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Tascam DR-100 Digital Audio Recorder

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Easily among the coolest, most worthwhile boxes of technology we’ve seen all year, the only unfortunate aspect of the Tascam DR-100 is that it’s somewhat specialized, and as such only a relatively small cadre of users will have the opportunity to experience its coolness. Unless you like buying technology as desk ornaments, you’d actually need to have an application for one of these things to be able to justify owning it.

The DR-100 is a professional portable audio recorder. It’s comparable to the portable digital audio tape recorders of a decade ago, although it’s considerably smaller, lighter, cheaper, more rugged and easier to use. About the size of a fat book, it can record CD-quality sound on SD memory cards. Actually, it can do better than CD-quality sound, if you have a use for it.

Unlike the DAT recorders of ancient times, the DR-100 includes two built-in directional carderoid microphones, and two omni-directional microphones. While these devices are exceedingly compact, in keeping with the diminutive nature of the machine they’re part of, their sound quality is startlingly good. In the event that they don’t startle you sufficiently, however, the DR-100 has two XLR connectors at the other end of its case, which will accept any two microphones you like the look of. It will supply them with 48 volts of phantom power, too.

It also has a line input, to allow it to listen to other electronic sound sources.

While we’ve used digital audio devices for decades, and as such are somewhat familiar with the knobs and buttons, the DR-100 was remarkably easy to get up to speed with. We had it recording sound without even cracking its manual. Perhaps because it stands upon the shoulders of numerous earlier serious audio recorders, its user interface is singularly intuitive. Everything works exactly as you’d expect it to.

This is not to say that you won’t want to read its manual, as the DR-100 knows a great many worthwhile tricks.

Configured to record 44.1 kilohertz sixteen-bit stereo sound – which is what should emerge from your speakers when you hit Play for a compact disc – the DR-100 will record about three hours of sound on a two-gigabyte SD card. You can increase its recording time by using a more capacious memory card, or by dialing back its sound quality.

The DR-100 is powered by a replaceable lithium-ion battery… which we haven’t managed to deplete, even after days of nearly continuous noodling. As such, we’re not sure how long it can record on a single charge, save that it’s quite a while. In addition to its primary battery, it can also be powered by two conventional AA flashlight batteries. As such, it can pretty well run indefinitely, or at least, for as long as anyone using it is likely to be able to stay awake for a single sitting.

It’s powered – and it’s battery is recharged – through its USB port. As such, it can be charged with a computer, a USB power adapter or a USB automobile power connector.

The DR-100 will record to WAV or MP3 files – you can select MP3 sample rates between 32 and 320 KBPS. The former are lossless, and more in keeping with its high-end sound quality. Having it record to MP3 files will greatly increase its recording capacity, with some sacrifice in fidelity.

If you plug the DR-100 into a computer, its SD card will pretend to be an external hard drive. As such, playing the files it has recorded or copying them to other media could only be made less complicated by having a very small clairvoyant living inside the device.

One of the reasons the DR-100 is so easy to get hypnotized and well-behaved is its conventional tape-recorder style interface. It has traditional Play, Record, Pause and Stop functions. However, if you hit its Menu button, its display screen will draw back the curtain upon its many other features.

You can, for example, configure the DR-100 to listen to whichever room it finds itself in and only start recording when the ambient sound exceeds a user-defined threshold. In this mode, it will automatically record sound whenever there’s sound to record, and sleep when it’s confronted by extended periods of silence. You can have it pause for a moment after you hit record before it gets down to work, to make sure it doesn’t record the sound of its own Record button being pressed.

You can also have it record up to two seconds of sound before its Record button is pressed, just in case your reflexes aren’t what you thought they were.

The DR-100 allows for the inclusion of marks in audio files, to assist you in navigating quickly through lengthy recordings – a superb feature we’re never sufficiently organized to use.

The DR-100 package includes a wireless remote control – with a wired adapter, just in case you find yourself in an environment that’s remote-unfriendly. The remote can be used to operate the recorder’s primary controls from a distance, which is convenient if you’ll be recording yourself, and an even better way to avoid having the device record the sound of its own buttons being pressed.

There’s a standard photographic tripod adapter on the back of the DR-100, allowing it to be attached to a variety of supports.

While you’d unquestionably want to listen to recordings made by the DR-100 through really nice speakers or decent headphones – it includes a headphone jack – it does have a small monoral speaker built into itself. The speaker is useful if you want to make sure that which you think got recorded really did, but it’s probably about the diameter of a bottle cap, and it sounds like it. To be sure, anything larger would have impacted the generally portable nature of the DR-100.

Aside from being a lot of fun, the DR-100 is an inspiring adjunct to playing music. Recording in a forest, for example, is a unique experience if you do it after the end of black fly season and once you’ve had a thorough search for bears. You can take the DR-100 anywhere, and play anything into it.

At $435.00 as of the time of this writing, the DR-100 isn’t cheap. It’s well worth what it costs, however. Lesser recorders sound so much more like digital memo pads after you’ve played with one of these things.

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