’t come across in my sample recordings is because I tested the limiter by making sounds so loud that there was clipping on both the original track and on the safety track.
Nelson did have some issues with the menu layout and he doesn’t seem to have tried plugging in an external microphone. And the truth is, no matter how good your digital audio recorder is, your recordings are always only going to be as good as your mic. With an EV-RE50 mic, I think the PCM-D50 sounds excellent. But Graham Riches left some comments on another BradLinder.net blog post that suggest different results using a Rode NTG2 mic. Personally I think the recorder sounds great with my external mic and I almost never use the built-in mics which are too sensitive to wind and background noise. When using my old Zoom H4 recorder, the opposite was true. I’d only use the built-in mics because the preamps were way too noisy when using external mics.
Anyway, here’s what Riches had to say:
I own FR2le, Zoom H4 and Sony pcm d50. I barrowed marantz 620 from a friend. Did both internal and external mic test (Rode NTG2)
1.Sony pcm d50 – absolutley solid performance very little background hiss.
2. Marantz 620 – is also a stunning performer with abit less detail than Sony and slightly more back ground hiss.
3. Zoom H4 – is a fine performer with its built in mic but generates pulse noise when using batteries and abit more handling noise than the last 2.
FR2le – with built in mic very poor performance and too much back ground noise.
1.FR2le – Outstanding quality, even if u boost the recording the hiss is not apparent.
2. Maratnz 620 – This was abit of a suprise the quality was nearly as good as the FR2 le again very little hiss and detail too.
3. Sony pcm d50 – had greater hiss than last 2 recorders, this may be down to poor mic pre-amp but on the whole it was acceptable.
4.Zoom H4 – Although this unit has pro XLR inputs but the unit has a lousy mic pre-amps and the recording can be unpredictable – certainly not recommended for external mics.
Recorder Internal External
Fostex FR2le 3.5/10 10/10
Marantz 620 8/10 8.5/10
Sony pcm d50 8.5/10 4.5/10
H4 Zoom 7.5/10 4/10
Fostex FR2 le – for professional high grade recordings; using external mics only. Tamiya battery pack (7.2v 4300) can also be used for longer recording times.
Sony pcm d50 – provides longer recording times and for use with internal mics only.
Marantz 620 – A true all-rounder for both internal and external mics.
Zoom H4 – mainly for gadget lovers. internal mics only.
The Marantz 620 is a truly outstanding recorder to provide a balanced performance whether your using internal or external mics. It’s portable, solidly built and sexy too. Display is bright and clear and it’s very easy to operate. A fantastic piece of kit!!
Fostex FR2le – internal 3.5/10 and external 10/10
Marantz 620 – internal 8/10 and external 8.5/10
Sony pcm d50 – internal 8.5/10 and external 4.5/10
H4 Zoom – internal 7.5/10 and external 4/10.