In the old days the mark of a true audiophile was owning a reel-to-reel tape recorder. Anyone who was serious about audio had at least one, and many music-lovers had two or more 10-inch-reel behemoths. Nowadays reel-to-reel recorders are largely objects of curiosity relegated to yard sales. Most up-to-date audiophiles do their recording via their computer’s disc-burners. But for those select few who still want to record analog sources or capture on-location live concerts, TASCAM has a new recorder that carries on its tradition of making top-shelf recording devices.
What It Is
The $2500 TASCAM DV-RA1000HD is a two-track digital recorder that uses a built-in hard-drive and a DVD ±RW burner. It can record in 44.1, 48, 88, 96, 176.4, and 192kHz PCM or 2.8224MHz DSD formats. The internal 60GB hard drive holds as much as 62.9 hours of 44.1kHz PCM and as little as 14.4 hours of 192kHz PCM material. Recordings can be archived onto DVDs via the internal DVD burner. These archived DVDs can also be copied into the hard drive for further editing in the DV-RA1000HD or transferred to a computer by way of its USB interface.
Along with analog XLR balanced and RCA single-ended inputs and outputs the DV-RA1000HD has two stereo AES/EBU digital inputs, two stereo AES/EBU digital outputs, one coaxial S/PDIF digital input, one coaxial S/PDIF digital output, two SDIF 3/DSD RAW inputs, two SDIF 3/DSD RAW outputs on BNC jacks, a RS232 connector for device control, BNC word-synch input and out/thru with auto terminations, and a USB 2.0 interface for computer connection. Unlike most consumer recorders, which have a wireless remote control, the TASCAM has a wired remote. This is so that engineers sitting at a console can control the TASCAM without turning around to point a remote control. The TASCAM also allows a PS/2 keyboard to be attached so file names can be added or changed more easily than relying on the TASCAM onboard jog/shuttle’s hunt-and-peck method.
The TASCAM comes with a 67-page owner’s manual that is a model of obscurantism. While it contains answers and directions for the recorder’s functions, the information is so badly arranged that even after multiple readings it’s difficult to fully grasp all the recorder’s functions and features. Among the more arcane are the built-in oscillator to set reference analog recording levels, the on/off dithering for down-converting from a 24-bit recording to 16-bit, and the various built-in effects. These effects, which include three bands of adjustable EQ, a three-band compressor, three-band expander, a single-band compressor, a single-band expander, and the ability to save and recall your custom-configured effect settings, are available for all recording sample rates except 176.4kHz, 192kHz, and DSD. Some of these effects, such as the dynamic-processor band settings, are sufficiently complex that they deserve a far more detailed explanation. Without guidance you can really screw up a recording if such things are used improperly. Since TASCAM offers no suggestions as to how to best employ these powerful effects, caveat emptor.
For my recordings I kept things simple—no effects, no EQ, and no expanding or contracting of dynamics. Since I principally use recorders in a live concert situation with no opportunity for retakes if I mess up, recording devices sporting overly complex or feature-laden interfaces aren’t high on my list of positive life-enriching devices. If the primary use for a recorder will be transferring LPs into digital files you may find the EQ, expander, and compressor features more useful.
The TASCAM DV-RA1000HD’s front-panel display has a logical layout that can be mostly deciphered even without the assistance of the owner’s manual. Only when confronted by such labels as “IN.SEL,” “REF.CLK,” “PREFER,” and UDFMI” will most users be forced to resort to pawing through their manuals. The more computer-like functions of the DV-RA1000HD are accessed through a menu controlled by its jog-shuttle dial. As you might expect from a complex device, the TASCAM employs nested multi-level menus to control most of its functions. Again multiple viewings of the manual will be de rigueur to fully grasp the subtleties of TASCAM’s menu maze.
Once a recording has been made it can be played back through the DV-RA1000HD’s analog or digital outputs. Recordings can also be transferred via USB 2.0 to a computer for further processing, archiving, and playback. The TASCAM comes bundled with Minnetonka Audio’s discWelder Bronze software package. This software is designed for sample-rate converting, and burning CDs and DVDs. If you need to do any amount of editing you must acquire another software program. I successfully used the AudioGate program that came with the Korg MR-1000 to resample and play the DSD music files made with the TASCAM. I also used the free-ware program Audacity for editing 44.1, 48, 88, and 96kHz PCM files. For anything with a bit–rate higher than 96kHz you’ll have to ante up for a pro-level editing program such as Cubase or Sonic Solutions.
What It Does
The TASCAM DV-RA1000HD makes recordings in almost every lossless two-channel format currently available. During my on-location recording sessions the TASCAM never failed or issued error messages in lieu of recordings. Although the TASCAM has both an optical drive and a hard drive, you can’t record onto both simultaneously. This is unfortunate since it would be delightful to have some degree of recording redundancy built into a single recorder. I mention redundancy because no recording engineer would dream of making a live recording with only one recorder. Murphy’s law is always alive and well in a live-recording situation.
I made all my test recordings with the TASCAM DV-RA1000HD using its DSD sampling rate. Since DSD can be down-sampled cleanly without requiring difficult interpolation into any PCM format, I saw no reason to use anything else for my live recordings. And while the TASCAM’s optical drive allows you to archive DSD recordings on DVD, I transferred my DSD recordings directly to my computer where I do all my editing and archiving. For most owners the optical recorder will be a relatively useless feature. Sure, you can make on-the-fly Red Book CDs from your higher-bit-rate recordings, but very few recording engineers I know want to release unedited versions of their work.
When it’s time to listen to your recordings you have several options. If you want to hear unadulterated DSD you can listen directly from the TASCAM’s analog outputs. If you are fortunate enough to own a Meitner DSD processor you can send a DSD signal to the Meitner via the SDIF/DSD-RAW outputs. Once you transfer DSD files to your computer they must be converted into PCM files before you can send them to a conventional DAC.
Compared to What?
Since I’ve previously reviewed the Korg MR-1000 [Issue 180], which also records in DSD format, I can compare it with the TASCAM DV-RA1000HD. The Korg is less than half the price and half the size of the TASCAM. It offers fewer internal editing features, but does include stereo microphone preamps and internal battery-power options, making it more suitable as a one-box on-location recording device. Theoretically the most important advantage of the Korg is that it can record at double the DSD bit rate of the TASCAM. However, I couldn’t hear any audible differences on simultaneous parallel recordings made with both devices played back through these very same recorders. This doesn’t mean that the double-bit-rate Korg recordings aren’t better sounding, merely that I have no way of telling since once they’re decoded through the Korg’s own playback circuitry the sonic advantages are lost. If I had a complete Meitner DSD playback system, differences between the two units might be more apparent.
The TASCAM DV-RA1000HD is a fairly bulletproof machine. My review sample had a rough initial trip via UPS. The box showed signs of abuse and since the recorder wasn’t double-boxed, the shipping hardships were borne by the unit itself. The chassis was slightly creased on one side and something was rattling about inside. I opened the TASCAM’s top cover and removed a screw-mounted cable tie-down. Despite the physical abuse the DV-RA1000HD performed without a single glitch during the review period. In comparison my Korg MR-1000, which hasn’t had anywhere near this level of physical mistreatment, often has disk-write errors during recording sessions. Ray Kimber, who uses two Korg MR-1000s for his on-location sessions, hasn’t had similar issues with his units, so my unit’s problems may be an isolated case. But I wouldn’t trust a live recording session to a single Korg MR-1000 based on the performance of my review unit.
So how do TASCAM DV-RA1000HD recordings sound? They sound like whatever is the weakest link in your recording chain, be it your microphones, microphone placement, mic preamp, or the doofus who’s trying to use them. While I wouldn’t be so foolish as to insist the TASCAM DV-RA1000HD is perfect and without any sonic signature, I will go out on a limb and state that if you assemble a recording and playback system that is good enough to make the TASCAM the weakest link you are a better engineer than I am, and probably better than the other 99.99% of recording engineers on earth. The TASCAM is that good.
For $2500 you can buy a portable PC, an outboard recording interface such as a Mark of The Unicorn Ultralite Mk3, and professional audio editing software capable of producing at least 96/24 multi-track professional-quality digital recordings. Why would you want to spend the same amount on a stand-alone two-channel recorder that will still require a PC and software? The simple answer is that the TASCAM DV-RA1000HD will do DSD format recordings. By recording in DSD the TASCAM is one of the few recording devices that is truly future-proof, since DSD recordings can be re-sampled cleanly into any PCM format. For many recording projects this capability alone makes the TASCAM worth its weight in gold.
During my review the TASCAM DV-RA1000HD performed without a single glitch or malfunction. Although it may be laden with some features of dubious value to most users, the basic functions are well-laid out and most prospective owners with even a modicum of recording experience should be able to operate the TASCAM DV-RA1000HD without any problems despite the woefully inadequate owner’s manual. If you want to make top-quality future-proof two-channel recordings the TASCAM DV-RA1000HD must be on your short list of devices that will do the job beautifully.
SPECS & PRICING
Tascam DV-RA1000HD high-definition digital recorder
Type: Hard-drive-based high-resolution digital recorder
- Balanced inputs: 3-pin XLR female x 2
- Unbalanced inputs: RCA jacks x 2
- Outputs: 2, XLR balanced analog line outputs
- 2 RCA unbalanced analog line outputs
- Phones output: (stereo)
- Connector: 1/4" stereo jack
- Connector: Two 3-pin XLR female (AES/EBU, S/PDIF, SDIF3, DSD-RAW)
- Input frequencies: 44.1/48, 88.2/96kHz (double-speed or double-wire), 176.4/192kHz (double-speed + double-wire) all +/-6%
- Data format: 16-bit (44.1kHz, CD-DA), 24-bit (44.1kHz/48kHz, 88.2/96kHz to DVD±RW or HD)
- Frequency response: All modes 20Hz-20kHz (+/-0.5dB)
- Signal-to-noise ratio: ADC 110dB (A-weighting, AES-17LPF, DVD recording); DAC 120dB (A-weighting, AES-17LPF, DVD recording)
Dimensions: 19” x 3.75” x 14.1”
Weight: 15 lbs., excluding remote control unit
TEAC AMERICA, INC.
7733 Telegraph Road
Montebello, California 90640