Superproducer Ted Hope on...

April 25, 2012

Audio Recorder Roundup: Zoom H4n vs. Tascam DR-100mkII vs Tascam DR-40

If you’re a DSLR shooter, you know that having an independent audio recorder can be a must for getting quality sound. There are a lot of affordable flash recorders that can deliver great audio, but only a few of them have features like XLR inputs and multi-channel recording. Three models stand out: the Zoom H4n, the Tascam DR-100mkII, and more recently, the Tascam DR-40. How do they stack up in terms of features filmmakers want, and which one delivers the sound you need? I aim to delve into these questions and more, so read on!

First off

I approached this comparison from the perspective of my own shooting needs and recording practices. I tend to record through external mics, primarily my shotgun mic (a Sennheiser K6/ME66), either on-camera (less than ideal) or on a boom pole (more ideal) -- rarely do I use the internal mics, so those really aren’t a focus of this comparison (although I do have some words about them). I've owned and used a Zoom H4n for the past few years, and it has served me well. I have no qualms about pointing out its limitations, nor its strengths.

It should also go without saying that these are budget options. If you’re a DSLR shooter, you know there are more expensive dedicated video cameras out there -- similarly there are more expensive film audio options. In many ways we're making do, but that doesn't mean you can't get solid footage or solid audio out of these tools. Just don't expect the kind of sound you would get out of a $1000+ Sound Devices mixer to come out of a $300 audio recorder. Lucky for us, a decent mic along with proper recording technique and dialogue-audio friendly locations will do a lot more for our sound than a massively expensive mixer or microphone.

With that out of the way...

Features

Features are as valuable as their practical use to you -- will that extra ⅛ inch TRS output jack matter to you if you hardly ever use it? Everyone has their own shooting needs, and you'll know which features are musts and which ones are optional. All three units can provide +48V of phantom power, they all record up to 96kHz/24bit WAV files, all three record to SD/SDHC memory cards, and all three have 1/4"-20 mounting threads for easy attachment to your rig. Here are some of the major differences I found.

Inputs: Which unit has what?

Audio Recorder Dual XLR Inputs ¼ inch TRS input ⅛ inch TRS input
Zoom H4n Yes Yes (combo XLR-1/4 inch TRS jacks) Yes
Tascam DR-40 Yes Yes (combo XLR-1/4 inch TRS jacks) No
Tascam DR-100mkII Yes No Yes

Since I usually use the XLR inputs for my mics, all three recorders were pretty similar to me. Other folks may find the DR-40’s lack of an ⅛ inch TRS input jack a letdown, or the DR-100mkII’s lack of a ¼ inch TRS jack a deal breaker (folks who do live events and want to connect their recorder into a mixer board may need to consider the inputs closely). The H4n has the edge here in that it features all three kinds.

One sidenote: both Tascam units have nice clip-in style XLR inputs, which keeps the cables locked in during use and makes them easy to unplug once you're done. The H4n is friction based, so it’s a bit more of a pain connecting and disconnecting the XLR cables. Minor detail, but I must say I really appreciated the clips while repeatedly plugging in and unplugging my mic’s XLR cable amongst the different units.

Buttons/Controls Lay-out: Do you prefer more button based controls, or do you not mind doing some menu digging? I’d say once you’ve skimmed through the manual for any of these units you can find the majority of the basic features within a half hour of opening the box. The DR-100mkII is a larger unit, so it has more real estate to play with, and thus favors a more button-heavy control system (i.e you can have a button on the back dedicated to phantom power and one that lets you switch the auto-limiter on). The H4n and the DR-40 are more menu based, with the H4n favoring side buttons, and the DR-40 going for front-heavy design. For me, I found I had no trouble figuring out what I had to do in any unit, and although menu digging can be a pain at times, once you find the features you need, you get used to it.

For me, the biggest difference was in the input level control. Both the H4n and the DR-40 go for side buttons, but the DR-100mkII gives you a nice big wheel you can freely rotate. I found this to be a really nice feature, and I could see it being particularly useful when riding levels during recording, you can adjust things as slowly or quickly as you need to, and can ease into a new level as smoothly as you want.

Multi-channel recording: Will you be able to record from both a boom mounted shotgun mic and a lavalier at the same time? Can you use the internal mics as a back-up while simultaneously recording through an external mic? Both the H4n and the DR-40 allow for 4-channel recording to two stereo tracks -- so if you want to run the internal mics while recording from an external shotgun mic along with input from a DJ mixer board, you can do that. You'll end up with two stereo tracks (one of the internal mics, and another with the shotgun mic on one channel and the mixer board on the other). The DR-100mkII does not. It only offers 2-channel recording -- so if you want to record from a shotgun mic and a lavalier, you can do that, but you can't also record from the internal mics (and vice versa).

It was certainly surprising to learn the DR-100mkII didn't offer 4-channel recording, while it's little brother, the DR-40, did. In general I tend to only use two channels, but I can certainly see situations where 4 channels might be vital (event videography comes to mind, where you might have lavaliers on an interviewee, a feed coming in from the DJ booth, and the internal mics picking up general ambience). Again, it's something to keep in mind when selecting amongst these units.

Form factor/build: Both the DR-40 and the H4n are pretty similar sizes (in fact, almost the same), while the DR-100mkII is about 5% wider and longer. They are all similar weights, with perhaps the H4n being slightly heavier than the other two. I wouldn't drop any of these units, but if a metal build reassures you vs. plastic, then the DR-100mkII might stand out in this respect, since the other two are plastic. Some folks have complained about the fragility of the on-board mics on the H4n (i.e bumping the recorder and snapping off one of the heads), as they are pretty much exposed. The DR-40 features little metal guards on the sides of the mics, while the DR-100mkII has the mics a tad recessed and surrounded by guard rails.

Internal/On-board Mics: Like I mentioned earlier, I didn't really focus too much on these, but there are a couple of things worth mentioning. Both the H4n and the DR-40 have mics that can swivel between recording angles (90-120 degrees), while the DR-100mkII doesn't. The H4n and DR-40's internal mics are also angled at 90 degrees from each other so you get a nice stereo sound. The DR-100mkII's big internal mics are unidirectional, but it does have an additional omni-directional mic built in. I didn't really test the sound quality on it, but it's basically a pair of pinholes (you can see them in the above image, they're on either side of the Tascam logo).

So, if you need the option of a wider stereo soundspace while using the internal mics, you'll want to have the H4n or DR-40 since they have mics better positioned, and with the ability to swivel (the DR-40's mics actually swivel at the base, while the H4n's mics rotate for the different pickup pattern).

Other: Each recorder has a couple of features that are neat in their own. (For example, the DR-40 offers dual recording at different gain levels, so if there's a sudden loud sound that clips your higher set recording, it will automatically jump to the lower gain recording). But, the feature that stuck out the most to me? While all three units can take AA batteries, the DR-100mkII also has a rechargeable battery. This means you can be powering the unit from the rechargeable battery, and when that drains, the AA batteries will kick in. That's pretty neat if you're trying to record something where you don't have many breaks to be switching out batteries.

Sound Quality

Here we arrive at the most important feature -- the audio. Is there a significant difference in preamp noise from one unit to the next? How well is the human voice rendered? A lot of these things are equally determined by the microphone used, and the positioning of said microphone relative to the speaker (along with the acoustics of the space). (Note: super-cardioid shotgun mics aren't the best tool for indoor dialogue - they pick up a lot of echo - but it was what I had on hand.) I tried to keep things as consistent as possible -- keeping the microphone in the same position relative to the subject (above and in front about a foot and a half), and boosting input levels so that the signal was between -9 and -6 dBsFS, both indoors and outdoors. I figure it makes more sense to simply listen to the audio first, and then find out which recorders the sounds came from afterwards. (I should say, any difference in voice pitch and speed is due more to me than the recorder. I tried to stay as consistent as possible, but you do what you can.)

Dialogue outdoors:

Ambient outdoors:

Dialogue indoors:

Ambient indoors:

Done listening? Ok. So in each clip, the first recorder is the DR-40, the second recorder is the H4n, the third is the DR-100mkII.

Over the course of many tests I thought the DR-40 and H4n were very similar in the kind of sounds they picked up, with perhaps the DR-40 having slightly (as in ever so slightly) more white noise. The DR-100mkII seemed to have a slightly cleaner sound than the other two, but tended to not pick up lower frequency sounds quite as strongly.

The biggest difference between the three units was how high I had to set the input level to achieve similar recording levels. I consistently had to set the H4n higher than either of the other two recorders. In the outside test, at the same mic distance, the H4n's input level/record level was set at 83 (of 100), while the the DR-40 was at 70 (of 100), and the DR-100mkII was at a cool 4 (out of 10 scale). In the indoor test, I had to pretty much max out the H4n's input level, while the DR-40 was still in the 90 range, and the DR-100mkII was at a 5.

What this means is that if you are trying to record as loud a signal as possible indoors, the only recourse you may have on the H4n is either boosting the recording in post (which can introduce noise floor issues), or moving the mic closer while recording (which may not always be feasible). If the extra bit of gain the DR-40 offers makes up for half a foot's worth of distance, that can be a big deal. Of course, the DR-100mkII has the greatest headroom here, considering I only had to go halfway up the dial. This is due, in part, to a built in mic gain the unit has (you can switch it between Low for loud sounds, Medium for medium sounds, and High for soft sounds, which is what I was on). (A side note: I tried using the Medium setting just to see what happened, and it was useless for dialogue, these recorders are designed for live music and such, so no surprise there.)

I should make a brief note on the internal mics here: I did some recording on them, and I found them largely pretty similar. The biggest and most annoying difference? On the DR-40, when you change the gain while recording, you hear a "thup-thup-thup" sound. This is an issue others have noted, calling it the "helicopter" sound. I did NOT hear this while changing levels using an external mic, it was only when using the internal mic. Again, since I don't really use the internal mics, not a big deal to me. But for those of you who do, this may be a big issue, especially if you like to ride the levels while recording. On the other hand, if you're the kind of shooter who sets their levels, and records as is (which with the dual recording feature previously mentioned is perhaps more feasible), then this may not be an issue.

So which one did I like the most? If I had to pick one based on sound quality, it would be the DR-100mkII, but by the slightest of margins. I think having that extra possible gain would be invaluable when recording, and by not having to be boosted as high to pick up normal conversation there is less noise introduced. This might not be noticeable in most situations, but considering there are moments when I might have to be three or four feet from the talent (i.e when I have to keep the mic on-camera), having the option of boosting the level is pretty attractive.

Conclusion

The job determines the tool. I've tried to highlight many of the key differences that struck me based on the way I shoot and the kinds of projects I shoot. I think the H4n is the most flexible of the three recorders - you consistently have most of the features (i.e variety of inputs, 4 channel recording); even if you have to boost the signal all the way up for quiet situations. The DR-100mkII felt like the most purpose built unit for my kind of shooting -- you get nice clean sound, you get a strong signal without having to boost levels much, and you have very accessible controls; however, it doesn't feature 4-channel recording or some of the inputs the others have. The DR-40 has the wow factor in that it packs so many of the features of its more expensive peers, while delivering on great sound; even if it's more menu based, and is a tad noisier than the other two in some situations.

For my own needs, I would pick the DR-100mkII. I liked the sound coming out of it, and really dug the input level knob. I don't really use 4-channel recording, nor do I use 1/4 inch TRS inputs, so those disadvantages don't matter to me. I also like the rechargeable battery + AA battery set up, along with the clip-in locks on the XLR inputs. All around it meets my needs, and over the days in which I used it I found it to be a very comfortable tool to use.

If I were deciding between the H4n and the DR-40 (perhaps because 4-channel recording was a must for me), I would probably go with the DR-40 based on price. At $100 less, it really does pack a punch, offering almost indistinguishable sound and many of the features the H4n has. Just be wary if you depend on those internal mics -- there is that weird helicoptering sound that happens when you change the input level while recording.

Having said that, I own a H4n and I'm pretty comfortable using that tool as well. Its price is justifiable to anyone who needs all the features it offers, since neither of the other two recorders quite match it in that respect.

I hope this comparison offers a jumping off point for your own research -- the best policy when deciding what works best for you is to rent or borrow one and try it out. You may find you like the sound that comes out of a Zoom H4n in conjunction with your mics better than the Tascam DR-100mkII, or you might like the form factor of the DR-40. So get out there and get recording!

Zoom H4n

Tascam DR-40

Tascam DR-100mkII

Your Comment

65 Comments

I have a Zoom H1 and at $100 it's amazing. I can even plug a boom mic into it using an adapter and the quality is excellent.

April 25, 2012

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adapter removes the advantage of using XLR cables - noise canceling inverted line is basically ignored. Unless you have an expensive adapter, and then it defeats purpose of saving money.

April 25, 2012

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shakezoolah

I also own an H1, and although it's a bit fragile, it definitely does the work. I also use an adapter for my XLR mic, and the sound is perfect. The XLR advantage - balanced sound - is only effective when using long cables, or wherever electrical interference is an issue. If you just connect the H1 to the mic, via a short cable (say 10"), there's no difference.

April 25, 2012

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Theo

seconded

April 26, 2012

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shakezoolah

But you can't supply phantom power though, so you are limited to mics with battery powering option.

April 26, 2012

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Graham Kay

I've brought my H4N to hell and back. And the salesperson recommended to me that I don't buy it... ha!

April 25, 2012

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The H4n is way too expensive. I could put that money towards a lav set.

April 25, 2012

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moebius22

Great review! I haven't seen this type of review done on these 3 units. I love the fact that Zoom has some serious competition. I think the Tascam DR-40 in particular seems pretty amazing based on the results here and elsewhere around the web. That unit seems to provide the most bang for the buck. I hope Zoom now steps up and puts out some even better products. Competition is good.

April 25, 2012

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Bob

Thanks for this article. Literally every DSLR-shooter I know uses an h4n for audio, so it was really refreshing to read up on the competition. At this point, I'm way more likely to go with one of the Tascams than the h4n—as you pointed out, the DR-40 beats it on price and the DR-mkII boasts some features the h4n doesn't have (like the clip in XLR inputs and level knob—both big features for me).

April 25, 2012

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David

As I understand it, the "helicopter" noise on the DR-40 is due to the XLR inputs left on, but nothing plugged in. I believe if you disable the XLR inputs that you're not currently using, the helicopter noise should go away. I don't have one (got the H4n here), but I believe that was what I read about the issue.

April 25, 2012

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psyrex

Another bonus to the Tascam is the dual audio out - One for monitoring the sound, and another for sending into the DSLR as a very clean reference (great when using Plural Eyes in post). As far as I'm aware, the H4N has only one output, which a) means a separate headphone splitter to achieve the above, and b) it means the levels that you monitor are the levels it will send the audio out at. So, if you like loud levels to hear, but also want to send a channel into the DSLR for monitoring, you may set them too high and end up clipping the reference track. A small point but one worth noting.

April 25, 2012

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Oli

The very reason I'm leaning towards selling my preamp and grabbing the cheaper Tascam.

April 25, 2012

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Darius

Thanks for the reviews. One question, you wrote:
"The DR-100mkII does not. It only offers 2-channel recording — so if you want to record from a shotgun mic and a lavalier, you can do that, but you can’t also record from the internal mics (and vice versa)."

Does that mean that you could run a lavalier (or alternately a shotgun) and the internal mics at the same time, so long as the second xlr input/1/4" input is not being used? .

April 25, 2012

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jank

Thanks for the lengthy review. I own a Tascam DR100 MKII, and it is a good recorder. The only issue I have with this unit is battery problems.

While the AA/Li-Ion backup situation is great, I find that the DR-100 goes through the power supply so rapidly that I still carry a ton of extra batteries just for the recorder. During long interviews, I don't like having to keep checking the battery levels to make sure I am not about to lose power. I'm a solo journalist, and my attention should be on the subject I'm interviewing, and as little as possible on my equipment.

Also, the unit does not handle high heat very well. A few weeks ago I was filming outside in 45 C temperatures. Everything held up well, even the 5D MKII and SmallHD monitor (both prone to overheating), but the DR-100 completely failed on me. I had to record a stand up segment to the onboard audio of the 5D. Not ideal and certainly not fun spending half an hour in the blazing sun trying to get my DR-100 back to life. As soon as I got back to the hotel and cooler temperatures the DR-100 was back to normal.

Just my two cents. Overall the DR-100 has been good to me, but that overheating failure, right when I depended on it the most, was really frustrating.

April 25, 2012

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Sebastiaan

This is a product Tascam put out to help you with the extra battery life. This will give you a full day of audio recording:

http://www.shadowmindproductions.com/blog/tascam-bp-6aa-channel-portable...

April 25, 2012

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I agree. The DR-100 is a great recorder, but the battery life is terrible (both on AA or rechargeable) It also cuts out when the batteries get low, without giving you any time to change. On several occasions while I doing interviews with a DSLR, the DR-100 stopped recording with a low battery alert. Just yesterday, I was told that the DR-100 has a special battery setting which must be correctly set (AA or internal rechargeable) to get the most out of the batteries. Maybe now, I'll get more than 45 minutes out of a pair of AAs.

Another gripe is the size... I find these units (including the H4N) way too big. On a simple run and gun DSLR rig, where's it supposed to go? I've had numerous file error warnings too. Luckily, the files have saved, but it's not what you want to see on location.

April 26, 2012

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David

I just got the Tascam DR-40 yesterday. I just about went for the Zoom H1 or the Tascam DR-05 (until I could afford a Zoom H4n) but found a great deal Amazon had on the DR-40 ($127). I am very happy having XLRs. I would not have been able to afford a recorder with XLRs without the deal. Amazon's sale ended, but you can still purchase the DR-40 on their site for $149. Thank you very much for this review. It was informative and helpful in reassuring me that I made the right decision.

April 25, 2012

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get a recorder with timecode, far more professional option with instant syncing

April 25, 2012

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Ryan

Gee, Ryan, if only it were that easy.

First, not everyone has the budget to get a high-end recorder with TC. The least expensive unit out there for that is the TASCAM HD-P2, which is almost $800 and only has TC in. That means that an external TC generator/master clock is required. This can be done with a professional camera with TC output.

Second, many of the people using these recorders are also shooting on DSLR. Do you know what that means? No TC in the camera. With no TC in the camera, it cannot be used to jam sync the recorder. That means, for the TC to be useful at all, there must be a smart slate (a clapper board that can generate/read and display TC) for visual reference. That's another $1500. And the footage will STILL have to be matched in with the audio in post.

There's no shame in shooting non-sync. Get a dumb slate (clapper board) and use it, and keep a log sheet during production. The slate is only an extra $30 or $40 and makes post-production syncing of the video and audio pretty easy.

April 28, 2012

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Alex H.

I bought an H4n about a year ago because at the time, that is what everyone was saying to get. It is most flexible.

For me, doing it over again, I would buy the DR-40 not just because it is cheaper, but because it had less noise. The DR-100mkII sounds the best by far but I like using 1/4".

I am monitoring the recordings with headphones (Sony MDR7506) at $100+, they are good. From what I heard, the h4n was extremely noisy with hiss and floor noise compared to the rest. The MKII was the most smooth, if you will, not as boomy, just consistent.

The noise on the H4n makes sense seeing the author admitted gain had to be turned up more than with the others.

April 25, 2012

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I recently purchased a Roland R-26 and so far was very happy with it. Would recommend it for it's input level knobs, rather than buttons, and of course - 6 channel recorded at once. I built a cable to split the 1/8 inch input to 2 female XLRs, and so could feed 3 lavalieres and a shotgun, along with internal mics recording ambiance - all to separate channels. The touchscreen interface is very intuitive and nice in usage. The preamps are decent and quite clean, even though it's not Sound Devices level, but the price is neither.
It catches quite a lot of handling sound so don't move your hands on it at all, if possible, when recording from the internal mics. The build quality is ok, but nothing to write home about, surprisingly. I expected more at this price point and from Roland. It feels very plastic-ish, even the mics (their external covers on the body). Didn't affect me yet, just gotta keep and extra eye not to drop it, but that's always good to keep in mind. Get a case for it, while you're at it.

April 25, 2012

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April 25, 2012

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Jordan Carr

I'm curious about the Olympus also. The review that B&H did on it was pretty good, but I'd like to see it stacked up against all of the other sub $500 recorders and see it used in the field.

April 26, 2012

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Zach D

From what I heard - it's got the best preamps in the class. Sounds very very clean! If I only needed two channels at most - I'd go for it. There's a catch though - the battery is internal and unswappable. They claim 12 hours of usage, but I bet it's without phantom power, and still - it's a deal breaker for field recording.

April 26, 2012

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I've used the Zoom H4n and Tascam DR100 (not MkII). I now use the Olympus LS100. Hard to compare sound quality when I don't have all of them on the same time, but I think the LS100 is better. I actually bought the LS100 because of the battery capacity. It's easy to swap, but you need an xtra special battery.

I've used the Roland R-26 aswell, and I like the ergonomics. But for me the LS100 combines smaller size and battery capacity best. What I don't like on the LS100 is the volume knob. It's not easy to change the individual channels with one hand, when you operate a HDSLR rig at the same time. But so far it's not a deal breaker for me.

April 26, 2012

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Carl

Not even a question, the H4N is the winner in its price segment. I do everything with it. Record with a boom, mount it on the camera, record music with it, and use it for foley and adr. Its awesome.

April 25, 2012

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john jeffreys

I owns the Tascam DR-40... it allows you to record two separate audio file,,, like "original audio" and "clean audio". I love how the clean audio performs. sometime if I need some bass or type of sound, you wont hear it from clean audio cause its more clear and quiet, this is why you will have original track. Its a great start to use it.

April 25, 2012

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Donald F.

Thank you for mentioning the fact that each has its place, is ultimately a tool for recording audio, and that what works best for one person might not be the best for everybody. So tired of those who try to compare everything on the exact same plane.

April 26, 2012

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Sam H

I picked up the H4N used from a musician who was getting rid of it cheap and have been really happy with it. The new firmware update allows for adjusting the channels independently and with the sescom cable I have it allows for a reduced level into the 5DMK2 for a scratch track and also headphone monitoring. Not the best solution, but for the money, I'm happy.

April 26, 2012

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MC

I now have both recorders, the new Tascam and the H4N. As far as I know, the H4N only allows for 4-channel recording, consisting of two XLR/jack inputs and the cross-mic. The key disadvantage of the H4N is that it only features hi-Z inputs, which can easily result in clipping if you connect up a feed from a mixing desk. For this purpose, I bought two switcheable input attenuators that allow me to lower the incoming level to -10 and -20dB. The Tascam DR100-II features a line input, which the H4N doesn't.

April 26, 2012

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The mini jack connector on the rear lets you connect a stereo source at the same time as the two XLRs giving you 4-channels. It switches to this input from the built-in mics automatically when you jack in.

But I'm not sure off-hand if this input is line-level. If so, this would be the way to connect to a desk feed, albeit unbalanced stereo (eg using an RCA to mini jack lead).

April 26, 2012

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Graham Kay

I've had a different experience in terms of "helicopter noise" on the DR-40. I get a constant high frequency whirring/ticking when recording the XLR inputs, while the internal microphones are completely clean.The ticking isn't fixed by plugging a mic into the 2nd input, or disabling the 2nd input. It's present in both channels, whether or not anything is plugged into them. The ticking also coincides with the timecode display on the LCD.
Have a read: http://filmrage.wordpress.com/2012/04/26/tascam-dr-40/

April 26, 2012

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This was a fantastic roundup. Well done.

April 26, 2012

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Rev. Benjamin

Timely article. I'm looking at getting a DR-40 based on bang for the buck. Does anyone use the onboard mics or do you need an external mic? I've looked at the Rode Videomics. Can anyone recommend other affordable mics to look at? I want to improve audio, but my budget it kind of tight. I plan to shoot short films more than documentaries.

I'm interested in the Videomic HD (onboard recording), but it looks like it may not be out until later this year and I haven't heard the price.

April 26, 2012

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E.M., I've always gotten massive noise from the H4n. The best solution I've seen is a Sound Devices MixPre D with attenuator cables on the front end to get a full/limited signal into the H4n with it set at around 30 of 100. Have you had this noise issue with it? Do you use the 1/2 channel link when recording, or do you just record one mic to one channel?

April 26, 2012

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I used to have an H4n but now have the Roland R-26 - too bad the author didn't even include it in this round-up. I really don't get people's enthusiasm for the h4n, maybe it's because of marketing or because when it came out there really wasn't much else to choose from in that price range.

I am much happier with the R-26. It's a great recorder and is a breeze to use. I love having input dials on the front and I love not having to waste time fiddling around a ton of sub-menus. I'm using it mostly with a RODE NTG-2 but for the few times I've used the R-26 onboard mics handling noise isn't an issue for me. The handling noise comes mostly from the battery compartment door and its a simple fix, just slap some female velcro or even camera tape to the inside so it fills up the space between the underside of the door and the batteries.

April 26, 2012

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Neil

The R-26 is $500, no? That would be a good $200 more than the H4n and DR-100 and around $350 more than the DR-40. I think the R-26 goes in a different review with more comparably priced competition.

April 26, 2012

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Bob

How is the audio sync of the DR100 Markii compared to the older DR100?

April 26, 2012

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Any thoughts on the Rhode Videomic HD (When itf finally comes out anyway!)

April 26, 2012

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MikeJ

I just bought the Tascam DR-100 MKII and was somewhat impressed (for the price, that is).

A few observations: The omni mics are useless for anything to do with film dialogue. The directional mics are better than the omnis, but still useless for film dialogue. Testing with a Rode NTG-2 shotgun, the XLR preamps are not bad (again, for the price). With the gain maxed out on the XLR, the noise floor is down around minus 45 db — audible hiss, but if the signal is around minus 10, you might not be bothered by it. However, the noise is a problem in quiet scenes. (And the reason for using the NTG-2 is, it can be powered by a AA battery; if you are forced to supply phantom power from the DR-100 MKII, you will be shocked at how fast its batteries run down.)

One big-time feature that nobody seems to mention on the DR-100 MKII is, you can actually name your audio files before you record them. If you are recording shot B7 take 1, you can use the scroll wheel to call it that instead of some machine-generated file name like 0048 that will mean nothing to an editor. That is so smart — applause to Tascam for understanding that this feature makes your files easier to organize and makes you look more professional.

The DR-100 MKII does have a bug in LMT mode, when recording in mono, when you have one mic plugged into an XLR, which makes the second no-mic channel a mirror of the first. Even when you turn off the limiter with the toggle switch on the back, the limiter is still engaged, and it functions like a terrible sounding brick wall at minus 6 db. I hope Tascam will fix that with a firmware upgrade.

And why do manufacturers skimp on something as crucial as a wall charger for the battery?

The DR-100 MKII's lithium ion battery has to be charged inside the recorder, either hooked up to your computer by USB, which is agonizingly slow, or you have to pay for a separate wall wart power supply. Sheesh, add five dollars to the price of the recorder and give us the charger! We might even buy that overpriced li-ion backup battery for $30 (or even a second MKII just to get an extra battery) so we can swap out the lithium ion battery on set.

But again, applause to Tascam for including the alternate AA battery power feature in addition to the li-ion. The switchover from dead li-ion to live AA batteries is seamless. And, of course, you can use rechargeable AA batteries.

A very cool feature: the DR-100 MKII will lock onto an S/PDIF signal, if you have a preamp that will provide that digital output. I wish I had the gear to see if you could get a great, clean recording by using good preamps feeding a good A/D converter, sending S/PDIF out to the DR-100 MKII's digital input.

I hope someone out there will post an A/B comparison between the DR-100 MKII's preamps versus, say, the Sound Devices MixPre-D's preamps feeding an AES signal converted to S/PDIF into the digital input of the MKII. I can only imagine (and hope) that the resulting recording would have a really low noise floor and sound great.

Someday, a smart manufacturer, maybe even Tascam, will produce a $100 no-microphones, no A/D converter device that is nothing more than a "bit bucket" to accept either an AES signal or an S/PDIF signal, and then we can spend the money we have left on a good, quiet, high-gain preamp with A/D converter that will supply the S/PDIF signal.

The Tascam DR-100 MKII is not even close to a Sound Devices 722, but then it does not cost $2,400 either. And yet the MKII is not a toy. I have to give Tascam credit for producing a recorder for under $300 that improves greatly upon DSLR audio, which is nothing more than a crappy, unusable scratch track.

April 26, 2012

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JimB

Hi Jim - the digital route with the MixPre-D (love this!) and DR100Mkii produces beautiful recordings, I'm really impressed, big difference between these and the others I made the non digital way.
MixPre-D is AES and Mkii SPDIF so you'll need the CANARA BCJ-XJ-A10TRA around $30 recommended to me by Sound Devices for this setup.

May 1, 2012

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James

On Amazon when you look up the various Zoom H's including the current model you will find that it badly overloads and distorts on line input. A large number of people have complained about this and speculate on the reason. I found Zoom Tech support denies this fact and acts very cavalier about it.
Here is one example:

http://www.amazon.com/Zoom-Handy-Portable-Digital-Recorder/product-revie...

Every Hxx model has had this problem and it has not been fixed in any subsequent model.

April 26, 2012

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Dan Tong

Originally I was using the Zoom H4n for recording audio in conjunction with a 5D filmmaking workflow. After doing the research, it seemed like the Zoom and the 5D were a perfect match and it worked well for a short time.

After a dozen projects, the Zoom failed to record audio for an interview. There was a file, but it was corrupted and showed 0kb of information. At first I thought it was my fault either by taking out the sd card while the unit was still on or recording or that I took out the batteries while the unit was still on. Thankfully the audio from on board Rode Videomic was far better than expected, although not perfect. It happened 2 more time on other shoots. Again, the audio from the Rode, although not perfect, was very usable. If it were my fault, the last file would be corrupted, but the bad file was in between two good files. Giving Zoom the benefit of the doubt, I borrowed a friend's H4n. The same phenomenon happened.

If I had audio problems, let it be because I screwed up, but I need to be able to rely on my audio recorder. I bought the Tascam DR-100 and have never had any problems...ever. Also, and this is not a scientific observation by any means, but the audio seems to be less tinny on the Tascam, and that is using exactly the same mics.

April 27, 2012

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Steph Marliss

Did you try a fresh SD card in your or your friend's zoom? I had a similar problem with a Zoom on a shoot, and after dumping the audio and formatting the SD card we were without issue

May 7, 2012

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Rob

What do people think of the Roland R-26 ? A bit more money but is it worth it?

Also, I contacted TASCAM's help/support via email TWICE asking about the "helicopter" issue with the DR-40 and got NO RESPONSE! This does not make me want to buy any of their products if the customer service is that poor.

April 27, 2012

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One important correction regarding the H4n: the 1/4" inputs are NOT TRS. They are TS. Further, there's a huge difference in how they handle 1/4" input vs. the DR-40.

With the H4n, the 1/4" TS inputs are labeled as "line" inputs. However, if you read the manual, they're actually intended for INSTRUMENT level input, which is higher than mic-level, but still considerably lower than -10dB consumer line level. If you feed a line-level signal to the H4n's 1/4" inputs, the signal will overmodulate unless the input gain is trimmed almost all the way down. That's a pretty big deal, especially if one intends to use this recorder with a mixer.

The DR-40 is the only recorder in its class to offer balanced (TRS) 1/4" inputs for +4dB line-level signal input. With the firmware upgrade available as of January, 2012, independent L/R input level controls are now possible. This makes it a beast of a deal over the H4n. I've also found the pre-amps much cleaner than anything I've experienced from Zoom.

April 27, 2012

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Alex H.

So the Zoom has two mono 1/4″ inputs and one stereo 1/2' input, but the DR40 has two stereo 1/4″ inputs but no 1/2' input? I have really been scratching my head trying to decide which one to buy, I believe that with the Zoom you can mute channels to only monitor one track at a time on the headphones (while still recording all the tracks), can I also do this with the DR40?

June 18, 2012

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It is a shame you didn't include the Roland R-26.

April 28, 2012

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Nick

I have the Roland R-26 and have had the H4n I can certainly said the Roland is a step up. The touch screen and dedicated knobs for input are great to use and so is the way it organises the footage. Sound quality seems better too but I guess there are more qualified people out there to judge this.

April 30, 2012

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David

Also, the H4n can be used as a USB mic on your computer...not bad for a jack of all trades, though master of none :-P
AFAIK, the Tascams cannot do this...

May 12, 2012

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ken

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