Times certainly have changed. Tascam -- a brand I first became familiar with and used heavily thanks to their legendary DA-P1 DAT recorder -- have released the DR-680, an eight-channel 24-bit recorder. How far we've come.
Eight channels of portable power
What really sets the DR-680 apart from the competition is it's feature set for the price: $799 retail for eight channels of portable, battery-powered recording. That's hard to get -- and it's especially hard to get in such an affordable package.
The DR-680's features are awesome at this price. For inputs, the DR-680 is smartly designed with six channels of phantom-power-optional microphone preamp -- four with XLR and 1/4" combination jacks, two on 1/4" jacks alone -- along with two extra channels available via S/PDIF digital. Each channel features a low-cut filter as well as a variable limiter. Each channel is capable of recording in 24-bit, 96kHz resolution, with stereo 24-bit, 192kHz recording mode for any two channels.
The true value comes from the flexibility of channel parameter values. You're able to do a lot with the DR-680, including mixing down in real-time a stereo mix of the six analog channels, in lieu of using all eight channels to record individual channels. You can also change all of your settings for storage, format, and gain all within the rather easy to navigate menus.
While the interface and features are top-notch, the most important questions is, as always, how does it sound?
Sound & Build Quality
Obviously, the quality you get it is first dependent on the quality of your source and your input method, being microphones or a feed from a mixer. But given the right circumstances, the tools are there within this recorder for absolutely breathtaking results.
Recordings made with the DR-680 were really a surprise. Even CD-quality, 16-bit recordings sounded fantastic -- lots of depth, good balance, and conversion quality that rivals much more expensive units. The headphone amplifier seemed quite noisy and somewhat underpowered, rendering on-site monitoring somewhat difficult; the recordings, when monitored later, sound pristine.
My only complaints with the DR-680 come from build quality. In just a few months of using the 680 in normal conditions, it'd developed some wear on it's light plastic case. It's not enough to worry me away from using it in the field -- and I've used it in some very complicated situations flawlessly -- but I'd definitely invest in either Tascam's custom-fit case, or Porta Brace's 680 case they recently introduced.