Tiny Review: TASCAM DR-44WL


Full Transcript

Today it’s time for a Tiny Review of the TASCAM DR-44WL, a portable audio recorder that also has WiFi for remote monitoring, management, and audio retrieval. I’m going to share some general observations on the product as well as some specific and nerdy use cases and how it holds up to them. These use cases may only apply to one person on the planet: me.

I’ve had the DR-44WL for a few days now and I have been putting it through its paces. Definitely keep that in mind, as there may be some things that I’m still struggling with that may be second nature after awhile; or there might be some things that won’t bug me until I’ve experienced them over time.

It’s also worth noting that there are a couple of good video reviews of the DR-44WL by Max Yuryev on YouTube. These reviews are from the point of view of a digital video shooter and may be especially useful if that’s your context as well. There is also a thorough review in Japanese at AV Watch.

So first: general observations. Fit and finish are pretty solid, and they should be given that this is being positioned at the higher end of handheld recorders aimed at musicians. I think I actually prefer the rubberized plastic of the Zoom H4n but this doesn’t feel cheap either. Between its size and the click wheel interface it actually reminds me a lot of the original iPod with a couple of microphones on top.

It boots up pretty quick and the interface seems pretty sane. There are a lot of options but it’s pretty obvious where everything is. There have been a couple of times where I wasn’t sure if the option I wanted to change was accessed from the input button or the regular menu button, but I’m still getting a hang of things.

My biggest user interface gripe is probably the number of steps involved in changing input levels. First you hit the levels button, then select the channel or channels you want to adjust, then you rotate the knob on the side up or down.

The signature feature of the DR-44WL is its on-board WiFi and companion desktop and mobile apps for remote management and file transfer. This is actually the reason I returned the Zoom H4n and ordered the TASCAM instead. The story is pretty compelling: connect your phone to the recorder wirelessly and you can monitor levels, change settings, start and stop recordings, listen to and transfer files from the device.

The reality — at least at the time of this recording — is a little rougher than that. Getting started is easy: hit the WiFi button, connect to the recorder with your phone like it was a router or hotspot, and launch the DR-CONTROL app. My experience is with iOS which appears to be more complete than the Android app.

Once you are connected, setting levels is really easy and quick. The app also mimics the main screen, and if you’re recording, it will show you levels with about a half second to a second delay. Other settings are also easy to get to and change, probably a little quicker than changing them on the device itself.

You can also browse recordings, play them over the air, and copy them to your phone. The biggest bummer — again at the time of this recording — is that once the files have been copied to your phone the only things you can do with them are play them or send them to SoundCloud. There’s no “share sheet” or “open in”. I have mentioned this to TASCAM support but this pretty much kills my mobile production workflow. I also had the device lock up to the point that it wouldn’t respond to any input and I had to remove a battery in order to restart it.

I also wanted to talk about how the DR-44WL fares at making radio. The built-in stereo microphones seem solid. You can’t adjust them like you can some other recorders in this space, but they are in shock mounts which should help with handling noise. I also rented a couple of different microphones to see how well they did.

As I would expect, it handled a condenser shotgun microphone, the venerable Audio Technica 835b, really well. I read that they generally sound better with phantom power, so that’s what I used for my tests. I was able to get good levels (aiming for -11dB) with little to no noise by setting the recorder levels around 50.

It also did surprisingly well with the Shure SM7B, a dynamic studio microphone with notoriously low output that generally gives recorders and lower end audio interfaces fits. I think somewhere around 75 to 85 was the sweet spot for me in order to get good levels while right up on the mic without too much noise.

Somewhat predictably it didn’t handle a dynamic omni particularly well. I tested with the Rode Reporter, my stand in for an Electro Voice RE50, 635A, or the Beyerdynamic M58. I’ve seen video folks use these effectively outdoors in stand-ups without noticeable noise. Holding the microphone at chest height I had to crank it to 80 or 90 to get solid levels. If I bring the mic in closer I can get good levels around 70-75 but with more noise than I would like.

Stepping back a bit to the general user, I think this is a pretty solid recoder. I’m hoping that my biggest complaints — stability and content export — can be addressed over time with software updates. WiFi is really the differentiator here and could really help with a lot of use cases.

If you’re looking to make radio and prefer recording quality over the wireless feature, I suggest you look really closely at the DR-100MkII. An updated version of that with the same mic preamps and wireless functionality would probably be my dream device. You should also head over to Transom.org where tool master Jeff Towne has a bunch of articles on choosing recorders and microphones.

Check out the show notes for lots of links and audio samples too.

This is Matt Croydon and you are listening to The Tinycast.
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