Fast FactsApplications: Broadcast, field, live sound
Key Features: Two-channel; 4 GB Flash RAM Hard Drive/Optional Memory Stick Pro flash card slot; built-in high-end preamps; built-in X-Y positioned electret cardioid microphones; up to 24-bit 96 kHz; battery operable
Contact: Sony at 201-358-4109, www.sony.com/professional
+ Compact and lightweight
+ High-res recording on Flash memory
+ Quality, built-in stereo microphones
+ Excellent A/D
– Too many meters
– Only mini jack analog connectors
Very good built-in mics/preamps make this handheld high-res flash drive recorder one to consider for high-quality ENG or remote music recording.The advances in computer technology have revolutionized professional recording. These advances have recently manifested themselves in a crop of handheld digital recorders that go beyond the traditional 44.1 kHz sampling rate of CD.
Many of these recorders have come in at the low end of the price spectrum (M-Audio, Edirol), but Sony’s PCM-D1 sits at the higher end of the price and feature range – with a number of features and design embellishments that don’t make the price seem too high.
After the PCM-D1’s introduction at the New York AES, I was able to finagle the only unit floating the U.S. for a couple of weeks. By the time I sent it back, I was ready to buy one.
The PCM-D1, originally designed by Sony’s audiophile division, features up to 24-bit/96 kHz resolution, 4 GB internal Flash drive and built-in, high-quality electret condenser microphones. After ten years of pushing DSD/SACD up a steep hill of acceptance, the PCM-D1 is Sony’s first-ever high resolution PCM recorder. Can we expect more PCM recording products?
The science fiction-ish looking recorder weighs in at very light 20 ounces, thanks to a titanium case and the lower weight Flash memory. The entire recorder can be placed on a mic stand or camera tripod via its mini-thread bottom connector.
The unit can run on either four rechargeable or disposable AA batteries, You can get about two hours max on batteries when recording at the lower sample rates. [Sony details battery expectancy at four hours/NiMH and two hours/alkaline for 24-bit/96 kHz activity and five hours/NiMH and two hours/alkaline for 16-bit/44.1 kHz activity.]
Key features include built-in limiter, 200 kHz high-pass filter, mini jack analog line input, mini jack stereo mic input (a Sony accessory), mini jack analog line/headphone output, mini jack TOSlink utput and USB output. There is no digital input, and the digital output requires an accessory (not included) special mini jack TOSlink cable from Sony (My older mini jack Sony TOSlink cable worked just fine and allowed bench tester Bascom King to make complete measurements).
If you are using the PCM-D1 with a computer, the digital output is not necessary since the USB allows for direct access to the audio WAV files.
The microphone preamp/mic tandem is no slouch in this combo unit. Sony has equipped the PCM-D1 with an Analog Devices AD797 mic preamp chip for each channel. The specially designed electret cardioid mics have been made more sensitive because of the lack of close proximity drive noise, which allows for better performance, according to Sony.
If you go in with your own preamp or mixer, the line in amp is solid as well – an Analog Devices AD8672 chip. The mic preamps have their own analog meters, which are vintage styled. Peak flashers also give a snapshot of overload conditions. The unit’s LED stereo level meter is the more important meter, however, since it indicates the true digital clipping threshold.
Function buttons (some are quite small, but accessible) include the power switch, mic/line input selector, dual-recording level/thumb-wheel knobs, headphone thumb-wheel knob and a mic attenuation switch.
Panel buttons include Menu, Forward, Rewind (also function as the Menu up and down scroll buttons), Pause, Record, Display Light, Stop Play/Enter and Track Divide.
Without XLRs, the professional end-user will likely use the PCM-D1 with the built-in mics. I would say that broadcast ENG, sound effect recorders and concert recorders will likely go for the Sony. Cinema audio recorders would want timecode, so it may not be their first choice.
The audio can be stored on the internal Flash drive or Memory Stick Pro, which are available in capacities up to 4 GB, according to Sony.
The Sony comes standard with a battery recharger, an AC adapter, a windscreen and a handy carrying pouch.
To test the PCM-D1 capability and sound quality, I recorded acoustic guitar and voice. I used the built-in mics and I linked the recorder to a mixer and a pair of Audix SCX-25s (my favorite acoustic guitar mic).
The first thing that I noticed about the PCM-D1 is how easy it is to use. I never read the manual except to get exact info for writing this review. From the easy-to-navigate menu, you simply select the recording format, select the folder you want to put the tracks in from the menu, set the level and push Record and Play.
The Menu also includes other functions including Memory (Memory Stick or Internal), Folder (ten folders are placed on the drive), Record Mode (16-bit/22 kHz sampling to 24-bit/96 kHz sampling), Limiter (on/off), High Pass Filter (on/off), Super Bit Mapping (on/off), Delete Track, Delete All Tracks, Format Drive, LED Display (on/off and Clock (setting).
The functions are incredibly easy to set. By the way, the Super Bit Mapping feature, SonyÕs pseudo-20-bit A/D processing introduced in the mid 1990s, only functions in the 16-bit, 44.1 kHz or 48 kHz mode.
The cardioid mic tandem is arranged in a closely-spaced, fixed X-Y arrangement, and I found you could get quiet close and they still sounded good. I used them without the supplied windscreen. My first recording session with the PCM-D1 was a straight-ahead recording of my 2002 Martin OOO-28VS, a present, rich sounding fingerstyle guitar. I placed the PCM-D1 about a foot from the guitarÕs soundhole. and recorded several cuts.
I then played back the audio and listened via headphone jack using Ultrasone HFI-2000 headphones. The sound was clean and quiet, but not quite as open as I have heard 24-bit/96 kHz recordings. But knowing that an onboard monitoring system does not always deliver what the A/Ds have recorded, I loaded the tracks into my G5 workstation via a mini-USB to standard USB cable (an option that was not included in my test rig).
I opened the WAV files in BIAS Peak, normalized the level and played back via the Benchmark DAC-1 D/A converter using the same headphones. The playback from the PCM-D1Õs recordings was impressive, the Benchmark, revealed the openness and the presence of the guitar recordings. The mic/mic preamp audio quality was impressive. The stereo width was not as wide as you can get it with a wider mic placement afforded by separate mics, but imaging was adequate.
I also tried the unit on voice and came to the same conclusions as the music recording: Internal playback via headphones was good, but the presence and body of the vocals was much more impressive when played back through a separate DAC.
I also recorded the same guitar with a small mixer and the Audix SCX-25. Since their is only the mini-jack stereo input connector, I used a high-quality, mini-jack to stereo RCA jack cable to get the signal into the digital recorder. The result was as expected with the Audix’s, a present, full-dimensional recording, but I actually liked the internal mics a little better. I think the mini jack limited the mixer fidelity a bit.
PAR bench tester Bascom King, a seasoned classical guitar player, did a bunch of recordings of different classical guitars. I imported those tracks into my workstation, and I came to the same conclusion as my own recordings – the Sony’s mic system and the PCM-D1 A/D make really good recordings.
The only quibbles I had were functional. I wish the PCM-D1 had RCA inputs and outputs (instead of the mini jacks), and a digital input so you could use other A/Ds if so desired.
To make room for those goodies, maybe Sony could jettison the analog meters. They work well enough, but the unit already has a stereo input LED meter. Since there is only one set of input level controls, two sets of meters are redundant. Yes, the analog meters are cool, retro-looking and a little easier to read, but the stereo input LED meter is more important.
Being a high resolution audio advocate for pro audio, I am pleased that Sony introduced the PCM-D1. High resolution recording gets a nice boost from products like this. With its sleek, lightweight build, ease of use, built-in high quality mics, high resolution sound and flexible I/O options, the Sony PCM-D1, even at $2,000 list, is a product I plan to buy.