Fast FactsApplications: Studio, location, broadcast, live sound
Key Features: Two-track; 24-bit; 192 kHz; Compact Flash media; internal balanced mic preamp; timecode; word clock; AC/DC power
Contact: TASCAM at 323-726-0303, www.tascam.com.
+ Compact Flash technology
+ Quality 192 kHz converters
+ Timecode capable
+ Full featured
– No recording to external drive
– Buttons and battery door rattle excessively
This less than a grand Flash card high-res recording marvel may be the one to get.
Dealer Check TASCAM HD-P2
The following is a sample of dealers and pricing obtained from the Internet at the time the review was written. B-H Photo Video (www.bhphotovideo.com), $999.99 plus free ground shipping, $1,299 with 6 GB card; Sweetwater, $999.97 plus free ground shipping; ZZounds, $999.95 plus free shipping, $6.95 for two day shipping, Guitar Center, $999.99; Location Sound (www.locationsound.com), $949. Remote recordists have never had such high-quality, portable recording device choices for so little money. Case in point, is the new 24-bit/192 kHz sampling TASCAM HD-P2 stereo recorder, which won the PAR Excellence Award at the New York AES last October.
Following in the pedigree of the TASCAM DAP-1 portable DAT from the mid 1990s, this shockingly low-priced $1,299 recorder offers a bevy of features that would of cost twice as much, or more five, years ago. And as our bench test measurements reveal, audio quality is pretty impressive as well.
Unlike the complex moving-part mechanism of DATs and CD-Rs, the HD-P2 and similar products from several companies, utilize Compact Flash memory cards as the storage devices. These recorders are, in essence, small computers dedicated to recording.
The made-in-China HD-P2, codeveloped by Frontier Designs, is compact-sized (about 9 inches wide x 7 inches deep and 2 inches tall), and only weighs 2.5 pounds without batteries and about 4 pounds with batteries.
Features are numerous including timecode chase, use of AA batteries or AC, balanced line or mic preamp input (including phantom power), 20 dB pad, low-cut filter, switchable analog limiter, FireWire port for downloading to computer and supplying enough juice to run the machine (minus phantom power), word clock sync, digital S/PDIF I/O, a very good headphone preamp, RCA in/out line jacks, a built-in mono speaker, a built-in mono microphone, and an angled, back-lit view screen.
External power-wise, the HD-P2 operates on eight AA batteries — disposable or rechargeable. The AC adaptor is a transformer that is fed by an AC cord on one end and a DC cord on the other that attaches to the recorder. The HD-P2 also will run on FireWire bus power.
The black, hard-plastic square chassis design is laid out logically with most of the buttons mounted on the right side of the top. They include: the menu shuttle/data wheel, left/right channel line/mic selector switches, left and right microphone pad switches, limiter switch, phantom power switch, low-cut switch, stereo link switch for united or separate channel gain controls.
The Select switch engages the various menu functions, while the Cancel button gets you out of the current menu. The Menu button enables numerous options for set up of the recorder. The Project and Display button round out the cadre of small buttons.
The front right panel buttons include rewind, fast forward, stop and play. On the front panel next to the display are the record, pause, Retake, Timecode enable, Hold, Locate forward and back buttons, as well as the concentric Gain controls. The headphone/speaker volume control are located on the left front near the power switch.
The side panels are home to the various connectors. The HD-P2’s left side houses the keyboard, FireWire port, Timecode, word clock, digital S/PDIF I/O and headphone jacks. The right side includes the balanced XLRs for mic/line input, RCA line ins/outs, and the slot for the Compact Flash card.
A sliding door on the bottom opens to the battery compartment. The unit comes with a carrying strap, AC adapter, and FireWire cable; TASCAM offers an optional leather carrying case.
The unit comes without the ultra-important Compact Flash card. I think companies ought to throw in a 1 GB card as standard get-started media, but that is just my opinion. (M-Audio supplies a — ha-ha! — 64 MB card with its 24 bit-96 kHz capable MicroTrak, but that is another story).
The Compact Flash card as audio storage is relatively new thing. They are not cheap considering the amount of space you get. A standard retail price for a 1 GB card is about a hundred bucks (about $80 on the street). And 1 GB only gets you 14 minutes of 192 kHz sampling stereo, 28 minutes of 96 kHz and about an hour at 44.1 kHz. A 2 GB drive gets you more time, but is nearly $200 at retail about $150 on the street. There are 4 GB and soon-to-be available 8 GB cards, but they are pricey at this point. I say the 2 GB cards are probably the right cost/time balance.
In the HD-P2 the audio files are written as Broadcast Wave files and can be spotted to timecode in most computer workstations. You can also edit the file on the computer and drag the audio back to the card and HD-P2 for playback.
The HD-P2 is ruggedly built, but its hard plastic construction and buttons are not quite as pro-feeling as the classic 1990s DAP-1 DAT machine — with its soft buttons and soft outer skin. Also, I noticed that the buttons on the HD-P2 rattle a bit if you shake the unit. But you can’t have everything for $1,200. Anyway, I’m nitpicking.
I delved into the unit by trying to see if I could use it without the manual. Computer-style recorders are usually more complex than a standard tape machine but I found that once I learned that the sample rate had to be set through the project menu and not the system menu, the HD-P2 was easy to record and playback.
Here is a trip through the menu items:
The main Menu items include Project Menu, Change/New Project, System Menu, Display Menu, Media Unmount and FireWire Dock.
• Project Menu — includes Settings, Files, Markers, Trash Manager, and Save-As Project. The Settings subsection contains: Sample Rate (44.1 kHz, 48 kHz, 88.2 kHz, 96 kHz and 176.4 kHz or 192 kHz); Channels (stereo, mono left or right, mono summed), Word Length (16-bit or 24-bit); Input Source, Clock Source, Timecode Enable or Disable, Timecode Settings, Headset Monitoring, Auto Markers, Auto Append, Pre-Record, Locator Types, Meter Settings, Base Names for audio files and Markers.
The Project Menu’s “Files” subsection shows the list of all active files in each project. The files are the audio tracks. The Default lists the files as “Takes.” The files can be renamed via the Shuttle Wheel control and Menu option or via an optional keyboard. The Change/New File subsection allows loading of Existing Projects, Selecting the current project and Changing the Project Template Default.
• System Menu — includes setting the Real-Time Clock, Audible Alerts, Power Management, Audio Clock information, Media Management (which includes Formatting and Erasing), and Software Update.
• Timecode Settings Menu — enables use of the HD-P2 with external timecode generating equipment. The settings include Clock Source, Frame Rate, Rate Pull-Up/Down, Freewheel, Trigger Mode, Trigger On, Frame Enable, Trigger Frame, Origin, and Timecode Offset.
Besides the use of menus to complete the various functions, some functions can be done more easily via button shortcuts, which are identified in the manual.
• FireWire Dock Menu — function enables the HD-P2 to download the Project files from the Flash card drive to a computer for subsequent editing. Unfortunately, the FireWire connection does not allow the HD-P2 to record via the FireWire to an external drive. In some situations, the use of an external drive would be quite convenient to get longer recording time without swapping cards — especially at the more space consuming, higher-bit rates of 176 kHz ands 192 kHz.
With all its flexibility, I found the TASCAM HD-P2 rather easy to use and I seldom had to consult the manual. Though it has numerous setting and menus, they are easy to navigate.
Once I set the word length and sample rate, away I went. You can record in short order, I should point out that the individual files are limited to 2 GB even if you use a bigger card. Also, you should make sure your Compact Flash cards are compatible with the unit. TASCAM has a list of compatible card on its web site. TASCAM says the Type 1 cards are the most stable. I used a San Disk 1 GB card, purchased at Best Buy.
To test the accuracy of the converters, I performed a number of recording and playback scenarios. I first copied prerecorded DVD-As SACDS via the analog balanced jacks. The source was my Esoteric DV-50 discrete SACD/192 kHz sampling PCM player. I also made my own guitar recordings with two Audix SCX-25s mics through the HD-P2’s mic preamps.
I also recorded with the TASCAM using other gear including the Trident S-20 stereo preamp and a stereo Benchmark ADC-1 A/D converter.
In setup, cabling was done via Mogami or Alpha Core balanced cables and Kimber unbalanced cables. All HD-P2 A/D recordings were played through my best monitor system including Coda preamp, Bryston and Pass amps, and Legacy Focus 20/20 reference speakers.
I first listened to the recorded audio through the HD-P2’s DAC. I also downloaded that recorded audio to the Mac G5 workstation via the FireWire Dock and burned new 24-bit DVD-As in DiscWelder Bronze for playback in the Esoteric. Using the Esoteric allowed me to hear how the TASCAM’s A/D captured the original recording vs. the Benchmark.
In listening to my own guitar recordings audio via the TASCAM’s A/D-D/A at either 24-bit/96 kHz or 192 kHz sampling, the sound was very good. In essence, room reverb nuance and pick attack of my guitar recordings was intact, and the TASCAM DAC was smooth without PCM filter harshness.
In evaluating the A/D only, playing back via my Benchmark DAC-1 at 96 kHz and the Esoteric’s high-end converter, I, again, concluded the converter has amazing performance in this $1,000, all-in-one recorder/player.
Compared to the Benchmark ADC-1, the HD-P2 A/D was close in its reproduction of the pick attack of my Martin D18V. As you might expect from a standalone converter that sells for about $700 more bucks than the all-in-one TASCAM, there was a difference in the tightness of the bass and the Benchmark, not unexpectedly revealed a bit more of my Audix SCX-25’s presence rise than the HD-P2. But the TASCAM was not that far off.
All in all, though, I was very pleased with the A/D audio quality that ultimately gets downloaded to the computer. The DAC is quite good, but few folks are going to use the machine as their ultimate playback medium. The A/D is what counts here.
How are the preamps versus my separates? They sounded open and revealing with the Audix mics, but there was more image depth from the standalones, as you would expect. My audio tests also revealed that the HD-P2’s has a quality sounding headphone amp that could drive most any headphone I had on hand: the new Grado SR-325s, AKG K271s, or Ultrasone HFI-2000.
From a feature function perspective, the TASCAM HD-P2 is simply amazing. The Flash card technology enables quick, noiseless recording on seemingly reliable media. I had not one glitch in hours of recording on the same Flash card. For those location sound engineers that have timecode generating equipment, the unit is downright miraculous in its utility, considering it can be purchased for under a $1,000.
The HD-P2 has easy-to-use Marker and Locate functions and several recording niceties such as append and prerecord that add to its versatility. The little ergonomic extras — such as the built-in microphone for quick general purpose recording to the built-in mono speaker for general monitoring and audio recording confirmation — this machine is just about complete.
As previously mentioned, my only complaint is the lack of FireWire port recording to an external drive. Hopefully, in a future model, TASCAM could offer enhanced external drive capability.
Of all the Compact Flash card recorders on the market, the TASCAM HD-P2 is the most featured-filled professional unit, that can record 24-bit/192 kHz audio, available under a $1,000. With timecode sync capability, built-in balanced mic preamplifier/line in, digital I/O, good converters, numerous record and playback functions, it is ideal for numerous uses. If it had the ability to record to an external FireWire drive, it would be perfect.