I've been recording the fleeting moments of my musical life with the Tascam DR-100 II and DR-40 for years and have been pleased with their performance. However, I'm always on the lookout for an upgrade and the DR-44WL is Teac's latest and greatest palm sized recorder. It sports new features over its predecessors—Wi-Fi, iOS app, larger LCD and better RFI shielding—but does operation and sound quality measure up?
Tascam DR-44WL | (images courtesy Tascam)
Tascam DR-44WL Recording | Using built-in mics, Wav 48K and 24-bit stereo, I recorded my ensemble, the Leeward Coast Guitars, playing "Tomorrow shall be my dancing day." I synced DR-44WL audio to video from an EOS 70D and SL1.
Appearance & Construction
The body—plastic with aluminum side panels—feels sturdy but is a far cry from the beefy all metal body of the DR-100 II. The large monochrome LCD isn’t a touchscreen, but is easy to read and an upgrade over the DR-40 and DR-100. Unlike color displays, it’s visible in bright sunlight!
A steel tripod socket makes for easy mounting on tripods and light stands. I use a small Arca quick release plate on the DR-44WL, allowing fast mount/dismount from ball heads.
Physical controls are ample but feel flimsy compared to the DR-100. Unlike the DR-70 and Zoom H6, it has a phantom power switch! Operation is intuitive save for setting levels: 1. press input level button; 2. select tracks; 3. turn level wheel; and, finally, 4. press input level button to exit level adjustment mode. Yikes, I actually had to read the manual to figure that out! The good news is paired stereo tracks, e.g., tracks 1 and 2, may be adjusted simultaneously, shaving off some toil. Channels of a stereo pair may also be adjusted separately, something not possible with the DR-40.
The iOS app, Tascam Control, is smooth and superior to the physical interface of the DR-44WL, especially setting levels. After inputting a password it was up and running in a matter of seconds. The only gotcha is Wi-Fi mode goes through batteries much faster than physical controls so use the USB port for power or keep spare batteries for long sessions.
Right Side Layout | Phantom power and input level controls
Left Side Layout | Power, Wi-Fi and out put level controls. The SD card slot is under the rubber boot on the left.
Bare Bottom | Tripod socket, battery door and speaker grill.
Combo XLR and TRS allow recording from external pro mics or line level sources such as mixers or outboard mic preamps. Mini or 3.5 mm TRS connectors are not directly supported but can be used with an adapter. In stereo mode, XLR inputs only work with tracks 3 and 4. Tracks 1 and 2 are reserved for the built-in mics. However, tracks 1 and 2 may be assigned to the XLR inputs in multi-track mode if that makes any sense. The DR-44WL has a switch to toggle inputs from mic, phantom power and line level. There are no digital or unbalanced inputs.
Berceuse (Albéniz) | Leeward Coast Guitars | I recorded my ensemble, the Leeward Coast Guitars, using the built-in mics of the DR-44WL (Wav 48K and 24-bit stereo).
A mini (3.5mm) stereo jack is the lone output source. So adapters are needed to interface with studio and home stereo systems. My SD card goes straight in my Mac for storage, editing and playback, so I haven’t bothered to hook up to anything. The DR-44WL has a mini-USB port for power or uploading to a computer, but not for playback or recording.
XLR Inputs | Clean mic preamps with locks and TRS!
The DR-40 is an odd bird with three AA batteries in its belly. Thankfully the DR-44WL uses four AA batteries. I use Eneloop Pro rechargeable batteries and they last through an all day rehearsal. Standard Eneloop work fine also but the slightly larger size make them really tough to install/remove from the battery compartment. You can also power it from a USB port or most USB chargers.
Leeward Coast Guitars | March in G Major by G.F. Handel | Tascam DR-44WL: 48K 24-bit stereo and built-in mics
Mics and Sound Quality
I record my rehearsals and live shows, so a fast and simple setup is paramount. The built-in X/Y stereo cardioid mics are a level better than DR-40 and DR-100 MKII mics: warmer and fuller bass but slightly bright in upper frequencies. Stereo imaging is excellent, with each musician precisely placed in the stereo field. I loved the DR-40’s ability to switch between X/Y and A/B wide stereo and disappointed Tascam omitted said feature from the DR-44WL.
Preamps are surprisingly clean: using a pair of KM-184 in a soundproof booth, I could detect no noise in classical guitar solos recorded at -12 and 75% gain. In other words, significantly cleaner than the DR-40 and slightly better than the DR-100 II. I only record soft finger picked classical guitars and the DR-44WL has plenty of gain, typically set 50 to 75% for -12 dB.
Radio frequency interference (RFI) is a given when you live in a city: radio station transmitters and everybody is packing microwave emitting smartphones! Audio gear needs shielding or it records static, microwave beeps and classic rock stations! The DR-44WL has exceptional RFI shielding (DR-40 was a beeping mess around cellphones). Tascam beefed up RFI shielding since the DR-44WL partners with iOS/Droid remote control apps.
I'm pleased with the DR-44WL: excellent recording quality, good built-in mics, clean preamps, RFI resistant and great iOS remote control app. The cons are awkward level adjustment, needless interface complications and flimsy controls. With a little study and pratice anybody can master the DR-44WL interface. However, I realize the extra layer of complication for arming, linking and setting levels for individal tracks are not for everybody. A simpler recorder like the DR-05 or DR 40 may be a better choice if youhate manuals and mainly want basic stereo tracks. The reasonable price and excellent sound quality offset the cons and the DR-44WL is a winner for me.
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Vivaldi's Largo in G Minor • 48K 24-bit stereo and built-in mics
• Locking XLR/TRS balanced MIC/LINE inputs with phantom power
• Two cardioid microphones in close X-Y pattern
• Stereo, four-channel, or dual stereo recording modes
• Multitrack recording mode with overdub and reverb
• Up to 96kHz/24-bit WAV/BWF recording
• 3.5mm stereo (1/8") LINE output jack
• Wi-Fi to connect to iOS/Droid devices with the Tascam Control app
• Limiter and low cut filter
• Supports up to 512GB SDXC cards (4GB SDHC card included)
• 128x128 monochrome LCD with backlight
• Built-in speaker
• Tripod mount
• Batteries: Four AA
SD card, AC adapter, camera hot shoe adapter, soft case, hand grip, windscreen, Micro USB cable and paper manual.
Leeward Coast Guitars • Orientale by César Cui • Tascam DR-44WL: 48K 24-bit stereo and built-in mics