With an industrial design that invokes images of Robbie the Robot and a Star Trek tricorder, the Sony PCM-D1 has the appearance of techno eye-candy on a Hollywood sci-fi production stage. Yet, unlike a stage prop, the PCM-D1 recorder is a legitimate tool, with a function list as cool as its looks.
The PCM-D1 is a self-contained, battery-powered, handheld, Flash RAM, 2-channel digital audio recorder. It boasts high-quality, built-in microphones and high-res recording capability. The titanium case feels rugged and looks great. The unit is about the size and weight of a high-end sound level meter, weighing less than a pound and a quarter with the batteries fitted, and measuring roughly 7x3x1.5 inches. The front of the case features a backlit LCD display (including peak metering), buttons for transport control that double in menu control functions and a delightful pair of mechanical needle meters, looking like VUs but scaled appropriately for digital recording. The rear of the case is threaded for mounting on a standard camera tripod.
The PCM-D1 is pretty straightforward to use–press play and record, and you’re off. Mechanical record level controls track left and right together unless the operator slips the right channel knob outward for independent control. From the menu pages, sampling and bit rates can be chosen, input source selected and a number of other functions can be toggled in or out–these include a digital limiter, 200 Hz pass filter, and Sony’s Super Bit Mapping for dithering to 16-bit. Remaining functions relate to simple manipulation of stored tracks. They can be divided for a rudimentary trim of a track, or tracks can be deleted.
Recordings can be made from the internal mics, external mics (non-powered, 2-channel input on a single TRS mini jack) or from an external line in (also on TRS mini, unbalanced). There’s also line/digital out on a combo mini TRS/optical jack and a mini TRS headphone out.
The internal microphones are good-quality electret condenser units, fixed at 45-degree angles to one another, as a not quite coincident X-Y pair. The entire mic assembly is somewhat adjustable horizontally, pivoting relative to the plane of the PCM-D1 case, and a windscreen is provided. The microphone frequency response extends out towards 30 kHz for higher sample rate recording. There’s no provision for digital input, clock or SMPTE timecode synch, which I’ve heard a number of potential users lament, particularly those doing field work for post or broadcast.
The PCM-D1can be powered by a 6V external (wall wart) supply, or from four AA batteries. Four nickel, metal hydride AAs are provided (giving 4-5 hours of use), with an external charger. It’s a bit of a drag that the batteries have to be removed from their carrier for charging, and can’t be charged via the power-in jack, but there’s a plus side–the scheme would allow you to keep spares charging during operation and to use conventional AAs in a panic. As the rechargeable batteries are a commodity item, spares (and even a spare charger) can be found much cheaper than would a proprietary battery pack, and Sony plans to soon make the PCM-D1 battery carrier available as an optional item, facilitating rapid battery swaps. Sony also reports testing the unit with the long-life disposable Lithium batteries, yielding a 7 to 8-hour battery life compared to two hours for standard alkaline disposables.
There’s a whopping 4 GB internal Flash memory internal to the recorder. The seven resolution options range from 22.05 kHz/16-bit to 96 kHz/24-bit (yielding from 13 hours, 10 minutes of record time at the lowest res to two hours at 96k/24). The PCM-D1 also has a slot for removable Memory Stick PRO (high-speed) media, up to 4GB on a stick. .WAV file recordings are limited to 2GB in size, but recording automatically continues in a new file if that limit is reached. Files can be stored in one of 10 pre-numbered folders, and files are auto-named with an 8-digit label. There is no provision for renaming folders or files from the recorder. The built-in mini-USB port allows the recorder memory to appear as folders on a PC or Mac. The recorder cannot address other memory inside a connected computer. File names (but not folder names) can be changed from a computer, but this can cause re-sequencing of file playback.
The Sony PCM-D1 sounds good–good mics, quiet and transparent analog electronics and good converters–and it’s operationally intuitive. Sales have reportedly been brisk, despite the premium price. For live music/theatrical/event/field recording and for broadcast and journalism applications, discriminating professionals are embracing the PCM-D1. Who could resist?
PCM-D1 Portable Digital Recorder: $1999.95