Last week a compelling new field recorder was announced: Tascam’s Portacapture X8. It’s an 8-channel, 32-bit float handheld recorder with a touchscreen interface.
It’s not released until later this year. However, this post will break down what the new portable recorder will have to offer and how it fits into the current handheld field recorder market.
The Field of Portable Recorders
The Tascam Portacapture X8 was announced at an interesting time. Sony, once the king of quality portable recorders, had retired its PCM-A10, PCM-D10, and formerly the best handheld field recorder, the PCM-D100. Tascam shelved its top-end portable recorder as well, the DR-100MKIII. You can find a few of these units floating around if you look hard, but availability is thinning out.
This has left a gap in choices for upper-tier handheld recorders. Field recordists who want a portable solution for capturing sound effects were left with mid-tier units from Zoom and Tascam’s revised lineup.
Here are the offerings from Zoom:
And the main field recorders from Tascam:
There’s a lot to choose from in those lists. For discerning field recordists, though, only three things matter:
- Sound quality.
- Quiet preamps.
- XLR connectivity.
Of course, every field recordist has different needs. But those three concerns consistently top request lists.
Let’s see how the X8 stacks up at first look.
Tascam Portacapture X8 Main Features
What headlining features does the X8 have?
- Touch screen. The days of navigating through cascades of monochrome menus may be behind us. The X8 has a large, vivid touchscreen for channel selection, level control, monitoring, and selecting options.
- Built-in microphones. The X8 arrives with a pair of 14.6mm microphones. They can be positioned in X-Y or “mock” AB. They appear to need to be removed and replaced to switch stereo recording techniques.
- Connectivity. The X8 allows connecting 4 MIC/LINE microphones via its XLR/TRS locking combo jacks.
- 8 tracks. The X8 can record 8 tracks at a time: 2 from the onboard microphones, 4 from the XLR/TRS combo inputs, and two mix tracks.
- 192 kHz/32-bit Float. The unit allows capturing sound effects in ultra-high definition 192 kHz. Additionally, 32-bit float recording captures sounds with an incredibly wide dynamic. In short, it means gain management is much easier.
- HDDA (High Definition Discrete Architecture) mic preamps. Tascam’s in-house developed mic preamps. These appear to be the same as the ones used in the DR-701D, DR-60DMKII, and DR-70D, which are listed in their respective manuals as having -120 dB EIN or less. That matches a Zoom H6 and Sony PCM-M10, less than a Sony PCM-D100 (-127), a DR-100MKIII (-126) or a Sound Devices MixPre-6 II (-128).
- Signal-to-noise ratio. Here’s the specs for the onboard and input jacks at 20kHz SPCL LPF, A-weighted.
|Input 1-2||Input 3-5|
|Built-in microphones||XLR/TRS locking jacks|
|101 dB (48 kHz)||102 dB (48 kHz)|
The X8 is listed as $499 at B&H, with a release slated at “end of December 2021.”
Tascam Portacapture X8 Secondary Features
And here are some other, less-vital features available with the X8:
- Dual recording. Similar to the D100’s “S/N 100 dB” feature, the X8 can record at two levels: standard and 12 dB lower. It can also record in two different formats at once.
- microSD card. Unlike many other recorders on the market, the X8 records exclusively to the smaller microSD format.
- Launcher. Perhaps less useful to field recordists, the launcher appears prominently in Tascam’s marketing materials. I assume because they’re positioning the X8 as an easy-to-use solution for multiple markets: podcasters, dictation users, musicians, and so on. The launcher allows adopting presets for each type of user quickly. For field recordists, there are presets for recording city, nature, vehicles, and birds.
- USB-C port. Foregoing the USB mini and micro connectors, the X8 has a USB-C port which allows bus-power (hopefully from power banks as well).
- Audio interface. The X8 can be used an audio interface while also capturing audio from the onboard microphones at the same time, and recording to the microSD card too. It can’t be used at 192 kHz in this mode, though.
- Wireless remote. Adding the AK-BT1 Bluetooth dongle allows the unit to be controlled by tablets and mobile phones
- Mid-side decoding. M/S microphones can be decoded directly on the device. No word about Ambisonic recording or decoding, however.
Initial Reflections on the Portacapture X8
How will the X8 perform? In the end, the quality of its microphones and preamps will determine its success with field recordists. There’s no way to know this until its release later this year.
I have a DR-100MKII. I find the onboard microphones are poor. However, I have had great success capturing many types of sounds using its XLR jacks with kit ranging from Sennheiser M/S set-ups to Clippy and LOM microphones. I am hopeful that the X8 will perform similarly with its preamps and improve upon the quality of its onboard microphones.
As far as I’m aware, 32-bit float capability is a first for portable recorders. This has the potential to make field recording workflow far easier during dynamic sessions. Similarly, the massive touch-screen interface is a handheld recorder first. From scanning the manual it appears to be more user-friendly than Sound Devices’s MixPre series touchscreen.
The simplified hardware interface veers away from the complexity of former gear: the prominent gain trim and diminutive transport controls are localized to the lower part of the unit.
How will this unit compare with existing offerings?
The closest comparison would be the Zoom H6 ($319.99). It too offers 6 inputs (2 onboard, 4 XLR/TRS) with detachable microphones, but lacks 32-bit recording and a touchscreen.
If we’re considering other units based on channels alone, the Zoom F6 ($699.99) is an interesting contrast. While not a portable unit and lacking onboard microphones, it does support 32-bit float recording and 6 dedicated XLR inputs (instead of 4). The same could be said for Sound Devices’s MixPre-6 II ($970).
How will the X8 perform for field recordists? It’s impossible to know right now. However it appears to be a compelling option worth considering upon its release later this year.
- Learn more about the Tascam Portacapture X8.
- Read the X8 online manual.
- Browse the list of compatible media.
- View the Field Recording Gear Buyer’s Guide.
- Learn how to choose an audio recorder in the Digital Audio Recorder Buyer’s Guide.