This sleek rackmount Compact Flash-based recorder makes an ideal recording 'scratch pad', and files can also be imported into your DAW when things get more serious.
Sometimes when a musical idea enters your head, you really don't want to have to fire up the computer just to make a scratch-pad recording. Far easier, quicker, and less intrusive on the creative process to use something like a simple cassette recorder, or maybe a Minidisc recorder. However, often these machines are mechanically noisy, and there is also the time-consuming process of copying the scratch recordings into the computer to develop and embellish. Marantz have come up with a neat solid-state recorder that may be the ideal solution — the PMD570. In effect this is a studio version of the portable PMD670.
This is a rugged, professional 1U rack-mounting two-channel recorder which uses Compact Flash memory cards or micro-drives of up to 8GB capacity as the recording media. Recorded files can be transferred quickly and easily into a computer either by removing the card from the PMD570 and connecting it to a suitable card reader, or by accessing the machine directly via its own USB port. I found it quicker and easier to remove the card and load it directly into my computer to transfer files — something I tend to do with digital camera files as well. In the case of the PMD570, to access the files directly via the USB port you have to turn the machine off and then back on while holding the Menu button to put it into a special USB mode, after which the machine appears as a mass storage device. After downloading the wanted files, you have to cycle the mains power again to get back to normal operation.
The recorder offers three file-storage formats, with mono and stereo options. Maximum quality, but minimum record time, is provided by 16-bit, 48kHz linear PCM files in standard WAV or BWAV formats. Next in the quality hierarchy is an MPEG1 Layer 2 option (MP2), with bit rates from 32kbps to 384kbps, followed by the more compact MPEG3 Layer 3 format (MP3), with bit rates from 32kbps to 320kbps. All files are automatically time and date stamped, and it is impossible to accidentally record over a previous file. There is even a two-second pre-record memory, so that you can still capture a complete recording even if you are a little slow in hitting the record button!
When recording from the analogue inputs, the sampling frequency can be selected from six options between 16kHz and 48kHz, but only 44.1kHz and 48kHz are supported when recording via the digital inputs. To make it easy to recall specific recording configurations, the machine has three user presets that select the recording input, file format, sample and bit rates, and so on.
The rear panel of the machine is equipped with a pair of XLRs for balanced line-level input, factory aligned for 0dBFS at +16dBu, but this is fully adjustable via screwdriver trimmers for anything between 0dBu and +24dBu. There is also a quartet of RCA phono connectors for unbalanced line input and output, plus another pair for S/PDIF digital I/O. 120-240V mains power is connected via a standard IEC mains inlet.
As mentioned earlier, the USB port provides direct access to the audio files from a computer, and an RS232 serial port allows external control and configuration. A free Windows application downloadable from www.d-mpro.com lets you set up and control the PMD570 from a computer via the serial interface. Two further remote-control sockets are provided: a mini-jack for the optional RC600 wired remote, and a quarter-inch socket for a footswitch. The latter can be configured for one of four modes, to control typical start/pause action, for example, or to increment the track count. There is no infrared remote-control option.
Solid-state recorders are fast becoming the standard way of recording stereo material, and Marantz have always been a major player in this area. However, virtually all the currently available machines are portable devices, taking advantage of the compact size and good battery life afforded by the medium. Sometimes, though, a mains-powered rackmount device is more appropriate, and that is where the PMD570 comes in. The only other widely available rackmount alternative is another Marantz product — the new PMD560. However, if a portable machine is acceptable, the choice becomes quite expansive, starting with Marantz's own products such as the PMD670, PMD671, or PMD660. Alternatives include the Edirol R1 at the lower end of the budget scale, with the timecode-capable Fostex FR2 and Tascam HDP2 for the professional market, along with offerings from Nagra such as the Ares and BB models, and the Maycom Handheld II for simpler applications.
The front panel is equally simple and straightforward, starting with a large power button adjacent to a headphone socket and associated volume control. The Compact Flash card is concealed behind a flap which can be fixed shut with some small screws provided if required. A backlit alphanumeric display includes a pair of clear bar-graph meters and icons to show the virtual transport status. Various text messages are displayed to offer configuration options and confirm settings, as well as to report the current status of the machine. A Display button cycles the screen through various options including: recording time available; track number; input source; mark positions; file format; and date and time. When recording, the display shows the elapsed time by default, but the other options can be accessed by pressing the Display button again.
To the right of the display are three large coloured transport buttons for Record, Stop and Play/Pause, with three more above to skip forwards or backwards and to access the configuration menus. Several of the buttons also have a dual function, accessed via the Shift button to the left of the screen, which operates edit functions and the Mark modes. The rotary encoder is also multi-function, selecting menu items when the machine is in its configuration mode, but adjusting the record level by default.
Using the PMD570 is simplicity itself once the appropriate recording format has been set up, and if a favoured configuration is stored in one of the user memories it becomes easier still. It's really just a case of setting the input level and pressing Record. The only small trap to watch out for is not to open the Compact Flash card's protection flap while recording. Doing so automatically stops the recording and updates the file in preparation for ejecting the card.
The 16-bit, 48kHz linear PCM mode is more than adequate for all scratch-pad applications, and it is quite possible to capture release-quality audio with a little care in setting peak levels. After all, we did it with DAT for long enough! For lengthier recording durations (such as when recording band rehearsals), the MP2 or MP3 modes (at the higher bit rates) are reasonably good too, and far better than a tired old cassette recorder. Indeed, if you are recording something fairly 'open' — like a single guitar part with vocal, perhaps — any data reduction artifacts will be inaudible to most if not all listeners anyway.
I liked the PMD570; it does exactly what it says on the box. It is a compact, convenient mono or stereo audio-file recorder that is fast and easy to use, totally silent in operation, and produces good-quality results. Files can also be transferred easily to a computer if you want to work on them further. Some may discount the machine simply because it doesn't support higher sample rates and 24-bit resolution, but this is missing the point that the PMD570 is an ideal solution as a flexible scratch-pad recorder.
- Easy, quiet, and convenient to use.
- Flexible file-format options.
- Balanced analogue inputs and full digital I/O.
- Free serial remote-control software available.
- Wired remote control an optional extra.
- No balanced analogue outputs.
- USB operation involves cycling the power.
A rackmounting Compact Flash card recorder which can be configured for mono or stereo operation, with linear PCM or data-reduced MP2 or MP3 file formats, and a range of sample and bit rates. Ultimate quality is limited by its 16-bit, 48kHz maximum resolution, but this is entirely adequate for its intended purpose. Totally silent in use, fast and easy to operate, this is an ideal scratch-pad recorder for the musician who wants to be able to capture ideas without having to boot up the entire computer studio.
£816.63 including VAT.
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