Camcorders, traditionally, have always been about the video quality, forcing consumers to go into a much higher price point to achieve matching sound quality. But Sony has developed a $300 camcorder designed specifically for the musician, where the audio quality is the number one priority. The Sony MV1 Music Recorder is essentially the manufacturer's popular action cam, only with a 120 degree microphone and Linear PCM sound for excellent audio.
Sony is claiming that their music recorder can help aspiring musicians get their big break—but can the audio on a $300 camcorder really measure up to that standard? What better place to find out than in Nashville.
Sony MV1 Music Recorder: Body & Design
I tested the MV1 as part of a marathon review session with several Sony models. At the time I was trying to test out the audio on the camcorder, I was also juggling two other cameras—so I quickly noticed that the MV1 fit in my pocket (and by pocket I mean the smaller pockets in women's jeans). The MV1 is very small, fitting nicely into the palm of your hand, though there's no strap to keep it secure.
The front of the MV1 houses the wide angle lens (of course) and two microphones, pointed in opposite directions for that 120 degree sound. The LCD screen is at the side, but it doesn't flip out like many camcorders. The menu button and joystick control for accessing different options is also at the side. The back allows access to the battery, micro SD card and various ports, including microphone and headphone slots.
While the size of the MV1 is excellent, the design makes it a bit awkward to use. The screen is at the side, so it's hard to see what you are actually recording while using the camcorder handheld, unless you turn your neck in an odd angle. The MV1 is really designed more to use with a tripod, to set up, point at the stage and leave it alone. There's no zoom, just a 120 degree wide angle lens and 120 degree sound designed to capture the entire stage, not focus on any one particular band member.
Sony MV1 Music Recorder: User Experience and Performance
There's not too many bells and whistles on the MV1—at least footage wise anyway. There are two modes, movie and audio only, and there's no zoom or special effects. Users can, however, manually adjust the audio levels, or leave them on auto, which is what I did for the test video. Audio can also be recorded in Linear PCM, which gets you a more CD-like sound quality, or AAC, which allows for faster uploads to the internet.
The MV1 has built-in wi-fi and Sony's Play Memories app is very easy to use. You can use a smartphone as a remote control for the camcorder, or wirelessly upload footage to a phone or tablet. The wi-fi makes it easy to add videos to YouTube.
Speed was about average for the MV1, nothing to write home about but nothing seriously sluggish either. Video and recall were fairly quick and start-up time seemed on par.
The controls on the MV1 are very straightforward and easy to use. With the odd location of the LCD screen and the lack of a strap, however, it's not comfortable for use much beyond what it was designed for, which is shooting live performances.
Sony MV1 Music Recorder
With the odd design creating some comfort issues, the MV1 really needed to perform in the quality arena, and I was pleasantly surprised by the results of just a brief recording session. The video quality is what you can expect from a $300 camera; the MV1 has a nice 1080 HD resolution, but shoots in 30fps, which is okay, but there are certainly faster options out there.
While the video quality is about average, the sound is very accurate. The MV1 can record to 44.1 kHz in Linear PCM and 48 kHz in AAC, which is an excellent range for a camcorder. I recorded a live session in a Nashville studio and before the mixing, the drums were a bit too loud in person—and they sounded that way on the footage as well. The camcorder also picked up the clicks from the 20 other cameras that were in the studio at the time. In the mixing booth after the sound guys adjusted all the different inputs from vocals to instrumentals, the performance sounded very much like you'd hear on a CD—and the video reflected that in playback.
The MV1 has a 16 megapixel backlit sensor, and the image quality is surprisingly fine for a camcorder that's focused on audio. I didn't use a tripod, and you can definitely tell. But again, the MV1 is really designed to set up on a tripod and be left alone to record the entire stage (or the garage for all those up-and-comers out there).
For musicians, the MV1 is excellent, the audio quality is great for the price and the picture quality isn't bad either. The downfall is that the MV1 is certainly not an all-purpose camera. The screen at the side and the lack of zoom makes it uncomfortable to use for anything other than recording live music with a tripod setup.
But, there's not much else out there like the MV1, at least not in the $300 price range anyways. Sony's voice-only recorder that has a similar frequency range is $250 alone. For recording music, the Sony MV1 is certainly the model to beat.