« Top-notch pocketable field recorder »Published on 11/26/14 at 02:54
The first thing you notice about the PCM-M10 is that it's extremely compact, about the size of a small cellphone, though a bit thicker. It features 8GB of internal storage with a slot for a MicroSD card or Sony's proprietary M2 format for more storage and both a microphone and line input in addition to the two onboard omnidirectional microphones. The omnidirectional mics are actually quite usable and relatively quiet for cheap onboard microphones. They actually have a bit of wind protection under the casing, making them usable outdoors on mildly windy days without requiring a fuzzy wind protector. It's important to note that the M10 doesn't have any XLR inputs and it doesn't supply phantom power, so you'll have to use a phantom power supply or a separate mixer like the Sound Devices MixPre-D to power condenser microphones if they aren't battery powered.
The M10 is able to record in PCM format up to 24-bit/96KHz. It's also capable of recording in encoded MP3 in 3 bitrates: 64kbps, 128kbps, and 320kbps. One problem with the M10 is that even when using an external microphone you cannot record in mono. I do most of my recording with the M10 for one shot sound effects so I don't actually need stereo recordings too often, therefore I have to manually strip or downmix in my 2-track audio editor to get a mono recording. A mild annoyance, but an annoyance nonetheless.
The build quality is great. It's mostly plastic with an aluminum face, but it doesn't feel flimsy at all. There's no loose parts wiggling around and it feels very solid. There is some handling noise when you use the onboard mics, so you need to be careful with your hands while recording. The interface is decent, but you need to dig through menus quite a bit when it comes to enabling options and features as the front panel is very simplified with just the transport buttons and a few other utility buttons like changing what the display shows and an options menu button. There's a roller knob on the side that controls your recording level and a rocker switch on the other side that controls your line out volume.
The preamps are very quiet, especially for a handheld recorder in this price range. I use a Rode NT1A, NT3, and NT5 with a Denecke PS-1A as a power supply as my main microphones when recording sound effects in my studio. The results are clean and clear with low noise, definitely capable of professional quality recordings. I used a Zoom H4n briefly before buying the M10 and found both the mics and preamps quite noisy in comparison (though still usable!), so I returned that and purchased the M10. That said, the line out when using headphones is actually quite noisy, even when set to headphone mode, it's mostly only useful for simple monitoring.
The display isn't very big, but the backlighting is sufficient and the volume levels take up a good portion of the LCD screen so they're easy to see even in low light situations. When using the onboard mics, there's actually two LEDs on the top left and right corners that will light up green or red to give you a quick reference for your volume levels as well.
Two of my favorite features of the M10 are the exceptionally good battery life and the Cross-Memory recording. Sony handheld products in general are usually pretty good about battery life and the M10 is fantastic in this regard. Two AA batteries will power the unit for over 30-40 hours before you'll need to replace them. In real world time, this can end up lasting weeks or months unless you're doing very long recording sessions on a regular basis. The Cross-Memory recording will seamlessly switch from the internal storage to your MicroSD card once the internal storage fills up without stopping a take. A very handy feature that will give you some peace of mind during those really long recording sessions.
The M10 has a built-in limiter and low cut filter to help reduce some wind and low frequency ambient noises, but it's not as configurable as some other handheld recorders in this price range that let you specify the frequency you want to cut at, it's just a simple on-off option.
It's an awesome little recorder for not much money. If you can get past the lack of XLR and phantom power, it's an easy recommendation. It's small, has decent onboard microphones, quiet preamps, and some excellent quality of life features like the cross-memory recording and best-in-class battery life.
+ Great build quality
+ Superb battery life
+ Decent omnidirectional microphones
+ Quiet preamps
+ Cross-Memory recording so you don’t need to stop a take and switch from internal to external storage
+ Small and portable
+ Affordable (about $200-250 USD new)
- No XLR or Phantom Power
- Can only record in stereo
- Some menu diving necessary to turn on and off features