Refinements Bring This Flash Recorder Into a New Comfort Zone for Radio Use
(click thumbnail)The 671 adds the ability to record 24-bit, 96 kHz PCM audio, offers improved mic preamps and features a ‘virtual third head’ for confidence monitoring in the field.
It took the recently introduced Marantz PMD660 solid-state flash recorder to break my decade-long MiniDisc habit. But as often happens with the discovery of a new technology, a little hands-on field experience can lead to the next step. That step for me was the even newer Marantz PMD671.
This is not to denigrate the PMD660. At a street price of under $500 and a weight of about a pound, Marantz’s breakthrough 16-bit flash recorder with XLR mic connectors is a terrific basic portable for radio production. I suspect it will be an instant classic.
However, after some field experience with the 660, the compromises in its design became more apparent. Its finicky mic preamps limited my choice of microphones; it lacked a limiter; the USB 1.1 file transfer was too slow; and the lack of a rechargeable internal battery meant constant AA-cell changes in a cheap compartment not designed for frequent use.
Then Marantz announced the PMD671, a model that addressed my criticisms of the 660 plus added a few nice extras I hadn’t realized I wanted. My 660 went on eBay, I made the upgrade to the 671 and haven’t looked back.
First, there are some clear tradeoffs between the two models that might overshadow other differences. At about $1,000, the street price of 671 is double that of the 660 and – though still quite portable – the 671 is considerably larger and weighs about two pounds more than its petite cousin.
The 671 adds the ability to record 24-bit, 96 kHz PCM audio (a feature radio producers might not need or want), offers improved mic preamps and features a “virtual third head” for confidence monitoring in the field. This read-after-write capability also allows for random access playback of various parts of the flash memory while recording.
The unit also features convenient programmable presets that allow the recordist to make up three recording configurations in advance and recall them easily in the field. These memory banks simplify field use of the recorder. The 671 also has a built-in USB 2.0 port for much faster file transfer to a PC or Macintosh.
Product CapsuleTHUMBS UP:
Improved mic preamps
‘Virtual third head’ for conference monitoring
Convenient programmable presets
USB 2.0 port
Recording options for CompactFlash media
Extended battery life (over the 660’s)
Uses a Microsoft header description for 24-bit multichannel audio, which most audio editing applications don’t yet support
CONTACT: D&M Professional in Illinois at (866) 405-2154 or visit www.d-mpro.com
The recorder has an array of recording options for Compact Flash (CF) media. It can record uncompressed 16- and 24-bit PCM WAV or Broadcast WAV files at 44.1, 48, 88.2 or 96 kHz; mono MP3 files at 64 kbps; or stereo MP3 files at 128 kbps.
Most radio producers will choose the 16-bit, 44.1 kHz mode. In this case, a 1 GB CF card can hold almost 90 minutes of uncompressed stereo. By comparison, a 1 GB CF card can hold almost 30 minutes of uncompressed stereo (24-bit, 96 kHz), or over 17 hours (stereo) or 36 hours (mono) of compressed MP3.
Battery life on the 671 is extended to an estimated maximum of six hours with eight standard AA alkaline batteries, and up to five hours with a externally recharged NiCad battery pack. However, the 671 is specified to run for up to seven hours on a new NiMH battery (Marantz model RB1651) that will recharge while inside the recorder. Unfortunately, that battery pack had not been released by the manufacturer in time for this article.
In addition to two XLR mic connections with +48V phantom power, the 671 has both digital and analog I/Os (RCA connectors), a built-in speaker, a headphone jack and a jack for the optional RC600 wired remote control with peak indicator.
In operation, the 671 is a delight to use. Its big, clear display is bright and well lit in dark rooms. Its controls are simple and intuitive. The recording level knob is big and gain riding is a cinch, even with the limiter turned off. Over all, once the implications of the various choices are understood, the 671 is simple to operate.
The presets are an ergonomic inspiration. In fact, I cannot imagine how the operation of Flash recorders was before them. There are many choices the operator has to make prior to a digital recording on a device like this. Without the presets, there’s no doubt that errors – perhaps serious ones -would be made in the din of confusion on location.
As a Macintosh user, I found compatibility with the 16-bit, 44.1 files I recorded. My editing application, Peak 4, opened them with no issues. The quality of recordings made on the 660 and 671 – made virtually all on location – were indistinguishable. Both were excellent.
I had a different experience with 24/96 files. Peak 4 would not open them, yet the latest version of Quicktime would. I learned from Marantz tech support the 671 uses a newly defined Microsoft header description for 24-bit multichannel audio. Unfortunately, most audio editing applications don’t yet support this Microsoft revision.
Marantz said it plans to offer a free downloaded firmware update for the 671 that will restore 24-bit file compatibility with existing editing software.
There are an increasing number of competitive Flash memory recorders entering the audio market. Each is designed and priced to appeal to a specific market segment. The Marantz PMD671, a refined device whose design reflects decades of practical experience in portable field recorders, clearly pulls from the company’s deep roots in radio field production.
It’s a solid candidate for a new workhorse field recorder for the most demanding news and documentary recordists. This machine deserves a serious audition.