Just in time for the holidays, Sony and Marantz have begun shipping their new digital audio recorders. I'm already starting to hear reports that customers who pre-ordered Marantz PMD620 units have begun to receive them. I pre-ordered a Sony PCM-D50 back in October, and after several delays, retailers are starting to get these units in stock as well. But only in small quantities. I contacted the store I ordered from and found out that they had placed an order for 45 units and have only received 5 so far. I was number six on the list, so my recorder probably won't arrive until the second week in December. Expect a full review sometime around then.
The M-Audio Microtrack II is also scheduled to begin shipping soon, but haven't verified that anyone actually has it in stock yet.
I've had several people ask me recently which recorder I recommend. It all depends on your needs. I've decided that the popular Zoom H2 isn't right for me, primarily because I already have a Zoom H4 with most of the same features.
The Marantz PMD620 looks like a step up from the H2, in that it's a handheld recorder at twice the price from a company with a solid track record in this space. It lacks XLR inputs, but I'd be willing to wager that its mic preamps are better than those on the H2, resulting in a cleaner sound. That said, the PMD620 lacks the H2's 4 mic capsules and ability to act as a USB audio interface for a computer.
If you want good, but not great sound quality at a budget, I'd say go for the H2. If you want an easy to use recorder with a more solid casing, the PMD620 might be the way to go. I'll be curious to see if the sound quality with the internal mics is any better than the H2, and how the PMD620 sounds with external microphones.
If you need an XLR input, you'll probably want to shell out a few extra bucks and get a Marantz PMD660, PMD670, or Fostex FR2-LE. If you've got even more money to spare, check out the Tascam HD-P2, which sells for about $1000 or the Sound Devices 702, which is about twice that price. Both sound amazing compared with the sub-$600 recorders.
I've opted for the Sony PCM-D50 because it kind of blew me away when I tried it at AES. The sound quality with the built-in mics was excellent, sounding at least as good as my Zoom H4, but without the mic handling noise I get when I jiggle the case on the H4. Even though the PCM-D50 lacks XLR inputs, I was able to record an extraordinarily loud sample using an external dynamic microphone. And the hardware volume knob is a nice touch. On top of that, the PCM-D50 includes an advanced limiter feature that virtually guarantees your audio won't clip, and a pre-record buffer so that you'll almost never miss a recording. Oh yeah, and the ability to mark tracks on the fly.
At $500, I understand that the PCM-D50 might not be for everyone. And I have yet to test it in a quiet room, so I can't vouch for the quality of its recordings yet. But in my mind, it's definitely worth a bit more than the Marantz PMD620. But if you need phantom power for an external condenser mic or just like the heavy-duty feel of XLR inputs, you're probably better off going with the Fostex or higher end Marantz recorders.
Update: Reader Eric Diamond reports that his PCM-D50 has arrived, and he's impressed with the build quality and the sound quality. I'm a bit disappointed to hear that the unit is susceptible to handling noise, since I didn't detect any during my initial test (in an admittedly noisy room). But if you use an external mic, you won't get any handling noise, and you won't hear any sound when pressing the track mark button. And Diamond says the preamps are much cleaner and better suited for external mics than those on most low cost digital audio recorders.
You can read the rest of Diamond's impressions in the comments section of this post. If anyone else has received a PCM-D50, PMD620, Microtrack II or other new flash audio recorder, please let us know!