(click thumbnail)From the introduction of the first Superscope decks to the ubiquity of PMD200-series, Marantz portable cassette recorders were the dependable workhorses of journalists and broadcasters for nearly three decades. With the introduction of the PMD620 ($499), Marantz makes its tardy entrance into the diminutive flash-recorder revolution that the company’s early products partly inspired.
The six-ounce, palm-friendly (2.5 x 4 x 1 inches) Marantz PMD620 portable flash recorder writes to SD and SDHC (high capacity) flash cards, and uses the USB 2.0 spec for computer file transfers. It can record mono or stereo WAV files at 44.1/48kHz rates in 16-/24-bit resolutions; and MP3 files at rates between 32 and 192kbps.
The front surface of the PMD620 features a high-contrast OLED display, two “telltale” LEDs (for signal-present and -peak), and a large and tactile set of controls. Two omnidirectional electret condenser microphones are built into the top of the unit, and an 1/8-inch TRS jack is provided for external microphone use. Five-volt phantom power can be engaged for external electret mics, and input signals can be attenuated with a selectable 12 or 24dB pad; an unspecified high-pass filter is also available via the settings menu.
Stereo 1/8-inch jacks are provided for line-level input and output, and there is an 1/8-inch headphones output and a small built-in speaker for monitoring inputs and file playback.
The PMD620 breezed by many of the common pitfalls found in other flash recorders I have used, it doesn’t escape taking a few stumbles along the way. Starting with its strengths, the PMD620’s sound quality was very good, especially when using quality external condenser mics or a mixed signal into its line inputs. The built-in mics were quite decent in general, and particularly good and clear in close interview use. As is to be expected with two omni mics situated close together, using the PMD for general event-room applications resulted in a fairly unfocused and narrow stereo-image recording.
With good source volumes and high-output mics, internal self-noise on recordings was negligible, and handling noise when using the internal mics was impressively low. A handy included accessory doubles as a belt clip and adapter for the secure mounting of the PMD620 on a camera tripod (though I found this to be a somewhat odd choice over an even more useful mic stand mount).
Broadcast and location recording
SD/HCSD card flash recorder; records stereo or mono 44.1/48kHz, 16/24-bit WAV files, 32 to 192kbps MP3 files; 1/8" stereo mic in & line in/out jacks; powered by 2 x AA batteries or included AC adapter; USB 2.0 file transfer; built-in omni electret mics.
D & M Professional | 630-741-0330 | www.d-mpro.com
The PMD620’s menu system is unified, consistent and flat – probably the most intuitively navigated of the breed. Because its recording settings are internally stored in three recallable presets, trips into the 23-item preset menu are significantly reduced. Presets can also be stored and recalled from SD cards – perfect for assuring consistent settings across multiple machines and users.
Recording is quickly accomplished with a single push of the large Rec button. The Rec button can also be used to manually break an ongoing recording and start a new file on the fly (aka, Track Increment); an option in the preset menu can be selected to instead automatically increment the track at set intervals ranging from one minute to 24 hours. Note that using either of the above options, however, results in a very small gap in recording continuity, the size of which is principally determined by the speed of the SD card. In practice, using a 66x SD card resulted in a virtually unnoticeable gap of just a few samples, and was corrected easily using the pencil tool in Sound Forge.
Recording time is limited only by the capacity of the SD card, up to a maximum of two terabytes. Though it might be a few years before that max card size is available, it’s nice to know card- and file-size limitations will not be an issue with the PMD. In playback, the Rec button can be used to mark in and out points for the creation of a new file from the defined section.
Unlike several of the competing models, the PMD620 is capable of recording mono files, which reduces post-processing time for quick-turnaround reporting use. Likewise, I also appreciate he use of commonly available batteries (2 x AA, in this case) as opposed to the field-problematic rechargeable proprietary ones.
Detractions include the absence of discrete L/R inputs and digital I/O, and its inability to act as a streaming USB interface for recording directly to a computer. By far, the strangest two design implementations on the PMD620 are that the headphone jack is placed squarely between the two built-in mics (creating an awkward handling situation and potential contact noise problems), and that the Record Time and Record Level displays are located on separate pages of a revolving four-page recording display cycle – not fun for those of us that must constantly reference both.
Despite succumbing to some design pitfalls, the PMD620 is a welcome addition to the palm-sized, under-$500 digital recorder scene. Its quick one-touch recording, user presets, mono file ability, fast heads/tails editing and USB 2.0 interface make it ideal for journalists and news-bureau use. Marantz’ considerable portable recorder history is displayed in the unit’s field-friendly tactile approach, its sturdy build, its ease of navigation, and in its recording quality.