I tested out a couple of different flash audio recorders at AES yesterday. And while recording conditions weren't ideal on the noisy show room floor, here are the results. Ideally I'd love to take each of these recorders into a quiet room and record an interview and some ambiance, because even the Zoom H4 with its noisy preamp sounded halfway decent with all that background noise.
Fostex FR2-LE using an Electrovoice RE-50 microphone:
The FR2-LE is a trimmed down version of the Fostex FR2. It packs combo XLR/quarter inch inputs, track marking, and most of the features I'd want, on paper. But as you can hear when the gain is turned down the preamps are a bit noisier than I'd hoped.
Sound Devices 702 with RE-50 mic:
The Sound Devices 702 is a high end compact flash recorder. It'll set you back about $2000 but honestly, I've never heard a DAT/minidisc/Flash recorder that sounds as good.
Sony PCM-D50 with RE-50 mic:
The Sony PCM-D50 sounds surprisingly good with an external mic. Although it sports 1/8th inputs, meaning no phantom power, you can get an extraordinarily high record level with a dynamic microphone like the RE-50. That, plus the fact that you can mark tracks on the fly, pre-buffer recordings, and change record levels on the fly makes this an excellent recorder or anyone who likes the convenience of a compact minidisc recorder but wants the sound quality of a DAT or high quality flash recorder.
Sony PCM-D50 with the built-in stereo condenser mics:
The PCM-D50 also has stereo condenser mics built in. If no mic is plugged in, the recorder will use these by default. Plug anything into the mic or line input and they'll shut off. While they're not ideal for recording on a noisy show-room floor (they pick up way too much ambiance and not enough of the people they're pointed at), these mics would be excellent for quick interviews in the field or for recording music or outdoor ambiance. There's an optional wind-screen for $50, and there's almost no handling noise when using the built-in mics, which is a huge problem with the cheaper Zoom H-4.
Zoom H4 using an RE-50:
I brought along my Zoom H4 recorder in order to make a comparison recording. The preamps are pretty noisy and in a quiet recording environment a Zoom H4/RE-50 combination is really less than satisfactory. But because of all the background noise, this recording actually came out pretty decent.
In other words, take all of the other recordings with a grain of salt. That said, I think it's still safe to say that in this limited test the Sound Devices 702 an the Sony PCM-D50 both produced cleaner recordings than the Fostex FR2-LE or the Zoom H4. When you add the PCM-D50's extra features like the ability to create new tracks, change record levels, and switch between internal and external mics, I think it's the clear winner.
If you've got high quality mics that require phantom power, the PCM-D50 probably isn't the way to go unless you've got another $500 to drop on Sony's XLR-1 mic adapter. But for radio producers and podcasters looking for a high quality and affordable device for recording interviews, music, and ambiance, the PCM-D50 looks (and sounds) awesome.