The Tascam DR-100 MKIII isn't exactly new, having been around since late 2016. And (as the name implies) it's a third iteration of a pretty venerable family of devices. However, it's a huge improvement over its predecessors in terms of noise — and in some other ways too — and still represents pretty superb value for money.

It basically gives you a stereo XLR recorder in a pretty compact package, with an excellent display, and by many reviews superb sound quality, at least for the price. I've had and used one for just a few weeks, which isn't a ton. Still, I have some thoughts on it, so if you're interested, here they are. If you're really interested, you should probably look online for the full feature list, which I won't repeat here.

Overall Impressions

The DR-100 MKIII itself looks pretty good. It has a good build quality, nice and solid feeling; it feels solid in the hand, even though it's all basically plastic. Having said that, you'll want big hands (like me) if that's how you want to hold it.


The DR-100 MKIII.

The device comes with no case or windshield, which isn't so good. A fur windshield to go over the built-in mics would be pretty much essential for recording with them. I've got the "Rycote Wind Screen for Tascam DR-100", Rycote part number 055384, which fits reasonably well — it's not super-secure, but it works. For a case, I'm using a little camera case, which fits the recorder comfortably with space for miniature mics and earbuds. This makes a pretty decent walking-around kit.

It's relatively small for an XLR-based recorder, though of course quite a bit bigger than a minijack-based device. However, they use the space well, with a nice big, clear display, and easy-to-use controls. There are two bars on the XLR end where you could attach a strap — they are sized for a narrow camera-style strap — and this could work very naturally with a hand-held mic for walking around.

It records stereo, in 24-bit BWF (WAV) files at up to 192 kHz sampling rate. There is also support for recording in MP3 format, though I would never use this. It can do mid-side decoding, with the option of recording the decoded stereo, or decoding just for your headphones. It takes SD cards, up to SDXC at 128GB.

Controls


The DR-100 MKIII front panel.

There are plenty of physical controls on the front panel, as well as some on the left side. This is great, as it minimises dipping into the menus; for example, the mic pad and limiter settings have real switches on the front, and phantom power for the XLR inputs is turned on or off by a physical switch in between them.

One nice feature is that if you leave phantom turned on, then when you go to record it will prompt you to confirm this on-screen.

You do have to enter the menu to choose the record source, or to turn plug-in power on or off. The menu in general is fine, clearly laid out and easy to navigate, using a scroll wheel surrounding an "enter" button.

The record level is controlled by a large encoder wheel on the right side of the device. This is an electronic input, and the actual level is displayed by two virtual level knobs on the display; but it works great in practice. The wheel is easy to use without being exposed enough to hit accidentally; and the "hold" switch locks the levels if you want added security. A switch on the front lets you set the individual left and right levels, or both together.


The DR-100 MKIII right side.

The 3.5mm mic in and digital inputs are on the top end, between the mics. The power switch is a press-and-hold button on the left side. The headphone volume is a typical edge-wheel; a "hold" switch beside it lets you lock the levels, or all the controls. The line out (3.5mm) and headphone jacks are on the same side.


The DR-100 MKIII left side.

The USB port is there too. This is micro-USB, sadly; a newer device would be expected to have USB C. The USB interface lets you access files, naturally, and also provides power to both charge and run the device (see "Power" below). The device can not be used as an audio interface to a computer.


The DR-100's display.

The screen is fantastic. It's a low-tech reflective LCD, which is great, as it uses minimal power, and is easy to read outdoors in bright daylight. The main thing is that its large size makes the meters very easy to read; they even have numeric dB markings below the scales. There's a lot of information on that screen, but this is generally good, as it lets you check your settings at a glance. This includes the two "virtual level knobs" showing your level settings.

The backlight has the usual feature of turning off after a short time (which you can configure) to save power. Unfortunately it seems to have the mis-feature, which I've seen on other Tascams, that it doesn't turn off when running on USB power. So, if you set up a long-term drop rig with an external USB power pack, the backlight will be on the whole time; unless you go into the menu and manually turn it off. At least you can do that.

One nice feature is the inclusion of two sets of level LEDs, one for each channel. These are in addition to the level meters on the display, and give you a simple 3-stage level indication for each of the two channels, the highest level being clipping (or nearly so). This is too minimal for real level-setting, but a big step above a simple "peak" LED.


The DR-100 MKIII level and peaking LEDs, and the physical phantom power switch.

Inputs

The DR-100 III has 5 sets of stereo inputs:


The DR-100 MKIII built-in uni mics.

The DR-100 MKIII can only record from one of these stereo pairs at once. But it can also record a backup stereo track at -12dB, which is very useful if you're unsure of the correct record level; however this is only available at sampling rates up to 96 kHz. The recorder also lets you choose exactly how the ADC will work, which seems weird, and is something I haven't tinkered with. And there's a "dual ADC" mode, which apparently reduces noise, but doesn't work with a safety track. Again I haven't tried this.

The built-in mics are a little bit of a puzzle. The two omnis seem clear enough; but what are "uni" mics? Unidirectional? The product literature avoids discussing this, oddly. I've seen these described as an A/B pair; but this doesn't seem very satisfactory, as they're very close together (5.5cm). Also, if you peer through the screens, you can see that the capsules are in fact angled out at something like 45°. So, my guess would be that this is a near-XY pair of cardioids, or something similar to that.

In any case it's the sound that matters. So, to demonstrate the stereo imagery of these mics, here are some samples of the two sets of built-in mics, plus some external mics. All of these reordings used fur windshields; normally I would filter the individual tracks to compensate for the high-frequency cut this causes, but for the sake of comparison I have applied an identical, lightweight filter to all of these tracks. All the tracks have been normalised to the same loudness.

DR-100 Stereo: Omni Mics

The Holm Burn in Inverness, recorded using the DR-100 MKIII's built-in omni mics.

DR-100 Stereo: Uni Mics

The Holm Burn in Inverness, recorded using the DR-100 MKIII's built-in "Uni" mics.

DR-100 Stereo: AB Clippys

The Holm Burn in Inverness, recorded on the DR-100 MKIII using two Clippy XLR mics in an AB stereo setup.

DR-100 Stereo: ORTF CM4s

The Holm Burn in Inverness, recorded on the DR-100 MKIII using two Line Audio CM4 mics in an ORTF setup.

 


The DR-100 MKIII stereo test setup. A windshield was fitted to the recorder for the built-in mics test.

Power

The DR-100 MKIII can run off three power sources: two AA batteries which you can install (or not); an internal Li-Ion battery; or external USB power (such as an external battery pack). This is very versatile, and gives you an easy way to get great battery life; although just two AAs seems pretty minimal for a recorder in this class, and the results below bear that out.

I ran some tests of the various powering options to see how the device would actually hold up. Recording mode was 24-bit WAV, and the recorder actually got sound in all cases. The results:

Battery Mics Pantom Run Time
Internal Li-Ion Built-In No 11h 43m
Internal Li-Ion Sennheiser MKH8040 Yes 6h 01m
Internal Li-Ion plus 16,750 mAh battery pack † Sennheiser MKH8040 Yes 31h 24m
Internal Li-Ion plus 2 Eneloop AA ‡ Sennheiser MKH8040 Yes 7h 29m

These results look pretty good to me. The internal battery is going to be fine for day-to-day walking around recording, even with phantom; and the option of an external battery will easily cover even a 24-hour drop recording. The AA option isn't worth much, though, except to cover gaps in battery coverage.

Final Thoughts

All in all, I'd say the DR-100 MKIII represents pretty good value for money. You get a good-quality XLR-based recorder, plus 3.5mm input, plus decent built-in mics, all in a solid, compact package. It would be nice if it came with a case, and certainly a windshield; but those omissions can be fixed.