Hands-On Review:TASCAM DR-1 Portable Digital Recorder
Keep an ace up your sleeve
By Ryan Conrad
Musician’s Friend Staff Writer
Despite the fact that the music world has seemingly exploded with portable digital recorders, there are just a few that really hit the nail on the head. Most have a weak spot. Some offer extreme portability but with compromised audio quality and too-short recording times. Others have better audio quality, but sacrifice portability and recording time. A few have a nice mix of quality, portability, and recording time, but are overly complex. Others are simply priced beyond the reach of most musicians.
With the DR-1 Portable Digital Recorder, TASCAM has ridden to the rescue in a gleaming white 10-gallon cowboy hat to remedy these unmet expectations. In the game of 21, the DR-1 is the ace to your jack. In Texas Hold 'Em, this miraculous recording marvel is a pair of aces at the top of your flush. It neatly ties together all the features you want from a hand-held recorder in one rugged, easy-to-use, and ridiculously affordable package.
Place your bet
At first glance there are several things that impress about the TASCAM DR-1 without even powering it up. The first is its price. At its current street price of $299.00 (as of July 2008), it is especially affordable in the hand-held recording field. That price is even more impressive because it includes a high-quality SanDisk 1GB SD memory card and a rechargeable battery that delivers up to seven hours of operation.
The DR-1's size, weight, balance, and overall construction are excellent. It's small enough to slip into your pocket, yet large enough to feel substantial. Tight-fitting body panels give it a solid and durable feel, while the softly rounded edges are comfortable in your hand. The controls are logical and intuitive and the buttons and dials have a high-quality, solid feel under your fingers. The compact screen layout is similar to those found on the TASCAM Digital Portastudios and MP3 Trainers, accurately displaying a lot of information in a small area without seeming cluttered.
Upping the ante
The DR-1 records in either WAV or MP3 digital audio file formats. WAV formats offer a choice of 16- or 24-bit quality with either 44.1kHz or 48kHz frequency. WAV files use more space on your SD card, but give you the high-quality audio files you need if you plan on transferring your recordings to a software or hardware audio workstation. You'll get a lot more recording time using the MP3 format, with selectable settings for 32, 64, 96, 128, 192, 256, or 320 kbps with 44.1kHz or 48kHz frequency. If you need more recording time and quality isn't as crucial, or you want audio ready for the Internet and the iPods and Zunes of the world, the MP3 recording mode works great. For reference, a minute of 16-bit/44.1kHz CD-quality WAV audio eats up about 10MB of memory, while a 128kbps MP3 file uses only a single MB. Storage space rises incrementally as bit depth increases.
Capturing audio on the DR-1 is done one of two ways. The first is through a set of variable-position stereo condenser microphones. Solidly mounted to the DR-1 chassis, a simple metal bar serves as protection and a grip for adjusting the position of the microphones for optimal sound capture. The second is through the DR-1's aux inputs—a stereo mini (1/8") mic input, a mono 1/4" mic input, and a stereo mini line input. When you record with the onboard microphones or the mini jack, you can use the DR-1's auto gain control and analog peak limiter, which aren't available through the 1/4" mic or line inputs. Getting your audio captured is easy too. You simply select the audio quality you want, which source you want to record from, check your levels with your headphones and start recording.
What you'll probably use most of the time (at least I did) is the DR-1's onboard microphone array. This stereo condenser set captures a clear, accurate, and refreshingly neutral sound without imposing any character or color. With the DR-1 lying flat at the edge of a table and the microphones pointed forward yielded a fairly direct and nicely detailed stereo sound. Taking advantage of proximity effect by moving closer to the source (in this case, an acoustic guitar) delivered a warmer, more intimate sound that lost none of its detail. Angling the microphones up, the DR-1 still accurately captured the guitar, but with a more live sound from picking up the natural reflections in the room. However you record, what you get is a precise portrayal of the audio you've captured that's ready for mixing, editing, and mastering, or easy digital distribution as an MP3.
Going for broke
The DR-1 isn't a one-trick pony, though, and has capabilites that expand its use beyond field recordings. Basic overdubbing capabilities let you mix and record a new track over one previously recorded (WAV only). In playback, you can change the speed without changing the pitch and vice versa, as well as reduce vocals and solo instrument sounds for double-duty as an MP3 trainer. There is also a metronome, a tuner, reverb, detuning, loudness-style EQ, lo-fi filter, and autopanning effects available. You can also load the DR-1 with music from your computer and use it as an MP3 player.
Even without these extra features, the DR-1 is an incredible value. The adjustable stereo mic array, 24-bit audio quality, and included SD card and rechargeable battery make the DR-1 a serious audio tool too. If you're ready for a hand-held recorder, the DR-1 is ready to meet just about any need you have at a price that won't break your budget.
Features & Specs
- Portable, hand-held recording
- 24-bit/44.1kHz audio resolution
- MP3 and WAV file recording and playback
- Records to SD Card media (includes 1GB card; accepts up to 2GB)
- Variable-angle, high-quality A/B stereo condenser microphone array
- Powered 1/8" mic input
- 1/4" mono mic input
- 1/8" stereo line input
- Headphone jack
- USB 2.0 connection
- Switchable low-cut filter
- Analog auto gain control
- Analog limiting
- Decrease playback speed without changing pitch
- Reduce recorded vocal or solo instrument during playback
- Overdub function
- Reverb effect
- Tuner and vocal cancel features
- Copy audio files from a computer through USB
- Includes soft case, USB cable, specialized long-life lithium ion battery, and 1GB SD card
- 2-3/4"W x 1-1/8"H x 5-1/3"D
- 208g (including battery)