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Feature Design PCM-D1 2006.10.2
[ 2006.10.2 up ]

Digital and Analog: Simultaneous pursuit of technology and sensibility

Capturing the real sounds and sensations of an outdoor field or stage environment, Sony's "Densuke" series gave birth to a live recording boom in the 1970s. The "PCM-D1" linear PCM recorder has transformed the "Densuke" series' spirit to its current cutting edge state. Two designers who created the design reveal the source of their ideas and their approach to design in relation to sound quality and ease of use.

Hiroki Oka
Hiroki Oka
Sony Corporation
Creative Center
Chief Art Director
Junichi Nagahara
Junichi Nagahara
Sony Corporation
Creative Center
Senior Designer

What is sought in the digital age is the "D/A conversion of design."

Oka: I have not designed many products for consumer use. Probably 80% of my work has been for products destined for the professional market. Professionals never compromise when it comes to ease of use, with durability also being an important factor, since they use their equipment relentlessly every day. Through such harsh demand, I have acquired the ability to express "functional beauty," "a sense of trust," and "professional status" in my designs.

While technology continues to advance day-to-day with digital imagery and sound quality increasing so much that a digital "echo" can be heard ringing ubiquitously through our minds, people are basically analogue beings. So digital data still needs to be converted to analog to allow people to see and hear the imagery and sounds. As such, I've always thought that, in designing hardware, "an analog interface which could be used sensuously would be important."

I wanted to be able to express such an analog interface in this PCM-D. My goal was to create a "tool" that incorporated cutting-edge technology, but yet could be operated intuitively, thus encouraging people to want to continue using it. A tool that would make people more and more attached to it as they used it. With the aim of creating such a tool, the concept of "D/A conversion of design" was born. And, as Sony began as a company producing tape recorders to record sounds, "OLD & NEW" became our other keywords, referring to the concept of maintaining tradition and presenting new ideas at the same time.

"Eyes" that shine softly made possible by "Wa" (Japanese) materials


Oka: Probably the most impressive feature of the PCM-D1 is its two analog meters. I originally envisioned an LCD digital meter with an analog meter feel to it. There are no mechanical driving parts required on digital meters, and so they are less affected by noise. Digital meters can also be assembled onto an electronic substrate, allowing the creation of a slim body. A thin, hand-held, microphone-like recorder would be easy-to-use when recording a sound source.

There was, however, a strong believer in analog meters on our development team. It's true that a digital meter would be the perfect device to check instantaneous peak meter values . However, to understand the average input level intuitively, a level meter with a pointer swinging back and forth would still be better. There is the issue of analog meters being surprisingly thick, along with their questionable durability when used in the field, however. Slimness and durability were features that couldn't easily be adjusted, and to achieve our goal, we had to impose on our engineers the design of a new durable meter for the PCM-D1, along with holes in the baseboard to install the meters.

Since we came this far, I wanted to add new ideas for the backlight, for the recorder to glow dimly in the dark. If we use creamy white acrylate, only the spot where the light source shines would glow, and the entire body wouldn't be evenly illuminated. While I was wondering what to do, some shrimp crackers, given to me by a colleague as a business trip souvenir, struck my eyes. Each cracker was wrapped in laminated Japanese paper (Washi). I put the paper on the meter and you know what? It glowed evenly! Rice paper has such characteristics. "Dim light through a Shoji paper screen". Japanese culture is wonderful!

I then quickly telephoned the distributor of the crackers and did an Internet search, finally found the manufacturer of the laminated rice paper, and requested them to make prototypes.

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