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Sony PCM-D50: I'm in love.

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I'll keep this brief (?)

Love. Lots of it.

As a listening device

Sick of Sony's traditional 5mW+5mW headphone amps?

Not enough volume to drive your high-impedance hi-fi headphones?

Want to listen to some decent sounds wherever you are and not where your stereo sits?

Then you'll love the PCM-D50.

I think you'll really like the battery life, too.



* doesn't resume from where you left off after you power off and turn on again.

* Doesn't play FLACs (WAV and MP3 only).

* it scrolls the file name (ie. something.wav), but seemingly doesn't scroll MP3 tag info (?). Maybe I need to spend more time with it, but this doesn't appear to be a Walkman substitute as far as playback goes, though the display and general usability is very nice for what it was designed to do, primarily.

* Drag n drop tracks and folders on root of device on computer. Easy-peasy. Leave the 10 default folders alone on device and/or memory stick; they are needed.

* all the ins and outs you could want, really

* gapless (though I have yet to try a truly 'gapless' album on it)

* no means to Divide tracks transferred from computer to the device

As a recording device

Really excellent. I won't go into details. You know what to do (buy one!)

* No XLR on-board but I'm glad it's optional to keep the hand-held size reasonable.

* can Divide tracks when playing back (only on tracks recorded from mic [and/or presumably real-time?] sources on the device itself). This is nice.

MD features?

* No Combine. Just Divide.

* Lots of (superior) hands-on and eyes-on usability I won't bore you by mentioning.

* No means to label tracks on-unit.

* No cool remotes (though there is a lame must-cost-$2-to-make one available).

* No real substitute for the compactness and Walkman-usability of an MD unit (but this wasn't hard to guess).

* for recording, it goes well above and beyond what MD can do (24bit/96KHz... large capacity, long battery life, Pre-Rec, etc). Grab the manual off their site.

Memory Stick?

Yes. But it can take Memory Stick Pro Duo Mark 2 sticks and work flawlessly.


These are higher-speed cards designed (primarily) to keep up with the demands of Sony's AVCHD cams, apparently. The advantages? You don't have to buy elite (read: expensive) Memory sticks like Memory Stick Pro HG Duo. Nice considering all the elite memory talk when this model was released. Reasonable prices. USD$35 for 8GB as I write this. You also have the choice of using the internal, embedded 4GB flash memory (menu-selectable). Bah to that, I say.

Design nit-picks?

I can talk for pages about the design and how well thought-out things are, but what good would that do? Instead I'll nit pick on some obvious failings :)

* USB and other sockets have no protective covers.

* Volume dial on the left should be protected like the Recording Level dial (on the right). Volume dial would suffer some impact damage if dropped on the side it's on...since it sticks out slightly (numbers 1 to 10 on it would suffer some impact damage). Why not protect it like the Recording Level dial? Hmm?

* Recording Level dial has numerals written in RED. I'm assuming this was done for no practical reason except cosmetics and maybe to differentiate it from the volume dial (Red = Record?). It should be white for easier legibility, especially in the dark.

The design is really good overall (I could talk for ages about ergonomics, usability of controls, ease of holding concave edges, raised surfaces protecting accidental switchings and aiding "by feel" usability, the right textures on switches and raised and recessed profiles on buttons - but I won't :) It is built well. Metal. It takes AAs. It takes removable storage. Naturally it has a real head-start in the gene pool right there. But Sony went above and beyond.

Bottom line?

Buy one if you like to listen to good headphones without being tied to your stereo and are sick of puny headphone amps not driving your gear.

Buy one if you like to do point-and-shoot recordings.

Buy one if you like incredible sound.

Buy one if you like Made-In-China gadgets which feel like they are from Sony Japan :)

This is the type of product that reminds me that there's still a bunch of talented engineers (and designers) at Sony.

I believe this is love.

Edited by tekdroid
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I'd like to say that it's a delicious looking device and I'm jealous. The objections I have aren't driven by jealously, I promise. I had already been thinking about modern field recorders as listening devices before you posted this. The problem is we're trying to put a square peg into a round hole.

For a listening device, in my opinion, you should find the best unit made for that purpose and if the output is inadequate you should add a professionally made, quality headphone amplifier. Not like the throwaway we were discussing in another thread--more like the quality unit I mentioned at the end of that discussion.

However, even before I jump to that conclusion, I think that limiting yourself to Sony's offering could be a mistake. The problem is we don't know. I don't think people review these units from a playback device standpoint. Someone should do head-to-head as-playback-devices comparison of the Sony PCM-D50 with the Zoom H4n--if for no other reason than the Zoom is a 4-channel recorder for 100-150$ less than the Sony. However, I bet we'll find that they're both inadequate to the task since that is not what their design was focused on.

I think your disappointments are related to what I said above. I think you hit the nail when you say "...this doesn't appear to be a Walkman substitute...". But you're right about what you're not saying directly, but is coming through loud and clear: it's a darn shame that nobody makes a playback unit with as nice a build quality, ergonomics, and display as these professional field recorders.

I agree with only one of your conclusions in your Bottom Line--again, because this is what it was made for. For recording, it's the cat's meow--although it's worth exploring the Zoom H4n as an alternative in this vein.

Lastly, there's nothing wrong with Made-In-China these days. For example, long before IBM sold the ThinkPad brand to Lenovo, Lenovo was making the ThinkPads for IBM. I would go so far as to say (flipping the visor down on my riot gear) I've never seen a Japanese-made product as well made as an Lenovo-made ThinkPad.

Oh, and I'm sure you're right that there are talented engineers left at Sony--I just wish the marketing heads there would let them make one playback device that's not trying so hard to be an iPod.

Edited by narp
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From Sony's product page:

The PCM-D50 is a 96 kHz/24-bit recorder fitted with two-position (X-Y or Wide) stereo microphones, 4 GB of internal flash memory and a Memory Stick Pro-HG Duo™ slot. The D50 is constructed of lightweight metal (aluminum) and it's built rugged to withstand the demands of pro applications, plus it offers long battery life using conventional AA alkaline batteries. The recorder includes a USB high-speed port for simple uploading/downloading its native .WAV format files to/from Windows® PC or Macintosh® computers. Other PCM-D50 features include digital pitch control, dual path digital limiter, low-cut filter, Super Bit Mapping®, A-B repeat and MP3 playback capability.

It is a bit larger than your average portable playback device:

2 7/8" x 6 1/8" x 1 5/16" (w x h x d) not including projecting parts and controls

More detailed specifications can be found on the product page here: Sony Product Detail Page - PCMD50

The deal breaker for me is that it uses Sony's proprietary memory stick technology for expansion. There is even a model above this with an MSRP of $1,999 USD--it also is limited to memory stick expansion: Sony Product Detail Page - PCMD1

Why does Sony do this all the time? It's infuriating.

In addition to the Zoom unit I mentioned earlier, I think Tascam also makes a competing unit. If I absolutely had to have a pro recorder right now, I'd probably be looking at the Zoom H4n or the Tascam DR-100.

Edited by narp
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regarding your response on buying the 'perfect device'. I think I have both now.

I prefer all-in-one devices to a separate headphone amp. MiniDisc is fine for outdoors (in fact, preferable) with smaller 'phones or sports-type headbands, etc. This Sony recorder, while it may be considered nonsense to recommend it as a playback device to some, is great with big-arse headphones indoors - that's the key, really...driving big headphones to adequate volumes. Turning the volume dial a mere 3 or 3.5 was enough to make my small MDR-EX300 phones cry :) Turning it up to 10 on my Beyerdynamic DT 700 Pro (250ohm impedance and something-or-other sensitivity) produced totally satisfying volumes. You should have seen me grin :)

I like that both devices are:

* portable

* can take mains power if they need it (no batteries)

I don't like that:

* Sony or whoever hasn't made the near-perfect small playback and recording device - but I think there are business reasons for this.

Most customers are happy with computer transfers, for other recording enthusiasts they are happy to sell products like this to - more capable in some areas, far less capable in others - and larger. Market segmentation and a different set of needs, really.

MiniDisc reaches the most perfect compromise with small size and recording and editing ability and features. They can do more in 2009, but I think for most people MiniDisc is over-engineered. I am under no delusions that what I want is what most of the market wants. It's nice to dream, though :)

Re: comparing playback with other devices

It would be interesting, but like you say, these devices will probably fall short (and size is ridiculous except as an at-home device for playback, IMO).

Re: comparing PCM-D50 to Zoom competition and other offings

I haven't really given Zoom a fair shake, to be honest. The consistently high praise this recorder has received (and no glaring weaknesses a year or two after release) made me (eventually) jump and get it. Well, that and the fact that the exchange rate can be considered reasonable compared to lows of a while back :) Just looking at the Zoom products I have my reservations about the materials and design, too. Might be worth investigation, but I'd feel reluctant to put cold hard cash behind one of the competitors, to be honest - despite some cool features the Sony hasn't got. I have a generally happy history with Sony's products and that counts for a lot, too.

What I did find surprising is talk of how the PCM-D1 cannot take sticks larger than 4GB. That's what got me. If that's true, it seems like some poor support for a flagship product from Sony. So far the PCM-D50 can do up to 16GB, I hear. Will probably pick one up this time next year as the prices continue to tumble. Now sitting at a reasonable USD$75ish, from memory.

Re: Made In China

I love China (and have two Lenovo laptops, though they aren't the admittedly nice ThinkPads). My clothes are Chinese. My PSP was made there. My desktop computer bits, etc. But I guess what I was trying to say is this really reminded me of qualities associated with old-school Sony Japanese product...and it may just be a result of Sony Quality always being synonomous with Japan to me. Traditionally they have also made their lower-end stuff in China, higher-end in Japan - though for sure that is changing now. Heaps of stuff from China is high quality and I have no problems with it (or Malaysia, or Thailand - like their headphones).

Re: playback device not trying to be an iPod

I agree it would be nice - I would like to see more innovation here, but more than that a good MiniDisc-type device for the new age. I have my doubts it will happen though, and it hasn't happened yet, which is why I still love me some Hi-MD.

In 2009, when you think about it, all the traditional limits are gone:

* physical size of cassette, DAT, MiniDisc (with tiny flash memory being available cheaply)

* short recording lengths just about vapourised now (prices keep dropping on storage)

* battery life and screen limitations

* unit operation noise (whirring mechanisms, etc)

Yet nobody is intent on killing MiniDisc and moving on :) I mean that to not offend anyone whatsoever. I LOVE MiniDisc for what it is and continue to use it. Plus everyone should know we never get everything better going forward as new models are released. Each period has its charm and usability and compromises in different areas.

I will mention, though...that as my first solid-state recorder, complete silence from any whirring mechanism is a beautiful thing!

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I really need to update my initial impressions of the PCM-D50 thread that I posted last year. Until then, feel free to read the thread over at the TBoard.

Unfortunately for those of you who aren't members of that forum, you'll need to jump through a couple of hoops in order to post over there.

You will need to contact me via PM over here and let me know what your username over there is after you join. I can let you through the gates into the forum. I hate that we had to lock down registrations, but the spammers have gotten so bad that the mod staff just can't keep up with them. Let me know that you want in and I'll OK you.

For those that don't want to join, you can feel free to read the thread since we haven't and won't lock down viewing ability.

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I'm currently toying with the idea of making my own fully-fledged review of this unit. I love it that much. It resotres my faith in man.

Nismo96, will be interesting to read your thoughts from the perspective of someone who has had it for a while.

You may be glad to hear I am almost out of the phase of babying it like my precious.


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I may have missed it but can you delete tracks from the unit itself if those tracks have been downloaded from a computer? And how easy is it to label tracks on the unit?

Deleting tracks

Yes, deleting is no problem whatsoever in any folder on-unit.

Labelling tracks on unit

Not possible to custom-label any file at all on this unit.

EDIT: Added more pics.

Takes about 9-10 seconds to start up with my 8GB Memory Stick. Seems to read both internal 4GB flash memory and memory stick on start-up, with the following graphics illustrating it:



Graphics have small animations.

Night shots:




If you bought a Memory Stick and you want to use it over the internal 4GB memory, you need to do this (settings are retained after power off):



Default thing you see after powering on is the last file you played or recorded cued up to the start at zero, not where it was last stopped. While it is powered on, stopping and restarting playback where you were is no problem; it's only when you turn it off and on again.


Pressing DISPLAY from this initial start-up screen once, then pressing DISPLAY once again results in the following screens:

Time remaining for recording:


Time & Date (it uses the file's last Modified date and time).


Forgot to mention Digital Pitch Control (DPC), another MiniDisc-like feature (ie. SpeedControl). Basically, set the speed-down or speed-up in advance (defautls shown here), then hit the physical switch. To change speeds from defaults, hit the menus. Blue socket below is for Sony's optional rudimentary wired remote.



Pretty handy limiter and low-cut filter (LCF), too. 75Hz and 150Hz settings on Limiter, menu-selectable. Works well. Limiter has 3 recovery settings: 150ms, 1sec, 1min. It can save your bacon. There's also the SBM (Super Bit Mapping) function that is supposed to make 16bit audio sound better. Never tried.



This is what happens when you plug in a mic while the unit is on. Nice touch:


Plug-In Power has ON/OFF options in the menu, too.

Ins & outs

Included is an optical out, all up to 24bit 96KHz sample rate, apparently. Sync Record works just like MiniDisc. DIGITAL shows up on the LCD.


Fancy going back in time 5 seconds before you hit record (while in pause-record)? The Pre Rec (pre-recording) feauture is nice. Here it can be seen filling up its 5 second buffer (and also at night):



Pressing MENU briefly while unit is stopped brings up your 10 default folders (pressing and holding it for one second would bring up the main settings). In addition to showing your default 10 folders here, it also shows any others you may have transferred over from your computer (without the need for silly SonicStage; it's all native USB Mass Storage here, showing up as a Removable Disk in Windows, for instance).

A darker folder icon indicates it's for playback only (here seen as NO FOLDER). Any new folder you put on it will be for playback-only. You may place music into any of the recorder's existing PLAYBACK & RECORDING folders (FOLDER01 to FOLDER10) transferred from the computer; you can chop it up with the Divide button to your heart's content without the use of a PC (eg. to trim that annoying intro to that track you love).

Anyway, back to this NO FOLDER. Why NO FOLDER?

Any files dragged to the root of your storage (without its own folder) will be presented on the unit as being placed in a virtual folder named NO FOLDER. It's just a virtual folder to make things neater on-unit. The actual physical locations of the file on your storage device (stick or on-board storage) don't change (ie. the files are still sitting at root of storage device).

Entering a folder (an empty one to record in, for example, or one for playback filled with tracks from the PC) is performed with the PLAY/ENTER key. Simple. If recording, it will record in this chosen folder. If playing back, the same thing. You choose the folder. It defaults to FOLDER01 if not changed, or the last used folder if you changed it.


Scrolling down or up with |<< and >>| is smooth and easy. Holding down the button will scroll continuously.



Pressing and holding MENU for a second while playing results in:


Press PLAY/ENTER and see this, defaulting to no:




Hitting DIVIDE while playing or recording (won't work when in STOP mode):


Then pressing DIVIDE again:



MP3 tags

Uncscrollable, but has a fair bit of text room to begin with, so may not be a big issue. A-B Repeat and Repeat 1 are basic playback features, not much more:



LEDs at top light up. Red is danger zone. Green is safe zone. Here both red and green alight. LED feature can be disabled in menu (this includes disabling lit PLAY and PAUSE buttons and Access indicator). It provides a great instant visual as to how things are going.




..animates into a tiny blip on the screen before totally turning off. Pretty nice touches all the way through with animations and menu scrolling. Display is naturally totally dot-matrix and is visible well outdoors in sun as well as night with the nice orange back-light. Battery life is truly excellent. Menus are easy. If the unit is left on for 10 minutes doing nothing, it will enter low-power sleep mode. Pressing any key wakes it up. A tripod mount on the back of the unit makes mounting easy in a variety of situations.

Edited by tekdroid
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Corrections and clarificaations (and new discoveries)


* transferring a folder or creating them directly on the unit's storage containing no MP3 or WAV files in the folder will cause the recorder to not show the folder in the folder list on the unit. When you think about it, it makes sense 'cause any folders you make are Playback folders only, and there's nothing to PLAY inside them... and there's no way you can move any files from any folders to any folders on the unit itself (though that would be handy)

* In my explanation with pics, I mix LCF with Limiter in a sentence or two there. I'm sure you can make sense of the mistake.

* MP3 tags and scrolling. I should have been clearer: the Title of the MP3 can be scrolled. The artist and/or file name cannot when doing MP3s. Conversely, WAV files, with no tag info by nature, are endowed with the ability to scroll their lowly file names (thank you Mr Sony)

* when transferring your own folders to the unit, these folders are scrolled if they cannot fit on the screen (which is nice but it's the kind of jerky scroll you may have seen, not the smooth type)

* the mics are very sensitive and a windscreen is an absolute must, especially outdoors (Sony AD-PCM1 comes with an MD-like grey drawstring bag that fits the unit, too)

* I have a habit of wanting to use the (very smooth!) Rec Level dial to scroll through lists! Dials are simply better sometimes (but then again they are more prone to accidentals, I guess).

* operations like Delete All cannot be performed when the battery icon is flashing, indicating little juice. However Deleting a single track seems to work without complaint. It's nowhere near Hi-MD's pickyness with Hi-MD media. On Sony's supplied (disposable! grr) batteries, the thing has been flashing yesterday and today, and despite hours of recording and playback since it first started flashing, the battery still won't die.

* the battery life is freaking fantastic (can't be stressed enough)

* the sound is freaking fantastic

* pausing a recording and then resuming recording by unpausing it will not create a new track. Stopping the recording and resuming recording again will, though. I think this is down to taste but would be nice if it were an option in the menus to disable, a bit like Group Mode can be enabled or disabled in the menus of an MD unit, I guess.

* labelling stuff on-unit and throwing files in certain folders would make this really so much nicer.

* proper remotes would make this nicer

* 99 tracks can be saved per folder

Missing files and USB shenanigans

* disconnecting the recorder's USB without doing it the safe way by clicking on the Safely Remove Hardware thing in Windows can and does re-set the recorder's settings! (at least on my system)

So there I was transferring filders and files. Diconnected USB cable manually after they had all been copied. I try to browse the unit and find none of the files I transferred!

I scratch my head, check the recorder's menu settings and find that my Memory Stick choice had been switched to the internal memory in the settings, and I hadn't saved anything to the internal memory, so I saw none of my files! FOLDER01 to FOLDER10 were there (with nothing in them), but none of my own folders. Blankness.

Quite jarring the first time it happend :)

Other settings were re-set, including LCF settings to 75Hz (they wre set at 150Hz when I connected it), and several others. Something to keep in mind if you want to yank the cable after you think that things are done. From a few tries so far, 'safely remove hardware' seems to mitigate this completely (in my testing so far...). Might be just a quirk on my system, I don't know.

That is all for now.


Edited by tekdroid
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  • 3 weeks later...

Hey people, I have been looking for somewhere to ask this question and I have found this site. I didn't want to make a new thread because this one looks nice.

So I got this PCM D50, having a pretty good time with it, but I have a problem. The stuff I record sounds totally good through headphones using the device, but as soon as I get it onto the computer it comes out super quiet. Like I can hardly hear it and have to turn the volume up really loud. Why is this?

I am recording between 3 - 4 - 5 and the level I listen to is usually 7 or 8 on the recorder. Thanks.

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The stuff I record sounds totally good through headphones using the device, but as soon as I get it onto the computer it comes out super quiet. Like I can hardly hear it and have to turn the volume up really loud. Why is this?

I doubt it's the recorder if the levels dancing where they normally should be.

May be the computer itself or the application has low audio or low audio settings.

At the risk of stating the obvious:

Windows machine? Tried playing with the software mixer? Tried a different machine?

Tried to make a regular CD from the WAV files (playable in a CD player) to isolate the issue?

There are a few things to try.

Otherwise, you might like to try taperssection.com. Should be plenty of users with this machine on there.

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  • 4 weeks later...

I just checked the quality of images I uploaded since conversion from MiniDisc.org to SonyInsider. They have gone down very much in quality (both previews and when clicking on them to get a bigger image).

Plus I think that topics like this need to be moved to Audio.

Growing pains?

Otherwise, excellent design and colour choices on the new SonyInsider forum.

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