Marantz PMD660 Revisited

After now putting the Marantz PMD660 through its paces for three weeks, it’s time to review and reconsider my earlier comments. In a nutshell, I’m disappointed. It’s not up to the usual Marantz level of quality and it’s overpriced.

Preamps are the biggest problem. They’re noisy. If you use a dynamic mic, you might be disappointed in the s/n ratio. The only way I figure they get the advertised 60dB s/n ratio is with a high-output condenser mic and a fairly strong source. They even specify the use of a condenser mic in the instructions. C’mon, guys. There’s no excuse for such a lousy preamp in a supposedly ‘pro’ piece of gear. I’ve got stuff from Radio Shack that sounds better.

Line-in Headroom is the second most-annoying problem. If you feed it anything higher than a pro-level +4dBu signal, it clips. This is a real problem since lots of other pro gear (like the ubiquitous Mackie mixers) are capable of putting out clean signals that are 12dB or even 20dB higher than +4dBu. Lots of house/PA personnel allow their outputs to go above +4dBu, so if you’re getting a feed from the board/mixer, you could be in trouble. And the clipping occurs before the line-input level control. If they’re going to have zero headroom on the line input, they should have a switchable 20dB attenuator as they do on their other ‘pro’ equipment. As for me, I always have a few in-line attenuators in my toolkit for circumstances like this.

CompactFlash, however, is very cool. I bought a 4GB SanDisk CF for $300, and it gives me a whopping 12+ hours of mono 44.1kHz PCM/WAV recording. 6+ hours in stereo.

Meters are well designed. One of the better features.

Input jacks are mixed. I was attracted by the XLR mic inputs, but why in the world they opted for a stereo-mini line input, I’ll never know. A 1/4″ TRS stereo in would have been appreciated.

Battery life is limited. I bought a set of NiMH rechargables, but I haven’t figured out under what circumstances (if any) they’re charged in the unit. I think I may have to charge them externally. In any case, battery life isn’t great, and since I’m recording long sessions (sometimes a full day) I always use AC power.

ALC is poor. You can easily hear it pumping. I’d say it’s unusable for serious recording. So use manual gain control and watch your levels. (The ALCs on all my Sony MiniDisc recorders are terrific. You can barely hear them working. Too bad the Sony user interface is so bad and that the only way to get the audio out of the MD is analog.)

Value is a serious problem. At $499 plus another $300 for a 4GB CF card, I’m out $800. My Marantz CDR300 direct-to-CD recorder costs less than that, and it’s a far better-made piece of equipment, event though it’s limited to 80 minutes of record time. Compared to what else is out there, I think this thing is overpriced by about $150.

Now that I’ve learned to work around its limitations, I still plan to use it instead of my Sony HD MiniDisc for recording conferences. I’ve also started using it for backups here in Studio 2 because it’s not limited to the 80 minutes of an audio CD.

If you’re looking for the best portable MP3 and PCM/WAV recorder, I doubt this is the best you’ll find. Let me know.

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7 thoughts on “Marantz PMD660 Revisited

  1. Juan

    Hi,
    Thanks for your comments on the MPMD660. I have one and would like to start podcasting. My problem is that I can’t seem to get stereo sound out of the XLRs and the presets. Do you have any advice. I can obviously live with mono sound for interviews that I just have to transcribe but this is useless for broadcast. Thanks and peace,
    Juan

    Reply
  2. Miranda

    Do you guys know of a Marantz stockist in San Francisco? I’m based in London, where they are ridiculously expensive, but am making a trip out to San Fran in March.

    Reply
  3. Ben Rutter

    I’m using this with a AKG C1000S condensor mic and powering the mic internally (i.e. with a 9v battery) and getting excellent sound quality.

    Reply
  4. sholom

    thanks for this vital info. do you have any more update on the Marantz PMD660 since i dont know of any thing els out there and painfull that all their Tape recorders did better for much less .Sholom

    Reply
  5. Doug Kaye

    If you use a condenser mic up close, which I think you’d want for acoustic guitar anyway, I think you’ll be happy with the PMD660. The higher output will minimize the noise in the preamps and you’ll have a good signal-to-noise ratio.

    Reply
  6. Rob

    What matters to me most is best sound quality for recording acoustic guitar on the road. If it’s not Marantz PMD660 would Edirol R-01 or M-Audio MicroTrack 24/96 be any better? Or perhaps the new Edirol R-09? They all seem to have limitations. I’d appreciate any suggestions. Thanks.

    Reply

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