Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Sony PCM-M10 and Olympus LS-10 Sound Examples

There are now over sixty comments to my original Sony PCM-M10 versus Olympus LS-10 / LS-11 article and the follow-up Revisiting the Sony PCM-M10 versus Olympus LS-10 / LS-11 Discussion. Lately they have been coming thick and fast, no doubt as people look to buy something nice for Christmas. In answer to the call for some sounds to listen to, it did some quick and dirty recordings this week, which you can download in a ZIP archive.

These are not precise comparisons of the recorders -- nor have I had an opportunity to record any live music with both. But maybe something is better than nothing. The first set of recordings are mono files of music playback. So the source has already been heavily processed and finally output from an RME FireFace and Behringer Truth monitors.

The second set are stereo recordings made about 50cm away from the source, me jangling a bundle of keys to get extreme transients. Both recorders were on low sensitivity, with inputs set to 5 (half way). (I note in passing that these recorders must have very different internal sound paths. One clue to this is that, when on high sensitivity, input zero registers a signal on the Olympus but not on the Sony.)

All recordings were made at 44.1KHz / 24 bit but have been normalised and reduced to 16 bits. I present the full PCM files since MP3 compression plays havoc with evaluating the true sound.

Since I normalised the files and didn't calibrate the inputs in any way, these recordings should not be used to evaluate the noise floor. But they might help get a feel for the frequency response and stereo sound stage. I can clearly hear the difference and prefer the boldness of the Olympus sound. It has more presence and a richer low end. On the other hand I am thinking the Sony has greater dynamic range and might hence better preserve transients.

I am not sure how long the file will be available on the hosting service, so grab it now if you would like to.

February 2012 update: This paragraph was prescient! I have re-upped to a different server. At least until the feds shut Mediafire down. ;-)

I will also remind you of the donation button in the sidebar. Buy me a coffee or help with the home heating fund. Any amount is appreciated!



Kevin said...

Thank you sooo much! I've decided on the LS-11 based on your previous posts and especially the audio files. I can clearly hear more presence with the Olympus. I'm truly greatful for your efforts, as I was planning on getting a Zoom prior to doing this research.

Ali said...

Hey Robin,

According to the M10 specs sheet S/N ratio is 87db or higher and Total Harmonic Distortion is 0.03%. Are those parameters related to the internal mics? I mean if one uses better external mics, the results will be changed or not?


Unknown said...

Robin- thank you for all of the wonderful writing and continuing comments on this still evolving debate. I wanted to leave a comment since like you, I also used the LS-10 for my thesis. I'm here to say it worked fine and wonderful for what I needed (field recordings). It was a little lacking in the low-end department, and I had to constantly boost levels in post to get closer to what I remembered the sounds being like. Aside from that though, the Olympus has been very good to me. If, in fact, the 11 improves upon the low-end, I'll surely be picking one up and would highly recommend it to anyone else trying to decide between the two (Sony vs. Olympus).

I hope you don't mind me making a little plug, but if anyone is in the NY area, I have a short feature film ( click here for more info ) playing fairly soon at MoMA's Documentary Fortnight. The film mostly uses sounds captured by myself on my trusty little LS-10. You can hear the potential of the recorder in the preview trailer (never used anything but the built-in mics, by the way).

Thanks again for the great insights, Robin.

robin said...

PBR: I am glad you had the same success I did. These recorders are perfectly capable of "professional" work (a question I get asked all the time). After all, it is the person, not the tool, that makes something professional.

Ali: I cannot directly address your query about the specs since I do not know how accurate the published data is.

Kevin: I am sure you will be impressed with the Olympus compared with a Zoom, which simply feels like a toy in comparison.

Firehorsepower said...

@Ali: The specs mentioned by SONY are under much heavier scrutiny than those mentioned by Olympus. Also, just by the fact alone that SONY is doing audio ever since 1946, and built the first tape-recorder (the Type-G) around 1949, whilst Olympus started working on audio equipment in the 1970s, I cannot help but see the advantage of SONY here. And be honest, you hear the difference. The M10 is waaaaay better than the LS10 or the LS11. Noisefloor of the SONY recorders is famously low, especially when using external mics, compared to almost ALL other portable recorders these days.

robin said...

So you're saying that "only" four decades of experience disqualifies Olympus from making a high-quality recorder? :-)

1singur said...

for what i know olympus made the first digital recorder, right?

robin said...

Soundstream marketed the first commercial digital recorder in 1977. It weighed 30kg and was half a metre on a side. Apparently British inventor Kane Kramer marketed the first solid state recorder but I have found no corroborating proof of that.

kateyhep said...

Internal mic question...
I am a radio journalist working for several international broadcasters so I need a high quality recorder. I have been working with the Olympus LS-10 for several years, but as it has just been stolen, I am reconsidering whether I should buy the Sony or the Olympus.
I usually record with an external mic on the Olympus to avoid the hiss from the internal mics that you can hear in interviews with little background sound, or when recording quiet ambient sound.
I would really like a recorder where I could use the internal mics occaisionally though for two reason.
1. Sometimes a mic is just too obvious (I am just been working in Liberia and it would have been nice to record more subtly - ie with the internal mics as a mic gets a lot of unwanted attention).
2. The Olympus records too quietly with an external mic (mine is a Sennheiser MD721) when I am recording quiet sounds (ie birds in forest). But then I need to use the external mic to avoid the hiss.
Is the Sony any better when using the internal mics?
Does Sony's recording level drop when using the external mics?

robin said...

The Olympus built-in mics, being directional, are more appropriate for journalistic use. I would get a pistol grip or at least a tripod you can hold in one hand. This reduces contact noise on the recorder, which, along with wind noise, is a common problem.

The main advantages of an external mic are that you can position it closer to the source and there is little handling noise. There is no substitute for getting the source and mic closer together. Levels increase and distracting sounds from other sources are relatively lower. An application like recording birds in a forest might require a directional mic (shotgun) or even some sort of a parabolic setup.

Level drop is largely based on the sensitivity of the microphone. A more sensitive mic produces a hotter output and so records louder.

I have never heard of the MD 721, but then again I don't know every microphone. The MD 421 is a dynamic mic with low sensitivity. There are much better choices for this application.

Anonymous said...

Since the MegaUpload fiasco, it appears your ZIP file of sound recording samples is unavailable. Can you upload them elsewhere? Thanks!

robin said...

Thanks for the little prod. Re-upped.

Felipe Vaz said...

thanks a lot for the comparison and the examples! extra bonus point for choosing a Cartola track to showcase the recording quality :)

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