The best spent $100

Aug 28, 2012
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Useful, great sounding, portable

Cons:Ill comunication with computers

The Bottom Line: DP-004 beats all the other devices, never failed and I carry it with me everywhere.


I was looking for a compact digital recorder for some time when suddenly discovered about DP-004. It was reasonably priced and had NO cheesy features that all the other companies like so much. No built-in drum machine, no digital effects, no karaoke, no spaceship-style enclosure. What a relief! Exactly what I needed - a simple portable recorder. So I immediately found one used unit on ebay and got it for $102.50 only - the list price was $199.

Now let's see what we've got:

The package includes the recorder, USB cable and one SD memory card. No power supply, just batteries. The included 1MB card is nice to try how it works and record a song or two, but if you will need to invest in a bigger card. You will also need a wall wart to power it up, because batteries won't last long, especially in recording mode.

So yes, the minimal package basically suggests you need to buy several devices. It will work with what's included, but not for long. I actually like this idea because first, every country has their own voltages and in some cases you will need to throw away the included adaptor if there was one. And second, the SD cards getting cheaper every day. I'm working mainly with 16MB cards and it accepts up to 32MB which is sufficient for anything.

I don't feel like going through the technical details and features, you can find out about them at the company website. I will only go through stuff that matters and may change your mind if you're looking to buy this device.

So first, let me tell you this: THIS LITTLE MACHINE ROCKS! I'm not going to a rehearsal without one, and it's a workhorse. All of my friends already bought them 004's and 008's after seeing mine. I use it at home to track demos, I use recordings from rehearsals and layer additional instrumetns, I may record some funny street chat and sample it later at home.

You know, today everything gets documented, videotaped (sorry, not -taped) and uploaded to youtube. If you're an ordinary human being, you already have a digital video camera and uploaded many pointless videos showing you, your cat and your friends on youtube. But if you're a musician you  need to be able to record sound in any situation, and you need to be able to work with it afterwards. The DP-004 does it. You can simply record, but you can also use it as a 4-track studio to capture your ideas and track demos.


What's so good about it:

First and foremost, it's the sound.
DP-004 has a pair of awesome onboard mics and good preamps. That's 99% of what this is all about, and that's why I've got TASCAM and not ZOOM or BOSS or whatever is there on the market.

The onboard mics are what I use most of the time, and they simply sound ace. They're tuned perfectly and you can record a band, an acoustic guitar, vocals, drums and get a very realistic sound without any particular frequency bumped or scooped.

By the way, I do own ZOOM R16 eight track recorder. It's a larger portable studio and I use it when I need pro multitrack recording. It has two onborad condenser mics, just like TASCAM, but they sound way worse. Sometimes, if I have spare channels on ZOOM I plug a line from TASCAM for ambience.


Limitations:

It simultaneously records only two tracks, which is a limitation by today's standards. The playback tracks are also limited to 4, although you can bounce tracks, combining two to four tracks to one, freeing more tracks. Of course, the bounced tracks become one and there will be no possibility to change the balance between the original tracks after they're combined into one. It is a serious limitation if you're planning to use it as a real studio and make mixes with it. If you have time, you can overcome this limitation by saving a song copies several times before each bounce and re-bouncing something if you're not staisfied.

The other serious limitation is EQ. I mean, NO EQ. There's no EQ, no effects, no virtual outboard devices. It's cool being a minimalist, but after all in 21st century you need this stuff to do professional mixes.

No FX's. I think it is a positive limitation, but if you want amp simulation and effects, check out ZOOM.

One additional bug is a display. Same LCD type as on old calculators, it's clear but it's not back lit so if it's dark you won't see what it says.


Why I hate it?

I love the little guy, but it still drives me mad sometimes. Yes, we're in love\hate relationship, it's so good I use it all the time, but still it is annoying.

The whole procedure of recording a song is somewhat less than intuitive. If what you want is a WAV or MP3 file, the road is very long. You can press record, make some noise, stop it and have it recorded, but it's not a "song" and it's not a file you can take somewhere. You need to go through all sorts of procedures like setting in and out points, recording a master track etc. until there's a WAV file you can transfer to your computer. This is BORING, UNNECESSARY and TIRING. It takes lots of time and that's the main reason I will upgrade my 004 if there will be an upgrade.

Like, I understand they wanted to mimic their four track tapes, but they've gone too far. For example, in order to send your bandmates a recorder song from the rehearsal you need to do the following:

1. Record. That's easy. The only thing to wory about is to set the right input parameters (mic\line, hi\low etc.) and adjust gain so there's no clipping and the input signal is strong. Then press the red button and it rolls. Give it a name and save it. 
2. Set in\out marks. Why in a hell do you need to set those? Why not make the out mark where you pressed stop and recording ended? Yes, default IN mark is at 0:00, but default OUT is also 0:00. Please update your software, TASCAM!!!
3. Mix, edit, whatever - this differs from track to track, so I will not comment. Basically, you can just set the levels and adjust the pan knobs.
4. Record master track. In order to do so you need to switch from "multitrack" to "master rec." mode. After, you press the red button and roll the whole song. Of course, you can rotate knobs while it plays, fade in and out, but if all you need is to send your mates the recorded track, you still cannot skip this part.
5. After recording master track you need to export it. TASCAM doesn't work in WAV format, it is probably some tape-emulated secret format inside the machine, so if you want WAV or MP3, export your master or any recorder track. You need to give it a name and press "export WAV". It starts working and sometimes takes as much time as playing the whole song. Why in a hell doesn't TASCAM made it work with WAVs? My ZOOM records everythnig in WAV and input\export is as simple as pressing a button.
6. To make it clear, after exporting master track TASCAM creates a stereo WAV from selected master track  inside the machine. Now if you want it on your computer, connect USB cable which makes the TASCAM restart. Then from your comp you see TASCAM as an external storage device and you can finally grab that file. By the way, 004 cannot be powered via USB.
7. And if you want to share it with friends, you convert it into MP3 on your computer, TASCAM has nothing to do with MP3 format.

This is a long story and it does takes time. After I record a rehearsal I have to spend at least half an hour to get that file out of TASCAM. Way too much!

What is it for:

TASCAM DP004 has its limitations, and you won't make pro recordings with it. If you were Beatles you probably could, and if you're a solo artist making stellar one-take performances you probably could too. But most of us got used to the joys of Pro Tools and recording live to stereo is a lost art. So, why DP004?

The main use is work. If you're a musician you will find it the most useful little device ever. If you play in a band you can record your rehearsals and live gigs with a very good sound. I'm talking about using internal mics.

If you work on a song you can craft very good demos. You can overdub, you can record to a click track and you can edit song structures. Not as smooth as moving parts in Pro Tools or Cubase but possible. You can record with a drummer and overdub some other part right at rehearsal to see how it works.

The best of it all - you can take it anywhere because it's small and you can mix and edit it while on a train or wherever. Battery life is limited, but AA batteries are cheap today.

You can use DP004's internal mics + preamps as external stereo mics for a video cam and have video with a very good stereo audio signal. It's still chaeper, better and more portable than any other external mic solution for video I can think about.

And they've thrown in a tuner and a metronome, which sounds like a good wooden metronome should.


DP 004 vs. DP 008

One of my friends bought DP008 and I've had a pleasure to try it as well. 008 is a "double plus" version of 004. It has 8 channels, but it records only two, just like 004. It has balanced inputs with phanom power, which is a great improvement over 004 if you want external mics. It has RCA line in for playbacks. It has reverb knobs for all 8 channels, and you can change the reverb/effect type. It has EQ, although it has no knobs to twist. The display is now backlit yellow with black letters and you can see it in the dark.

For all those upgrades it is about twice fatter and larger than 004, and this is no good. The most important upgrade should have been FOUR SIMULTANEOUS INPUTS, but unfortunately there are only two, same as 004.

Still it fixes most of the problems 004 has and it's adviced if portability is not your main requirement.


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