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Tascam DR-680 Portable Recorder Review

How times have changed...

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Tascam DR-680 Portable Recorder Review

Tascam DR-680 Portable Recorder

Courtesy Tascam
I remember my first portable recording rig -- a Sony WM-D6C stereo cassette recorder paired with a simple stereo microphone. It was bulky, ate batteries, and at the end of a busy recording day, I still had a cassette to convert to CD (and back in the day, this was a really difficult proposition). I would never have thought about multi-tracking in the field; recording in stereo was a thrill enough.

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

The Tascam DR-680 is quite a bit more evolved from my first recording rig. Within almost the same dimensions as their legendary DA-P1 DAT recorder, they've managed to squeeze eight channels of high-definition recording, complete with four microphone preamps, two line inputs, and a two-channel digital input.

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

Quite simply, any audio product is only as good as the results you get from it. The DR-680 certainly doesn't disappoint. Recordings I made with the DR-680 sounded fantastic, even in MP3 mode (you can record up to four tracks in MP3 format), and the DR-680's built in preamps are surprisingly quiet with a very pleasing, neutral sound signature. Unlike some preamps in lesser-quality field recorders, these are able to handle reasonable levels of SPL and don't crack under pressure from bass-heavy recordings.

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.

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