The M10 is a 24-bit/96 kHz-capable field recorder featuring electret condenser stereo microphones, 4GB internal memory, and a microSD/Memory Stick Micro (M2) slot for expanded memory. Approximately the same width and height and twice the thickness of an iPhone, it fits comfortably in the hand.
Because there are no moving parts in the PCM-M10, you can rest assured that the two omni condensers mounted in the top corners of the case will not pick up internal hard-drive noise. Between the two mics, two separate 1/8-inch TRS jacks for external mic and pro-level line input are available. Maximum input level is 123 dB SPL. The 1/8-inch TRS output can be switched between headphone and line levels. The M10 records as either .WAV or MP3 files, and can additionally play back .WMA (non DRM) or .M4A (AAC-LC, non-DRM) files.
In addition to the physical controls you would expect on a recorder such as this, the M10’s Track Marking button is available to drop flags during playback; using the FF and FR buttons allows you to jump to those points. A small USB 2.0 port connects to any computer so that, upon connection, the M10 appears as a standard drive. The M10‘s large, dedicated, record-level knob, located on its right side, is easy to adjust with your right thumb.
The included remote (connected via 1/8-inch jack, located below the recordlevel knob) can stop, start, record, or drop track flags and has a red LED that remains lit when recording. Key functions of the PCM-M10 include digital pitch control, digital limiter, low-cut filter, a 5-second pre-recording buffer, and Cross Memory. According to Sony, Cross Memory allows the PCM-M10 user to “continuously record from the 4 GB built-in memory to the Memory Stick Micro (M2) or microSD, and vice-versa, ensuring no interruption of recording if one media reaches capacity.”
Another notable feature not found on all modern field recorders is a very small utility speaker, located on the bottom of the unit; in most normal situations, it can be loud enough to let you hear what has been recorded. You may need to put it to your ear in noisy environments, or use headphones.
The M10’s caramel backlit LCD display has horizontal metering that shows -40, -24, -12, -6, 0 and OVER. There are also LEDs next to each of the two mics that indicate -12 and OVER, so when the backlit LCD panel goes dark, you can still see levels. Excellent.
A 3-VDC wall-wart power supply is included in the package, and color options — red or black — are available.
Out of the box and bypassing any review of its manual, I was able to put it to work immediately. After inserting two AA batteries and holding down the power button, the M10 sprang to life, indicating sample rate and bit depth; the amount of recording time left; and that it was in STOP mode. Hitting the REC button put the M10 instantly into record-ready with the yellow backlit PAUSE button flashing and meters showing level. I tapped the PAUSE button, and was recording. Nice.
My first recording effort was a snap. I used the threaded socket on the back of the M10 to mount it on my old 35mm still-camera tripod, positioning it so the right mic was pointed up and the left mic down. That let me plug my Sony MDR7506 headphones in without the cord draping over the M10. I grabbed my acoustic guitar and slid the rig into place so that I was singing into the right mic and the left mic was picking up my guitar. I had to restart once because I got too close to the mic and popped it. (Note: Maybe Sony should consider a small foam pop “hat” as is included in some competitors’ packages.) My second take was fine and sounded good when played back on the Sony headphones. An easy-access front-panel Delete button plays back the selected file so you can hear the track you’re about to delete: another good idea.
Connecting the M10 to my MacBook with the supplied USB cable, I dragged the take to a Garageband timeline, then trimmed, tweaked, and published it to a blog page on my iWeb site: from recording on the couch to playback on the internet in about eight minutes. The 5-second pre-record buffer works as advertised, but you have to be in record standby for five seconds to fill the buffer.
The M10‘s battery consumption (or lack thereof) is phenomenal. I never drained the two AAs I used, and saw one online report claiming 43 hours of constant record in using the M10. The digital limiter, along with over 10 dB of analog headroom, allows a wide spectrum of input levels to be successfully recorded.
When I loaded files from my Mac to the M10 for playback, it worked for my MP3 files but not for all of my .WAV files; my basic PT|LE stereo files played back, but some that I had added metadata with iTunes would not play. Sony was able to open my files in Sound Forge and re-save without metadata. For Macs, opening the files with Switch software and saving them as standard .WAV files will allow such problem files to play.
The M10 feels and acts like a solid performer, and I like its feature set. Even though I own a Sound Devices 744T — completely suitable for comprehensive field recording work — I still want one of these!
Ty Ford has written for PAR since the second issue.tyford.com