The DR-680 from Tascam is a great multi-track field recorder for someone on a budget. The amount of features they were able to squeeze into this small footprint and price-point is remarkable. It can be powered with the included DC adapter or via AA batteries, records to SD Flash cards and is extremely light-weight.
The DR-680 has 6 analog mic/line inputs - 4 on XLR/TRS combo jacks and two on TRS only. These can be individually switched between mic (XLR) or line (TRS) levels and there is phantom power available on all of them. There are limiters available on all of the analog inputs, accessed via one of two internal menu's. In addition, there is a SPDIF input for a total of 8 inputs.
If that were not enough, two of these units may be synchronized for 12 (or 14) channel operation.
The monitoring features are extremely well thought-out and implemented. There is an internal mixer with individual controls for record trim, pan and mix level on each channel. Channels can also be easily stereo-ganged. Each channel can be solo'ed pre-fader. There is an M/S monitoring option. The metering for each channel is available at a glance.
One can record the digital input to the internal stereo track, or alternatively it can be routed to tracks 5-6. One can also record the internal stereo mix to the stereo track. Files are easily accessed by connecting the device to a computer via USB.
There are some cons to this box: for a classical recordist, the analog inputs are a bit on the noisy side - be sure to hit them with adequate level; a solo in place monitoring option would be handy sometimes; at this time, there is no way to monitor the 6 analog inputs AND the digital input combined - you must choose to listen to one or the other; navigating the many internal menu's can be less than intuitive; and if it loses power during a record pass, the recorded data may be there, but the files are not written.
Overall, this little field recorder offers an insane feature set for its price. While its sound-quality does not fit in the same club as the far more expensive options (such as the Sound Devices 788), it offers an incredible value to someone who needs the ability to multi-track in the field.
To make sure there is no confusion I corresponded with TASCAM about connecting two 680s, and as I expected-- the machine feeding INTO the #1 unit can only send a 2-mix. This means that TRIM and PAN are "in concrete" (assuming more than a stereo pair) and cannot be adjusted later other than overall level. Repeat-- be careful when listening back and forth since what you feed into SPDIF can only be adjusted in overall level-- NOT individual channel levels.
In the real world this probably is not a big deal when considering the current new price ($700) compared to the CD USBPre2 (around $1k) which can only contribute 2 channels and not 6.
Interested parties should also look and see what can be found that has several mic channels, outputs SPDIF, AND CAN OPERATE IN STAND-ALONE MODE. I had to send back a Roland device that did not make that fact obvious.
The DR-680 is without doubt one of the most attractive multichannel recorders in its class and has many features of much more expensive candidates such as the SD788 or Nagra. For a great number of onsite recordings it is very versatile due to its small size, low weight and easy handling. Six analog inputs may be switched to mic gain high/low or line and are arranged as 6 individual tracks recorded, stereo pairs or even matched for M/S recording. These and a recorded additional mixed channel fit to most situations in the field. The display allows for easy level monitoring and marks overload of the input as well in order to adjust both the input and the stereo mix recorded. Selecting a limiter and different high pass filters help to master difficult takes. The choice of up to 96 kHz/24 Bit formats provides professional quality – unfortunately there is no sampling rate of 88.2 kHz but only 44.1, 48, 96 and 192 kHz (2 channels only!). Formats are *.wav, *.bwf, and *.mp3. As SD cards may be inserted up to 32 GB, there is an ample recording time of more than 8 hrs with 8 channels using 44.1kHz/24 bit format. With phantom power on, battery life is quite short and should not be considered for important projects.
However, the DR-680 suffers from one big problem: While the microphone amplifiers are of reasonably good quality, switching ON the built in phantom power supply raises the noise by 8 .. 13 dB compared to an external low noise phantom power supply. This restricts the application range to high volume acoustical sources such as Jazz, Rock or Big Band with most typical condenser microphones. Recording speech or classical music is audibly impaired by the phantom power noise, which is waterfall like. This is a design error that might be corrected easily by modifications, but TASCAM takes no action in this respect. Without this bug, the DR-680 would be really a fine device.
I take issue with a few things in this last installment. There is no "waterfall" increase in noise when using phantom-- at least with my 680. Does it sound like a BG8? No-- but in live situations with good mics of adequate output the "noise" is a moot point--even when observing the "no level higher than -10dBFS" rule. You should NOT use the HI-SENS and lower the gain! And neither the limiter (nor rolloff} should be in use when recording. The -10 rule will cover surprises and a rolloff in a $600 machine should not be considered-- wait until using the DAW for that.
WARNING: anyone contemplating the use of the 32GB card should TEST that card before using in the field. I lost an entire (and very important) concert as a result of card failure or incompatibility. And no, I did not test ahead of time. TASCAM says 32GB is fine but YMMV-- as I discovered. By all means test first
BATTERY LIFE: Do not even THINK of doing an entire concert on batteries. But if you lose AC it will save the recording. Whether the performance continues is not the recordist's problem but it will enable you to close the file and let the 680 write the header (which is critical).
And to be clear-- it is only 192k that is limited to 2ch only.
Still thousands less than a Nagra or Sound Devices-- but you do get what you pay for.
The fact that mic noise is raised by 8 ... 13 dB by the internal phantom supply compared to an external low noise phantom power source is proven by a number of carefully conducted measurements. If this is annoying or not is a matter of personal taste and the recording situation. To ME it was annoying before the modification ! The measurements were approved by the TEAC headquarters in Germany and the method of modification is known.