I was looking for a recording device that didn't need a lot of setup, had built in microphones, was capable of recording in various formats and was easy enough for even an intern to operate. We are routinely visited by new talent who sing for the staff, and the programming department wanted an easy way to record the performance. We also needed a field recorder for live events and interviews.
We chose the Sony PCM-D50, which is capable of recording WAV files and MP3 playback. The device itself has two built-in microphones; an external handheld microphone can also be used, and there are connections to attach a line-level device.
Around the device
The PCM is roughly 6" by 3" and 1¼" thick. The case is made of aluminum, so it will withstand use on the road. The first items you notice are the two built-in microphones positioned at the top of the device. Below the microphones are the peak level LEDs for the left and right channels, then a display window just above the controls: menu, FF, pause, stop, record, play, divide, light, display and A-B keys. Each side has a turn knob level control. The one on the left adjusts the headphone level and the right adjusts the record level. Along with the record level on the right side is the power on/off switch, the line-in (analog and optical) and a Memory Stick slot. On the left side are the line-out (analog and optical), headphone jack, input select switch (mic or line), a mic attenuation switch (0dB or 20dB), USB connection, hold and digital pitch control (DPC), 6Vdc input jack and a remote jack.
The display shows time information, recording or playing status, level meter, memory stick indicator, folder and track numbers, recording mode, amount of memory remaining, power levels, and if the limiter, low cut filter and sync record are set to on.
The recorder can run on four AA batteries or a 6Vdc power supply, such as the included wall wart. The batteries are housed in a battery carriage that slides into the battery compartment. The battery life is approximately 20 to 26 hours of playback with standard batteries and 25 to 27 hours with rechargeables. The battery life for recording depends on the recording mode: The lower the sampling frequency and bit-rate the longer the battery life. As always, battery life depends on the operating conditions.
The recorder also includes four batteries, a USB cable and a copy of Sound Forge Audio Studio LE.
Performance at a glance
|Wide range of sampling rates
4GB internal memory
Memory Stick expansion slot
The unit can record using the built-in or external microphones. Files can be transferred via USB. The optional Memory Stick can naturally be removed and read with a card reader. The primary use of the built-in cardioid microphones is for recording musical performances. There are two positions for the microphones: 90 degrees (X-Y position) and 120 degrees (Wide Stereo position). Set the recorder six to nine feet from the sound source. The unit has a camera tripod thread mount on the bottom to simplify setup. The X-Y configuration works well for close miking to a small group. When recording a large group, such as a choir, set the microphones in the wide stereo position.
When an external microphone is attached, the unit displays the Plug-in Power menu. If plug-on power is needed, select on. The built-in microphones are automatically bypassed when an external microphone is used. The PCM-D50 can record from a line-level source using the 3.5mm line-in or optical input. Audio can be played directly from the unit via the 3.5mm line-out or optical output. Other features include digital pitch control, super bit mapping, and A-B playback repeat. Optional accessories include a remote commander, tripod stand, microphone windscreen and the XLR-1 XLR mic adapter.
The default sampling rate and bit-rate is 44.1kHz/16-bits, but there are eight settings to choice from: 22.05/16, 44.1/16, 44.1/24, 48/16, 48/24, 96/16 and 96/24. This is easily done through the menu functions. A low-cut filter (LCF) of 75Hz or 150Hz can also be set in the menu. A limiter can be engaged for auto level control. The limiter recovery time can be set for 150ms, 1 second or 1 minute.
A prerecord buffer can be engaged to include five seconds of audio before the record button is actually pushed. This came in handy when I recorded some bands, because I did not always know when they were going to start. The extra audio at the beginning was a big help in editing.
I found the device to be user friendly. The manual gives good instructions on how to set up and use the device. The display window is a good help, as it displays a lot of information to ensure the recorder is set up the way you want to record or playback. The multi-function I/O was a great help, and directly connecting to a DAT or MD player worked flawlessly. One of our on-air personalities used the unit to finally transfer his archived audio from DAT for editing and storage.
I used the recorder to record several musicians thanks to the Atlanta Institute of Music. I used every sample rate, LCF on and off, and mic attenuator on and off. The audio we recorded turned out very good. It was surprising that even audio recorded at the lowest sample rate was not bad. If Aerosmith was to appear on stage at a local establishment and I pressed the record button and then saw that it was set to 22.05/16, I would have no problem airing that audio. I felt the recordings in the wide stereo position were the best quality, as it picked up not only the musicians' audio but also the ambiance of the auditorium. It especially picked the high frequencies very well; listening to the cymbals just roll off was pleasant to my ears. I was a little disappointed in the X-Y microphone configuration, as I did not get the good stereo separation I was expecting.
If you plan on using the recorder for individual interviews, I recommend using a handheld microphone. We conducted several handheld interviews using the built-in microphones at 90, 120 degrees and pointing straight out, at about 4" to 6" inches from the person speaking. While the overall audio quality was good, we experienced some phasing and overdrive issues with the close proximity to the microphones. You could use just one channel for a mono track and eliminate the phasing issue, but the mics are still very sensitive to any plosives. Overall, I'm impressed with the PCM-D50. It's a good piece of equipment.
Trask is director of engineering, Lincoln Financial Media of Georgia, Atlanta.
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