With so many portable gadgets relying on built-in rechargeable battery packs, Sony's decision to use AA battery power in the PCM-D50 may seem a little backward. While the use of four AA batteries makes the Sony PCM-D50 somewhat bulkier than its lithium-ion powered peers, the benefit of having an abundant, quickly swappable source of portable power is an asset for those recording in remote locations.
The Sony PCM-D50 also includes a handful of cool features that are easy to miss. For instance, a switch on the left side of the PCM-D50 activates a digital playback speed control capable of a 100 percent increase or a 75 percent decrease in playback speed. The Sony PCM-D50 also lets you divide tracks on the fly, create custom playback loops, make lossless recordings from digital sources such as CDs, DATs, or MiniDiscs using the digital input jack, and quickly transfer files to your computer using standard mini USB 2.0 connection--a rare feature for Sony.
Our favorite little feature included on the Sony PCM-D50 is a prerecord buffer that lets you capture an extra five seconds of audio preceding the moment you hit the record button. Using Sony's prerecording feature feels a little like time travel, and it's a valuable tool for capturing unpredictable audio sources such as bird calls or selectively recording lectures without missing the beginning of a critical sentence.
The recording quality achieved through the Sony PCM-D50's built-in stereo microphones is hard to beat. Competing products such as the M-Audio Microtrack II or the Korg MR-1 can't compare with the quality, noise isolation, and durability of the Sony PCM-D50's microphones. Beyond the PCM-D50's unique, high-quality, articulated microphone design, less obvious features such as quiet solid-state memory, an adjustable limiter, switchable SBM noise reduction, and a prominent recording-level adjustment knob, help to make recordings crystal clear.
The Sony PCM-D50's rated battery life is the best in its class, offering roughly 12 hours of recording time from four AA batteries. At its default recording setting of 16-bit, 44KHz (CD-quality), the Sony PCM-D50's 4GB of memory can store 6.5 hours of continuous recording, or up to 13 hours at a lower resolution 22KHz setting. You can also expand the PCM-D50's storage capacity using Sony ProDuo Memory Sticks.
We've yet to find a handheld audio recorder that nails every feature we're looking for, but the Sony PCM-D50 gets close. Compared with the competition, the Sony PCM-D50 offers the best microphones, build quality, ergonomics, battery life, and overall features, so long as you can forgive its small storage capacity, lack of MP3 recording, and proprietary memory expansion.