Originally Posted by Geissler
I've had the M10 for a week now so I'll add some observations of how it fares in real-world mp3 playback situations.
First of all, it sounds great, and it has no trouble driving my beyer DT150 (250 ohm IIRC) while sounding much tighter than the DAC in, say, my laptop. Not quite as clear sound as from my NI audio kontrol 1 interface (cirrus DAC).
Despite that, the interface is not great. Sony designed this to be an audio recorder, and it accomplishes that task exceedingly well. mp3 playback feels like an afterthought. Problems:
- So you're listening to an album and you want to browse your music. Hit menu. Nothing happens. You're not allowed to browse the files unless you press "STOP" and stop playback. Huge annoyance.
- No nested folders. It will detect everything on the memory card, but in the browser it'll lay out only the folders which directly contain audio and place them in the root folder. For example, say you copy a folder called "Calexico" which contains two child folders, "hot rail" and "the black light". The M10's menu will only show "hot rail" and "the black light", alongside every other album you have on there. Everything is put in root regardless of folder structure. Possible annoyance.
- You can't browse the songs in a folder, at least not with a menu. Hit "play" on a folder and it'll take you to the playing screen. Hit "play" again and song 1 starts playing. The only way of browsing the songs is by using the forward and back buttons here. Annoying, particularly for folders with many files. Also annoying for browsing your recordings because skipping tracks takes far longer than it did with, say, the old MZ-R50 minidisc's clicky wheel.
- No EQ
- volume changes slooooooooowly, even if you hold the button, and to top it off the "VOLUME: XX" image takes up the entire screen for 3 seconds every time it's changed, just like the hold screen.
- changing between internal and card memory takes 8 button presses. It doesn't seem like much, and there's always the cross-memory feature, but if you're listening to music and you need to record something fast, this is less than optimal. On top of that, if the current memory is full the cross-memory feature doesn't work automatically - it simply says "MEMORY FULL" and forces you to change the memory manually with those 8 clicks. I find this so annoying that I'm just ignoring the 4GB internal and using the 8GB microsd for everything.
In my opinion you'd be better off sticking with sansa. The M10 is very good at recording but not much else.
It's good that you've reported these peculiararities of the PMC-M10 - it takes some getting used to, but in my opinion, it's very worthhile.
At this writing, I've been using the PCM-M10 as my primary PDAP for about a month, now. I agree that its headphone out sounds great (to use your choice of words) - it's way better than the Sanza Clip it has replaced - an easily noticeable improvement in transaprency, the Clip is slightly muddy in comparison. I can hear this difference in detail using phones as modest as the Sennheiser HD280 Pro, which easily be driven to my desired levels with the Clip, but the DAC and amp in the PCM-M10 yields superior sound quality by far, using 44.1kHz 16-bit WAV files produced from the 44.1/16 FLACs I had in my Sansa Clip.
Swapping the HD280's back and forth between the headphone out of the PCM-M10 and the Sanza Clip, having used an inexpensive (it's a toy, really) Scosche SPL1000 SPL meter to adjust peak volumes to 85 dB (with its mic held under one side of the headphone, against my ear), I compared recordings like (don't laugh) David Arnold's Company Car and Backseat Driver from the soundtrack CD of Tomorrow Never Dies and several tracks from Michael Hedges' Aerial Boundaries, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers' Mary Jane's Last Dance, and Los Straightjackets' Brains and Eggs.
I then unplugged the HD280's, stepped through the PCM-M10's menu and changed the headphone out jack to Line Out - to which I attached a Meier Audio Corda Stepdance via a 6-inch Milian Acoustics SPOFC Kevlar-sleeve interconnect cable
. With the Stepdance set to Low Gain, I went through the same tracks, this time, swapping between the PCM-M10's amp (headphone out) and the Stepdance (via the PCM-M10's Line Out) - again, a readily noticeable improvement in detail and oveall transparency, of about the same magnitude as I had experienced when switching between the Sansa Clip and the PCM-M10's amp. The good news here is that, in my admittedly inexperienced-at-doing-this-sort-of-thing opinion, the PCM-M10's DAC sounds great with the Stepdance, just using 44.1kHz 16-bit WAV files.
I then repeated the entire exercise I've describe above using Shure SE530's. This was hard to setup because I had to use the HD280's at first to find matching volume settings that were low enough to be detected by my SPL meter, but not too loud when the HD280's were replaced with the more efficient IEMs. The difference in detail between the Sansa Clip and the PCM-M10's headphone out was even more dramatic with the SE530s (thanks to the relatively smeared response of HD280s), as was the difference between the PCM-M10's headphone out and a Line Out to the Stepdance. Let me add that I can't hear any hiss using the SE530's with either the PCM-M10's headphone out or via the Line Out to Stepdance.
This combination of PCM-M10 Line Out -> Stepdance -> SE530 was, at first, almost too analytical for what I'm used to hearing (with the Sansa Clip -> SE530), but I'm rediscovering a lot of music and as trite as this is to say, I'm hearing stuff I've never noticed before. I've found that the tighter control offered by this combination has brightened the SE530's highs and the bass of the HD280's, as well as the SE530's has never sounded better to me - lots of texture and pitch discrimination where the Sansa Clip is wooly. I have to attribute most of these attributes to the Stepdance, but again, the PCM-M10's DAC isn't getting in the way.
Unfortunately, my impressions are devoid of any comparison of the PCM-M10's DAC to any other DAC or even a DAC within any other DAP that has a Line Out, so I regret my lack of equipment to make such a comparison. I'd really like to compare it to a Sansa Fuze with LOD (not to mention a lot of really expensive DACs) but I'm not likely to make any purchases like that for a while, because it will soon be my turn to pay for a pair of Audez'e LCD-2s I ordered a month ago. Ouch.
Acknowleging my inexperience I'm purposely refraining from making any comments regarding differences in sound stage between the Sansa Clip, the PCM-M10 with headphone out, and the PCM-M10 Line Out to Stepdance - mostly due to fearing that I just don't have the vocabulary to describe the differences that I'm hearing, but I do consider myself to be very analytical and thus, I'll toss out two last comments that are woefully subjective - I really like the way the PCM-M10's headphone out sounds vs. the Sansa Clip, but I LOVE the way its Line Out to the Stepdance sounds!
Going where few PDAPs can go, the PCM-M10's ability to play 96-kHz 24-bit WAVs is a sweet experience. One can argue that 96/24 content downloaded from iTrax, HDtracks, or High Definition Tape Transfers (and others?) is no doubt mastered better than a lot of CD audio, so I used dbPoweramp to downsample (without using any DSP effects) two 96/24 WAV files to 44.1/16 and loaded them into the PCM-M10 for comparison. With only one pair of files in any given folder, I peformed a blind test by just pressing the FF key numerous times without counting or looking at the display, then I would hit the Play button, listen using the SE530s, and try to identify whether or not I was listening to the 96/24 file or the 44.1/16 file. I did this 10 times for each of two songs, scoring myself as I went: Orange Blossom Special performed by Time for Three on their 3 Fervent Travelers album and Gadamaylin from I Ching's album, Of The Marsh And The Moon. I just have to make a cliffhanger out of this by saying that my subsequent attempt to do this using the HD280 Pro's was a dismal 8 out of 20 - more wrong than right - but using the SE530s I scored 16 out of 20. Coincidence? I don't think so - I genuinely believe the PCM-M10 -> Stepdance -> SE530 combination is sufficiently transparent and analytical, from one end of the chain to the other, that just about anybody's ears could appreciate the superior dyamics and resolution of 96/24 vs. 44.1/16 - no matter what the Nyquist theory and its disciples dictate. I can hear a difference, for example, when the double bass player in Orange Blossom Special yells out a loud shout near the beginning of the track, that's all the more knife-edged in 96/24 vs. 44.1/16, and the percussion and texture of the strings throughout that entire performance just have more attack and punch. In another thread, I previously discussed the possibility of upsampling my 44.1/16 content to 96/24, but not only could I not hear any improvement with upsampling (with or without dbPoweramp's resampling DSP), I couldn't find anyone capable of making (or willing to make) a good argument for upsampling. So... if you want to use the PCM-M10 for a portable 96/24 experience, you'll have to purchase 96/24 content or record your own.
Now to the logistics of the PCM-M10. As Geissler has reported, any folder that contains supported files will be displayed as if its in the root of the onboard memory or a flash card on which it resides. One solution to this problem is to go with the flow and create folder names like "Dianna Krall - From This Moment On" putting the songs for that album in that one folder, instead of nesting going two folders deep, for artist name \ album name.
Another annoyance is that every folder is sorted by the date and time the file was written to the internal memory or to the flash card - it will not be sorted by folder name. This is great for making and finding your recordings of various gigs, but not so great when you're trying to use the PCM-M10 as a DAP. A solution to this problem is to periodically copy all of the files you've accumulated on a given flash card off to a folder on your PC, then use the PCM-M10 to format the flash card (while you're at it - just to refresh its sectors), then when you copy the whole lot of it back to the flash card, it will be displayed in the PCM-M10 in the sequence with which the files were added to the card. Joy!
Contrary to the way Geissler has explained this, you can browse the songs in a folder using the menu - you can even scroll through them fairly rapidly by holding down on the FF or Rewind buttons - the huge limitation being that, you can't do this while a song is playing. This really takes some getting used to. I never realized how much I enjoyed doing this with "real" DAPs. Now, you're left with total silence as you navigate to your next song of choice.
But there some DAP-like features for playback that are worth mentioning: You can set the playback mode to play a selected file and stop, play all the files in a folder and stop, play a selected file and repeat that one file indefinitely, play all the files in a folder and repeat that folder indefinitely, play every file on the flash card or internal memory (you can't do both) then stop, or paly every file on the flash card or internal memory and repeat indefinitely. I use the folder repeat mode almost exclusively. As I mentioned breifely, there, you have to select which storage you are going to work with at any one time - either the internal memory or the flash card.
Lastly, for most functions, the controls are easy to use without looking.
Gotta run for now,
Edit: Contrary to my comment above, the PCM-M10's headphone out does have hiss that can be heard with the Shure SE530s at higher but still listenable volume levels. It's a bit tricky - when you're not playing a track, you'll have absolute silence at any volume level with the PCM-M10's headphone out, but when you start to play a song at any level higher than about 1/3 of the way up the scale, you can hear a hiss kick in at the beginning, before it's masked by the music. When you hit the Stop or Pause buttons, the hiss will linger for a couple of seconds before the amp is squelched to silence again. And, of course, at high volume levels (higher than I like to listen with the SE530s) you can make out the hiss underneath all but the loudest signals. I can't hear any hiss with the less efficient Sennheiser HD280s and, of course, the Line Out to a Stepdance is totally silent, even with the SE530s.
Edited by zilch0md - 12/29/10 at 10:49am