Tascam DR-100MKIII quick review


Even though I regularly teach and give workshops about sound and recording, I don’t often post information regarding gear on my website. Its not a matter policy as much as I don’t like to dwell on the ‘tech’ side of things as much as I prefer to focus on artistic content and ideas. Yet every once in a while its good to add to the flows of information about certain products with some tests and personal opinions if I feel it may be of some benefit to others.

Several months ago Tascam announced a third successor, the DR-100 mkIII, to its mid-range line-up of existing handheld digital recorders. Having owned and worked with the original DR-100 as my secondary recorder since 2010, I’ve followed the development of this model over the years. When the mkII came out I considered an upgrade but decided it wasn’t worth it in the end. However, when the mkIII was announced, the new specs and features seemed appealing enough to warrant an upgrade. So I took a chance, hoping the device could live up to marketing PR and ordered one. I will not go into all the specs and features, as they are all clearly visible on the Tascam website, but just go over a few highlights and provide some sample recordings.

tascam_dr-100mkiii-ortf

Apart from the press release specs, what caught my attention regarding the new features of this model was found in a short promo video on youtube where a Tascam representative talks initially about the new preamps and A/D converters for ‘high-resolution audio recording’. Following this he clearly states that “field recording” is one of the main applications the DR-100mkIII has been designed for. This may not mean much for some, but to me is a sign that the practice of “field recording” has more or less grown to point where manufacturers like Tascam understand there is enough of a market and demand to find it worthwhile to develop and engineer features like low-noise preamps in their mid-level product lines. This will hopefully give them an advantage in a competitive arena filled with portable digital recorders. Anyone who follows online discussions regarding ‘field recording’ and devices (budget, mid-level or professional) knows that preamp noise and quality are always a significant point of interest. While this might seem like an obvious issue for manufacturers to pay attention to given the amount of user feedback available, it doesn’t always appear they do (think ZOOM?).

With that said, some quick tests of the new preamps on the ‘mkIII’ show them to be significantly quieter than their predecessors. In addition the new A/D converters are supposed to allow an additional 10dB gain in the overall signal-to-noise ratio, giving a bit more boost, without adding noise. This is also is evident but I need to make some further tests to understand how well it works.

Another handy feature that has been added to the ‘mkIII’ is a 1/8″ mini-jack input that serves as an additional microphone input. Better yet, this mic input can be fed ‘plug-in power’, allowing it to be used with various types of electret (binaural) mini-mics and piezo contact mics. This is a big plus for me because I often like to use both for different recording situations, particularly with my self built pair of omni mics that use the highly regarded ‘Primo EM172‘ capsules.

Below are three samples using 3 different pairs of microphones; Audio-Technica AT4021 cardioids in ORTF array, DPA 4060 omnis in A-B array and Primo EM172 omnis in A-B array. The input configurations are also different to compare using the native XLR inputs vs using a Sound Devices MixPre or the 1/8″ mini jack as a ‘line in’ or with ‘plug-in power’.

Here are three additional recordings to compare. First I went into an old unused factory to find a ‘quiet’ space and get out of the wind to make ambient room recordings. This first recording is with Audio-Technica cardioids in ORTF running into the DR-100mkIII XLR preamps at full gain (+56.5). The file below is a 320k mp3, but you can download the original 24bit 48khz wav file here.


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The second ambient recording is also from the factory but with the Primo EM172 capsules running into the 1/8″ ‘external input’ with plug-in power. The file below is a 320k mp3, but you can download the original 24bit 48khz wav file here.

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The third recording was made at dusk after the wind died down an things became still. Ths first recording is also with Audio-Technica cardioids in ORTF running into the DR-100mkIII XLR preamps at full gain (+56.5). The file below is a 320k mp3, but you can download the original 24bit 48khz wav file here.

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Here you get a better feeling for the noise levels and the sensitivity. Just for reference, the motor scooter is around 300m away, the radio playing quietly is about 100m away and the dog is close to 1km from the mics. Not too bad. It may not be a Sound Devices series 7 but its pretty good for a recorder that costs less than 1/4 the price of a 702 and I’d say it’s better sounding than anything I know in the price range (not to mention the other features).

This just scratching the surface as there are lots of other new features. But just a few things that I noticed. The DR-100mkIII supposedly has improved battery life.  I haven’t tested this yet but anything could be better than the 1 hour limit I had with the original DR-100 (when using phantom power). The internal battery charges via USB and uses the new standard for mobile phones. No charging cable was provided but it worked fine with my Samsung USB phone charger.

tascamdr100mkiii-io-ad

Under the I/O settings there are some mysterious options for the new A/D converter. They are listed as ‘FIR1′, FIR2’, ‘SHORT DELAY1’ and ‘SHORT DELAY2’. I can’t find any information on what this actually means, so I wrote directly to Tascam asking for some clarification. It seems I’m not the only one confused by this as someone over at the Tapers Section has also been asking. Update: The full manual in English has been published by Tascam on their website giving some clarification along with a firmware update.

And to finish up, the DR-100mkIII seems made well. The body, controls and switches feel solid and made to last. Oddly there are no numerical indicators on the Gain Control knob. This is because the actual gain seems to be digitally controlled which takes some getting used to since you can only change the gain while in ‘Rec Pause’ mode or while recording. What is handy is that the gain settings were saved for the individual input selections so I didn’t have to reset the gain every time I switched the input.

Update: I have made a few recordings using the internal mics (both uni and omni). The ‘uni’ mics are quite good and very usable. I made my recordings of very quiet subjects, children playing outdoors, but I’d say they are mostly suitable for general applications like voice, music and effects. You can download and listen to the original files yourself. The ‘omni’ mics sound rather thin and without much depth (as you generally need a baffle or 40cm of separation to get a good stereo image with omnis). This was the case already in the mkI recorder, so not much improvement there and I doubt I’ll be using them much.

For an additional perspective, another review with sample recordings has been published over at Transom.org

Here is a recording using the mkIII of some fish made during a recent workshop. Someone notice a large school of very tiny fish so we dropped in a pair of JrF Hydrophones and were surprised to hear this.

and a bonus track from the forest using a pair of Primo EM172 omnis


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10 thoughts on “Tascam DR-100MKIII quick review

  • Juus

    Great, this was very helpful! Looking forward for internal mics review or just opinion on that. Considering to buy this one so would like to know better overall capabilities before paying the money. Thanks

  • Paul

    Internal speaker not impressive. Cheaper Sony PX440 (circa GBP 45 compared to DR100 Mark 3 @ GBP 278) has vastly superior speaker.

    Can’t play a pre-recorded MP3 file (gives Non Supported) despite every other device playing it.

    Would have liked carrying lugs on the upper sides of the body, in addition to the two at the bottom.

    • john grzinich Post author

      I never really use the internal speaker so its not a big issue for me. And yes, I’ve noticed how recorders can be picky about which files they play, like my old Edirol R-09 will not play BWAV files or certain versions of MP3. I haven’t tested this on the MKIII so its good to know.

  • AMG

    Hi
    Many thanks for you very comprehensive review. I was also a DR-100mkII user from many years and I agree totally that the new DR-100mkIII is really a genuine new recorder! My review will be short, (I bought it only a few weeks ago) I only would like to give you my impression after opening the box and setting up my new toy!!
    First when I wanted to charge the Lithium battery, I was taken aback as there are not any more of DC input 5V, you can charge only through USB, which is fine, but I was obliged to find the right USB cable, at least they could have provided one, it is like the USB card, with the DR-100mkII a 1 GB card was supplied with the device, it is not a lot but at least you can do some test right away! Another surprise (a good one) is when you connect this device being in standby to your computer, the link is not any more automatically established, which is great, you need to enter in the menu and choose the option “USB storage” in “SYSTEM” if you want to connect really (by soft) the device to your computer.
    What is more obvious is the large display and the reduced number of push buttons, 8 against 11 for the previous mkII ! Just a critic about the “Fn” button, I still do not see why they put this button, may be I will discover its use in a while. Great also are in a random order:
    the overall ergonomic, no more buttons on the back of the device back now encasing the Li battery and which could be easily removed to change the battery,
    the digital rotating input level knob,
    the “digital in” and the” remote in” separated ! (a pain in the ass in the mkII) because I am using quite often the digital input which is to me a must and one of the reason why I bought the mkII previously,
    The Neutrik combo jacks of the Mic/Line inputs can be used via XLR and 1/4’’ TRS plugs, really GREAT,
    Very very easy to use the menu, to me everything is self evident to use, great options, nothing really to say for the moment except the esoteric setting for the A/D filter I do not thing I will touch anyway!
    I have done some recording, with the best option to get the best S/N ratio (i.e. dual ADC in the I/O setting), after transferring and listening the files on my WaveLab software, it is really brilliant, and no noise.
    Now some critics which are relevant to the design common to the mkII and mkIII which are still there: it is the use of the minijack for “EXT IN”, which is not robust and reliable: the one on my mkII does not work any more due to faulty contact and I am afraid it will the same on the mkIII, moreover I can see now a warning on the operational manual saying : “…..be careful not to apply too much force when using a standard to mini plug adapter. Doing so could damage the equipment.” So as I could not use any more this “EXT IN” on my mkII, which I used to record music from my analog Tuner (there is no digital FM in France), I bought two Neutrik miniature transformer balancing adapter to change from unbalanced (from my Hi-Fi equipment)) into balanced stereo signal and connect to the mkII through the XLR jack.
    Technically I think it is the best robust choice, no faulty contact anymore so I tested the same solution with the mkIII, everything OK as far as the connections are concerned, but on the other hand I have still another identical problem with BOTH devices, with the I/O on “LINE IN” and the gain knob max (+12 db) the recording level is just bellow -12 db, which is adequate, but I would rather have 3 or 6 db more, on the other hand if I put the I/O on “MIC IN”, even wit the gain knob at zero and the MIC PAD “ON” , I reach zero db ! So I cannot really use this setting and am oblige to use the “LINE IN” setting and if really needed, increase the level of the file using my audio software…
    If at least on “LINE IN” the gain would be higher, let say + 18 db instead of +12, everything would be perfect ! I hope the Tascam design team will listen to my plea !!!
    That’s it for the moment !

    • john grzinich Post author

      Wow, thanks so much for all your additional comments. My “review” was not comprehensive by any means so this extra info is very welcome. In general I agree with everything you say. I was bothered by the new USB port until I realized its the same as my Samsung phone (and I guess most new phones). That makes it very convenient. I can even charge it in my car.
      And I’ve been perplexed as to why the “LINE IN” still has some gain but it never occurred to me that you might need to switch he MIC PAD on to reach 0db. Thanks for that tip. It seems the engineers at Tascam are listening (or at least observing) what users are saying so be sure to write them and maybe copy your comments to other forums.

  • Chris Sanctus Okereke

    It’s good to read your review. I used Tascam Mkii and I loved it.I use it for drama field recording. But I was surprised that it suddenly packed up on me in the middle of a recording, leaving the entire cast and crew stranded for more than 24 hours. What did I do? For the first time, I charged the battery directly using an external power adapter (5V) I bought from Amazon. My system stopped powering, like a joke. Before then I charged my batteries with either a desktop charger or through my computer USB. But that day was different. Uptill now I have not seen a technician that can attend to it. Now I am looking for a replacement and found that the device has an upgrade in MKiii. First I am happy that the direct power source has been replaced so that it does not cause more problem in that beautiful device. But then I am disappointed that MKiii has an internal battery with space for only 2 rechargeable AA batteries. No more external lithium batteries. This is a huge handicap in field recording. This means that once your charging runs down you must take a break to recharge or continuously replace the AA battery which does not really last. For this, I will rather go back to MKii than buy this.

    • john grzinich Post author

      Sorry to hear about your MKII. That’s an odd story but its good to be cautious with third party batteries or power supplies. With that said, I think you should still get the MKIII. It’s a worthy upgrade for numerous reasons. Regarding the power issue, I have found the battery life to be quite good. So far I’ve made up to 4 hour recordings (not using phantom) and the internal battery still has 50%. With phantom I guess it might last 2+ hours. For long term use I’m guessing you could use a rechargable ‘power brick’, like the ones used to charge phones. I haven’t tried it but in theory it should work. The MKIII uses the newer universal USB port, the same as most phones. It charges fine with my phone charger and computer (in fact it doesn’t even come with a charger). So you should be able to use a power brick as an additional external power source.