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Marantz Professional PMD661 Review

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I’ve been experimenting recently with the new Marantz PMD661 handheld solid state recorder that was sent for me to test out. Over the last few years, I’ve owned just about every field recorder Marantz has produced: PMD 670, 671, 660 and 620; so you can count me a long time fan of their gear. I have to say I like the new 661 and consider it a real improvement over the 660.

First, the redesigned case has a solid feel to it with a nice black brushed aluminum face. It makes sense for its size and everything is laid out nicely including just about any connection you might need. The unit now sports a 1/4-inch sized headphone jack (a real improvement in my book), RCA stereo line out connections, S/PDIF digital input, USB 2.0 port and a spare 1/8-inch stereo line in. They have switched away from compact flash and now use removable SD or SDHC memory cards. (The unit ships with 1 GB card to get you started.) The two XLR inputs are mic/line switchable and have +48V phantom power if needed. (The fact that that the XLRs are now line level capable moves this unit up much closer to its big brother, the PMD671.) The LED meter bridge has been moved to the topside of the unit and is angled so that it is visible from top or front. The 661 has two built in condenser microphones and stereo playback speakers.

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The unit ships with a carrying strap that lets you hang it from you shoulder and, like its predecessor, the XLRs are intelligently located on the bottom so that mic cables drape nicely. The 661 runs on 4 AA batteries with a stated record time of 5+ hours (not tested.) For studio use, the unit ships with an AC adapter in the box.

To me, the big news is now you can record uncompressed PCM in either 16 or 24 bit depth with sample rates of 44.1, 48 or 96 kHz. I have always recorded my audio for podcasting using 24-bit to take advantage of the extra headroom and I feel this a signifiant improvement over the 660. The best part from a form and function standpoint is the large OLED display. The display is big, bright and easy to read. An additional display feature I appreciate is the ability to cycle through various alternate information dislplays. The display options depend on the function being used: record, playback etc. I found myself using the “record level” option frequently so that in addition to the meter bridge I had ballistic style meters running on the bright OLED. This is a huge improvement over the previous model and when recording inside or at night I find displays like this to be a real plus.

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As devices get smaller and have more features packed into them, the menu systems sometimes get too confusing. Sure you can set everything up for just about any unit when the manual is right in front of you but the real test comes six months later in the field when you need to make a change, can you find the menu option then? So I did my basic test – could I navigate the menus and get the unit set up without having to first read the manual. Success! The menu structure is intuitive and I was able to get everything configured and even went so far as to program the 3 presets without ever having to crack the manual.

The transport buttons are laid out intelligently and operation was easy. You can’t miss when you are in record mode. The ring around the record button lights up in bright red and is a nice touch.

Now for the most important question: how does it sound? I think it is an improvement over the 660 but with all these portable digital recorders microphone selection is key. I’ve posted two quick sound clips recorded with two dynamic ENG style interview microphones: Sennheiser MD46 and an ElectroVoice RE50N/D-B. I think this unit would definitely do better with a phantom-powered condenser microphone. And sure enough right there on page 24 of the manual that is what Marantz Professional recommends for the 661. But since the MD 46 and RE 50 are popular among podcasters for mobile interviews, those are the ones I tested.

Sennheiser MD46

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ElectroVoice RE50N/D-B

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I’ve also posted a file recorded with the internal mics. My guess is that they are the same as those used on the PMD620 – a unit I like for ultra-portable use. (I have an email out trying to confirm this.) Update: I got word back from Marantz Professional that, “the mic capsule is quite same as the PMD620 but the mechanical structure (how to support the mic unit), mic pre and power supply circuits, peripheral devices and parts …those are improved.”

Internal Mics

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Overall, I like the unit. With its line capability on the XLRs it can serve double duty as your desktop recorder when behind your mixer and then you can pack it up and head out to capture field interviews. Just make sure you pick your mic carefully. The Marantz PMD661 is available through Amazon for $599.


33 Responses to “Marantz Professional PMD661 Review”


  1. Gravatar Icon 1 Shel Holtz Jan 17th, 2009 at 7:52 am

    Michael, could you add a sound file that uses the built-in microphones? I’m very curious to hear it. They look like the same mics used in the handheld PMD-620 (which I use in the field). I’ve been using the 660 in my studio for some time, almost always using the line-in function, but if the built-in microphones on the 661 are improved, it might be worth the investment for me to upgrade.

  2. Gravatar Icon 2 Michael Jan 17th, 2009 at 12:53 pm

    Shel,

    Thanks for the comment. I’ve added a sample file with the internal mics. My guess is they are the same as the PMD620, though I am trying to confirm this.

  3. Gravatar Icon 3 Vincent Racaniello Jan 20th, 2009 at 2:21 pm

    I’m trying to decide between the PMD661 and the PMD671. Any thoughts? I want maximum flexibility, ease of use, and sound quality – mainly for podcasting, both in studio and mobile. Thanks.

  4. Gravatar Icon 4 Erik Danielsson Mar 8th, 2009 at 11:21 pm

    Thank you Shel,

    Some practical issues:
    1. How long is the startup time for the 661 unit? (How many secs from pressing ON to RECODING, taken that the right preset already is chosen).

    2. When you use the MD46, does the 661 give enough feed (gain) or do you have to push it the top to be able to get an acceptable level? (I had problem with the MD421 on the 660)

    3. Do you feel that the monitoring (headphones) level is high enough? When recording in noisy environments I find it essential to have a pretty powerful headphone amp.

    4. I live in Sweden, where the winters are long, have you any info on how the unit works around 0 degrees celsius?

    Again, thank you for your review.

  5. Gravatar Icon 5 Matthew Mar 17th, 2009 at 12:33 pm

    Erik, I have the PMD661 and I use it with dynamic mics only. I’m pleased to report that it provides plenty of gain for even very low output dynamic mics like the EV635, which is what I primarily use. (I also have the MD421. Although I haven’t used it with the PMD661, I’m sure you’ll have no problem with it since the MD421 has a hotter output than the 635. I can reach 0dB with the gain setting at about 6-7 out of 10.

    Startup time is 3 seconds. (impressive.)

    Headphone volume is adequate but not super. With a voice peaking at -10dB, you can listen at full volume without hurting your ears. A full 0dB source will hurt your ears a little, but that’s the only time I back off the volume in a quiet room. It may be a little underpowered for a noisy room. Internal speaker is tinny sounding and quiet. Not good for anything except checking your takes.

    The only negatives I’ve found: the unit once failed to start up after traveling with it. The troubleshooting guide says when the microprocessor gets confused you must cut power and restart – i.e. eject the batteries and re-insert. It only happened once. You should know ahead of time so you’ll know the fix. I lost an interview and had to reschedule because I didn’t have the instruction manual to figure this out.

    Also, the 1G card it ships with works fine on both Mac and PC, but after upgrading to an 8G SDHC class 6 card, the mac hangs trying to retrieve the .wav files. Still works fine on the PC. It may just be a mac problem but it’s annoying.

  6. Gravatar Icon 6 Fraser Apr 15th, 2009 at 2:26 am

    Thanks for your review, you’ve answered one or two questions that I couldn’t find answered elsewhere!

  7. Gravatar Icon 7 Susan Taylor Jun 24th, 2009 at 9:06 am

    Hi

    Just wondering if the PMD 671 would be a better alternative than the PMD 661 to record live events. I am looking to record my 4-5 day events to have available for sale for those that can’t make it. Any suggestions?

    susan

  8. Gravatar Icon 8 Michael Jun 24th, 2009 at 9:58 am

    Susan,

    Either unit will work just fine. Given you are recording a live event I assume you’ll probably use the line-in functionality with a mixer as the source. Either unit will accommodate this, though the 661 will take XLR line-in and the 671 has RCA’s for line-in so be sure you have the correct cables. I own both and my only other suggestion is to use the power adapter rather than batteries and break-up and back-up the recordings as they progress.

  9. Gravatar Icon 9 Victor Falkteg Jul 7th, 2009 at 10:39 am

    Did a test of the DA-part of the PMD661. Connected the digital input of the PMD661 to the digital output of the Shanling SCD3000 CD/SACD player. Then connected the balanced analog output (not the tube output) to an amplifier. At the same time connected the line output of the PMD661 to another input on the same amplifier. A listening test comparing the two different DA converters showed that the SCD3000 sound better. The staging is more stable and the audio more clean. The SDC3000 vas used without the upsampling option, to make the test as relevant as possible.
    Will go on making a test recording an analog signal, transferring to a CD and the use the SDC3000 to get an idea how the AD in the PMD661 sounds.
    Well, but looking at the price tag and the form factor the PMD661 sounds very good when using for an analog recording and replay of an SACD compared to the original using the SDC3000.

    Victor

  10. Gravatar Icon 10 Luc Heestermans Aug 6th, 2009 at 4:11 am

    Gentlemen,
    One of my hobbies is sound for theater. You know, like the sound of a car that passes by, or the sound of a toilet flushed through, etc…
    As some amongst you are already using the PMD661, you might be able to answer my question:
    I’m intended to order the PMD661, but no shop here in Belgium can demonstrate me the possibilities of that recorder or give me a proper answer to my questions.
    Beside using that PMD661 to replace my old UHER portable open reel recorder for live recordings (I copy the analogue signal of that recorder to a p.c. for editing), I would like to use it also as a playback device during theater plays.
    Actually I copy the sounds from my p.c. onto mini disk for playback, but it’s not an ideal situation to have the MD-player in “pauze” during the 2 or 3 hours a theater play takes place, and this just to play a couple of sounds or some music. A solid state player would be a lot better option, as there are no parts moving during stand-by, and as it doesn’t make any mechanical noise.
    I would even like to use it to play some music while the audience is coming in or leaves at the end. To do this now,I burn c.d.’s and play those on an ordinairy c.d. player.
    So my question is quit simple: Can you easily download wav.-files from a p.c. into a machine like the PMD661, without having problems with filenames and such things, and then play these files from the PMD661. And can you use an PMD661 as a kind of mp3 player, transfering music with its title from a p.c.?
    This would make a big improvement, as well in terms of quality (whole chain would be digital, no more intermediate conversations), as in handling and manipulation.

    Thanks a lot for any feedback
    Kind regards,
    Luc

  11. Gravatar Icon 11 ermens Oct 28th, 2009 at 2:05 pm

    as mp3 player? basically it does the job. basically.

    i’d like an update with an software m&s monitoring.

    ermens

  12. Gravatar Icon 12 mario lobo Feb 26th, 2010 at 2:39 pm

    I purchased a unit from bhphoto in nyc, after much testing my unit could of been defective, it had a loud hiss (-35db) at level recording #6, anything less than that and it was inaudible, more than that and the hiss was over-powering, I was using a AT897 mic, with/without phantom power and the hiss was still there, even with no mics connected, I tried it with the headphone jack connected and disconnected and I could see the level meter at -35db! frustrating! I emailed bhphoto and Marantz to see if this was normal, but I’m guessing it is not, I have heard great things about this recorder and I after playing around with it I think I could live with it but not with the hiss, the internal mics where much better, but once I set the external mics the hiss showed up. Any advice will be greatly appreciated but needless to say its heading back to the store for replacement.

  13. Gravatar Icon 13 Jeremy Vaught Feb 28th, 2010 at 7:25 pm

    I used to do some podcasting, but I’m looking to get back into it in the political scene. I often find myself in large rooms of people, and I want to do interviews there right on the spot. I was recently at an event and was chatting with an NPR reporter who was using the PMD620 and a boom mic to do the same thing I’m talking about. This was a very loud room and he was getting good sound. I asked him which mic he was using, and all I can remember is that it was an Audio-Technica. From my searching, I’m guessing it was the AT875R Short Shotgun.

    Basically I want to be able to get top recordings, using the PMD661, in that environment. Does this sound like the right mic for the job? Or would something like the MD46 be a better choice in your opinion? (I’m hoping to keep the cost for the mic from going much over $200)

    Summary: Quality recording in a loud ambient environment.

    (I also noticed he was recording the amplified portion of the evening by pointing his mic at the speaking in the ceiling)

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  15. Gravatar Icon 15 Richard Corfield Mar 4th, 2010 at 11:59 am

    Luc – I also do theatre sound, so am also interested in the 661 both as a Foley recorder and for recording musical shows that I do.

    Concerning theatre work – I’ve recently invested in Show Cue System. After working with two open reel decks, then two CD players, working entirely in software is a real bonus! It brings the same kind of automation that lighting operators enjoy, but with still some tweakability on the night if your show is variable. It runs fine on my netbook.

    I’m looking at the 661, also the Fostex FR2-LE which used to be considered the standard, also the cheaper Tascam and anything else. The XLR ins look a real bonus with the 661 and the Fostex – I can take balanced output from a mixing desk or I can connect to external mics. I’ve been tending to record onto minidisc or DVD recorder with a stereo mic pair nearer the stage, using the desk (a Soundcraft) as input stage. Recording straight to SD card will be so convenient.

    The FR2-LE looks clunky but gets rave reviews for audio performance and has good stats. (I wish stats would be consistent between dBA and dBC for noise levels though). The 661 looks nice – easy to use. So which to choose?

  16. Gravatar Icon 16 diapalino Mar 22nd, 2010 at 10:48 am

    I am a small time “presenter”, have had the Marantz PMD661 for a few months now and have recorded two concerts with it. It is my first “serious” recorder, so I can’t really compare it to anything else of consequence. I bought it because it was ranked second only to the 1800 buck SONY, and was a third of the price.

    The first concert was recorded using an MXL V67Q stereo condenser mic (about $200) with 5 pin XLR cord splitting into two 3 pin XLR’s to attach to both Marantz inputs. The mics were placed about 3 feet in front of a guitarist and bassist; the result was outstanding. Incredibly high quality. I could produce a quality CD from this recording. The second concert I placed the Marantz in line with the mixer using RCA plugs(put stereo mic over drum set), again, outstanding result.

    I have a 32 GB chip in the Marantz and record with the highest bit rate and low to no compression at all. Have five hours of concert on chip now and 11 hours of space left.

    It is incredibly easy to transfer files to and from the computer. You just plug in a USB cord and the Marantz chip appears as a “drive” on your computer, and you drag the file from one source to the other. iTunes converted the PCM file from my first concert without a hickup, I can now play it back from the computer thru my firewire linked mixer (Mackie Onyx 1640i)and use it as background during breaks in later concerts.

    Altho I have not tried it yet for interviews, it is light, compact and would seem to be easily adapted to a two mic rig, one facing interviewer, and one interviewee. Would expect it to work very well with boom as someone asked above.

    The compelling thing about this unit is its simplicity — it is a piece of cake to operate — coupled with truly professional quality. No second thoughts at all.

    diapalino@gmail.com

  17. Gravatar Icon 17 christian May 3rd, 2010 at 12:53 am

    I am looking for a good field recorder for language documentation. Working in the field means to me that I won’t have access to a power source. (except for a backpack full of batteries or maybe a solar battery charger) Therefore, I have to re-listen to (and transcribe) recordings on the recorder itself without being able to export it to a computer. Can somebody tell me about the features for this kind of situation?

    - transcribing material means that I have to listen to certain sections (sometimes just seconds) over and over again. Can I scroll back and forth through my recordings on this machine easily? or can I only skip from one track to another?

    - Is there some way to “edit” my files on the machine? say, I have recorded too much, but I am running short on SD cards? can I cut and delete certain sections of a recording without exporting to a computer?

  18. Gravatar Icon 18 PVC Power Control  Cable May 17th, 2010 at 1:08 am

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  19. Gravatar Icon 19 Mark Cotterill May 26th, 2010 at 8:52 pm

    I have come to the decision to purchase a Marantz PMD661. For what I have been doing which is Documentary’s & Nature Sounds/Atmos (Wildlife ect) it seems like a good unit for the price.($600)
    After deciding to go ahead with the purchase and after lots of web research I read on a forum that some people were having problems transferring the files to Mac Computers, they said that the WAV files did not show up on their Macs, at first I read that it was as simple as drag and dropping into Final Cut on my MacBook Pro after connecting via USB, then I read the other stuff so am a bit confused about what to do.
    Have also read that it is all about the quality of the SD card, some people are now saying that if you use class 6 SD cards then there is not a problem, can anyone give me some advice please …. Cheers Mark

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  24. Gravatar Icon 24 Terence Morris Jul 6th, 2010 at 8:12 am

    I have today received my PMD661 and have been putting it though it’s paces. Unfortunately, there seems to be a lot of preamp noise – it sounds like distant rain! This is from the actual recorded clips not via the built in headphone amp, which I know can be a bit noisy. I have also compared my sound clips with those posted in this review and they are very different – the ones here are very quiet by comparison. I think this may be a faulty unit.

    For my tests I have used a Rode M3 condenser and a Heil PR22, one in each channel, with the levels set to peak at around -6db. Can’t think if I’m doing anything wrong – I do a lot of audio production. I hot-swapped the mics to my mixing board as a reality check, and it is night and day. I want to double check before returning the unit for replacement. I can post my clips on my website if anyone would care to listen, and any helpful input would be greatly appreciated.

    Thanks,
    Terence

  25. Gravatar Icon 25 Terence Morris Jul 6th, 2010 at 8:18 am

    Hi Michael,

    I have today received my PMD661 and have been putting it though it’s paces. Unfortunately, there seems to be a lot of preamp noise – it sounds like distant rain! This is from the actual recorded clips not via the built in headphone amp, which I know can be a bit noisy. I have also compared my sound clips with those posted in this review and they are very different – the ones here are very quiet by comparison. So I think this may be a faulty unit.

    For my tests I have used a Rode M3 condenser and a Heil PR22, one in each channel, with the levels set to peak at around -6db. Can’t think that I’m doing anything wrong as I do a lot of audio production. I hot-swapped the mics to my mixing board as a reality check, and the noise level is night and day. But I want to double check before returning the unit for replacement. I can send you a clip if you would care to listen, and any helpful input would be greatly appreciated.

    Thanks,
    Terence

  26. Gravatar Icon 26 Terence Morris Jul 7th, 2010 at 10:29 am

    This is an aside from my problem outlined above: I since have sent for a replacement unit so will assess that later.

    Many people have commented on how noisy headphone output amplifier is in the PMD661. During testing I initially assumed the same – but have now come to a very different conclusion; If the preamp gains are set at zero and the headphone volume is set to max, any residual hiss would have to be from the headphone amp. But when I do this what I hear is practically silence. Likewise, if I use the line-in from an external preamp with the it’s gain down at zero, same thing.

    Therefore, the large majority of noise I hear when monitoring appears to originate from the mic preamps, not the headphone output amp. I can only hope that when my replacement arrives (see above) the new unit will be very much quieter in this respect.

    Anyone please care to comment?

  27. Gravatar Icon 27 Michael Dec 10th, 2010 at 10:29 pm

    on the PMd661 how can you go from play to record without turning the machine off.

  28. Gravatar Icon 28 Sean Feb 2nd, 2011 at 2:57 pm

    To Michael,

    During playback, press STOP.

    Then press RECORD.

    The unit then starts recording. You don’t have to turn the unit off.

    You can’t just hit pause though, you have to actually press STOP first.

    Hope that helps you.
    sean

  29. Gravatar Icon 29 Don Sep 21st, 2011 at 12:32 pm

    Here one for you. Someone brought me one of the 661 unable to power it up , even with fresh battery . You will note that the Key lock switch is right next to the power switch which lock all buttons . Should be one of the first things you warn people of, when they take them out. Will save the panic call.

  30. Gravatar Icon 30 Mengnan Jan 18th, 2012 at 6:22 am

    Hi, I’m looking for a solution for recording concert in stereo mode, not mono.
    I ever asked a sound engineer to do this with his Sound Control Panel during a concert, she plugged a cable (xlr) into my Marantz PMD661, but finally I found it’s mono, even not better than my on camera mic, since there’s nearly no ambiance noise.

    Is it possible to record “Stereo concert” with a mix board (sound control panel) connecting to PMD661 on location? or should I buy any specific cable for doing so?

    Thanks,

  31. Gravatar Icon 31 Michael Jan 18th, 2012 at 8:44 am

    Two cables. Left and right. Also make sure the unit is set to record in stereo via the menus. Instruction manual will guide you.

  32. Gravatar Icon 32 JEAN Jul 24th, 2012 at 5:06 pm

    CAN SOMEBODY TELL ME THE PURPOSE OF THE KEY LOCK?

    When I listen to a file, and stop in the middle of it, do I need to use the key to ‘hold the recording at that particular point’?

    I also am not satisfied with the sound. Sounds fuzzy — background air, air conditioner, etc, bass, is there a way to control???? thanks

  1. 1 MWGblog » Blog Archive » Marantz PMD661 Posted on Podcast Academy pingback on Jan 15th, 2009 at 4:58 pm
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