After testing half a dozen field recorders in the last couple of years, I've developed a pretty thick skin when it comes to marketing promises. In truth, I don't ask for much: I want a rugged, portable device that is easy to use, has enough battery life and memory to capture a concert in the bush, and makes recordings that sound like what I point it at.
On each of these areas, the Sony D50 delivers beautifully. Although I didn't strap it to a crash-test dummy, the aluminum case feels able to take abuse. Each of the switches and buttons displays the kind of quality we've come to expect from Sony. The combination of hefty internal flash memory with a slot for removable media is the best of both worlds.
The D50's mics do a fine job of capturing both music and speech. The fact that they are movable is icing on the cake. Here are a couple of recordings I did at a local Irish jam session so you can hear the difference between the 90 and 120° positions:
You may have realized there's some clever engineering going on inside the D50 to make this work. In 90° (X-Y) mode, the right mic picks up the left signal. In 120° mode, left is left and right is right. The recorder adjusts automatically to route the signals correctly.
To my ears, the onboard mics offer quite a bit of detail with a minimum of coloration. The mic pres have a huge amount of headroom with very acceptable noise levels. Of course, if you crank them up fully, you will hear some hiss (as you will with any preamp made — but that's not the point; it's about the signal-to-noise ratio, remember?) Don't forget you can always use your own microphone, or even a preamp with a digital output.
Sony sells a high-end microphone adapter box, the XLR-1, which bolts to the back of the D50. Although it contains four AA batteries, it's not a preamp; the batteries simply provide 48v phantom power to your mics. According to Sony, the XLR-1 is purely passive. It contains large balancing transformers, offers a 50kHz frequency response, and "doesn't add any noise to the microphone signal path."
Although I find it useful when memory is tight, I really don't miss MP3 recording. (Of course, there's always the option of recording at 22.05kHz.) This is also one of the few recorders I've heard with which recording at higher sample rates and bit depths is worth the extra memory.
Given that some other flash recorders support file sizes larger than 2GB, I asked Sony if it planned to increase that limit in a firmware update. Product Manager Kussmaul replied, "Let me explain more about this frequently misunderstood issue. The original Microsoft WAV file standard requires the 2GB file limit. The D50 adheres to this original standard to ensure recordings can be accessed on virtually any computer with any application. We could have chosen another linear PCM file format that allows for file sizes in excess of 2GB; however, not all D50 users would be able to easily access the files using their existing applications. An update to the D50 exceeding the 2GB limit could result in many users needing to change out the applications they use."
You'll have to trust me that recordings I made at 24/96 sounded gorgeous; they are simply too large to post online.
I have already raved about the limiter, but it's worth repeating: this is the most useful limiter I have seen yet in a portable device.
I did not have the opportunity to test drive the optional remote control, but my review unit did come with Sony's excellent optional AD-PCM1 windscreen. As pros know, "fluffy" windscreens are far superior to foam. Given the mics' sensitivity to wind, this is a must-have accessory, though not an inexpensive one. If you don't want to spend the bucks, take a trip to a local fabric store for some fake fur and fire up the hot glue gun. You can even choose your own color.
To sum up: the Sony PCM-D50 is everything a field recorder should be. Although it might appear expensive compared to some of the others, consider that you get four gigs of memory included, robust construction, excellent mics, and a number of useful features ported over from its upscale cousin. If you're serious about field recording, the D50 is well worth your consideration.
Mark Nelson is both an acoustic musician and the author of Getting Started in Computer Music (Thomson Course Technology). He oscillates between Oregon and Hawaii, where he co-produces the Aloha Music Camp.
|Built-in Microphones||Electret condenser microphones offering X-Y or wide stereo positions|
|High sensitivity (–35.0dB/Pa 1 kHz typical)|
|Maximum input level: 120dB SPL|
|Microphone Input (stereo minijack)||Input impedance: 22k ohm
Rated input level: 2.5mV; Minimum input level: 0.7mV
Supports external mic plug-in power
|Analog Line Input||Input impedance: 40K ohms
Rated input level: 2.0V;
Minimum input level: 450mV
|Optical Digital Input||Input level –24.5dBm to –14.5dBm.
Absorption wavelength: 630nm to 690nm
|Analog Output:||Output impedance: 220 ohms
Rated output level: 1.7V
Load impedance: 22k ohms
|Optical Digital Output||Output level –21dBm to –15dBm
Emission wavelength: 630 nm to 680nm
|Headphone Output||stereo minijack
Noise level: 20.0dBSPL(A) typical
Rated output level: 400 mV
Maximum output level: 25 mW + 25 mW or more
|Load Impedance||16 ohms|
|Sampling Rates||22.05kHz, 44.1kHz, 48kHz, 96kHz|
|Quantization||16-bit linear, 24-bit linear|
|Playback Format||.WAV and MP3|
|Frequency Response (Line Input to Line Output)||For Fs = 22.05kHz: 20Hz to 10kHz (0 to –2dB)|
|For Fs = 44.1kHz: 20Hz to 20kHz (0 to –2dB)|
|For Fs = 48kHz: 20Hz to 22kHz (0 to –2dB)|
|For Fs = 96kHz: 20Hz to 40kHz (0 to –2dB)|
|Signal-to-Noise Ratio (Line Input to Line Output)||93dB or greater (1kHz IHF-A) when set to 24-bit|
|Total Harmonic Distortion (Line Input to Line Output)||0.01% or below (1kHz, 22kHz LPF)|
|USB Connection||Hi-Speed USB, Mass Storage class|
|Power Requirements||DC in 6V. Four AA size alkaline batteries or adapter (both supplied)|
|Approx. Battery Life||14 Hours @44.1/16 recording or 12 Hours @ 96/24 recording|
|Dimensions (W x H x D)||2-7/8" x 6-1/8" x 1-5/16" not including projecting parts and controls|
|Weight||12.88 oz (including batteries)|
|Supplied Accessories||Sound Forge Audio Studio LE Software CD-ROM, AC Power Adapter (6V) model AC-ES608K, USB Cable, (4) alkaline batteries (AA size), operating instructions|