Tascam DR-05 Review

May 13 2011


The Tascam DR-05 Explained

The Tascam DR-05 is an entry-level audio recorder produced by the Japanese electronics company, TEAC. The DR-05 is a portable, battery-operated device that can record stereo or mono sound in either .wav or .mp3 formats. The device stores audio files on a micro SD card. (A 2GB card is included with the unit.)

Click Here to check prices for the Tascam DR-05.

The Tascam DR-05 features dual condenser omnidirectional microphones that are best suited for capturing wide stereo recordings. Despite this microphone configuration, I’ve had success at using the DR-05 to capture mono vocal recordings. I’ll talk more about this later in the review.

Notably, the Tascam DR-05 was produced to compete directly with the Zoom H1. Indeed, both devices share many common features and are designed for similar purposes.

Here are some practical applications for this type of audio recorder:

  • Capturing live musical performances
  • Recording podcasts
  • Capturing audio in conjunction with a video DSLR or camcorder
  • Capturing ambience noises
  • Making binaural recordings (3D sound)

Build Quality and Design

The first thing you’ll notice, once you get your hands on a DR-05, is that it feels surprisingly solid for an all-plastic device. Although there’s a tiny bit of wiggle on the back of my battery cover, other than that, the unit feels very well made. Also, the unit feels quite robust — I believe it would easily survive a drop on my hardwood floor, but I’m not really willing to test this out!

On the front of the device you’ll find a familiar pattern of buttons — it looks just like a TV remote, or the controls you’d find on a portable music player. As such, the device can be comfortably gripped by one hand and solely operated with a thumb.


Physical Controls

The buttons on the Tascam DR-05 feel really good – not mushy or weak at all. They produce a satisfying amount of feedback when clicked, so you’ll know exactly when you’ve pressed them. Also, the placement and feel of the buttons allows for blind operation of the device. This is very convenient if you need to keep your eyes on the action instead of on your gear.


The Display

The backlit dot-matrix display is quite viewable and highly useable. In the age of high-end smartphones, I usually have an uncomfortable reaction when confronted with an old-school monochrome display, but the screen on the DR-05 gets the job done surprisingly well.

In recording mode, the left and right line levels with a decibel reading are prominently displayed on the screen. Other information, such as the timer, audio format and battery status, are also clearly shown.

System Menus

Initially, I was reluctant to explore the DR-05’s software menus. I assumed it would be a frustrating experience on the rudimentary looking display. But my concerns were unfounded.

Going through the system menus was no hassle at all. After a few minutes, I could find and adjust most settings with ease. Tascam has truly done a great job of organizing the menus and keeping the navigation easy and intuitive.

Signal Lights

Above the screen sits two very useful lights. The left light signals clipping, and the right one either blinks when you’re in monitoring mode or comes on steady when you’re actually recording. The lights provide vital information at a glance. All recorders should have this, don’t you think?


Audio Quality

When discussing the DR-05’s audio quality, one must keep in mind that it’s a $100 device – an entry-level product among Tascam’s line of professional recorders. As such, you shouldn’t expect miracles. Having said that, unless you’re a hardcore audiophile, I think you’ll be impressed at how well it captures sounds in all kinds of situations.

Before you read on, if you haven’t seen it, check out my Tascam DR-05 review on YouTube. The entire voiceover was recorded using the device in mono 16-bit wave format. Make sure to play the video at 720p resolution – YouTube noticeable compresses the audio on lower quality video. This should give you a decent idea of how well the unit captures a regular voice in an everyday setting.

So far, I’ve yet to use the DR-05 to capture live music – which is its primary (advertised) purpose. But I hope to have the opportunity soon, if only for further testing. (I use the DR-05 primarily for voice recordings and for shooting with my VDSLR.)

In my usage of the device thus far, I’ve used it to capture ambient noises, impromptu conversations and tons of voiceover content. I’ve found the DR-05 consistently able to record rich sounding audio that has met or exceeded my expectations.

Tascam DR-05 VS Zoom H1

As I mentioned beforehand, those considering to buy the Tascam DR-05 will invariably be also looking at the Zoom H1. So, I think the most relevant question for potential buyers is: how does the DR-05 stack up against the H1?

I haven’t had the opportunity to use the Zoom H1 outside of the store, so I can’t conduct a head-to-head competition. Fortunately, other people have. The results, so far, indicate that both devices perform fairly equally, with the DR-05 capturing a bit more of the low-end.

But when it comes to build quality and design, the DR-05 beats the Zoom H1 in almost every regard. The DR-05 is better made, and its controls are easier to manipulate. Furthermore its display is much larger, which shows more information and allows for better menu navigation.

The Tascam DR-05 also offers way more built-in features than the Zoom H1. (There are too many to list out here.) Compare the product descriptions for the DR-05 and H1 to learn more about each device.

In the end, the Zoom H1 comes out with one sure advantage over the DR-05, and that is its size. The H1 is about 1/3 narrower than the DR-05. But if size isn’t an issue for you, I don’t see how one could pick the Zoom over the Tascam.

Got a different opinion? Enlighten me in the comments section below.

A-B Microphone Configuration

The DR-05 has its microphones in an A-B configuration. This is ideal for capturing a wide stereo sound, and is what you’d want for capturing most kinds of live music.

Comparatively, the Zoom H1 has its mics in a X-Y configuration. This is more ideal for capturing sounds that originate from directly in front of the microphone.

So does this make the H1 better suited for voice recordings?

The Tascam DR-05 For Voice Recordings

I tend to do a lot of voice recordings, but the DR-05 with its A-B mic configuration wouldn’t seem ideal for this task. In practice, however, the DR-05 appears to do a very decent job of recording my voice — so long as I use the device properly. This means keeping its microphones near to my mouth and behind a homemade pop filter. It’s also important to have the mic levels adequately set.

Here’s a raw audio clip taken by my Tascam DR-05. It is a 16-bit mono .wav recording: Tascam-DR-05-Aibal-sample

Lots of Additional Features

One thing that separates the Tascam DR-05 from its competitors is its hefty list of value added features. The DR-05 comes with a bunch of useful functions that you might not expect from a device at this price point:

  • Powered external microphone jack
  • Built-in speaker
  • Chromatic tuner
  • Automatic gain control
  • Variable speed playback
  • Automatic level control
  • Low pass filters
  • 2-second pre-record buffer
  • 5 or 10-second countdown timer
  • File splitting
  • Sub-folder file management

Tascam DR-05 Review Conclusions

At $100, is the Tascam DR-05 the best entry-level portable recorder on the market today? I think there are some convincing arguments to say that it is.

What’s perhaps most relevant is that the Tascam DR-05 fixes everything that people didn’t like about the Zoom H1:

The DR-05 features a superior build quality, better controls, a more useful display and better system software. This makes the unit a joy to operate and easy to learn.

However, one feature that may be a problem to some people is the DR-05’s microphone configuration. The two omnidirectional condenser mics are placed in a fixed A-B alignment that, while great for picking up a wide stereo sound, may not be ideal for all types of audio captures.

In addition, if you are looking for a the smallest possible audio recorder that’ll still capture great sounding recordings, you may have to opt for the noticeably more compact (and lighter) Zoom H1.

Alternatives To The Tascam DR-05

If you’re looking for an upgrade to the DR-05, you should check out the Tascam DR-07 MKII. This unit is very similar to the DR-05, but features moveable microphones, allowing for an A-B or X-Y configuration. I believe that the DR-07 MKII will be a hot seller, but the DR-05 will still hold an advantage in price.

Here are several more devices that are a step up from the Tascam DR-05:



3 responses so far

  • Hollington Lee says:

    That was a fantastic review on YouTube of the DR-05. It helped me decide to buy it (over the H1) for my wife for her birthday. She is an oral historian and would be using it for oral history interviews.

    Just a couple of questions:
    1) When recording mono, as for voice work, do you speak into one mic only? or straight at the end of the unit?
    2) For an interactive interview, the AB mic arrangement seems like an advantage since the recorder can be between the subjects and each will have a mic pointing towards them. Do you think that will give good separation for L and R or do the omni mics negate that?

    Thanks so much.

    • admin says:

      1) I’ve found that talking directly to the top of the device, right in between the mics where the external mic plugin fits, captures the best mono voice recordings.
      But you hardly have to do this to capture clean sounding audio. It’s just a way for me to smother out reverberations in my echo prone living room. (I keep the mic close to my mouth.)

      2) The AB mics should be good for capturing a conversation with one mic pointed toward each person. There should be good stereo separation between L & R, if my tests with capturing ambience sounds generalizes.

  • yo says:

    Thx a lot for the review, complete, nice to read you

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