TASCAM has a new entry into the increasingly crowded handheld recorder market -the DR-100. This new unit has a number of clear advantages over TASCAM's less expensive (and slightly less bulky) DR-07 and DR-1. First impressions? This is a solid, tough-looking field recorder with metal casing which adds to its substantial heft; this immediately sets it apart from the plastic, toy-like feel of some of the competition. The DR-100 is larger than the Zoom H2 (Tape Op #63) or the M-Audio MicroTrack II, but it still fits the hand comfortably, and its controls and backlit screen all make perfect ergonomic sense. TASCAM includes a fair amount of quality extras in the box: a rechargeable Li-ion battery (more on that in a bit), a wireless/wired remote, 2 GB SD card, mini-USB to USB cable for PC or Mac drag-and-drop file transfer, windscreen, and a nicely padded neoprene tote.
There's really no setup needed, as the unit is ready to go out of the box. The on-screen UI is super easy to navigate, and I found myself not really needing the manual for basic functionality. I really appreciate dedicated controls in hardware like this, and the DR-100 is in no short supply; almost every function has a corresponding switch or button. This cuts down on menu-scrolling and lets the user jump right into recording. Boot time is approximately 3-4 seconds, so on-the-spot capture is quick.
Here are a few of the things I love and which give the unit a future-proof profile. Phantom-powered, stereo XLR mic inputs with 60 dB of gain alongside 3.5 mm line-level inputs. USB charging of the Li-ion battery. Additional AA battery power with intelligent, pause-free switching between the two power sources -over 5 hours of recording time! Direct to MP3 or WAV recording all the way up to 24-bit, 96 kHz. Discrete stereo omni and stereo cardioid microphones -four mics! Very low noise floor and A/D conversion that sounds great. Hardware switches for the filter and limiter/compression options. And a big fat record button with LED feedback!
My gripes? Minor stuff. The remote when used wirelessly has very limited range and is very directional; if it's off-axis with the recorder at all, it's difficult to engage. Fortunately, an adapter to make it wired is included. The Li-ion battery pack seems to be proprietary -again, not a big deal as TASCAM has always been good about parts supply. But spares will run you upwards of $50, so it's fortunate that the DR-100 will also run on AAs. Also, the headphone preamp seemed a little noisy in my testing at higher volumes. Finally, I'm convinced that a SMPTE timecode option would've been a big plus on such an otherwise versatile recorder. (SMPTE is available on TASCAM's $999 HD-P2, the lowest cost recorder on the market with timecode.)
All in all, this is a pro handheld field recorder that is built to last, sounds great, and has the benefit of solid ergonomic and industrial design. I'm sold! My other handheld's days might be numbered ($429 street; www.tascam.com)
Tape Op is a bi-monthly magazine devoted to the art of record making.