Tascam DR-100mkII

December 18th, 2012

DR100mkII-Hand-400

Jeff Towne reviews two recent digital audio recorders we’ve been eyeing: the Tascam DR-100MkII and the Olympus LS-100. They are both relatively small, inexpensive, and have XLR mic inputs, which we strongly favor. For the needs of radio producers, one recorder gets a very positive review. The other doesn’t. I’ll leave it at that. Jeff will give you the whole story, with photos, sound files, etc. Jay A

From Jeff Towne

We reviewed the original Tascam DR-100 when it first came out a few years ago, and gave it mostly positive notices. We liked the abundance of hardware switches and controls, especially the large input gain knob, making it possible to adjust many common parameters without delving into menus. The XLR inputs and phantom power made it easy to use a wide range of professional microphones, and the dual battery system (rechargeable and standard AA) made long sessions in the field practical.

DR-100mkII Input GainThe main thing we did not like was that the mic preamps were underpowered. A mic preamp is a circuit that boosts the very low-level signal that microphones create, and makes it loud enough to be efficiently recorded and monitored. The original DR-100′s mic preamps were weak, or perhaps simply designed for recording louder events, so that it was hard to get a strong signal when recording the spoken voice with most dynamic mics, even with the input gain turned fully-up. Consequently, most recordings made with low-output mics, especially the dynamic omni microphones such as the Electrovoice RE-50 that reporters like so well, were hissy and weak. It was possible to get decent sound quality when using high-output microphones, such as most condenser mics, but even with those, there was often a bit of residual noise.

DR-100mkII-InputsSo it came as a pleasant surprise when Tascam updated this recorder, and released it as the DR-100mkII. It’s almost identical to the original model, so rather than repeating all of the particulars of how it works, please refer to the original review for a description of the basic functions. There are only two major changes, both of them positive: the microphone preamps are quieter, and have more gain, so now, most any microphone can be used with good results, even low-output types like the RE-50; and the XLR mic inputs now have latches, for a more secure connection.

On one level, the fact that Tascam only improved the quality of the microphone preamps is fine: that upgrade fixed the most significant complaint we had about the DR-100. On another level, it’s a little surprising that they didn’t take the opportunity to add a few more functions while they were making updates. The much-less-expensive Tascam DR-40 model can do a few tricks that might have been nice additions to the DR-100mkII. The DR-40 can record from its built-in microphones and the external XLR inputs at the same time, making two separate stereo files that can be mixed together later. Neither version of the DR-100 has that capability.

Also, the DR-40′s external inputs are versatile “combi” jacks, which can operate as XLR or Quarter-Inch inputs. The DR-100mkII’s XLR inputs can be switched (as a pair) from Mic to Line level, and there’s a second line-level in that uses a stereo mini jack, but it would be nice to have the option of two quarter-inch inputs, or even better, to be able to mix and match one mic and one line input. The DR-100mkII can only record from the built-in mics, or external mics, or an external line-in, accessing only one of those selected stereo inputs at a time. (The DR-100mkII also has an S/PDIF digital input, which the DR-40 lacks.)

The DR-40 has another dual-recording trick: it can make a real-time back-up recording, reduced in level by a few dB, so you can record at a healthy level, and also have a safety copy, recorded lower, if things get unexpectedly loud. The DR-100 does not have this function. The DR-40 also has a few ways of automatically setting a fixed record level, based on the incoming signal. The DR-100 only has manual input gain or the continually changing Automatic Gain Control (which doesn’t sound very good.)

It’s a little surprising that Tascam didn’t find a way to squeeze some of those functions from the less-expensive DR-40 into the DR-100mkII, but for most users, that wouldn’t be a deal-breaker. The DR-100mkII remains firmly straightforward, more concerned with sound quality than versatility, and in the end, that is indeed more important. It’s nice to be able to recommend a recorder without the common caveats about needing to use certain microphones, and plotting tricks to get around its sonic limitations, and the DR-100mkII does indeed sound very good with most mics that a reporter or journalist might want to use.

Is it as quiet as our benchmark machine for remote recording, the Sound Devices 722? No, but it doesn’t cost over $2000 either, rather it can usually be found for around $300, sometimes less. It does sound as good or better than the Marantz PMD 661, at about half the Marantz’s price, and it’s smaller than the 660 or 661 too. The Marantz 660 and 661 have the distinct benefit of being designed to work well when hung on the shoulder on a strap, or in a bag – while the DR-100mkII’s meters and input gain controls are not located well for that kind of use. The DR-100mkII is a little too large for most pockets, but it’s still easier to pack than its big brother the Tascam HD-P2, or a Marantz 661, or a Sound Devices 722.

It sounds as clean as a Sony PCM-D-50, and offers XLR inputs (and phantom power). The DR-100′s built-in directional mics don’t sound quite as good as the Sony’s, nor are their pickup patterns adjustable, but they’re capable mics that do a decent job of recording ambience and other stereo events. There is also a pair of omnidirectional mics flush-mounted to the face of the DR-100mkII, but they sound pretty bad – though they might be effective for recording voices for transcription, the pair of unidirectional mics has a much richer sound.

DR-100mkII-BatteryLike its predecessor, the DR-100mkII has two battery powering set-ups: a proprietary rechargeable battery, and a compartment that holds two standard AA batteries. It’s quite nice to be able to operate on the rechargeable battery, to avoid burning through disposable AAs, but at the same time, it’s a relief to be able to use easily obtained batteries if needed. There’s a menu item for selecting the primary battery, the manual claims that the recorder can seamlessly cascade from the rechargeable to the AAs when the rechargeable runs-down. I must admit I haven’t been able to get it to work, at least not while it’s recording, but the battery source will indeed change on its own if one source runs down. Manually setting the recorder to use one battery or the another as the default power source often takes several tries: it doesn’t seem to “take” at first, but eventually you can choose whichever battery makes sense for your task. Fortunately, the battery life of the internal rechargeable is pretty good: 4-5 hours of record time is typical. Sadly, the recorder does chomp through AAs pretty quickly. Tascam clearly meant for the rechargeable to be the primary powering source, and for the AAs to serve as more of an emergency back-up. Though perhaps they should have considered making the battery compartment larger, and used more than two AA batteries, as many other recorders do (the Zoom H4n uses three, the Marantz 661, four)

DR-100mkII-BatteryThe rechargeable lithium battery is removable, so it might not be a bad idea to carry a charged spare or two on long assignments. However, the Tascam BPL2 Lithium Ion batteries are not cheap (they run about $30) and need to charge inside the recorder via a USB cable, so it would take some good planning to make sure one had fully-charged spares. Maybe a handful of AAs is the easier answer. You can use rechargeable AAs, just be sure to change the menu setting for AA type, so that the battery life indicator on the display will be more accurate. There’s also a jack for an external power supply, but it’s not provided, it’s an optional purchase (about $20).

We like the many recording options that can be controlled by hardware switches and knobs on the DR-100mkII, but there’s one important control that’s buried in a menu: the option to switch from mono to stereo recording. You must press the Menu button, then scroll down to Input Setting. For some reason, there’s a lot of blank space on that screen, but you can scroll down to the Type field, select that, and toggle from mono to stereo. There’s not an indicator of this status on the black-lit display, and the level meters still show left and right (the displays on some recorders switch to a single level bar when in mono mode.) You should be suspicious if the Left and Right meters are bouncing exactly in parallel, there should always be at least a little bit of variation between the left and right meters when you’re recording in stereo. It should sound different in your headphones too: the switch from mono to stereo changes the monitoring, so you’ll hear the same thing in both ears. In fact, one major benefit of this mode is that you’ll hear sound in both ears even when recording with a single (mono) microphone. The Tascam still records both left and right soundfiles, even when in the Mono input setting, but the two files are identical. Some recorders save disc space by only recording a true mono file, at half the size of a stereo file, but the Tascam always records a stereo file, even when the information on it is mono. That used to be a big deal with flash recorders, but large memory cards have gotten pretty inexpensive, so it’s not quite as important to be efficient about memory space. If you’ll be out on a long recording trip without regular access to a computer to transfer your recordings, buy some large SD memory cards.

At the time of this review, the DR-100mkII is the best-sounding recorder in its price range, and rivals the quality of many recorders that cost a good deal more. The Tascam DR-40 is less expensive and offers many more recording options, but it’s quite hissy with low-output external mics. If you’re looking for an affordable audio recorder with XLR inputs that can sound good with a wide variety of microphones, including dynamic omnis, the DR-100mkII might just be the one.

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27 Comments on “Tascam DR-100mkII”

  • James says:

    The dual recording feature being left out is simply a deal breaker for me. I know, most recorders don’t have it, but when recording in the field, and when recording clients for business talks (a great way to make side money when radio or podcasting isn’t panning out), having that safety net is paramount. A client clips your recording, go back and insert the backup. I don’t record directly to computer anymore because of that.

    If it had that feature, I would rush out and buy one. No kidding. Maybe a software update will include it down the road. Here’s hoping. Or a 100mk3 comes out. :-)

    And thanks for a great review. These really help.

    • Jim Feeley says:

      James, there is a limiter in the DR-100 (both original and mkII) that could, if well-designed, significantly reduce the chance of clipping. I figure you know this, but you provided an opening for me to ask:

      Jeff, what do you think of the DR-100mkII limiter?

  • Kye says:

    Not to get too off topic, but out of curiosity, what are these business talks you speak of?

    • James says:

      I’ve been doing recording and editing for people who have webinar talks and other seminar work they want to record. I have good enough gear (mics, mic processor, etc) that the quality is professional, and I take the raw audio and edit it down into something that sounds more natural. Most people, as you probably know, aren’t comfortable on the mic, and bringing them back a quality edit that doesn’t sound edited is quite satisfying. This is a great use for the radio production skills you probably already have, and while it might not satisfy all your living expenses, it’s great side work. It’s not making radio, but it is working with audio in an interesting way.

      Hit me up if you have other questions.

  • David says:

    Thanks, Jeff, for the comprehensive review — your reviews and comments are excellent!
    As for the DR-100MKII, I think the internal mikes are, well, terrible. The omnis are, as you put, noisy and telephone-sounding and the

  • David says:

    Well I don’t know what happened to the rest of my comment , but the DR-100mkII has quite average internal microphones IMO. Its omnis are quite noisy and telephone-like, and its directional ones lack that convincing “base” — they sound like tiny microphones. Its major strength is XLR, but with its price tag, less than average battery life provided by a dual-power system, lack of true portability, the absence of a power adapter from the package and the need for an extra wind screen for internal mikes, I think the Sony PCM-M10 is a better option. I wish Tascam could find a better way to increase the DR-100mkII’s battery life — quite disappointing.

    • Jeff Towne says:

      I like the built-in (directional) mics more than you do, but I’ll agree that they’re not the best, if they will be the primary source for your recordings (for quality internal mics, I might go with the Zoom H4n, or the Sony D50, or heck, even the Olympus LS-100 if I didn’t dislike so many other things about it!). But I’m still a fan of using an external mic for interviews, something designed for good voice recording, and when using those mics, I prefer an XLR cable, so I think the DR-100mkII has some real advantages over the Sony M10, and many other small recorders, even though those have their places. I like the M10 quite a lot, and think it’s great for keeping with you all the time, and using the built-in mics to pick up ambience or performances, or random sounds…

      • Tomaji says:

        Thanks for a great review!! Seems to me to either use the internals due to being okay for that purpose OR use the XLR’s for more “serious” purposes, but who the heck cares about doing BOTH at the same time? One nice feature is setting TWO different levels for the L/R inputs, so one mic can be on boom and the other a clip-on or such. And, what’s wrong with 5 HOURS of recording time on one set of AA’s?? Gee whiz, change the ammo once in awhile, so what?..we all need a pee break now and then….or plug it in and record all day and night. I think they left the adapter out of the stock items to keep the MSRP down, but it’s a cheap add-on really. Since these are around for $240 on eBay, I’m jumping on it.

  • Simon Leth Stolzenbach says:

    Thanks for the great review, Jeff!

    There’s just one thing, I don’t get. When I listen to the two test of the Tascam DR-100mkII with dynamic mics, I hear quite a lot of hiss and noise in the background. Not so with the condenser mics. Is it just me? Or do you find the DR-100mkII a decent choice for dynamic mics?

    • Jeff Towne says:

      It’s not just you, there *is* more noise with the dynamic mics than with the condensers, but that’s true of all the recorders we’ve tried. The difference is how much, and I’d suggest that the noise is pretty far back with this DR-100mkII, at least compared to most other affordable audio recorders. And your mileage may vary, background noise changes based on a lot of things, I think I was getting a little electromagnetic noise on my cable in that particular room, at that particular time. I’ve seen that happen with recorders, even mixers, when the gains are turned up pretty high. But it might not be a problem in any other location, with a shorter cable, etc. That said, the general rule stands that hotter mics, such as condensers, allow the recorder’s gain to be turned down a bit, and keeping that input gain backed-off a bit is the biggest factor influencing how much background noise one gets. (But you can’t just record everything low, as you turn that track up in the mix, the noise floor will come up with it…)

  • FYI B&H Pro Audio-Video has a great page this week with more tips on selecting and using digital audio recorders. See it here: http://www.bhphotovideo.com/indepth/audio/buying-guides/holiday-2012-portable-digital-recorders?BI=19120&kw=portable-digital-recorders2012

  • Zena Kells says:

    Hey Jeff- thanks for your great reviews. They are so helpful. I’m just wondering what were the exact settings you used when using the tascam with the rode ntg-2? I’ve got the same equipment but I am hearing quite a lot of ground floor noise/hiss.

  • Hi Jeff,

    Thanks for the review. I got my first radio set up a few months ago, just the Tascam DR100 mkII and a Rode NTG2 (actually based on the Good, Better, Best review) and both pieces have been great except…

    1) The Tascam records wonderfully on its own, but when I use my Rode to record my track or an interview in a quiet place, put my gain on M and crank it all the way to 10, the sound’s still a bit quiet. I’ve switched it to high gain, but then I have to turn the dial to somewhere between 4 and 5, and then it comes off a bit loud and hissy, and it picks up way more background noise. Any insights? I love both pieces of equipment.

    2) I dropped the Tascam from a short distance (just the bed) by accident and one of the external mics on it was damaged. The mesh folded and the top cover of the mic popped off. Luckily, no damage to the actual mic was done and it’s recording okay, but I’m disappointed in how fragile the outside of the mic is. A bit flimsy, in my opinion, for a $300 field recorder.da

  • David says:

    Hi, Jeff. Having relied on your excellent recorder reviews, I’m wondering if you could also review the newly released Nagra Lino

  • David says:

    Hi, Jeff. Having relied on your excellent recorder reviews, I’m wondering if you could also review the newly released and rather expensive Nagra Lino? It can be found here: http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/901495-REG/Nagra_LINO_Professional_Handheld.html Is it really worth $499 without XLR support? Also, Marantz has updated its two popular recorders — the 620 and the 661. The 661MKII is at http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/898192-REG/Marantz_pmd661mkii_Marantz_PMD661_MKII_Professional.html I’d be glad to read your reviews to see what they offer — if they actually offer something worthwhile. Thanks

  • Listening to the sound examples I hear a bit of hum as well. Seems to be a bit more than what I get with my Sony D50. Also the noise sounds like digital noise, it’s not smooth and super steady but I hear a sort of phasing and aliasing filtering in it. But that might be caused by mp3 convertion. What codec and program is used for mp3 encoding?

  • have you got any wavs to share? i am in a hard search of a highest quality and snr thing to use with rode nt 1000 for further hard processing for extreme imaging and ads production. as good as emu 0404 at least.

  • Florian Kellermann says:

    Thank you very much for the great report. I like your reports especially for testing the recorders with dynamic mics as I am using the Sennheiser MD46 and the pre amps of most recorders are too poor for this type of microphone. As for that I am quiet satisfied with my Sony PCM-M10 but after years of using it I am fed up with the mini jack – so I am looking for a recorder with XLR input. Would you say the pre amps of the new DR-100mk are as good as those of the Sony PCM-M10? Judging from your sound examples they are slightly worse, but that might be due to the volume of the voice (you do not talk always at the same level). I would be very thankful for an answer.

  • Steve McConnell says:

    Jeff, thanks so much for your reviews. I’m wondering if you can give me some advice. I’m wanting to do mainly oral histories with a digital recorder, and I’m comparing the Zoom H4N with the Tascam DR 100-MkII. What I like on the Tascam are the better pre-amps and the XLR clips, but what I like on the Zoom is the ability to record voice and ambient sound. One of the things I want to be able to do is point the recorder to a music player, which will be playing songs my mother has recorded, and I want to record her listening to them. So, I thought the Zoom would be better for that. I’m just really confused and need some direction. Ultimately, I’d like the ability to record voice and ambience (room, outside, etc), but I also want the best recording I can make. I would like to do this for friends and family, possibly moving into doing this as a sideline to earn money. So, any help you could provide would be really appreciated. Thanks, Steve

    • Steve Coast says:

      great reviews here, the tascam seems pretty great, I have an M10 which I love and actually prefer the mic sound to the XY config of my previous Sony PCM-D50, I have a Zoom H4n and the XY config is very similar to the D50 not as nice and a little noisier if you were recording nothing you’d notice but who is recording nothing….The H4n (yes it lacks line level in) is used by most of the journalists pieces (out of studio ) you hear on kcrw.com and npr.org Ira Glass’s This American Life and by Marc Marons WFT hit podcast, they all use this paired with the Blue Encore 200 which while not the greatest mic in the world gels nicely with the H4n, due to some extra extra gain it provides, while some people loathe that Zoom H4n it’s a hit for a reason it’s just easy, I’ve tried them all, they’re all great but the H4n and the M10 are what sony needs to mould together to give us a perfect handheld recorder.
      I’d love the successor to Sonys D50 to have XLR and Omni mics like the M10 rather than XY and in an M10 form factor that would be incredible.
      Steve for ambience you can use the built in stereo XY or Omni of a Zoom / sony etc and for voice you always need Mono, 95% of every track in every song in your itunes library, every effect in every tv show or film you’ve ever watched was put together using recordings,voice, effects, instruments recorded using mono mics, sometimes multiple mono mics on a drum kit occasionally stereo mics for guitar drum kits etc, a sound designer, editor, mixer sums all those mono parts, cuts, stems into a 5.1, 7.1 or Stereo master but all collected sound in the professional world is captured MONO.
      So Steve to future proof your recordings don’t skimp buy the Sennheiser MKH-416 it’s a legend for dialogue, narration etc it’s a nice entry point – you know it’s sound even if you don’t know it’s sound and rather than buy a recorder with XLR inputs like the DR100MK2 and eventually a mixer because the preamps on the DR100MK2 sound noisy and the mixer sounds better as a front end you’ll regret that because all of a sudden you have two boxes …just buy a Sound Devices 702 as an entry point – and own maybe an M10 and you’re good to go.

  • John S. Gray says:

    I mostly use my DR100mkII as a wav recorder. I feed it from a Soundcraft mixer and have some pretty high-end microphones plugged in outboard of that. So i have to say that the DR100mkII has recently made the best live Mahler 8th I’ve heard….

  • adiffidentdrum says:

    A DR100mkIIl or DR40mkll combining the DR100mkII quality with the DR40 abilities would pretty well corner the market for Portable recorders, but how long can we wait, so I’m now considering the Roland R-26 which although more expensive, does combine both (and more, although non-locking XLRs).
    Unfortunately you haven’t reviewed it yet. Are you thinking of doing so, as I find your reviews seem to consider exactly the points I’m concerned about, and also as you have covered a good number of the available devices, I can compare reviews without having to allow for variation between reviewers.

  • THanks for your very helpful review. Your information was just what I needed to make my decision. I own part of a small record company and like to record the bands on my label from the audience so I have a record and so the band can hear how they sound to the audience. For many years I have simply run a pair of Sennheiser 421s into my Tascam DA-P1 DAT machine; a simple set up that minimizes the possibility of operator error and which has given me generally good recordings over the years (in fact, some of my recordings were used by one of the acts on a CD they sold off their website). My DA-P1 is giving up the ghost after 17 years of reliable recording and I have been leaning toward the DR-100 MKII as a replacement. Your comments on the use of dynamic mics with this and other recorders were extremely helpful. It sounds to me from your comments that combining my 421s and the DR-100 MKII will be very similar to my current set up. Thanks.

  • Chris B says:

    Hey Jeff, Thanks for this review (and all of them in fact!). Quick question. If you’re a radio reporter on a deadline, it’s of course very nice when someone gives you your money quote to be able to take note of it then and there – given that you may not have time to log your tape when you get back. Of course you can look down at your time elapsed counter and try to memorize it but that’s an imperfect system.

    I noticed that the Sony recorders have the T-mark system to make marks during your recordings. Do any of the Tascams (or any other recorders for that matter) have similar options? Just curious.

    Chris

  • Justin says:

    Hi Jeff,

    Thanks for the review. I bought a Tascam DR-100mkII, EV RE50B microphone, and Sony MDR 7506 headphones to make podcast journalism stories. However, when I plug the RE50 into the DR-100, the sound recording is very low. Any tips to record louder sound with the RE50? Right now I’m connecting the RE50 to the Dr-100 in the Line 2. Do you think I will record louder sound if I connect the RE50 to the XLR?

    thanks!

    • jeff towne says:

      Yes – you MUST connect mics to the mic inputs (the XLRs). I’m surprised that you’re getting any signal at all using the line input. The RE-50B in particular is a relatively quiet microphone, so even in the DR-100mkII XLR inputs you’ll have to crank the input gain up pretty high, but it will be useable. In your case, use an XLR mic cable, connect it to mic input 1 (Left) and make sure that the switch between the XLR inputs is set to mic, not line. Then in the menu, set the input type to mono. Press record, and adjust the input gain knob until you see good levels on the meters when you speak into the mic. You should get good levels with this configuration. Good luck!

  • Sean says:

    I’m currently using the DR-100mkII along with two Shur Beta 58a mics to record interviews in the field (green rooms, tour buses, hotel rooms, outside). When the conditions aren’t optimal in the space where you’re recording, you’ll get background noise and bleed no matter what. That said, I was curious if there were any particular suggestions for minimizing said noise. I usually have the mic gain set to medium with the limiter on and everything else set the way it came out of the box. Bear in mind that I’m a bit of a novice when making suggestions.

    Also, if I were to invest in new handheld mics, what would be the best choice for this specific use?

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