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Sony PCM D50 pocket recorder review

Sony PCM D50 Digital Recorder Review.
plus, a nice "wind screen" idea.
List $599.00

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Sony PCM-D50 digital recorder
Disclaimer. The opinions expressed are those of Michael Oster and may not reflect that of other audio and music professionals. Your mileage may vary. Just because I like one piece of equipment does not guarantee a thing. F7 Sound and Vision and Michael Oster are not liable for any damage caused by your agreement or disagreement with the following:
Here's the deal after a little more time with the Sony D50.

(Update 12-18-12):
Even more use. No problems!

(Update 1-26-10): More use. No problems! Still working well.

(Update 8-17-10): 2 years of use. No problems! It's a great "point and shoot" recorder. Note: since so much time has passed, there may be new offerings in this price range (or less) that equal (or possibly improve on) the D-50s sound quality. Take a look at the pocket recorders from Sony, Tascam, Roland, Zoom, Yamaha, and Olympus.

(Update 7-28-08): Almost 3 months of solid use. No problems! I still love this "point and shoot" recorder.

(Update 6-16-08): The more I use the D50, the more I'm impressed by its sound quality - it's good stuff. I'm considering doing a podcast episode of nothing but the field recording's I've done with the D50 (I'll post a link here when it happens). I'm even happy with the unit's internal microphones (which I usually keep set at the 120 degree setting), as I'm able to get useable audio without carrying extra gear.

*** Previous update ***

It does actually fit in my jeans pocket (though barely). The recordings that I made with the internal microphones sound clearer than those I made with the R-09.

I finally got around to running a Rode NT4 stereo microphone into the D50's external microphone inputs. It sounded really nice. No problems and a very low noise floor (that's a good thing). I've reduced the wind noise with the unit's internal microphones by using the pantyhose / tulle netting (see below), but anything over a gentle breeze craps out the recording. Yes, I could use the "fuzzy" cover, but the recorder with the cover won't fit in my pocket.

*** Now for the review ***

So, how many people are addicted to recording as much as I am? Any guess? 4? OK, 4. Well, whatever your level of recording passion/obsession, you've probably taken an interest in the current line of available pocket recorders.

Many of you have probably read my review of the Edirol R-09 and know that I've been using one of those recorders since the Summer of 2006. At first, I loved the unit, but, after it fell victim to the popular "input jack issue" I began to question it's long-term reliability.

That aside, my R-09 is still working albeit minus functioning input jacks. But, would I spend $399 on a new one? Not without checking out the other recorders from Tascam, M-Audio, Zoom, Fostex, Marantz, Olympus, and Sony first (Edirol has recently updated the R-09 recorder to the R-09 HR which the company says has improved electronics as well as the ability to record at 96k).

Due to a store credit (not related to the R-09), I was presented with the option of purchasing a new "pocket recorder". After researching the available recorders in the $199 - $599 price range, I chose the Sony PCM-D50. And so far, I'm glad I did.

First Impressions

Well the D50 barely qualifies as a "pocket recorder" in my opinion as it just fits in to my cargo shorts pocket, and probably won't fit into my jeans pocket (actually, it barely fits in my jeans pocket). It's larger than the R-09 and runs on 4 AA batteries where the Edirol unit takes just 2. Though the Sony boasts a far better battery life than any of it's competitors as of today (2008 when this was written).

The D50 feels sturdy, more like a professional recorder should. It's easy to operate the D50, no manual needed as long as you remember to hit "pause" after you hit "record" to actually begin recording. No big deal. But, for best results, skim the manual OK?.

I was more impressed by the D50's sound quality. Using its' built in microphones set to the 120 position (wide stereo), I made some quick recordings of a dawn chorus outside my front door. It was a nice, clean recording, free of noise with a good sense of space. Even better was the woodpecker that I captured (click for sound sample). In post (Pro Tools LE with PSP Master Q plug), I rolled off everything below 500Hz and raised the overall output volume by almost 15dB (yes, 15dB gain!!).

Suburbia's noise was in the recording as I expected, but the Sony D50's internal and microphone noise was absent (GREAT!). Oh, and connection from the D50 to my Powerbook G4 via USB was quick and painless. The Sony's WAV files loaded into Pro Tools quickly and without issues. Cool.

Keep in mind that I've only spend a little time with the D50 (as of the time I wrote this). But, here's the main things that I like about it (not in order):

  • 4 GB of internal memory standard (no external cards needed)
    but optional Memory Sticks will expand the available recording time.
  • A "real" volume knob (versus tiny buttons)
  • Adjustable internal microphones
  • Great sound quality
  • Long battery life
  • Sturdy build quality
  • "Divide" feature will automatically split a file while recording.

A note about wind protection. I've read a few complaints about this recorder being overly sensitive to wind noise. Personally, I can't think of any condenser type of microphone that doesn't need some kind of wind protection when used outdoors.

That said, if you get the D50, you better strongly consider some kind of wind protection. Even while recording and moving position indoors, I experienced some wind noise. Not a deal breaker by any means as I've had this same thing happen using professional shotgun microphones indoors.

My actual first recording with the D50 was of a bumble bee. I followed the bee with the recorder and got within inches of said insect. The recording was beautiful until the wind from the bee's wings hit the microphones. So, I slipped on a fuzzy wind cover. Well, the bee had enough of me, so I was left with just neighborhood ambience. The wind cover knocked out most of the wind problem, but it added a good bit of bulk to my recorder (which would make stealth recording much harder to do since I now had a ball of fur in my hand - people would be asking to see my sugar glider or something that would catch the eye of those ever present security cameras).

This is where the "netting" (see the D50 image above right) comes into play. The metal "roll bars" that protect the microphones also make for a great wind screen support (at least that's my idea). I took a few inches of netting fabric called tulle (see my wind test article for more details) and double-layered it over the microphone section, securing the fabric with rubber bands. That worked, but just a little bit. Next, I added a double layer of panty hose (my wife is so understanding when it comes to my recording addiction) to the tulle layer. Much better. As much as the "furry" cover? Not quite, but it also doesn't have the bulk of the fur either. And, it is acceptable in light outdoor breezes.

I'm going to be refining this wind protection setup for the D50 and will post the updated info here.

D50 handling noise: It goes without saying that anything you're holding that has microphones in it will conduct some amount of handling noise to the microphones. The D50 does seem a little more susceptible to this, so be careful when recording with the internal microphones - or record with external microphones. Any microphone that terminates in a 1/8" stereo plug will work (as long as it has its own internal power or can operate off the D50's available plug-in power.

In the meantime, I think that if you're looking for a small "pocket" field recorder, the Sony PCM D50 should be on your list to consider. Yes, it's about $100 more than its closest competition, but that extra money buys you a step up in quality.

For detailed features, specs and all other info, visit Sony's D50 web page.

Above: my Sony PCM D50 (2010 photo). What's with the panty hose "netting" over the microphones? See below left to find out why I put it there.

Here's a quick sound clip that I recorded with the D50. It's a woodpecker in my backyard along with some other birds. The woodpecker was high in a dead cypress tree about 100 feet away from me. Recorded at 24 bit / 44.1k. [ woodpecker sample mp3 ]

In case you missed it below on the left, I raised the gain of the recording by almost 15dB and rolled off the frequencies below 500Hz in post production.

More recordings I made with the Sony PCM D50. These mp3s were originally recorded at 24bit / 44.1 with the internal microphones.

Bird, Plane, Bird - you guessed it. A nice ambience with 2 kinds of birds and a plane overhead.

Target Baby Cry - you're riding in the shopping cart as we try to get past another cart with a youngster who's obviously not happy to be there.

Target Point of Sale - you're at the checkout counter, loving the "beep" sounds.

This review focuses primarily on my use of the Sony PCM-D50 as a pocket field recorder. My biggest concern was sound quality, of course. But also, durability and ease of use.

I neglected to include specific features of the unit that I will probably never use like "mp3 playback", "digital pitch control", or "SBM" (since we live in a 24 bit world). So, while you're reading this, you might think that I left some things out. Yes, I did. On purpose.

And, I reserve the right to update this review as I get more time under my belt with this recorder.
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Sony PCM D50 / Rode NT4 combo

I went outside and made a couple of quick recordings with the Sony D50 and the Rode NT4 (NT4 plugged directly into the Sony via 1/8" stereo jack - power to the NT4 was supplied by its internal 9v battery). Then, I unplugged the NT4 and recorded the same ambience with the Sony's internal microphones set to 120 degrees wide stereo. No level change was made between the recordings.

I thought that the NT4 sounded a bit more detailed and natural. Though the signal seemed a little lower than the Sony D50's microphones. There was a little more high end on the Sony mics as well as a little wider stereo image (though the NT4 is a 90 degree XY stereo and the Sony is 120 degree).

Overall, the Sony microphones impressed me with how well they held up against the Rode. But, I would rather record with the Rode NT4 into the D50 when I have the option.

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