Hands-on with the Sony PCM-M10
Few dimensions of retail-audio have, over the past few years, exploded like (affordable) portable field recording. As prices in memory fell, so did prices in recorders. As a result, consumers routinely began recording everything from interviews to band practice to line-level concert signals. Simultaneously, the recent significance of "multimedia" has also given rise to multitudes of new audio practitioners. Manufacturers have recently taken note of this, and their ensuing level of competition has resulted in more portable field recording options at better prices than we could have ever previously imagined.
As you may already be aware, the Sony PCM-M10 itself actually has some seriously well-established competition in its price point such as the Zoom H4n, the Olympus LS-10 and the Edirol R-09 HR. Nevertheless, the PCM-M10 immediately caught my attention as the younger sibling of the highly recommendable portable field recorder, the Sony PCM-D50.
One of my favorite D50 features is that units top notch interface and readout. I've had occasion to teach a lot on portable field recording and recorders, and have consistently observed how much users (especially new ones) often struggle with the menu systems on these devices. Let's just say the word "convoluted" often comes to mind. Making matters even worse, portable field recorders in this price range often feature microscopic print and itty-bitty buttons. I think we can all agree that squinting to read a menu that doesn't make sense in the first place while accidentally pressing 4 buttons at once is amazingly frustrating. Nevertheless, customers consistently forget to factor this almost "too obvious" consideration into their purchase.
I was delighted to see that, again, Sony remembered. As such, the M10 is a sincere pleasure to operate. I especially love its robust metering with peak hold referencing. You will undoubtedly experience the difference a proper meter display makes when you set your levels (not to mention when you play back the recording).
The build is also inspiring. Though not as tank-like as the D50, the M10 does boast aluminum where others sport plastic. At the very least, I didn't find myself concerned with dropping it nearly as much as many other pieces in this price range—also a serious consideration often overlooked.
Another way in which the M10 stands out—at least to me—is in the sound of its onboard mics. While a step down from the D50's, they still boast the crisp, open and transparent qualities for which I love the PCM line. While some may find these mics "almost too honest", I very much like how stark they are.
When not using the onboard mics, you can connect an external mic of your choice (i.e. a shotgun) via a stereo-mini plug and the unit's "plug-in power." You can, of course, also record a line level signal into the M10, such as a stereo out from the front-of-house console at a concert.
In any case, recordings are captured anywhere between MP3 and 96k/24bit, and are writable to the M10's 4GB of internal memory. While most other units don't offer the useful luxury of internal memory, you should keep in mind that you must buy proprietary Sony Memory Stick Micros (instead of standard SD cards) should you need more. However, chances are you won't. The 4GB in question can get you 6 hours of record time at CD-quality 44.1k/16 bit resolution. That is likely going to be enough to hold you over until you can get back home and dump your files onto your computer via USB transfer.
Your battery life should also be sufficient. Sony rates it between 23 and 44 hours while recording at 44.1k/16 bit, depending on what else you are doing. (Your mileage may vary)
Some final stand-out attractive features on the M10 include a loud-speaker for playback, a digital limiter to safeguard your audio as you record, and a 5 second pre-roll to ensure that you never hit the record button too late. In conclusion, after using the M10 my advice remains the same: if you can afford it, make the D-50 (with its indestructible build, premium microphones and pre-amps and adjustable stereo micing configurations) your entry into portable field recording, but if you need to spend less, and aren't looking to get too crazy with your connections, then I recommend the M10, without reservation.
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