Jun 21, 2010

Sony PCM-D50 Review


Portable PCM digital recorders are all the rage now, especially that many of them such as the Olympus LS-10 and LS-11 sound so amazingly great.  It wouldn't be Sony if they didn't offer their competitive model.  Actually, the PCM-D50 is more expensive than the offerings by Olympus by a few hundred dollars but, it does have a few benefits over the LS-10.

At first blush it looks like a mini-sized PCM-D1 but costing 70% percent less.  However one notable difference right off the bat is that the D50's mics can swivel from the "X" to "Y" position whereas the D1's mics are fixed and cannot be moved.

The D50's mics are also much smaller than the D1's but again, we're talking about a huge cost reduction in comparison.

One major difference in user interface between the Olympus LS-10 and the D50 is that the LCD on the D50 does not have a contrast adjustment and the backlight isn't as bright as I'd like it to be, but all the information is clearly readable even in bright daylight.

However what really matters in these devices is what they *sound* like, and in that department the Sony has an obvious edge over it's competitors.  The built-in mics are quite sensitive and the pre-amps for those mics almost seem overpowering at times requiring lower record-level settings that one might expect from a device this small.

The AGC circuitry is also an improvement over the LS-10 as it handles quick transients much better and without the typical harsh pumping associated with most AGC circuits.  Again, the added premium for the Sony pays off in real-world performance gains.  Overall the sound quality from the D50 is superior to competitive products from Tascam, Roland and others in this price range.

Battery life is another huge plus in the D50 as it can easily go more than 20 hours with a single set of batteries; certainly that's more than normal daily human endurance without becoming mentally exhausted so clearly, the D50 battery life will outlast the human operator by a huge margin.

But speaking of human interfaces, what Sony didn't do for the extra money is a bit surprising if not downright disappointing.  No hand strap, case or neck-strap is included with the unit!  There are eyelets to put either but you have to buy those separately.  Aw c'mon... really?  My Olympus came with both a strap and a nice holster-style case - for $200 less!  I guess Sony felt it wasn't making enough money on the unit sale alone.


For the money you can't buy another portable PCM recorder that sounds better than the Sony PCM-D50.  Sony also makes the XLR-1, which allows you to connect XLR-type mic to the D50 or the D1.  (see my review)

Since I've reviewed the D50 Sony has released a newer, slightly more compact model the PCM-M10 which looks to be a direct competitor to the Olympus LS-11, but I have not had any hands-on time with that model yet and so I can't compare it to it's now older brother.

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