Sony PCM D1 digital audio recorder puts the dictaphone to shame

My first attempt at producing a podcast last year was a big let-down. Armed with a digital dictaphone that I’d borrowed from a colleague, I went off to record a bunch of student journalists in a big echoey room, only to find the end result was more ‘bogcast’than podcast. It sounded as if it had been recorded in a toilet.

So it was with a mixture of excitement and fear that I agreed to put the Sony PCM D1 through its paces. Excitement because, unlike the dictaphone, this piece of kit is supposed to be the stuff of dreams. And fear because I might, knowing my luck, have to tell the Sony PR that I’d gone and lost a £1,000 recording device.

But if you’re expecting a pocket-sized box of tricks, look away now. The D1 (pictured right) is reminiscent of a mobile phone circa 1987. But although it’s a beast of a device, all the buttons and knobs are where you’d expect them. Switch it on and it’s instantly poised to record – so capture is just one button press away.

Power specs

The D1 runs off four rechargeable AA batteries, but also connects to a power source. The sound is recorded in the WAV format, which can be easily edited and converted to web-ready MP3. The in-built 4GB memory provides about seven hours of recording time, but there’s room for an external memory card if you need more.

The LCD display comes with a back light for nocturnal podcasting and tells you everything you need to know about the recording. If one level display wasn’t enough, there’s also a decidedly retro pair of analogue level meters at the top of the recorder, and two small lights that turn from green to red if the volume peaks too high.

Help for interviews

Hidden behind the detachable furry windshield are two petite condenser mics pointing at 45-degree angles towards each other, making the recording of two-way interviews much easier. There are two mic settings – one which grabs a fair amount of background noise and one which does a good job of cutting out everything that’s not within a couple of inches of the mic. Helpfully, Sony has also provided a line-in socket, allowing the recorder to be wired up to a PA system for speeches or conferences.

Down the side of the device is a recording volume control, and a hold feature that prevents you from accidentally switching the device off. There’s also a ‘divide’button which allows you to find that soundbyte during editing a lot easier. You can plug in a pair of headphones and monitor what you’re recording as you go along; or once you’ve finished, hitting the play button lets you listen back, fast-forward and rewind through the audio cuts.

Last but not least, the D1 comes with a USB cable, letting you transfer the WAV files to a computer without the need for software. From there, they can be opened in your software package of choice, chopped around and exported.

Fast, easy, professional-sounding audio. All you need to worry about is getting that £1,000 signed off by the boss.

Sony PCM D1 digital audio recorder

Price: From £1,000

Pros: A doddle to capture top-notch broadcast-quality audio; good battery life and capacity

Cons: Pricey, but a good investment

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