Saturday, October 6, 2007

Comparing the Sony PCM-D50, Fostex FR2-LE, Zoom H4 and Sound Devices 702

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.

Related Posts:

149 comments:

Brett said...

Hey, nice work Brad. I am a Fostex user and find that the output is kind of low with dynamic mics - I use an RE50 and an SM57 with it. But it's sweeeeet with a condenser - I've got an AT897 shotgun that sounds great and I've used a Shure Beta 87 and it was also crystal. But with dynamic mics, even though it comes it low, the preamps are clean enough that you can boost the signal 10 or 15 dB without any problem. If there is any preamp hiss, the noise removal effect in Audacity cleans it up quite nicely too. This said, the Sony sounds nice.

All the best...

Brad Linder said...

Hi Brett,

Thanks for the input. Admittedly, the noisy show room floor was an awful place to test these recorders out. But part of the reason I took my trusty RE50 instead of a condenser is because I wanted to see how the recorders would sound with a dynamic mic. My Zoom H4 generally sounds pretty bad with the RE50 test, and the RE50 is a pretty good mic.

I'll definitely have to think about the Fostex some more, because mini jacks like the ones on the Sony recorder are prone to breaking, so it would be nice to have XLR inputs. And phantom power would be nice. But right now I'm leaning toward the PCM-D50.

Brett said...

Yeah, phantom and XLR were two of the non-negotiable criteria for me. I've used the Marantz 660 a ton and it was OK, but only with the Oade mods. If I were you, I'd see if I could get a loaner FR2 LE and take a weekend and play with it. My old show had bought one so I got a couple of weeks of hands-on time before making my decision. Things I don't like about it include the crappy headphone amp, the stupidly small trim knobs and slightly weak gain for dynamic mics. BUT so long as you don't pot the trim too high, the input is clean with dynamics and if it's not clean, it can be easily fixed in post. Check out the Fostex forums, if you haven't, for lots of feedback on the unit.

frigg said...

Hi Brad,

Nice work, but wondering why you didn't compare the PCM-D50 with the PCM-D1? The PCM-D1 would make a better "high end" reference than the Sound Devices since it is more similar to the other units, and I bet a lot of people are wondering about how much better the PCM-D1 is than the PCM-D50 (like $1500 better)? Obviously, you can't tell a whole lot on the floor of the AES show, but your comparisons were pretty helpful and the Sound Devices certainly did shine over the competition even with a chaotic and undemanding source (not exactly a string quartet in a quiet concert hall...).

FWIW, I have a PCM-D1 and think it's fantastic. Really impressive for such a small little thing. it's stuffed with excellent components that sound way bigger than its size. I use it with music recording, so that's more demanding than interviews. Even at 2k, its quality amazes.

Brad Linder said...

Frigg, You're right I probably should have tried out the D1 as well, but as it was I spent a pretty long time with at the Sony booth.

With the Fostex and Sound Devices recorders I was able to pop a CF card in, plug in a mic, make a quick recording and go. Because I don't carry around Sony memory sticks, I had to plug the D50 into my laptop to transfer recordings.

But the D1 does have nicer preamps and better internal mics from what I understand so you're right, it would be nice to hear a comparison, even if the D1 is out of my price range.

Daniel said...

Hello,

I have used both the 702 and the FR2 LE. I couldn't afford the 702 so I bought the FR2 LE for my field work this summer. I must say, it's rugged and made fine recordings with my RODE NT4 mic. After getting rained on for hours, it sill functions just fine. I found the preamps to be quiet and efficient but the headphone amp leaves a little to be desired. an excellent buy for the price!

Sneaker Peet said...

Great reviews! To bad the Marantz 620 was a noshow. Just added your RSS to my rss reader.

It is a bit of a shame that the divshare players you use on your blog have no way of prebuffering, so I listened the samples in parts of 10 seconds or less.

Brad Linder said...

Sneaker Peet: If you click the "DivShare" logo on any of the audio files you'll go to a page where you can download the MP3s.

Sneaker Peet said...

Awesome! Thanks for that Brad!

Walt said...

hi brad,

while comparing the "gain quality" and the preamps of the fostex FR2 LE to the new sony psm d50, i would like to ask you, if noticed that the fostex comes with a threefold device:the auto level control offers
1. off
2. on
3. limiter
so it works likewise as an compressor or like a limiter - the recorded sound quality is, whether you turn the ALC "on", "off" or on "limiter" quite different! so please take care, when testing, which configurations you have chosen, otherwise audio samples can hardly be compared!

so the fostex and the sony/marantz machines are differnt types of recorders - handheld vs. portable. and: i would really miss XLR.

i'am an radio activist for a community based radio in austria and your tests are very helpful - especially for the new sony and marantz, thanks for inputs!

cheers, walt

loco said...

it's worth pointing out to the tascam hd-p2 recorder. in fact, i find it strange it was left unnoticed. it's a truly versatile machine, competing with SD 702(T) series of recorders in terms of audio-quality (better dynamic range (!), slightly noisier and less sensitive mic preamps, but the difference is really small!). for comparisons, see the following table:

http://www.avisoft.com/tutorial_field_recording.htm and
http://www.avisoft.com/test/noisefloors.pdf

tascam hd-p2 also features incoming time code/video ref support for camera sync support.

i have this unit and i find it very good for the price.

-andrejs

Brad Linder said...

Hey Andrejs,

Thanks for the link, that's a great website!

I did actually stop by the Tascam booth at AES and take a look at the HD-P2. But the sample unit didn't power up. Odds are if I'd asked the Tascam reps I probably could have gotten someone to throw some batteries in there and let me run a test. But honestly, the only reason I even used the Sound Devices 702 is because I wanted a reference recording. Like the 702, the HD-P2 is a bit out of my range. You can pick up the FR2-LE, or the Sony PCM-D50 for under $600, which makes each an affordable step up from my Zoom H4/minidisc recorders. That said, it's quite clear that neither device is top of the line, especially since each is obviously a stripped down version of a more expensive recorder.

Walt said...

hi brad,

for our local community radio,
we search for an easy to use but
stable recorder - you tested three of our favorites:
- zoomH4
- sony pcm d50
- marantz pmd 620

(the sony and marantz look more rugged than the zoom, even the buttons: you may agree?)

if you had the choice, which one would you take - and why...?

thanks for support, walt.

Brad Linder said...

Hi Walt,

I haven't had a chance to check out the Marantz PMD620 yet, but I've been using the Zoom H4 and plan to buy the Sony PCM-D50 when it becomes available next month.

As for which recorder will suit your needs, it depends on how you rate the following three items:

1. Affordability
2. Durability
3. Sound quality

From what I can tell, the PCM-D50 sounds better, is more durable, and has easier controls. It also costs about twice as much as a Zoom H4.

That said, the Zoom sounds pretty good if you use it right. It's just a bit more finicky than I'd like. You have to handle it carefully if you're using the built-in mics to avoid handling noise. And unless you're in a noisy environment, I'd recommend using the built-in mics rather than an external mic, since the preamps aren't that good.

Also, when running on battery power, the Zoom records a low level electronic pulsing noise. You can get around this by building an external battery pack or running on AC. But overall, it might be worth looking at a pricier recorder if you don't want to have to deal with those issues.

On the other hand, the Zoom H2 recorder is cheaper than the H4, has easier controls to use, and doesn't have the electronic pulsing noise. It also has mediocre preamps for external mics though, so I'd only recommend this recorder if sound quality isn't as important to you, or if you're willing to use it primarily with the built-in mics.

Walt said...

hi brad,

thanks a lot for remarks,
the recorders we would like to buy are for members of our community radio and amateurs, students in recording - the recorder should be easy to handle and should not wreck, when treated not very gentle...hm.
the zooms are "out", because of the "weak hood construction".

more and more i favour the sony and marantz (this looks like an really simplified machine!).

the fostex FR 2LE we will buy, to record festivals and speeches, lectures, when XLR is necessary and a nice analog gain controll. we also checked the tascam, butu its twice the price - and we don't hear the difference! even the controls are very simple to understand...

thanks and cheers, walt.

Mike said...

I have the Sound Devices (SD) 702. Im not sure how this unit would stack up sonic wise to the Tascam but I can safety say I have never heard a more cleaner and transparent pre. From a build quality standpoint, the SD is rugged --solid! The Tascam seems to have a more hollow feel to it--fragile and more subject to wear. As a previous owner of their widely acclaimed DAP it was unfortunate that this F series CF player dosen't seem as well made

Graham Riches said...

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)

Internal mic:

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.

External MIC:

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.

Brad Linder said...

Thanks Graham! That's very helpful, since I haven't been able to test a Fostex in a quiet room or get my hands on a Marantz PMD620 yet.

Would you mind if I wrote a new post quoting your results so that more people will see it. I'm a bit worried that your observations are buried in the comments here. If you'd like I could also provide a link to your web site if you have one.

Graham Riches said...

Yes, Brad.

Regards
Graham Riches

Graham Riches said...

Results:

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

Conclusion.

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.

Final verdict:

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!!

Graham Riches said...

Update:

Test(Mics)Results:

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.

Sal said...

I fully accept for what Graham's result had stated, I also own Sony pcm d50, its only a week old and was purchased from USA. I believe for external mic recording Marantz 620 is a lot better. I went on Transom website sight and its seems that 620 produced much cleaner recordings than my pcm d50(MIC NTG2). Infact I am that confident that I am willing to do a straight swap with a Marantz 620 (my mobile number:07503104618)

Chris Pearl said...

I do lots of environmental recordings using Sony Pro Walkman, since this day and age; philips cassette are no longer widely available and the fact that it has been rather difficult to transfer recordings to my pc, i am thinking of moving to digital. My eyes were set on 2 recorders:

Sony pcm d50
Marantz 620

After reading the last 2 comments with interest, I have enough confidence to purchase Marantz 620.
I also visited Transom sight and this little puppy does set standards.

Lee Riley said...

Sony does look like a taser thats why
opted for Marantz 620.

Vijay said...

Sony Rules, Marantz 620 is just another toy.

Mark said...

Marantnz 620 or Sony pcm d50?

which one?

1)Nelson never bothered to test external mics!
2)Brad has only used dynamic mics and infact condensor mics are very sensitive. With these types of mics usually you can understand how good are mic pre-amps are on a portable device as they pickup a lot of ambience noise.
3)Graham's test may be right as Transom sight tested a lot of external mics on Marantz 620 and in each case the results were good. Sony lacks balance control on record mode and does not even record in mono to save space, finally on mp3; it's playback only. In my opinion Marantz 620 does put the edge on Sony pcm d50 -its also $100 cheaper.

Dan said...

Can someone please compare the LINE-IN on these recorders?

There are some of us who use phantom powered mics and/or external preamps. I'd like to know what the ADC sounds like. Its the only test left. Thanks. :)

John said...

Dan, just go for marantz 620 as sony pcm d50 has failed to meet many musicians needs. Only Marantz is capable of providing dual functionality (external/internal mics) and none the recorders under £500 can offer this.

Dan said...

Sorry John, but haven't heard the 620 with an external mic. Its not in the above samples. Only have Graham's opinion to go by. Maybe he can send Brad his samples and Brad can upload them here? Need to hear the 620 myself, in order to form an opinion.

I use condensers w/ phantom, not dynamic mics. LINE-IN is important for musicians too.

From the above samples, FR2LE and 702 sound nice and warm. Like that. The D50 has that classic ENG thinness, but not fatiguing. Dead quiet though.

FR2LE has a small buzz sound if you listen closely to "room portion" with the RE50. Doesn't sound like its coming from the room either.

My 2 cents on the above.

John said...

Dan, Please visit Transom web site

http://www.transom.org/tools/recording_interviewing/200712_marantz_620/

remember that 620 will not provide 48V (phantom) power. Condensor mics requires external power to work with this portable recorder.

John said...

Update:

http://www.transom.org/tools/

Brad Linder said...

I'm also eagerly awaiting a Transom review of the D50 so that we can see how they rate it against the PMD620 which I have not had a chance to try.

According to the Transom review, the PMD620 sounds decent with internal mics but even better with external mics. In fact, they say it's the best they've heard in the price range, which is how I feel about the D50, so I'd really like to hear how they stack up against one another.

That said, they point out two issues with the PMD620 that I feel are quite problematic:

1. There's a latency issue if you're monitoring your recordings with headphones. Considering I primarily use these recorders to conduct interviews, I'm ALWAYS wearing headphones and I think the lag issue would drive me batty.
2. The headphone jack is placed right between the two internal mics, which means that if you're using the built-in mics and monitoring your recording, there's a good chance you'll hear the sound of your headphone cable flapping.

If Graham's evaluation is accurate, it seems like the PMD620 might sound better with a condenser mic than the D50, but with a dynamic mic, the D50 sounds pretty darn good, so I'm happy with my choice. Maybe one of these years I'll spring for a Sound Devices recorder and get the best of the breed, but for $500 the D50 is a pretty solid recorder.

Not only do I think the sound is pretty good but the build quality is excellent. The record and playback volume knobs are hard to hit by accident, the headphone and mic jacks are metal not the cheap plastic you see on most mini jacks, and the buttons are generally pretty easy to use (once you figure out a few quirks in the menu system).

John said...

There are lot of field recorders out there using Condensor mics and I think the Marantnz 620 is safer bet.

John said...

There are lot of field recordists out there using Condensor mics and I think the Marantnz 620 is safer bet.

Dan said...

John,

I think you're missing my point. I have no need to use the 620 with a battery powered microphone, whether it be dynamic or condenser. I would like to hear samples where a Mic Preamp is out in front. That way I can listen to the ADC (Analog Digital Converter) of each unit.

example:

LINE-IN test

P48 condensor mic > P48 mic preamp > Sony D50, Marantz 620, Edirol R09, ...........

John said...

If your going to use external mic preamp then check dynamic range on each unit(line-in) if its more than 92db, then this would be classed as quality line. (check spec/manuals) as far I can think that not many sites will do line in test.

Mark said...

Dan, your going to end up with 2 box recorder. Why don't u just invest on one quality recorder. ie:

1. Tascam HD-P2
2. Korg MR-1000
3. Fostex FR2

All of the above devices have good (A/D converter) plus clean mic-preamps.

Lee Riley said...

Nelson, information around recorders is too blunt.
Brads, information about recorders lacks confidence and resources.
Graham, has gone straight to the point and provided all useful information but there is no sample to prove this.

John said...

Hey come on, this sight use to be dead, thanks to Graham that he livened it up..

Dan said...

Mark,

I record concerts. I used to own a Tascam HD-P2 and absolutely loved it. Unfortunately, my gear is mobile, so the P2 was too big. I like components too. I prefer a small preamp and small recorder. Easier to lug around and still get quality recordings too.

I have 2 recorders:

The Edirol R09. 620 is much quieter and sounds like warm butter when compared to it. Based opinion on the Transom upload of Rode NTG2 shotgun samples.

The Sony PCM-D50. Much thinner sounding than the R09 and 620. Transom has yet to review. In my opinion, D50 more geared toward ENG, based on how its sounds. Not much warmth.

My mic preamp is incredibly small, transformer based, and sounds great: AERCO MP-2 Did i say it was tiny?

craig said...

So, is the M-Audio MicroTrack II completely out of the running? Does anybody use this unit? It DOES supply 48v phantom power. The internal battery is a big negative to me.

I want to record structure-borne sound from industrial sources using a transducer or acoustic guitar type pickup instead of a mic. I'd run that into a pre-amp (affordable suggestions?) and download the recording to my computer for editing. So for a lot of my use I would only be recording mono.

I want to slow the sound down for an audio art project. I'm worried that stretching the audio file digitally will leave obvious aliasing artifacts. Would I be better off buying a used Nagra-IV and record to tape at higher speed and playback at slower speed into the computer to digitize the signal?

Sorry if this all is a little muddled. I'm a bit new to the field.

Great work Brad!

Graham Riches said...

I do agree with than Dan that Sony does sound very thin in comparison to
Marantz 620. But Edirol is very poor recorder for both external/inetrnal mic and is ok for general use - probably as a speech recorder.

Graham Riches said...

I do agree with Dan that Sony does sound thin and harsh in comparison to Marantz 620. But Edirol is very poor recorder for both external/inetrnal mic and is ok for general use - probably as a speech recorder.

Chris Pearl said...

I have received my Marantz 620 and its awesome. Both External/Internal Mic recordings are Excellent. I would Like to thank Graham for providing this useful Information.

Lee Riley said...

...so the story ends here..
Marantz 620 is the winner!!!

John said...

Nope. Grahams the winner!! hahahaha.

Graham Riches said...

update.

I have tried shure 57 mic (Dynamic) and Marantz 620 still outperforms Sony pcm d50.

Results:

Sony pcm d50:
Hiss: 6/10 (hiss is apparent)
performance: 6/10
Level: 8/10 (mic pre-amp does take it loud - but adds too much hiss)
Overall: 7/10 using Dynamic Mic

Marantz 620

Hiss: 9/10 (very little hiss)
performance: 9/10
Loud: 6/10 (may need to boost the signals, using software; but still very little hiss added.)
Overall: 8/10

For both types of MIC the Marantz 620 dominates Sony pcm d50. Sony only produces good results with its own mic.

Graham Riches said...

Performance (with dynamic mic)

Sony pcm d50 (6/10) sounds very thin (lacks weight) and metallic (Artificial) and Marantz 620 (9/10) sounds very natural and weighty like a professional recorder should do.

finao1 said...

Glad you are having good luck with the Marantz. I own the D50, have owned the Zoom H4. I can not even compare the D50 external mic performance, condenser or sm57, to the Zoom H4. The D50 is significantly better. Since you have the Zoom at 4/10 and D50 at 4.5/10, there must be something wrong with your D50. The mic preamps on the D50 stand comparison with my Sound Devices 302. They are exceptional. In no way am I saying the 602 isn't better, but I'm not quite sure there is much better than the D50 is producing. Finally, I do not find the D50 thin.
Thanks

Graham Riches said...

H4 Zoom and Sony pcm d50's external pre-amps is bad as each other but in different (I also tested my friends d50 and performance is exactly the same as mine,poor). To be fair its internal mics are quite good, (slightly better than marantz internal mic) however I am going to try few other mics ie NT4, AT882 and Sony pro mic. But so far its definitely not in the same league as Fostex FR2-le, so perhaps your Sound Devices 302 might be just average quality also. Marantz is a true all rounder both internal & external are produced at balanced quality. No other device in the market can do this , so far.....m8y

John said...

yeah, u tell him Graham!!

Graham Riches said...

Update..

for your information the results for d50 are:

Dynamic mic 7/10
Condenser mic 4.5/10

So it does vary but as far as I can see this device might be mic fussy or its just has poor external mic pre-amps.

finao1 said...

I started to write a long response but just deleted the main body. I realize I don't want to get into a debate, so I'll finalize my thoughts here. I think you are entitled to your opinion. This being a well read resource, I felt it important to give a contrary opinion regarding the D50. I would not want interested readers to believe it thin, metallic, with poor preamps (external/internal - its the same preamp btw) Your analysis: Dynamic mic 7/10, Condenser mic 4.5/10 is purely subjective and I appreciate your desire to compare. I hope you enjoy your 620. Bottom line is the new recorders introduced recently (620, D50, FR2LE) all seem to be excellent executions and will find happy customers. I just read today on Engadget about a new Tascam DR-1; another possible contender!
Good luck to all.

Graham Riches said...

Finoa1

If you look at my previous post, I clearly stated that I do not own Marantz 620.. But however I did all the test fair as possible. Each of the recorders have advantages and disadvantages. There is no way a manufacturer will produce a complete system for anyones needs. These tests can provide readers with a good guidance in what to look for. need i say more....

Graham Riches said...

Had a brief look at the Tascam DR1 (Manual). The down side with this product is that its got dedicated power source, so if battery drains there is no domestic batteries which will able to power it - this product is not aimed for field recorders. Nonetheless, I would be still interested in the quality of its mic pre-amps!!

Mark said...

Some good points, Graham!!.

Graham Riches said...

Managed to loan out the beautiful Sony pcm D1. Just wanted to know the difference between Sony pcm d50. I have tried various mics with this device and its absolutely top-notch (AT882, Rode NTG2, Shure 57 AKG CD1000 and Rode T4) The performance is out of this world. This is down to superior mic pre-amps because It employs the superior AD797 (chip), which boasts ultra-low noise and distortion. A variable gain circuit is adopted for amplitude control, thus improviing the actual signal to noise ratio. The line amplifier provided for each channel is the Analog Devices AD8672. Analog and digital circuits are mounted on separate circuit boards and also separately powered to prevent interference between circuit blocks. The analog circuit achieves superior linearity so that the recorded sound is output faithfully. The internal mics are also awesome.

The results:

Internal mics 10/10

Dynamic mics shure 57 9/10

Condenser

AT882: 10/10
Rode NTG2: 10/10
AKG CD1000: 8/10 (this could be down to being a budget MIC)
Rode T4: 10/10

The simple answer to this is what you pay is what u get. If you can afford it buy it!! personally I think this is the the RR of portable recorders.

Lee Riley said...

we already know this; pcm d1 is far better than pcm d50, but thanks for your info.

scyue said...

SONY PCM D50

tried the mic preamps using the built-in mics and was not very happy. I will never use the built-in mics to record music. The hiss is very audible when the mic vol is set above 4.5. Never done a mic-in recording with external mics.

Regarding digital in...you have to be careful where the digital signal is coming from. There is a problem with this machine accepting 24 bit digital signals from a lot of AD converters. Many AD converters are not compatible with the D50. Grace Design is working on a V3 AD chip up-date so the D50 can be used with it (I will be helping them test the chip this week).

I'm planning to do a comp of the internal AD converter with the 722 and V3 later this month in a concert. If someone else does it before me, it will be great.

Metering is really good!

Are you planning to get it? If I were you I will wait for the fixes and the comp before getting it because it is sort of pricey if you consider the problem with the digital in. You might want to consider the MTII, too.

sacky said...

I'm preparing for tomorrow's first stealth recording with my D50. So I connected my mixpre/DPA4052 with my recorder. The problem is I can hear the hiss from the recorder at REC pause mode using my headphones. The noise seem to disappear when I set the REC vol at "3". So it is actually worse than I thought. Before I thought it was fine when I set the REC vol @4 or 4.5.

Has anyone here actually used the D50 in a live music event yet and was happy? I'm sure someone here must have recorded a concert rather than just recording room/street noise or people chatting. My problem is if I set the REC vol at level 3 the music turns out to be very soft during playback. Even if I turn up the phone vol to "10" (max).

I don't want to turn up the mixpre too high just in case I get brickwalling. BTW, how do I know what is the max I can go with the mixpre before I reach brickwalling?

If I end up recording at setting "3" and increase the vol at home I'm sure the background noise will increase, too. So what is the best thing to do? Use the D50 as a bit bucket with my V3 or just try out the Mixpre>D50 setup or forget about all this and take the trusty 722?

Jav said...

Looking at good reviews from Nelson and Brad I decided to purchase the new Sony pcm d50 digital recorder. I am very pleased with the build quality. As regards to the sound department i am a bit disappointed. This unit hurts, it just sounds to sharp and the device does hiss after the recording level is set more than 4. If i don't get decent recordings, I might return this unit for a replacement to Marantz 620.

Jav said...

I had hopes in Sony pcm d50 had no joy in both external/internal mic recordings. I am returning this product for Fostex FR2 le.

Jav said...

I have received my fostex fr2 le and am with tears of joy. The quality of recordings are of studio grade. I am very happy with this, now all i need to do is by more memory and tamiya battery pack. Job done!!

John said...

Sony pcm d50 is not in the same class
has Fostex fr2 le, that was a great move!!

Mark said...

It seems like these might faulty batches, then i might be wrong.

John said...

Mark
No, the under the skin engineering is of poor quality!!

Juliet said...

Those samples created above,have been created in a very noisy environment, and even Zoom H4 shines. This can be very difficult to compare devices. Brad, please re-record all of them again using different mics, but in a quiet environment.

Brad Linder said...

Juliet - I'd love to if you want to send me an FR2-LE and Sound Devices 702. As I mentioned in the post, I tested all of these devices on the showroom floor of the AES convention under less than ideal circumstances.

Based on my experiences I eventually decided to purchase a PCM-D50 recorder, which I've been happy with as it meets my needs. It's a great portable audio recorder for recording interviews. It's got a solid build quality, hardware volume controls, an excellent limiter feature, and a few other goodies that make it great for reporters.

As I mentioned in the article, I think I had the Fostex FR2-LE settings wrong so I was less than impressed with the results. From other reviews I've read I'm convinced that it can easily sound as good if not better than the PCM-D50. But it has an awkward battery compartment and doesn't take AA batteries, making it tougher to replace the batteries if you run out while in the field.

If you'd like to hear a comparison of the Sony PCM-D50 and the Zoom H4 in a quiet environment, check out my D50 review:

http://www.bradlinder.net/2007/12/sony-pcm-d50-review.html

Jav said...

Brad my friend your wrong, Fostex FR2 le (is good as Korg MR1000, Tascam HP2 and Sound device 702)is a high class professional recording tool with very clean XLR inputs ( u can also get MOD versions), while Sony is just a domestic recording tool for general speech recording only. I would not recommend that device with your profession. For under $600 the Fostex FR2 le rules and I am sure rest of the readers agrees with me.

Jav said...

Brad for your info, (FR2 le) it takes both standard AA and Tamiya battery pack. Its not awkward;its very simple to install.

NIMH 2700 should last up to 6hours.
Tamiya 4300 should last up to 12hours.

Brad Linder said...

Right, sorry I had a brain malfunction there for a second. I know that the Fostex recorder can take AA batteries, but I have read numerous complaints about how difficult it is to access the battery sled.

I'm not saying that the Fostex FR2-LE is a bad machine. Not by a longshot. But different people are going to find each of these machines attractive for different reasons. The only device of these four that I would not recommend would be the Zoom H4. While it looks attractive on paper, and is the cheapest of the bunch, the preamps are really subpar.

The PCM-D50 has been serving me well. I have no doubt I would have been happy with the Fostex recorder as well, but I like having a smaller handheld recorder with the option of using internal or external mics. The prerecord buffer and limiter feature are extraordinarily useful and not only have I never lost a recording, but I recently decided to see what would happen if I turn off the recorder while making a recording (without hitting stop first) and it saved the file, which was a pleasant surprise.

While the Fostex has XLR inputs and is similar in size and shape to the Tascam and Sound Devices recorders, I don't think it's really fair to say that it's in the same league. I have never seen a device that combines high quality parts and user friendly controls as well as the Sound Devices 722. But there's a reason it costs $2000+

John said...

Brad have u listened to Basic or transparent Mod version of FR2 le?

costing $599(Basic)
costing $700(Transparent)
Both above sound better than Sound device.
The busman's mod is outstanding - if u listen to that version; you will agree there is not a single machine out there which can match it - it only lacks TC.

Phil said...

I mainly use audio recordings during filming. TC is essential for me. I use both Tascam HP2 and Sound Devices 744T. Both machines a very accurate - no delays or latency, just perfect sync. when it comes to build quality the Sound devices is something from NASA. Tascam is also good but uses high grade plastic. Sound quality both devices are Excellent but I think to my ears Tascam is better overall feed it with any mic you won't be disappointed. So therefore you do not have to spend $3000 to get high results.

Juliet said...

I was in urgency for a good portable recorder, so therefore i took a risk and picked up Fostex fr2 le as I have several external mics, including AT shotgun mic. I have tried all my external mics and recordings have been exceptionally clean and crisp, with no hiss. I am very pleased this and would recommend this to anyone who is serious about field recording.

Phil said...

Juliet

like I said u do not have to spend 1000's of dollars to get results. In my opinion Fostex fr2 le is just as good as Tascam HDP2, Fostex FR2, Korg MR1000 or even Sound devices. They have just simply trimmed down some features but under the skin its military grade. check this link.

www.avisoft.com/recordertests.htm

Roger said...

I also had an eye for Sony pcm D50 and in fact now i might just purchase Fostex fr2 le with some decent mics.

Juliet said...

that was quiet interesting phil.thnks.

sez said...

At the moment most readers are degrading Sony pcm d50. So it must be bag of shit!!

Jav said...

sez

Just be careful in what u say, but yes the pcm d50 is very poor quality.

Jim said...

After testing more than 28 recorders,
so these are the top5 recorders (under $1200) in my opinion:

5. Marantz 620
4. Fostex FR2 le
3. Korg MR1000
2. Fostex FR2
1. Tascam HDP2

Mark said...

Yes Jim ,I agree with that.

Roger said...

I have managed to get a very good deal around Fostex fr2 le with NT1A Rode mic for less than $800. The recording quality is superb, The clarity, quality and transparency is of studio grade. The floor noise is absolutely dead - no hiss. what do u expect quietest mic in its class and very clean mic amps is going to work quite well hand in hand. With a little research this has paid off. All good stuff.

Graham Riches said...

Brad, I must first apologize to you and the readers who were interested in Sony pcm d50. I must have have caused a lot of unnecessary confusion and frustration around the Sony pcm d50 - Please don't panic!!. I was still not convinced that Sony would sound so bad with external mics and therefore contacted few dealers but they reported back they had used external mics and was equal to or same quality as fostex fr2 le.

So I decided to order another one on trial basis only. This new one looked and felt identical to mine but the sound quality was totally different. With internal mics its the same as before. But with external mics (mics used: Rode NTG2, NT4, NT1A, Shure SM58/SM57, AKG CS1000s, and AT882) it is actually the same quality as Fostex fr2 le but louder and also glad to announce that it is equal to pcm d1. So why does this one sound different to mine? I believe they had been a few faulty batches which were been shipped out ( this was not deliberate but was a mistake. As they gone into production various phase checks were done and few batches missed couple of phases which led to this). Anyhow I have sent mine for replacement and once again I am deeply sorry about this Brad and the readers within this Blog.

Any how the new results are as follows:

Internal Mics:

8.5/10

External MICs:

Shure sm58/sm57 10/10
Rode NTG2 9/10
Rode NT4 10/10
AkG CS1000 9/10
AT882 10/10
Rode NT1A 10/10

The quality is very very good with external mics!!, it is infact unbelievable. The sound quality can be described as very detailed and attacking. The noise levels are equal to fostex fr2 le but better than marantz 620 which is also good. The real beauty about this product is its mic pre-amps - it can be taken very loud so it works very well with dynamic mics too!. Both Marantz 620 and Sony d50 are good but Sony this time is a clear winner!!

Brad Linder said...

Thanks for the update Graham. It is disappointing to know that there are a few bad units out there. Jeff Towne from Transom.org is in the process of reviewing a PCM-D50 and while he says that it sounds better than any other sub-$1000 recorder on the market (I don't know if he's considering the FR2-LE in that batch), he says the memory stick door on his unit is loose and rattles a bit.

The moral of this story: If you're not happy with your PCM-D50, take it back to the dealer and see if you can get another one. It might just be a faulty model.

Graham Riches said...

Brad please check this link:

www.wingfieldaudio.com/portable-recorder-noise.html

Noise floor test on 7 portable recorders.

Brad Linder said...

Thanks Graham, that's a great resource. There are some wild differences in the results for the built in mics, but I can't tell how much of it is due to the mics and how much is mic placement. The speaker sounds further away on some of the recordings.

But it's great to hear all 7 devices with the same set of mics.

Graham Riches said...

I have done back to back test with Sony pcm d50 vs Fostex FR2 le.

External mics only:

Sony pcm d50:

Dynamic range: 79 db
Pre-amp Power: 10/10
Bandwidth: 8/10
Recording Quality: 9/10
THD (Mic): 0.13%
Signal boosted (20%): 3.5% hiss added

Fostex Fr2le:

Dynamic Range: 84 db
Pre-amp Power: 8/10
Bandwidth: 10/10
Recording Quality: 10/10
THD (Mic): 0.03%
Signal boosted (20%): 0.6% hiss added

Over all Fostex FR2 le is the winner the mic-pre amps are very clean.

Graham Riches said...

Update

This is definitely down to the input type 3.5mm vs Balanced XLR.
But as far as I am concerned this 3.5mm input is superb in every respect because the mic pre-amp is very high standard. Remember the Fostex fr2 le is only marginally better.

finao1 said...

Graham,

Thanks for your update. I respect you for making the correction. Your current results are pretty consistent with my experience.

Mike said...

My friend Roger had bought the Marantz 620 and I personally think this is very good unit. But I decided to take a risk and bought the Sony pcm d50. Had this unit for about a week now and I must say this has been a very reliable and easy to use recording tool. The sound quality is absolutely brilliant. Both external/internal mic recordings were just as good as each other. I think this is worth the extra $100 in comparison to M 620.

Anonymous said...

Nagra Ares-M MII

I purchased the above unit with confidence and I must say in any acoustic environment this recorder has not produced recordings to my standards. The recordings produced were of very poor quality (Too much hiss). I have returned this product several times for investigation and each case the company reported its fine. So I decided to hunt for another portable recorder. I finally purchased Sony pcm D50. This recorder is well built like a battle tank. The recording quality is outstanding whether your using internal or external mic. Now the
Nagra Ares-M MII is just collecting dust (Just dead money). I will never buy their product again.

Graham Riches said...

Hey Brad!! check this Sample

http://www.corporatetalkradio.com/download/olympus_ls-10.mp3

Olympus LS10

Graham Riches said...

http://www.corporatetalkradio.com/download/olympus
_ls-10.mp3
Update

Brad Linder said...

Hey Graham,

I actually wrote a separate entry about Philip and Henry's LS-10 review.

http://www.bradlinder.net/2008/03/want-to-know-what-olympus-ls-10-sounds.html

Overall it sounds like a great little recorder. It offers most of the features you can find in the PCM-D50, but for about $50-$100 less. And it comes in a smaller package. There's no track mark button though, the internal mics are not repositionable, and you don't get the Sony's innovative limiter feature. But the LS-10 does look and sound like it could be useful for many folks looking for a budget recorder or a backup for a bulkier, pricier unit.

Graham Riches said...

look at this recorder Brad!!

http://www.zaxcom.com/zfr_recorders.htm

Graham Riches said...

Also check this.

http://www.felmicamps.co.uk/products
/fel3.5series.html

and

http://www.felmicamps.co.uk/products
/felbattpreamp.html

Graham Riches said...

Transom has finally reviewed Sony pcm d50. :-)

aaronji said...

Just FYI: Marantz has updated the PMD620 firmware. The major feature of that update is that, in addition to increasing processing speed, they have addressed the monitoring latency issue. Just thought you might want to know, as this is one of your major criticisms of the unit...

Anonymous said...

Edirol has released new recorder:

Edirol ro9HR

David said...

I'd be much obliged if you could quote the serial number of the faulty D50 and the one from the improved batch. I'm considering a D50 and it would help me weed out the better unit. Thanks!

Rob D. said...

Re: "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."

One can also use a Rolls PB224 or Art Phantom II portable phantom power unit which cost $50-70USD.

I suspect the PMD-D50 has the same or very similar A-D mic pre chip as the Sony Hi-MD recorders. This is consistent with the very high available gain and very low noise.

Rob Danielson

Graham Riches said...

There are some rumours that Zoom is releasing a new version of H4 portable recorder (version II in Black with aluminum body) with much cleaner pre-amps (studio grade). Until then we must wait... The recent H4 production has also been re-designed internally to eliminate pulse noise which was reported on the early production of this machine. I had a play with the recent production:

- No more pulse noise using batteries.
- pre-amp is much cleaner and has better gain.

-even internal mics sounds better but there is still some problem with handling noise.

Over all a good machine.

Mark said...

Yes,Graham your right but also the new H4 zoom version II will support multiple recording formats including DSDIFF, DSF, and WSD 1-bit formats, as well as multi-bit PCM format (BWF) with resolutions up to 24-bit/192 kHz. Plus will take 4 AA batteries which will last up to 12 hours. This is all good stuff - can't wait.

Jill said...

Thankyou very much FYI around Zoom H4, I was too concerned about the buzzing noise and I sent mine back to
Zoom and they modified (free of charge) mine to recent
standards. I have done few basic tests and I am pleased to say that there is no more buzzing noise. Also the pre-amp is lot cleaner and more powerful after comparing with the older recordings. Well done Zoom and
thanks to Riches. Yet to try external mics.

Anonymous said...

Hi,
First of all, sorry for my bad english.
After reading a lot of comments and reviews about the Sony D50, the marantz 620 and the fostex FR2 LE, I was going to buy the marantz, because it is smaller (for field recording). But now I read that the sony is even better, (I followed the topic month after month) just you have to be carreful since it seems there are few bad items on the market.
The transom review is also luckwarm regarding the sony, when the marantz always seems to get good reviews.
So, I m a bit confused...
What is your final word on the Sony?
Is there anyone here to tell me whether I should buy the sony or the marantz?
Also: I m currently in north america and I m willing to buy the items here, since it is less expensive than in France.
Who s got the best prices for recorders such as the FR2, the marantz or the sony?
Thanks for your help!!

Brad Linder said...

It depends on what you really need a recorder to do. I've generally tried to stray away from definitively saying that one recorder is better than another. But the Marantz PMD620 is cheaper and smaller than the Sony PCM-D50, while the D50 has a few additional features like a custom limiter function and hardware dials for the volume and record volume.

Honestly, both appear to be good recorders and have received positive reviews. Neither accepts XLR inputs or provides phantom power without an adapter, so they're not exactly perfect. But you get what you pay for.

I personally have been using a Sony PCM-D50 for over a year and I'm happy with it. But I don't own a Marantz PMD620, so I've never been able to do a real side by side comparison.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Brad for your answer.
I went to a store today to check the fostex LE, see how it feels and I was surprise by its lightness. Although it is not exactly a small unit like the marantz or the sony, it is still managable. So, now I m just indecise between the Sony D50 and the Fostex. Like you said, it really depends on what I want and how I will use it (it is for journalism, soundscapes ...)

I own a Shure 58 and a sony 907, both dynamics mics (I suppose).

So I m thinking:

Fotex + : phantom power, XLR inputs
Sony + : smaller

Mmmmh...
With dynamic mics, can you really tell the difference between the sony and the fostex?

Since the price is almost the same and that I m not the one paying :), I really don t know what is worth.
Please someone help me...

PS: I was thinking buying through B&H, is it a reputable store?

Thanks again...

Graham Riches said...

Sony has more stronger pre-amp (better Drive), so this will be better for dynamic mics. If XLR is a must then consider Fostex FR2le.

Anonymous said...

This is a very informative blog, thank you to all!! I've been pondering what my best choice should be, and am still undecided between Fostex LE, Sony MD50, Marantz 620, and the Zooms.

I have been wondering if Zoom would be coming out with an updated model (H3??) but sounds like a new version of the H4 is in the works, which sounds very promising! Where has this rumour come from?

As a musician, the track on track recording is appealing, but I also want to do many other types of recording (live music in stereo, interviews, nature sounds) so would look forward to the H4 with necessary improvements.

Any idea when we may see the new H4 hit the shelves?

Graham Riches said...

Marantz has announced that the venerable PMD660 solid-state portable recorder will be replaced by the PMD661.

check this link

http://www.soundonsound.com/news?NewsID=10885

As for zoom h4 (II), its ?.

Steve M. said...

I'm right on the edge of getting the Marantz 620. I'm concerned about the strength of the mic jack..anyone have any breakage there?

If you have this unit, are you satisfied, would you buy another?

I produce a podcast and I'm in the field a lot. I just hope it can hold up the way my much larger Marantz 670 did. I know it doesn't have all the features but the small size is particularly alluring.

Thanks!

Graham Riches said...

Hi! folks Zoom is to release H4n flash recorder. Like I mentioned few months ago. Looks very good. Here is the link.

http://ces.cnet.com/8301-19167_1-10131461-100.html

Graham Riches said...

Zoom H4 was always a complete recorder with XLR inputs that no portable recorders could offer but with very poor mic pre-amp. Although Marantz 620 and Sony pcmd50 are very good recorders but does not employ XLR's. The new Marantz 661 has XLR inputs but at a high price.The recordings made with dynamic mics using 661 was notibly hissy, with condenser it was fine.
check this link:

http://www.wingfieldaudio.com/marantz-pmd661-review.html

Now for the new H4n - this was reported by UK engineer (at Zoom). he did some test with the following recorders Sony pcm d50, Marantz 661 and Olympus LS-10.

"H4n has very good gain control and works fine with good dynamic mics, (SM58)in fact the results were in par with Sony pcm-d50 with lots of head room (very low floor noise). The results were quite clear that it out performed both Marantz 661 and Olympus LS-10 with Dynamic mics".

Using condenser NT1a. The results were very close between Marantz 661, Sony pcmd50 and H4n (all recorders produced ultra low back ground noise). Olympus sounded very tiny and thin.

With built in mic Sony and Marantz 661 produced good results. The H4n was in a different class; it was as good as using Rode NT1A. Olympus was just average.

*NB Sony and Olympus were routed via Rolls Phantom Power unit.

So in theory with these results H4n could be a real winner offering lots of features, Excellent qualtiy recordings with all external mics, Pro XLR inputs and a brilliant built in mic. Nice interface too!
The mic pre-amp (burr brown) is decent quality.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing that info. My next recorder is going to Zoom H4n. I already own Sony pcm(d50) and was about to purchase XL-R 1 unit. But looking at this recorder made me think twice.

Graham Riches said...

Now we have 2 portable recorders to have XLR inputs with phantom power capability.

-Zoom H4n
-Tascam DR-100

So which one?

This is going to be a close one but i am leaning towards Zoom with its 24/96 and the fact that the company was the first to employ XLR on a unit of this size.

Who's next(to provide XLR)?

probably - Sony and Edirol.

Anonymous said...

A friend who attended Namm Quoted

"The DR-07 is roughly the size of the Olympus LS-10, but a little thicker/chunkier. The DR-100 is pretty much analogous to the Zoom
H4n, but with better build quality and slightly more handsome design.
Weirdly though, I don't think it sounds as good as the H4n and it will be about $100 more...The H4n is ugly and I've been tempted to snap its mics off with my bare hands b/c the build quality is iffy. However, both the
interface and its sound quality are indeed MUCH clearer than it's
predecessor".

So riches could be right here! because Zoom Technology is more dedicated to portable recorders than Tascam. So overall sound quality will be edged by Zoom.

Anonymous said...

The good:

The PMD661 recorder is a big improvement over the original PMD660 The PMD661 recorder is a big improvement over the original PMD660
model. Using Rode NT1A mics, the recorder's self-noise is inaudible Using NT1A Rode mics, the recorder's self-noise is inaudible
in most circumstances I tried. in most circumstances I tried. I found results to be better/quieter I found results to be better / quieter
than my Olympus LS-10 with NT1A and battery box. than my Olympus LS-10 with NT1A and battery box.

The PMD661 is very well constructed. The PMD661 is very well constructed. The top plate is metal, making a The top plate is metal, making a
very solid mounting for the pushbutton controls. very solid mounting for the pushbutton controls. The controls operate The controls operate
smoothly, giving the impression of a high quality device. smoothly, giving the impression of a high quality device.

It's nice to have so many options for input. It's nice to have so many options for input. The PMD661 has XLR and The PMD661 has XLR and
1/4 inch jacks for mic and line level input, 1/8-inch mini jack for 1 / 4 inch jacks for mic and line level input, 1/8-inch mini jack for
line level, and an RCA jack for digital input. line level, and an RCA jack for digital input.

The PMD661's built-in mics are good. The PMD661's built-in mics are good. They're quite adequate to record They're quite adequate to record
a conversation around a table, for example. a conversation around a table, for example.

A pair of speakers are mounted in the sides of the case. A pair of speakers are mounted in the sides of the case. These
speakers are powered by an amp capable of 450 mW output. speakers are powered by an amp capable of 450 mW output. That's 3 or That's 3 or
4 times louder than most small recorders, quite loud enough to fill a 4 times louder than most small recorders, quite loud enough to fill a
room with sound. room with sound. The speakers sound pretty good if not driven to maximum. The speakers sound pretty good if not driven to maximum.

The bad: The bad:

Battery life is a lot less than I hoped. Battery life is a lot less than I hoped. Four fresh alkaline AA cells Four fresh AA alkaline cells
lasted just 3 hours when recording WAV files and providing phantom lasted just 3 hours when recording WAV files and providing phantom
power to mics. power to mics.

The PMD661 makes heavy use of software menus to configure parameters The PMD661 makes heavy use of software menus to configure parameters
of recording. of recording. I found this to be a hindrance. I found this to be a hindrance. For example, I counted For example, I counted
19 clicks of the controls to change mic attenuation from 0dB to -12dB. 19 clicks of the controls to change mic attenuation from 0dB to-12dB.
An external switch would be most welcome to control this function, An external switch would be most welcome to control this function,
which often can't be set in advance of the recording session. which often can not be set in advance of the recording session.

The LED panel showing input level is not angled enough to let you see LED panel showing the input level is not angled enough to let you see
them easily when carrying the recorder on your shoulder. them easily when carrying the recorder on your shoulder. I found I I found I
had to lift the recorder up to see the LEDs clearly. had to lift up the recorder to see the LEDs clearly.

I was disappointed that the Record Timer function only worked if the I was disappointed that the Timer Record function only worked if the
PMD661 was left on. PMD661 was left on. I had hoped that the timer function would turn I had hoped that the timer function would turn
the recorder on at the scheduled time, like the Yamaha Pocketrak CX the recorder on at the scheduled time, like the Yamaha Pocketrak CX
does. With limited battery life, leaving the recorder running is not With limited battery life, leaving the recorder is not running
a good idea. a good idea. I guess I will have to get out of bed to record the dawn I guess I will have to get out of bed to record the dawn
chorus after all! chorus after all!

Competitors:

At this price point, the primary competitor with similar features is At this price point, the primary competitor with similar features is
the Fostex FR-2LE. the Fostex FR-2LE. I think the FR-2LE has slightly better preamp I think the FR-2LE has slightly better preamp
self-noise, but the Marantz seems to me to offer more gain. self-noise, but the Marantz seems to me to offer more gain. Both
recorders have menu-driven configurations. recorders have menu-driven configurations. The Marantz has a louder The Marantz has a louder
speaker and digital input. speaker and digital input. The Marantz is 45% lighter (500 g vs 900 g). The Marantz is 45% lighter (500 g vs. 900 g).

To me, the FR-2LE's most important advantage is in battery life. To me, the FR-2LE's most important advantage is in battery life. Its
larger case can hold a rechargeable battery good for 8 hours of larger box can hold a rechargeable battery good for 8 hours of
recording, even while providing phantom power. recording, even while providing phantom power. A small battery is an A small battery is an
unwelcome distraction while recording in the field. unwelcome distraction while recording in the field. You have to worry You have to worry
about the battery level constantly, and the battery seems to run out about the battery level constantly, and the battery seems to run out
at the most inopportune moment! at the most inopportune moment!

At about $850, the Marantz PMD671, and the Tascam HD-P2 should be At about $ 850, the Marantz PMD671, and the Tascam HD-P2 should be
considered. Both are heavy, full-size recorders, but include better Both are heavy, full-size recorders, but include better
battery life, more configuration by switches, and a design that works battery life, more configuration by switches, and a design that works
better when carried on the shoulder. better when carried on the shoulder.

Conclusion:

The Marantz PMD661 is a well built, flexible device that would be a The Marantz PMD661 is a well built, flexible device that would be a
good choice as a general purpose recorder in the $600 price range. good choice as a general purpose recorder in the $ 600 price range.
Audio preamp performance is very good. Preamp audio performance is very good. The ability to provide mics The ability to provide mics
with 48V phantom power is most welcome. with 48V phantom power is most welcome. If you can live with a If you can live with a
battery life of 3 hours, then the PMD661 would be a great choice. battery life of 3 hours, then the PMD661 would be a great choice.

Anonymous said...

Fostex FR2LE chosen for blast off with NASA.

Fostex is pleased to announce that the FR-2LE Field Recorder has been selected by NASA to travel on the Space Shuttle (STS) and International Space Station (ISS) in the autumn of 2008 as the primary audio capturing device.

Greg Smith, who for over 20 years has been working with IMAX Space Systems developing sound recording systems to fly aboard the Space Shuttle and International Space Station, notes that his role was "to choose a workable recorder and train the astronauts who would be doing the actual recording in space." Having graduated from analog cassette to a DAT recorder, NASA deemed that IMAX was ready to fly again after a long hiatus, and needed to update the recorder.

The factors considered were: small (hand-held best), weight; ease of operation; Alkaline battery powered and easy to swap out batteries; rugged recorder shell; XLR mic inputs with good mic preamps; flexibility in recording formats; ease and clarity of monitoring; CF-card based; responsiveness from manufacturer to solve problems; and getting questions answered quickly. Smith says, "The FR-2LE was, as Goldilocks says, 'just right'." After extensive testing by NASA, it passed with flying colors and IMAX approved it for the project.

The maiden flight of the Fostex FR-2LE in currently scheduled for sometime in the Fall of 2008. Smith says, "IMAX is extremely excited to see how the unit performs in the challenging and forbidding environment of space travel. We have high hopes...as high as the stars and wherever our travels take us."

The pictures below were taken at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland in March 2008. It is called a "clean room" environment. It cuts down on dust particles that might make their way onto hardware which is bound for space. Every particle of dust can be dangerous.

Gale said...

Brad where is sample recordings for Zoom H4n and Tascam DR-100?

Anonymous said...

Hi! Brad

I have H4n recording made using NT1A mic - this recording was done by zoom technical/research. I would like to upload this; can you please allow me to do so.

Brad Linder said...

I don't currently have an easy way for readers to upload their own audio, but if you upload it to esnips.com, youtube, or some other site and send me the link I'll post about it on the blog.

You can also contact me directly by clicking the contact button at the top of this web site if you want to email me the audio sample.

Anonymous said...

The file has been sent to your mail.

Gale said...

Hi! Brad . can we please listen to that sample (H4n).

Brad Linder said...

Here you go:

http://www.bradlinder.net/2009/01/zoom-h4n-audio-sample.html

Sorry it took a few days, but I was having a fight with eSnips.

Jon said...

Abit dissapointed with the H4n sample as the original file sent does not have that back ground noise.

how has it generated that noise?

Brad Linder said...

That's how it sounded when I first listened. You sent it as an MP3, which might have introduced some interference. If you send me a WAV file using yousendit.com I can give it another try.

Jon said...

Sorry Brad! I forgot i am comparing WAV vs MP3. The WAV sounds even better. Ignore that last e-mail.

Cliff said...

Can anyone comment on which of these recorders would be suitable for recording wild birds? I will be using a Sennheiser ME66 microphone. Since the sounds of interest usually aren't very loud, it seems that a powerful preamp is important.
A built in speaker is also useful.

Michael Schneiderhan said...

Hi
can anybody help me.
I want to record church organ in wave, to make audio cds as presents
for friends and family.
I want a good audio quality, and
easy handling of the recorder.

Thank You so much

Anonymous said...

Too bad the sales guy kept you from recording room tone with the PCM-D50. Now we'll never know. Focus.

Jon said...

Sorry Brad! I forgot i am comparing WAV vs MP3. The WAV sounds even better. Ignore that last e-mail.

Graham Riches said...

Sony has more stronger pre-amp (better Drive), so this will be better for dynamic mics. If XLR is a must then consider Fostex FR2le.

Brad Linder said...

It depends on what you really need a recorder to do. I've generally tried to stray away from definitively saying that one recorder is better than another. But the Marantz PMD620 is cheaper and smaller than the Sony PCM-D50, while the D50 has a few additional features like a custom limiter function and hardware dials for the volume and record volume.

Honestly, both appear to be good recorders and have received positive reviews. Neither accepts XLR inputs or provides phantom power without an adapter, so they're not exactly perfect. But you get what you pay for.

I personally have been using a Sony PCM-D50 for over a year and I'm happy with it. But I don't own a Marantz PMD620, so I've never been able to do a real side by side comparison.

Jill said...

Thankyou very much FYI around Zoom H4, I was too concerned about the buzzing noise and I sent mine back to
Zoom and they modified (free of charge) mine to recent
standards. I have done few basic tests and I am pleased to say that there is no more buzzing noise. Also the pre-amp is lot cleaner and more powerful after comparing with the older recordings. Well done Zoom and
thanks to Riches. Yet to try external mics.

Graham Riches said...

There are some rumours that Zoom is releasing a new version of H4 portable recorder (version II in Black with aluminum body) with much cleaner pre-amps (studio grade). Until then we must wait... The recent H4 production has also been re-designed internally to eliminate pulse noise which was reported on the early production of this machine. I had a play with the recent production:

- No more pulse noise using batteries.
- pre-amp is much cleaner and has better gain.

-even internal mics sounds better but there is still some problem with handling noise.

Over all a good machine.

Anonymous said...

Edirol has released new recorder:

Edirol ro9HR

Graham Riches said...

Transom has finally reviewed Sony pcm d50. :-)

Graham Riches said...

look at this recorder Brad!!

http://www.zaxcom.com/zfr_recorders.htm

Anonymous said...

Nagra Ares-M MII

I purchased the above unit with confidence and I must say in any acoustic environment this recorder has not produced recordings to my standards. The recordings produced were of very poor quality (Too much hiss). I have returned this product several times for investigation and each case the company reported its fine. So I decided to hunt for another portable recorder. I finally purchased Sony pcm D50. This recorder is well built like a battle tank. The recording quality is outstanding whether your using internal or external mic. Now the
Nagra Ares-M MII is just collecting dust (Just dead money). I will never buy their product again.

Graham Riches said...

Update

This is definitely down to the input type 3.5mm vs Balanced XLR.
But as far as I am concerned this 3.5mm input is superb in every respect because the mic pre-amp is very high standard. Remember the Fostex fr2 le is only marginally better.

Brad Linder said...

Thanks Graham, that's a great resource. There are some wild differences in the results for the built in mics, but I can't tell how much of it is due to the mics and how much is mic placement. The speaker sounds further away on some of the recordings.

But it's great to hear all 7 devices with the same set of mics.

Roger said...

I have managed to get a very good deal around Fostex fr2 le with NT1A Rode mic for less than $800. The recording quality is superb, The clarity, quality and transparency is of studio grade. The floor noise is absolutely dead - no hiss. what do u expect quietest mic in its class and very clean mic amps is going to work quite well hand in hand. With a little research this has paid off. All good stuff.

Jim said...

After testing more than 28 recorders,
so these are the top5 recorders (under $1200) in my opinion:

5. Marantz 620
4. Fostex FR2 le
3. Korg MR1000
2. Fostex FR2
1. Tascam HDP2

Phil said...

I mainly use audio recordings during filming. TC is essential for me. I use both Tascam HP2 and Sound Devices 744T. Both machines a very accurate - no delays or latency, just perfect sync. when it comes to build quality the Sound devices is something from NASA. Tascam is also good but uses high grade plastic. Sound quality both devices are Excellent but I think to my ears Tascam is better overall feed it with any mic you won't be disappointed. So therefore you do not have to spend $3000 to get high results.

Jav said...

Brad my friend your wrong, Fostex FR2 le (is good as Korg MR1000, Tascam HP2 and Sound device 702)is a high class professional recording tool with very clean XLR inputs ( u can also get MOD versions), while Sony is just a domestic recording tool for general speech recording only. I would not recommend that device with your profession. For under $600 the Fostex FR2 le rules and I am sure rest of the readers agrees with me.

Jono said...

Rolls PB224 will give you phantom for the D50 at a sensible price

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