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Review: Tascam DR-40 Audio Recorder

An Essential — and Inexpensive — Tool to Address a Variety of Sound Situations

Recently, I was called in to record radio commercials for a number of different stations. The agency handed me a first-generation digital recorder that was about a decade old. It was archaic. It had 1/8-inch inputs, one VU meter for both channels, and no markings to tell you what the level actually is. It was almost like flying blind, even while listening to it. Most of what I recorded turned out to be a bit low in volume, but I was able to bring it up in editing. I told the agency guy I never wanted to use it again and looked for a new device. Having used and reviewed the Tascam DR-100 a couple of years back, I knew that one was good, but the newer DR-40 looked to have more features than the DR-100 at a much lower price. For the next month's commercials, I had the DR-40. It was like going from a Ford Pinto to a Boss Mustang.

Tascam DR-40 bottom view

Click image to see a high-res version.

Let's take a look at whats on the outside of the DR-40. Starting at the bottom, there are two combo XLR 1/4-inch pro audio jacks. Moving up on the front there is a “navigation wheel,” made up of 9 buttons, that allows you to move through the extensive menus to change system settings. Above that are the transport controls, and solo buttons for channels 1–2 and 3–4, along with a record mode button. On the left side there is a 1/8-inch jack for headphones or line out. Next to it is a switch that sets the XLR inputs for line, mic, or mic + phantom power. To the right of that is the “hold” switch that, when set, will keep you from accidentally stopping the recording. At the far right is the manual input level, in the form of up and down buttons. On the right side there is a door for loading an SD card (a 2 GB card is included in the box), and a USB 2 port for connecting to a computer for power or file transfers. On the back, there is a compartment for installing three AA batteries. And on top are two built-in high-quality microphones that can be moved to an X or Y pattern. 

My first test for the DR-40 was another Toyota commercial for L.A.'s “world famous” KROQ alternative rock station. While I probably could have gotten away with using the DR-40's internal microphones, it would have been to difficult to hold between the two people speaking and control the audio levels. To maintain better control over the situation, I used a couple of vocal mics on table stands, going into a Samson Mixpad-4 compact four-channel mixer and then into the DR-40.  By going into the mixer first, you have more tactile control over the record levels. The controls on the unit, while responsive, aren't the same as the control you get with a mixer. Considering I was working with one professional voice actress and a car sales manager, I needed as much control as possible.  Because the take's levels varied so much, I was glad I was using the dual record with the lower level set at -12 dB. Everything turned out great. Not only was I happy but, after looking over the DR-40, the voice actress and the radio station rep said they were going to buy it for their own projects.

My next test was a musical performance. There was a cantor/opera singer putting on a performance for a local synagogue. In this case, I took the XLR feed off the board and placed the unit so the built-in mics would pick up the instruments. I mixed the DR-40 four-channel recording with the mic feed I recorded in the camera and the camera's mic. The sound quality was astounding. I was so impressed I was inspired to mix a CD from the mix I did for the video, and threw it in to the grateful client.

The next test was a lecture where the venue's audio system was not reliable. As a backup, I placed the DR-40 on the podium using the on-board microphones. The sound was predictably wonderful. In editing, after having gotten the camera sound and the DR-40 in perfect sync, I noticed the audio drifting out of sync again around the 30-minute mark. I solved the problem by snipping a few frames of “dead air” out of the DR-40's audio and re-syncing to the camera. This happened again 30 minutes later. Needing to get to the bottom of this, I checked in with Tascam. They said that it had to do with the DR-40's timing crystal, which would keep sync up to a point but ultimately drift. That's a common shortcoming of most digital recorders on the market, with the exception of units that can take an external time sync, like Tascam's HS-P82 8-channel field recorder ($3600). The DR-40 was designed for short takes on film projects where you stop every few minutes. In cases like that, it will keep perfect sync. For recording music or radio, keeping in sync is obviously not a problem.  If it is a problem for you as a DSLR user, Tascam recommended the newer and more expensive DR-60D ($350), which was made to connect to DSLRs and stay in sync with video of much longer lengths.

In conclusion, I love the DR-40.  It is an amazingly rugged, flexible, and high quality audio recorder that should be in every videographer or audio tech's tool box. With a street price under $200, there is no excuse not to have one. The features blow away all of the competition at the same price. If high quality audio and flexibility are important to you, the DR-40 audio recorder was made for you. I highly recommend it.

5 Comments

Categories: Review, Shooting, Technology
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  • fred muller

    This is not a good option if you need to use with different mics that does not have self power.
    I had dr-100 and that was o good choice.
    The dr-40 produces an helicopter sound when using external inputs, as you all can find easily in many posts and forums before.
    I tried contact with tascam and did not get any answer.
    Please take my advice, this is not a good product. Buy dr-100 or Zomm H4N

  • Marc Franklin

    Hi Fred,

    I’m Sorry Tascam couldn’t help you with this. I did have that issue, but only when using a single mic plugged into the XLR jack when in the stereo mode. A firmware upgrade available on Tascam’s web site, along with putting it into “mono” mode, which makes sense as you are using one channel, got rid of the “helicopter sound.” If I had had that issue the radio stations, wouldn’t have accepted the commercials.

    Marc (review author)

    • Fred Müller

      Hey Marc!
      Sorry did not see this comment til now.
      I tried the new firmware back then, but it did not solve my problem.
      The only way i can use the DR-40 is with the rode videomic pro with the 20db gain on. It seem that we cannot use a lav mic like the cheap atr-3350 or similar. I think is the preamp is very weak, so when we try to push the gain a little bit louder, the helicopter noise comes in. Hitting the menu button really improves that, but do not fix it intirelly.
      Tks for your concern mate.
      Cheers

      • Marc

        Hi Fred,
        I just saw your comment. If you are using an 1/8″ mono to 1/4″ mono adapter convert the Rode mic’s 1/8″ stereo to go into the DR-40’s 1/4″ input, that can be a problem. You need an 1/8″ stereo to 1/4″ mono. Adapter. Not a common adapter, but if my hunch is correct, it may solve your problem.
        Marc

  • Predrag Vasic

    I had been using this device for over a year now. Together with 5DmkII, it is a perfect combo. I have never heard this helicopter sound in my productions (over 100 projects so far). Most of the time, I have single condenser lav (using phantom power) in mono mode, or two cond. lavs in two-channel mode. I also often used built-in mics for recording narration (in mono mode), as well as musical performances (in stereo Y-layout). The device simply produces exceptional-quality recordings. What I especially love is 24bit/96kHz resolution/sampling rate, which provides plenty of overhead for post-production.

    About the only ONE thing missing on this device, compared to the ever-so-popular Zoom H4N is the ability to work as a USB audio interface for your computer. I would have liked the ability to record directly into my MBP, rather than onto the device, then from the SD card into FCP. I guess that such a feature is valued at extra $50…

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