Sony PCM-D100

PCMD100_FEATURED

Farewell, PCM-D50

Sony PCM-D100

There was widespread mourning, wailing, and gnashing of teeth when Sony announced that they were discontinuing the PCM-D50 recorder. OK, maybe that reaction was mostly from us here at Transom – the D50 has been one of our favorite portable reorders for many years. Despite the significant shortcoming of only having a mini jack for external microphones, it was durable, easy to use, and most important, sounded great.

We’ve been quite impressed by its smaller sibling, the Sony PCM-M10, but the overall feel and sound quality of the D50 was a level above. So it was a relief to hear that Sony was introducing a replacement for the D50, and even better, it was to be an upgrade. Our enthusiasm was dampened a bit when we saw the proposed price of the new Sony PCM-D100 Portable High-Resolution Recorder: $800. The D50 could usually be purchased for about $450, and even that seemed a little steep among the ever-expanding field of similar recorders selling in the mid-$200s (such as the Zoom H4n or H5, and The Tascam DR-100mkII or DR60D.)

$800?! What was Sony offering for that hefty boost in price?

Hello, PCM-D100

http://transom.org/2008/sony-pcm-d50/First the good news: most of what we liked about the PCM-D50 is still present on the D100: it’s solidly built, controls are logical and easy to use, and the sound quality is excellent. In fact the built-in microphones and internal audio circuitry have all been upgraded from the D50, and the sound quality is noticeably better. In addition, this recorder has 32 gigabytes of internal memory, up from 4 gigabytes on the D50, which will allow long record times (over 43 hours at 16bit/44.1khz), even several hours at the highest resolutions. There’s also a card slot for additional memory, which will accept both Sony Memory Sticks and conventional SD cards, up to 64 gigabytes. The unit is capable of continuous recording that cascades from internal to external memory for those really long sessions.

The D100 is a great tool for documentary audio production: it has excellent sound quality, good battery life (about 12 hours on four AAs), and an easily readable screen, supplying accurate input metering. There are only two major downsides: the lack of XLR mic inputs, and the price. You do get some enhanced capabilities over the much more affordable Sony PCM-M10, but some of these improvements might be overkill in most real-world situations.

Recording Formats

The most noteworthy change in this new device is in the audio circuit’s analog-to-digital conversion: the D100 can encode audio at much higher sample rates, or into the esoteric high-resolution DSD (Direct Stream Digital) format. On the opposite end of the spectrum, when audio quality is not the priority, there’s also the option to record as MP3.

Recording formats include linear PCM: 16- or 24-bit at 44.1, 48, 88.2, 96, 176.4, or 192kHz. DSD (Direct Stream Digital) recordings are encoded at 2.8224 MHz. MP3s can be made at the low-quality 128 kbps, or high-quality 320 kbps. There’s also a dual-recording mode that can make a WAV and an MP3 at the same time. This might be handy if you’re on a deadline and want to make a high-quality WAV file for the actual production, but also immediately be able to send a reference MP3 to a transcriber, or editor, or collaborator. That’s a broader variety of options, and of high-quality recording formats than most portable recorders can offer (although the Korg MR2 has similar capabilities, including DSD recording).

Sony PCM-D100This raises a practical question: do these high-end recording formats make sense on a recorder like this? For conventional audio or video documentary production, 16-bit and 44.1 or 48Khz recording resolution is usually sufficient. Some recordists prefer the greater dynamic range of 24-bit, but the resulting sound files are larger, which translates to shorter record times on the available memory in the recorder, as well as more hard drive space required in later production. For everyday journalism, one can just leave the recorder set at 16-bit/44.1 khz and ignore the higher-resolution settings. You can’t help but wonder whether you’re paying extra for capabilities that are not necessary in most situations.

Recording at higher sample rates (88.2 and above) remains somewhat controversial: using those rates allows higher frequencies to be encoded, but those frequencies are well beyond the physical range of human hearing, and certainly beyond the capabilities of most final delivery media. Radio broadcast, internet streaming, and even most video delivery codecs will reduce the final quality of the audio, so, while it’s always a good policy to start with the highest-quality audio practical, it’s worth questioning whether any audible benefits are derived from making field recordings at extremely high sample rates.

There is more common demand for those higher-resolution formats in the music-recording world. It’s not unusual for musical performances to be tracked at 24-bit, 88.2 or 96khz, even though most final delivery format is 16-bit, 44.1khz (for CDs) or lower for MP3s or AAC files distributed over the internet. There are a few high-resolution audio formats available to audiophile consumers (SACD, DVD-Audio, Blu-Ray, Neil Young’s proposed Pono music format, etc.) but no widely-accepted standard has emerged, and as with many topics in the audiophile world, there’s controversy over whether these higher resolution formats create an audible difference that listeners can appreciate.

SACD (Super Audio CD) never took off as a widely accepted consumer format, but it survives as a niche product. It uses DSD for high-resolution audio playback, but that type of encoding is not widely used in field recorders, largely because there are very few editing programs that work directly on DSD audio. Most popular digital workstations require the audio be converted to linear PCM (such as a WAV file) for editing purposes, so it might make sense to record them in one of the more common PCM formats to begin with.

For demanding situations requiring high-resolution recording, such as delicate musical performances, you have to wonder whether any small all-in-one recorder, even a great-sounding one like the D100, is the correct tool. Most music recording involves specialized microphones and meticulous placement, selected for the particular instruments. Esoteric microphone preamps are often used, selected for their unique character. The microphones and preamps built-into the Sony PCM-D10 are quite nice, but they’re hardly a replacement for the alternatives available to a seasoned audio engineer.

Sony mentions nature recording in their literature, and indeed that may be one of the best uses of a recorder such as this: it’s relatively small, runs on batteries, and unlike many other portable devices, has low-enough self-noise that one can clearly capture the relatively quiet sounds of birds, insects and other environmental ambience. However, the built-in microphones are very directional, and as a consequence, very sensitive to wind-noise. Sony provides a furry cover for the mics (a $50 option on previous models) and that mitigates wind noise, although a strong breeze is still going to create rumble.

So, in some instances, it might be more practical to position a small portable recorder than to set up microphones on stands, run cables, and record to a computer or stand-alone recorder. But it seems like the occasions where a portable device, using its built-in mics, is the best answer for 24-bit/192khz recording would be rare. So the Sony PCM-D100 sits in an odd limbo between practical portable tools, and high-end audiophile devices.

http://transom.org/2008/sony-pcm-d50/

Internal vs. External Mics

Like most other Sony recorders, external mics can be connected to the recorder, but there is only a mini jack input. That means that the recorder cannot provide phantom power to condenser mics, so be sure to use a dynamic mic, or condenser mics that can use internal batteries to provide power. We generally prefer that recording devices have XLR jacks for external microphones, they provide a more solid connection — sometimes with a latch — and mini jacks often wear out, or are damaged by lots of use, or as cables are pulled at odd angles.

Sony PCM-D100That said, Sony uses good components, and their mini jacks are more robust than most, so with some care, that input can work fine. You may want to take special steps not to stress that input jack, such as securing the mic cable to the back of the recorder with gaffer tape, so the weight of the cable isn’t pulling on the jack at an angle.

The internal microphones are quite good, they’re larger and warmer sounding than the mics on the D50, and are an excellent choice for recording ambiences, performances, and any other stereo soundscapes. As on the D50, the capsules can pivot from a near-coincident XY pattern to a wider spread pattern, when you need to capture a more spread-out source. That wider mic position tends to give a more vividly stereo effect, but the XY gives a more reliably mono-compatible, phase-coherent recording.

Audio Samples

In the audio sample below, recorded in the livestock barn of a small fair, some very vocal sheep were recorded first with the mics in the XY pattern, then about half-way through, the mics are changed to the wider pattern.

Download
Listen to “PCM-D100 – Sheep”
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Listen to “PCM-D100 – Fireworks at Fairground (internal mics in XY pattern)”

The built-in mics are not ideal for recording interviews, they’re too susceptible to P-Pops and handling noise, and it’s hard to watch your meters when holding the recorder up to your subject’s mouth. The good news is that the Sony mic preamps are so clean and powerful that most any kind of external microphone will sound good with this recorder. Just remember that phantom power cannot be provided on a mini connector, so if you’re using condenser mics, they must have internal batteries. “Plug-In Power” is available to power certain electret microphones. Even low-output microphones, such as dynamic omni mics, can be used successfully with the Sony PCM-D100, provided that you have a properly wired XLR-to-mini cable. Be sure it’s made for this purpose, with the tip and ring connectors on the mini jack wired together, sometimes labeled a “camcorder cable.” That way, audio is sent to both the left and right channels, which helps in monitoring what you’re recording.

Download
Listen to “PCM-D100 Dynamic Omni Mic”
Download
Listen to “PCM-D100 Condenser Omni”
Download
Listen to “PCM-D100 Short Shotgun Mic (Sennheiser K6/ME66)”
Download
Listen to “PCM-D100 Short Shotgun (Rode NTG2, not NTG1 as announced!)”
Download
Listen to “PCM-D100 Built In Mics”

Sony PCM-D100

To reduce handling noise, and allow more flexible positioning of the recorder, there’s a wireless “Remote Commander” that allows you to have basic control of the machine from a distance. You can start, stop and pause the machine, engage recording (with a helpful red LED on the receiver that indicates record status) and add marks. It’s generally a good idea to keep an eye on the input meters while recording, but if you set them carefully, and then need to position the recorder in an out-of-the-way location, the wireless control can be very helpful. It works on infrared signals, much like your TV remote, so you need to be in line-of-sight, and not too far away.

A Few Minuses

In short, the PCM-D100 is a great machine. It’s a little larger and heavier than the most compact portable recorders, but smaller and lighter than many of the most popular models. The Zoom H4n, Tascam DR-100mkII, and the Marantz PMD661 are all larger than the Sony PCM-D100, but that’s an unfair comparison: those other recorders all have XLR mic inputs. Despite the lack of XLR jacks, the PCM-D100 deserves to be compared to those recorders, because the sound quality is as good or better than all of them. The built-in mics are excellent, and external mics sound great too, benefiting from extremely clean and powerful mic preamps, resulting in the cleanest sound of any of the portable recorders we’ve reviewed, rivaled only by the Sound Devices recorders.

Sony PCM-D100There is one tragic design change: the input gain knob has been redesigned. They improved it by making it a nested stereo control, so now the left and right input gains can be changed independently or offset. But in doing that, they made the knob a little harder to turn. That seems like a minor complaint, but the PCM-D50’s buttery-smooth input gain knob was a major attraction! It sat comfortably under the thumb when the D50 was held in the right hand, allowing silent, accurate gain changes in real time. This is still possible on the D100, the knob is in the same position, but it’s smaller, and tighter, and behind a guard, making it harder to do a smooth adjustment with the thumb.

The D100’s operation is otherwise pretty straightforward, and will be familiar to anyone who’s used the D50. Even if you’re new to Sony devices, it’s pretty easy to navigate the menus using the up/down and left/right buttons on the navigation wheel, and pressing the central “play” button to make a selection. The Home and Option buttons provide quick access to the most common parameters one needs to adjust. By default, the F1 and F2 buttons access the limiter and the low-cut settings, allowing for quick adjustment of those helpful tools. Those buttons can be re-assigned as shortcuts to other functions if you prefer.

As with previous Sony recorders, the limiter is quite good, using a unique “dual-path” process that switches to a safe record level, rather than making real-time analog level changes, which avoids the weird pumping artifacts that many other limiters suffer from. You can set the limiter to stay at the lower safe record level for a fleeting 150 milliseconds, a full second, or a full minute (or you can turn it off completely.) Low cut filters can be turned off, or set to 75 or 150 hz, for reducing rumble from wind, handling noise, or even just too much bass from a mic close to a sound source.

The only function that might not be intuitive is the most important one: recording. Pressing the red record button puts the machine in Record-Pause mode, so you can see levels on the meters, and hear sound in your headphones. But it is NOT recording!! A second press of the record button does nothing (that often starts recording on other brands of recorders.) To begin recording, you need to press the triangle “Play” button while in Record-Pause. Then, you’ll see the elapsed-time counter rolling, and you can be sure you’re recording.

Sony PCM-D100

There’s a headphone jack with a volume knob (much better than an up/down rocker switch) that has plenty of output level. There’s also a line out on a stereo mini jack, which may be helpful for feeding a signal to a video camera or auxiliary recorder. That level is not continuously adjustable, as has become common on many recorders, but there are switches to change the output from mic to line level, and to pad the line level down 20 dB, which should cover most camera-feed situations sufficiently.

Another minor shortcoming: the built-in speaker is pretty anemic. It’s not such a hardship to use headphones, and speakers occasionally cause unpleasant feedback, but the basic small speakers in many competing field recorders can be handy for quick review of recordings, or transcribing when you’re sick of wearing headphones. The D100 speaker has a pretty low-level output (controlled by the headphone volume knob) making it hard to use beyond simply confirming that there’s some signal on the recording.

It’s also a little irritating that the USB connector for transferring audio files from the recorder to a computer is not a standard mini USB like every other little audio device in the universe. It is a micro USB, which is not a completely uncommon connector, but almost all other audio recorders, and most cameras, use mini USB, so it would be nice to just keep one kind of cable on-hand. So don’t lose the USB cable that comes in the box, and get a spare, or you’ll have a hard time moving sound files from the built-in memory.

Final Thoughts

But overall, the Sony PCM-D100 is a very capable recorder, and a worthy successor to the beloved PCM-D50. Is it worth the hefty price? (About $800 at the time this article was written.) There are similar recorders, some with the preferred XLR mic inputs, some with the ability to record 4 (or more) tracks simultaneously, for less than half that price; some selling for closer to $200 (including the very capable Sony PCM M-10). Sony does give you something for that extra money: if you want to record in esoteric high-resolution formats, this is one of the few portable machines that will allow you to do that. But even if you stick to more mundane 16 bit/44.1 kHz recordings, you get a solid, well-laid-out recorder, excellent built-in microphones, and most important, clean, high quality microphone preamps, that will give you clean, hiss-free recordings whether using the built-in mics, or almost any external microphone.

A few years ago, $800 would not have seemed outrageously expensive for a great-sounding portable recorder; we’ve gotten a little spoiled by the recent bargains for surprisingly decent machines. Sometimes those inexpensive recorders are good enough, but if you want to take a step up in sound quality, and can afford the higher price, the Sony PCM-D100 can deliver big sound in a small package.

If you use a low output microphone, such as an EV RE-50, or a Beyer M58, this would be a great recorder for you. Similarly, if you find yourself using your field recorder’s built-in microphones to record ambiences and other live events, these are some of the nicest-sounding mics on any small recorder. Also, if size is an issue, this is not the smallest recorder available, but it’s more easily packable than a Marantz 661, or even a Tascam DR-60D.

But if you use high-output condenser mics, like the short shotguns we tested, you might not hear much of a sonic improvement over more affordable recorders, such as the Sony PCM-M10 – or if you prefer the more robust connections of XLR mic inputs – the Tascam Dr-100mkII. You might just want to buy one of these more affordable recorders, AND a back-up! If you like to use a condenser mic that does not have an internal battery, this is not the recorder for you. And if you prefer having your hands free by hanging your recorder by a strap (or in a bag) the Sony D100 is not a good choice.

With $800 to spend on a recorder, you could get a Marantz PMD 661, and have some money left over for a mic. The 661 has XLR mic inputs, and can hang over your shoulder. But the Sony D100 sounds better, and its built-in mics are orders of magnitude better.

So if your priority is crystal-clear sound, or if you want to record at very high sampling rates, or need to keep the recorder on the small side, buy the Sony PCM-D100. But if XLR mic inputs, a loud speaker, or a shoulder strap are important (or if you’re on a tight budget) look elsewhere.

Jeff Towne

About
Jeff Towne

Jeff Towne has been producing radio programs since he was a teenager, back then with a portable Marantz cassette deck and a Teac four-track reel-to-reel tape recorder, and now with digital recorders and computer workstations. After honing his broadcasting skills at high school and college radio stations, Jeff has spent over two decades as the producer of the nationally-syndicated radio program Echoes. At Echoes, he has done extensive recording of interviews and musical performances, produced documentary features, and prepared daily programs for satellite and internet distribution. As Transom.org's Tools Editor, Jeff has reviewed dozens of audio recorders, editing software, and microphones, and written guides for recording, editing and mixing audio for radio and the web. Jeff has also taught classes and presented talks on various aspects of audio production. When not tweaking audio files, Jeff can probably be found eating (and compulsively taking pictures) at that little restaurant with the unpronounceable name that you always wondered about.

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  • John Biewen

    8.27.14

    Reply

    Jeff, thanks for this thorough take. You’re such a pro, and so reasonable and polite! I’m with you on the gnashing of teeth part. At CDS we have a bunch of PCM-D50s for use by our students. They’re about 5 years old and they just keep going. Love that machine for all the reasons you cite — intuitive design, good sound, durability, etc. We certainly WON’T be replacing them with the D100. Did Sony decide they didn’t want to compete with the lower-cost competition so instead they jacked up the price and opted for this “high resolution audio” gimmick? We’ve got a few H4Ns and Tascam DR-100mkiis, and we’re trying the H5, none of which I like as well as the PCM-D50. It’s a bummer.

    • Jeff Towne

      8.27.14

      Reply

      Thanks John. I agree that it’s a shame the D50 has gone out of production. FWIW, we’ve been very impressed by the less-expensive Sony PCM-M10. It’s not quite as durable-feeling, and the built-in mics are not quite as warm (although they’re also less fussy and still sound good) but it’s also quite affordable ($230-ish?) and small enough to carry around all the time. I’m currently testing out the Zoom H5 and H6, and I like them more that I expected to: they’re very flexible problem-solvers, but I agree with you that they’re not quite as good-sounding as the Sony D50. It comes down to the mic preamps… I’m still pretty fond of the Tascam DR-100mkII. I keep hoping for the one recorder that I can recommend without equivocating. Maybe someday!

  • Jeff Towne

    8.27.14

    Reply

    One quick note – I just realized that I mis-spoke in the sound sample for the Rode NTG2 short shotgun. For some reason, I said NTG1 (which is odd, I don’t have that model.) It’s a crucial distinction – the NTG1 needs phantom power from the recorder, it does not have an internal battery. But the Sony PCM-D100 cannot feed phantom power to condenser mics. So you must use condenser mics with their own batteries (or some external phantom power source) such as the Rode NTG2 (NOT the NTG1) or the Sennheiser K6/ME66. Sorry if there was any confusion!

  • Marco Raaphorst

    8.27.14

    Reply

    Thanks for the review. I will check the audio samples carefully tomorrow. I am a happy D-50 owner for many years. But I think Sony is really stupid in not offering XLR on the D-100. And Sony can’t fix the wind noise issues it seems. They have it in all their machines. Including their populair videocamera’s and camera’s like the RX100 (incl. Mark 2 and Mark 3). The mics can’t handle any wind. Even walking around with it might make the mics distort by wind overdrive. Sony is really, really stupid not solving this. I am wondering how many people are responsible for this design. It feels like either they are copying the old design of the mics or their are just loving wind noise. I am using my D-50 with a dead cat all the time. And I use it with the EV RE-50 which works fine on the mic input of the D-50. The RE-50 can handle a storm by the way. I think Sony should copy it’s mic models 🙂

    • Jeff Towne

      8.27.14

      Reply

      I agree that I’d love to see XLRs on the D100. Sony used to make an accessory for the D50 that added two XLR inputs, but it was almost as big as the recorder itself, and expensive… I don’t see any evidence that they make it anymore. One certainly could use a converter cable (the independent left and right input gains make that more viable) or one of the many converter boxes made for prosumer video cameras, like a Beachtek or Juiced Link, etc… But any of those will make your rig pretty clumsy and cumbersome. So a dual XLR -to- stereo mini cable might be the best option (although it’s still not going to send phantom power.)

      As for the mics’ wind-sensitivity: that’s a function of their directivity. In order to get a wide stereo image from an XY pattern (or the relatively closely-spaced “wide” pattern) the mics need to be very directional in their pick-up pattern. As a result, they’re wind sensitive. The RE-50 mic is indeed WAY better in the wind, but it’s an omni mic, and wouldn’t give as vivid of a stereo image if an element like that was used in the built-in mics. That said, the internal mics in the Sony PCM-M10 are omni, and not adjustable (it wouldn’t make much difference with an omni capsule) but somehow, stereo recordings made with those built-in mics still sound nice and vivid and stereo. I’m sure the separation isn’t quite as distinct, nor the soundstage as wide as recordings made on the D50 or D100, but they’re still not bad, and not as adversely affected by wind.

      The D100 mics are very nice-sounding though, and probably worth the hassle, just use the furry cover that they provide, and you’ll be OK in most situations.

      • Marco Raaphorst

        8.28.14

        You’re right about the omnis being less prone to distort on wind noise. I recorded some fireworks with my Sony D-50 recently, but it’s hard to compare with yours. It was super windy and I used a handkerchief over my dead cat just to kill the wind: https://soundcloud.com/raaphorst/vuurwerkfestival-scheveningen-2014 Your RE-50 sounds a bit noisy though. Are you sure the cable is okay? On my D-50 the RE-50 is not picking up hum and it’s almost totally noise-free. I like the sound of the K6/ME62 and K6/ME66 in your tests too, extremely noisefree (K6/ME66 is winner, but the sound is less open than the K6/ME62 I think). Somehow the RE-50 has this “in your face” midrange which still seems to be just perfect for voices. Must say I have used the D-50 for recording interviews. Just because it’s easy to use the recorder without anything else. I set the levels save. And always make the stereo image smaller and EQ it (using Ableton Live). Again: thanks for this test!

  • Dan Horne

    8.27.14

    Reply

    Ouch. The Zoom H4n is $200 from B&H and the wonderful H6 is $400. It’s not clear to me what the Sony is offering over and above these recorders

    • Jeff Towne

      8.27.14

      Reply

      To be fair, the Sony PCM-D100’s sound quality is significantly cleaner than any of the Zoom recorders. And that’s not a put-down: the Zooms will be perfectly sufficient for many projects. If the source material is fairly loud and/or busy, you might never hear any significant difference. But if you’re recording a very quiet, delicate event, or if you’re using external mics with low output levels, the difference will be fairly obvious: you’ll hear hiss and other system noise with the Zooms, and you won’t with the Sony. Again, I don’t mean this as an insult to Zoom, their recorders are impressive, flexible audio tools, and perfectly good choices for many circumstances. But if you need warmer, more accurate built-in mics, and/or quieter mic preamps, you’ll get something for the extra money you’d spend on the Sony D100.

  • Kate Montague

    8.27.14

    Reply

    Great review as always, Thanks Jeff! You mentioned you have been using the zoom H5 a bit too, any plans to do a review of that one as well?

    • Jeff Towne

      8.27.14

      Reply

      Yes, in-progress!

  • David

    8.27.14

    Reply

    Thanks, Jeff, for such a thorough review and analysis of the PCM-D100. I’ve been using it over the past couple of months and prefer it to my Olympus LS-100 and the DR-100MKII. It sounds great with Beyer M58, M59, Sennheiser MD46 and its internal mics can be readily put to good action if desired. I’ve noticed that with its Low-mic continuation physical switch set to Low I can record even very loud sounds without resorting to the limiters. Of course, audio quality was of utmost importance to me and that’s why I didn’t go with the likes of Zoom H6 (a good contender) and Marantz PMD-661MKII. If the H6 were capable of producing something similar to the D100 — especially with dynamic mics — I would have purchased it. For more demanding tasks I connect my USB battery-powered Sound Devices USBPre2 to PCM-D100 via its digital in/out — that gives me even better preamps and the ability to record via 2 dynamic/condenser mics. That said, I’m wondering why we don’t have, say, a $1000 recorder with great preamps of Sound Devices mixers/recorders along with the built-in mics of the D100. Guess one should always live with/suffer from those limitations…

    • Jeff Towne

      8.28.14

      Reply

      David – a Sound Devices USBPre2 (or their MixPre-D) along with the Sony PCM-D100 is a pretty great set-up, and gets XLR mic inputs connected in a high-quality wa – but that’s getting pricey! You’re approaching the cost of a Sound Devices 702 recorder, which would be a little more integrated. But I can see the appeal of having a few modular pieces that you can assemble in different ways, depending on circumstances. You could sometimes just use the Sony by itself, or the USBPre2 with a laptop, or the two together when needed. In any case, I agree that I’d like to see a recorder with the Sony’s audio quality, with XLRs, for less than the almost $2,000 that the Sound Devices 702 costs.

      The Tascam HDP2 almost filled that niche: the mic preamps were clean, it had XLRs (and Timecode) but it was pretty large, and had no built-in mics, and sold for about $1,000 when it was new, so it never really took off.

      Someday, someone will get it all in one box!

    • Russel

      9.02.14

      Reply

      Hi David,
      A bit off topic but how did you setup your USBPre2 to use with this recorder? I’ve been looking to do the same thing for a while but haven’t found a good guide on how to do it. What do you use to power the USBPre2 and what settings do you use to put it into standalone mode?

      Thanks for the help!

      • David

        9.02.14

        Hello Russel,

        1. First off, you need a USB battery (I mean one of those popular power banks out there) to power the USBPre2. I use 5000mAh and 10000mAh Sony power banks and each of them provides me with a very good hours of recording — the USBPre2 is quite energy-efficient especially when phantom power isn’t needed. But with the phantom power enabled it’s also quite conservative when it comes to energy consumption. I use a Velcro to keep the battery firmly attached to the top of the USBPre2. For reference, this is the 10000mAh Sony battery I’m talking about — you can find hundreds of such batteries on the web: http://www.sony-asia.com/product/cp-f10l
        2. The battery is connected to the USBPre2 via the USB cable which comes with the USBPre2 itself.
        3. Actually you should do nothing to configure the USBPre2 for mixer/stand-alone operation. Once the battery is connected to the USBPre2 and you see the lights (you might or might not need to press a button on your battery if it has one), it’s ready to go.
        4. To connect the USBPre2 to recorders like PCM-D50 and PCM-D100 you need a Toslink Male to Mini-Toslink 3.5mm Male digital cable. The USBPre2 has digital-out and the cable connects it to the D100 via Sony’s digital-in. The cable I’m using is at http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/297015-REG/Hosa_Technology_OPQ_210_Toslink_Male_to_Mini_Toslink.html
        5. Now it’s done! Just keep in mind that you should use the digital switch on the left edge of the PCM-D100 to tell the recorder to receive digital signals from the USBPre2 — it’s a physical switch like the “Mic continuation” switch. Other than that, you need not alter any D100 menu options.
        6. One more point: in stand-alone/mixer mode the USBPre2 can’t send 16-bit signals — it becomes a 24-bit mixer. I myself use 24/48 and later convert my recordings to 16/44.1 on the computer if desired.

        Hope this helps.

    • Dave

      6.13.15

      Reply

      David, have you had luck in connecting a Mix Pre-D to this unit and sending a digital signal? Shot in the dark question, but not out of the realm of possibility. Running the external mics through the USB Pre2 sounds viable, albeit cumbersome. Few advantages to the Pre-D that I’d prefer to use that with the D-100: Internal battery power, slightly less expensive and smaller form factor. I know that the Pre-D and D50 have a data mismatch (last I researched) which results in them being incompatible via digital connection.

      Would love to hear more on your experience with the USB Pre-2 and the D-100. Will the Sony accept 24-bit 192kHz digital signal from the Pre-2?

      PS Jeff, this is an excellent review. Glad I stumbled on it.

  • John Carter

    8.28.14

    Reply

    Sorry if I missed it but how is the Time Code on this unit? I have a Tascam DR-40 and sadly after about half an hour the timecode starts to drift!!

    • Jeff Towne

      8.28.14

      Reply

      This recorder doesn’t have Timecode per se – there’s no way to synch this device directly to a camera, or another device. But I know what you’re getting at: how well does the counter stay aligned to the “real” time. The problem is that synch is always relative to something else. I could tell you that it has a stable clock, but compared to what? It might stay in pretty close synch to one device, but then drift relative to another device. And it’s going to behave differently at different sample rates, and/or encoding types.

      The Sony PCM-D100 does have digital audio in and out (SPDIF on optical connectors) and digital signals have embedded clock signals, so the recorder will sync its clock to an incoming digital signal, or will provide clock to a device recording the digital output, but that’s not exactly timecode either…

      I know this doesn’t answer your question, but as I’ve said in other threads: any two devices without an actual physical timecode link are going to drift, and you’ll need to make edits and re-synch from time to time…

  • Jeff Towne

    8.28.14

    Reply

    Marco – we ran out of reply layers… but you’re right about my RE50 dynamic omni mic sample being a little noisy, and as I mentioned in the sample itself, it doesn’t seem to be the mic or the cable, I’ve swapped-in backups of each, so I think there’s some wiring or some other electromagnetic interference in the booth where I was recording those samples. It generally doesn’t come up, because I almost always use condenser mics, and those are hot enough, and/or the impedance difference is enough that I don’t tend to get that hum. I meant to try a sample recording with that RE50 somewhere else, but I also wanted all these mic tests to be done in the same space…

    But the short version is that I think the low hum in the background is a quirk of my recording space, and most users are unlikely to encounter it. That said, it’s worth keeping in mind that the increased gain required for a dynamic mic, and the unbalanced nature of the stereo mini input, leaves you more open to the possibility of picking up stray electrical hums and radio frequency interference, that you would be when using a condenser mic, or a recorder with XLR mic inputs.

  • Howard Burchette

    8.28.14

    Reply

    Hi Jeff,

    This was a really nice article about the PCM-D100 and the PCMD50

    I have a question.

    I do a weekly radio show and I record my voice at the radio station, then save it to MP3 file. I bring the file home and edit it on Adobe Audition and then mix the voice file with the music files. (and so forth)

    Question: What device would you recommend for me to purchase to record my voice at home, so that I do not have to travel to the radio station for the initial voice recording?

    Thank you

    HB

  • alexanderino

    8.28.14

    Reply

    Greetings, and thank you for yet another insightful review.

    I do wish to point out one typo. Please delete my comment after the review has been corrected.

    In the section ‘Hello, PCM-D100’, second paragraph, it states: ‘(about 12 hours on two AAs)’

    The PCM-D100 takes four AA batteries, not two.

    Regards,

    alexanderino

    • Jeff Towne

      8.28.14

      Reply

      Thanks for the catch – I fixed that typo – I did mean to write 41 That’s still pretty good battery life, much longer than the Tascam DR-60D which also uses 4 AAs. But, in the Tascam’s defense, the DR60D may be called upon to power 4 mic preamps, not just 2, and can provide phantom power, which will put a drain on the overall battery life.

  • Tim

    8.29.14

    Reply

    Hi Jeff,

    Thank you for the great review! One thing you didn’t mention is the possibility to adjust the two internal mics not only in a 90 and 120 degrees position but also “straight forward” parallel to each other (0 degrees). This makes it possible to record voices mono-like. Would you recommend this when doing interviews? And would it be better then to work just with one of the two recorded tracks when putting my radio piece together?

    Best,
    Tim

  • Bihr

    8.31.14

    Reply

    Hello Jeff,
    I’m in France and looking for a good recorder. I sing in two choirs I do theater, I am interested in the sounds of nature and wants to achieve the cd s for singers. Pebsez you a Pro version or XLR adapter will be available soon? I think you have never tried the Fostex Fr2 the East really good? I look forward to your response and beg you to forgive me for my poor English. see you soon

  • Russel

    9.03.14

    Reply

    Thanks for your help David!

  • Karl

    10.12.14

    Reply

    Good review, as usual from Transom. I’ve been using a D100 quite a bit for about 8 months, mostly for nature recordings, with external mics. It sounds very good. My negatives on the unit are: 1. The display is actually NOT very easy to read in any light (compared to the D50, which never was a problem for me) and is almost completely useless if you are working in the dark because the backlight is so bright that you actually need a flashlight to see the buttons (which are – stupidly – not illuminated). 2. The new record volume control is an almost total disaster. 3. the rocker control ring on the front surface is designed with looks in mind, not ergonomics, and makes it very easy to accidentally press one of the “Function” buttons. 4. The menu system is completely different from that of the D50, for no reason whatsoever, and makes several operations that were easy on the D50 into longer, awkward procedures. 5. Yes, the mics are very wind-sensitive – more than any I have ever used.

    • Bihr

      10.14.14

      Reply

      Hello Karl, what brand you use external microphones? With XLR adapter or mini jack?

  • fieldrecordingfan

    1.26.15

    Reply

    This article is very useful, well done. One point though is that instead of having to keep the micro sub cable along with the more conventional mini usb, you could get a micro to mini usb adapter (like this http://www.amazon.co.uk/StarTech-Micro-USB-Mini-Adapter/dp/B0027838CU) which entirely eliminates the need for the micro usb cable. 🙂

  • Craig Sewall

    4.09.15

    Reply

    Can you recommend Micro mini SD cards for the backup storage on the Sony PMD M-10….size and speed. Thanks

  • Matt

    6.01.15

    Reply

    Until I was fortunate enough to get my hands on a Sound Devices SD702 recorder, I used the Sony PCM-D50 to record interview audio (usually to accompany video) with external condenser mics. While I own Sony’s matched XLR-1 phantom power box (which Jeff refers to above), I just want to point out for those considering the PCM-D100 that there are a number of inexpensive battery-powered phantom power options available from pro sound companies like Denecke and Rolls. While it can make for a clumsy set-up (mic xlr into phantom power box, headphone-type mini cable into recorder’s mic input), the audio quality was excellent, and you’d spend under $1k. I paired the Sony’s nice preamps with good condenser mics like the Audio Technica AT4073 and even a Schoeps CMC5/mk41 (both common in the film world). A battery powered mic is easier, but you’re not stuck even if you decide that you want to use a traditional condenser mic.
    Ease of use and customizability lead me to the Sound Devices unit, but I honestly don’t think you’d notice a difference in sound quality 8 out of 10 times (given the same mic). And for more casual use, I love that the D50 can be tossed into a bag without a mess of cables, an external mic, and a big battery. I still carry it as a back-up.

  • steves

    6.12.15

    Reply

    Can anyone suggest how onboard mics compares with rode nt4 microphone?

    Obviously schoeps and sound devices 702 will sound better but if the microphone is lower quality such as nt4 then how will a sound devices with nt4 compare to pcm d100 on board mics?

  • Michael

    8.04.15

    Reply

    If I use a phantom power unit such as a Denecke PS-2 and connect it to the Mic Input will I be able to record 2 microphones? Or is the Mic Input just capable of handling one external mic?

  • steves

    8.04.15

    Reply

    Would have been a nice piece of equipment if left and right channels were calibrated properly. I’ve tried to reset left and right balance using knob, by turning both to ZERO, then turning main one up to have equal balance. However, the recorded file always has a left bias and the ability to fine tune doesn’t exist. Quality not far off the NT4 especially given the lovely size.

  • julia

    3.04.16

    Reply

    Hi Jeff, love your reviews. Great job you’re doing here. Thanks for that!
    Just wanted to ask you a quick question. Have you ever tried the D100 with a Shure VP88? I was just wondering how much of a difference it makes whether I use the D100 or the M10 when recording with the VP88? Appreciate your help!

  • oscargoldman

    3.09.16

    Reply

    Ugh, another design failure, going with Micro USB. This POS connector will fail after a couple of uses. At least Sony didn’t make the blunder that Tascam did; Tascam makes a Micro USB connector the sole source of external power for its portable recorders. So basically you can’t power the Tascams with anything except internal batteries, because the Micro USB connector fails after two uses (no exaggeration) and will ruin your recordings by rebooting at increasingly frequent intervals. My DR-70D reboots several times a second when attempting to draw power from this shitty connector.

    The lack of phantom power also makes this recorder non-competitive, especially at this outrageous price. It’s too bad, because Sony’s physical construction (except the USB) is so superior to Tascam’s. My D50 will no longer mount via USB, so I can’t rely on it anymore. I always use Memory Stick, but the D50 is a bug where it reverts to internal memory unpredictably and it’s impossible to baby-sit it with 100% reliability.

    • 123456

      3.13.16

      Reply

      You could permanently attach an angled micro USB to regular USB (or mini USB) plug, and connect to that.

  • Alaa

    4.23.16

    Reply

    For those who were asking for a 1000$ unit that has the same qualities of the d100 but with the flexibility of having xlr inputs : what do you think of the NAGRA SD? I’m sure the preamps quality are at least as good as those in the D100 plus it has a very handy mechanism of changing microphones suitable for each task. Anyone compared the two devices? I’m hesitating which one to purchase.

  • Tim Boucher

    9.29.16

    Reply

    Hi Jeff

    Do you have any suggestions for hand-held recorders that do have a loud built-in speaker?

    Thanks
    Tim

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