The DP-004 gives Tascam''s Portastudio a 21st-century makeover. Smaller than a videocassette, this 4-channel recorder features a separate stereo mixdown track and an integrated mixer, tuner, and metronome.
Back in the tape era, Tascam ruled the home multitrack recording world thanks to its line of Portastudio 4-track cassette recorders with integrated mixers. Nowadays most recordists use laptop rigs for mobile multitracking or pocket recorders for stereo recording. The DP-004 ($199) handily fills a niche by marrying the best advantages of today's portable recorders — compact size, CD-quality digital audio, flash memory, battery power, and built-in condenser microphones — with multitrack audio and the tactile experience of the classic Portastudio environment. In addition, the DP-004 supports USB 2.0 connectivity and WAV files for exchanging audio data with a computer.
SIZING IT UP
Compact design is obviously a major part of the DP-004's appeal. It has roughly the same dimensions as a VHS tape but is about an inch shorter. Recalling that VHS-size ADAT tape was once a standard digital multitrack recording medium, it's remarkable to consider that you can now hold an entire multitrack recorder in the space of less than one tape. Though it's considered a pocket-size recorder, however, the DP-004 would fit better in a coat pocket than in a shirt pocket.
Within its compact footprint, the DP-004 offers a working environment that immediately feels intuitive and familiar to former Portastudio users like me, but that also affords many modern amenities. Dedicated knobs and buttons are readily available for most essential tracking and mixing tasks, and you can access deeper functions using the LCD and menus.
Digital technology allows tricks that were impossible with tape: various editing tasks, undo and redo, repeat, and even bouncing four tracks onto one while including the destination track in the bounce (tape requires an open track). You get a separate stereo mixdown track that doesn't replace any of the other four tracks, as well as a built-in tuner and metronome.
Connecting the DP-004 to a computer furnishes even more options. You can export discrete tracks or stereo mixes to your DAW, or you could begin a project on your computer, port a cue track over to the DP-004, and then take it anywhere for mobile recording overdubs.
The user interface is well streamlined for the quick layering of musical ideas. However, the DP-004 has one tragic flaw: the LCD is not backlit. Perhaps such a compromise was intended to hold down costs or to help conserve battery power, but inasmuch as this unit is intended for the uncertain lighting conditions of location recording, this limitation is hard to understand.
POWER, STORAGE, CONNECTIVITY
The DP-004 is powered by four included AA alkaline batteries, NiMH batteries, or an optional AC adapter, and it uses SD cards for data storage. It comes with a 1 GB card, and you can use high-capacity cards up to a maximum of 32 GB. The file system uses two drive partitions: a multitrack recording (MTR) partition and a FAT32 partition. The DP-004 writes your recordings to the MTR partition, a proprietary format not recognized by computers. To exchange data with a computer, therefore, requires an extra step. Data transfer isn't especially difficult, but it would have been nice if the extra step were unnecessary.
Audio ins and outs include two ¼-inch inputs that can accept mic, line, or guitar sources; a pair of condenser mics; and a single stereo minijack for headphone/line out. I tested the DP-004 with a variety of sound sources, including my Fender bass plugged in direct, a Roland keyboard at line level, and my acoustic guitar with the built-in mics. The recorder delivered pro-quality results throughout (see Web Clip 1).
IN THE POCKET
The DP-004 offers greater flexibility than 2-track pocket recorders, as well as portability and accessibility that are superior to a laptop setup. The nonbacklit LCD is disappointing, and a few onboard effects would be nice to have, but it's hard to complain at this price point. The DP-004 could be a great tool for quickly capturing songwriting ideas, arranging vocal harmonies, or mobile overdubbing. It allows you to get right to work without booting up a computer, but it also records high-quality audio that integrates well with a computer-based platform. The folks at Tascam have done a great job of updating the Portastudio concept into a compact, easy-to-use, low-cost solution for the digital age.
Value (1 through 5): 4