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Monday, March 25, 2013

High-End Recording Review!
TASCAM HS-P82 Eight-Track
High-Resolution Location Recorder



Brevis...
Price: $5,400 Retail
Likes: multitrack 24-bit sound
Dislikes:  little heavy in a shoulder bag
More info:  TASCAM HS-P82

by Ty Ford
  Compared to analog multitrack tape recorders, digital recording devices are a wonder for the remote recording professional or enthusiast. Not only can you do separate tracks of pristine high-resolution recording, but you can edit nondestructively, back it up on the computer, and store the audio on various of digital media.
  TASCAM has been making high quality, digital recorders since the 1980s. From the original DA-88 that stored 24-bit audio on Hi8 video tapes to today’s popular DR-680, musician/audio enthusiast multitrack and high-end HS-P82 reviewed here, these devices allow amazing recording quality and features at prices that would have been unheard of 10 years ago.
  A fine example of TASCAM’s recording product expertise is its top-of-the-line HS-P82 eight-channel location recorder, a high-end, pro grade machine that retails for $5,400 (but as low as $3,599 street). It is an eight-track recorder with eight, high-grade microphone preamps, internal two-track mix-down and SMPTE time-code I/Os. Intended for professionals who record video/film audio, as well as audio-only concerts, etc., the unit can be primarily powered from batteries, battery pack or the AC line. The HS-P82 can record eight tracks at 24-bit/96 kHz, four tracks at 24/192 kHz via the BWF format, which also is used in the TASCAM HD-P2 high-end stereo portable and DVRA1000-HD studio master recorder, both EAN Stellar Sound Award winners.
  The HS-P82 records audio to Compact Flash cards, a media that was once a mainstay for digital cameras. TASCAM’s Pro Recording Products Manager Dan Montecalvo says the CF card has shown to be more robust in professional use than the smaller, lower-cost SD cards used in may audio recorders today. The fastest CF cards are not as widely available as the SD cards, and they are not cheap.
  The HS-P82 records FAT 32 BWF files, either mono or polyphonic, and supports iXML metadata. Using 32 GB cards, it can record from 12.5 hours of 8-track at 16-bit, 44.1 kHz, to almost four hours of 4-track at 24-bit, 192 kHz. Recording at the higher sample rates of 176 kHz and 192 kHz mean you can only record up to four tracks.


Eight Onboard High-End Microphone Preamplifiers


  Because of the immense digital info streams, your skill set needs to be upgraded from audio pro to data wrangler these days, and the HS-P82 points that out pretty well. File names and metadata are the Holy Grail and you better know how to handle them. The manual goes into detail about what and how to transfer files and when you can and can’t rename them.
  Other features include: 48V phantom mic power on each input, eight AES/EBU outputs via DB-25 connector, BNC stereo AES/EBU digital output (no SPDIF digital stereo output), video/word clock/cascade BNC I/O and balanced XLR audio stereo output. The audio can be fed straight into your edit computer via USB cable, or pop the CF into a card reader. A keyboard port also is provided, as well as an external DC power four-pin connector.
  Front panel controls include individual track gain pots, headphone jack/level control, digital graphical interface, electable option control and home, menu, project and exit cancel controls. The slate switch activates the onboard microphone.
  All in all, the TASCAM HS-P82 eight-track recorder is a full-featured recorder for serious high-resolution audio recording of concerts, broadcast, and cinema audio. The internal A/D-D/A converters are from AKM and are highly regarded in their accuracy and linear smooth, sonic character. The 24/bit/192 kHz mode gets you an 80-kHz bandwidth.

Getting to know the PS82
  You can power the HS-P82 via a supplied AC power supply with line-lump, camera-style NP batteries, an 11-16V DC external supply with 2A or more, IDX V-Mount batteries, or, briefly, with 10 AA-batteries in the supplied NP shell battery case. Field reports indicate 3-4 hours usage from a lithium-ion NP1, running phantom powered mics. Less time with the AAs.
  The HS-P82 is designed with two power supplies, each of which handles four channels of the eight. TASCAM’s Montecalvo says the two power circuits have more than enough power for eight mics; 10mA per channel. (A Schoeps CMC641, a commonly used location microphone, requires only 4 mA.) The phantom supply is switchable on/off for each of the eight inputs.
  I suggest skipping the NP shell with the AA batteries. That’s sort of OK because  at eight pounds, without batteries, the HS-P82 is not a piece of gear I’d want to hang off my body for any length of time while doing location audio. For me, the eight pound weight of the unit positions the HS-P82 as a stand-alone recorder for a cart. (Although I say it’s not a bag recorder, TASCAM claims a number of owners do operate it from location-use shoulder bags).

A logical layout
  The HS-P82 is smartly laid out as far as its ins/outs and controls. There are eight XLR connectors on the right side of the unit, each of which has hardware switches for mic, -25 dB mic level, and line input. Phantom power, per input, is switched on/off by the software. There are also two main XLR outputs. The left side is populated by power inputs, the two CF card slots, (you can mirror record to cards in both slots, but not serially from one card to the next), the DB25 digital audio I/O, USB port, cascade/word/video IOs, SMPTE I/Os and IBM PS/2 keyboard connector for entering alphanumeric information.
  The HS-P82 is controlled by a tilt-up, TFT touch screen. If you’ve been using an iPhone or similar touch-screen device and have gotten used to dabbing at a small screen, you’ll be fine. Even though I don’t have sausage fingers, I found most functions worked fine, but the digital QWERTY keyboard was difficult for me to use. I preferred using an external keyboard. BTW, the manual goes on, at some length, to say the touch screen display is delicate, and you should only poke with a finger, not a finger nail or sharply pointed tool.


  The HS-P82 records FAT 32 BWF files, either mono or polyphonic, and supports iXML metadata. Using 32 GB cards, it can record from 12.5 hours of 8-track at 16-bit, 44.1 kHz, to almost four hours of 4-track at 24-bit, 192 kHz. Recording the higher sample rates of 176 kHz and 192 kHz mean you can only record up to four tracks.

  The touch-screen display has a wealth of information, and it took me a little while to make sense out of some of the info and where to look for it. I would suggest operators spend at least a day with the unit before trying anything more than basic recording.
  When you select a file by touching it on the screen and touch the arrow in its menu, a window pops up showing its whole name and asks if you want to load that file. The screen is not big enough to display long file names, but you can easily create your own shorthand. If you don’t, you could accidentally delete a file.
  In addition to the touch screen, the front panel has a simple mix of dedicated control soft keys, the headphone jack and volume control. The headphone amp has more than enough power to push even inefficient headphones. The mic preamp gain controls are retractable pots that ensure you don’t accidentally change the setting once the proper levels are selected. Location recorder manufacturer Sound Devices also uses this type of control.
  Eight preamps is a handful for two hands. The HS-P82 makes it easy with trim groups that allow ganging a number of input trim pots together, so that the level of all trims in a group can be changed by adjusting one pot. You can have a maximum of four groups, but each channel can only be in one group. So if you’re using all four groups, each group contains two channels. If you have staggered gain settings, the group can only be turned up or down as high as the highest channel or as low as the lowest channel.

A Worthy Option: Companion RC-F82 Controller

  Each input has its own on-screen polarity flip switch, adjustable limiters and high-pass EQ. These cannot be adjusted while the HS-P82 is recording. The EQ is selectable at 40 Hz, 80 Hz or 120 Hz with -12 dB or -18 dB/octave slopes. The limiter is a fixed value circuit and works well without crushing the sound. Even when I purposely overdrove an input to light the clipping light, the audio didn’t sound clipped and the waveform was not “flat-topped.”  If you like the freedom of equalizing and engaging limiting while recording live, you’ll need a mixer with those features in front of the HS-P28.
  Speaking of outboard gear, TASCAM makes a companion controller/mixer to enable functions in the HS-P82. The TASCAM RC-F82 remote control panel ($1,299 list, $999 street) is a worthwhile addition. It copies transport controls and enables dynamic mixing of all eight tracks to the internal mono or stereo master track on the HS-P82. (You can do a static stereo mix to internal tracks with the HS-P82 level and pan controls, but you can’t really mix.) In addition to eight 100-mm faders that can be assigned to preamp trim or mixer level, the eight rotary pots can be mapped for preamp trim, mixer level or pan. Dedicated Shift, Setup, Solo/Mute and Remote Setup buttons allow access to the HS-P82 menu operations. Headphone outputs and return lines for the boom operator and director or producer may also be tapped here. For a pro mixer, it is well-featured and not that expensive.

In the recording mode
  Initially, I had a bit of negative experience trying to get my Compact Flash cards to work with the HS-P82. I had two CF cards that I had been using in my Sound Devices location recorder, including a SanDisk Extreme III 4GB, but the HS-P82 didn’t like either of them. In today's digital world, a recorder without media is a sad thing.
  When I called TASCAM’s U.S. HQ for help with my CF quandary, I got an automated voice message system. I left a detailed message that I was reviewing the HS-P82 and needed additional information. Customer support never returned my call, but I did find the TASCAM web site quite helpful. On the TASCAM site, I found a recommended list of CF cards that reliably work with the HS-P82. TASCAM’s Dan Montecalvo said the fastest UDMA CF cards work the best in the HS-P82. Neither of my cards were fast enough, so I got a new one.
  The HS-P82 offers several handy recording options. The HS-P82 can record in Mid/Side and either monitor during record or playback. You need to connect the mid capsule to an odd number preamp (1, 3, 5, 7) and the Side capsule to an even preamp (2, 4, 6, 8) for Mid/Side to function properly.
  PreRec provides a 1-5 second bit bucket in case the action starts before you hit REC. You can record 16- or 24-bit multiple individual or polywav files. Maximum file size can be set for 640 MB, 1GB or 2GB. You can select whether or not after hitting the Pause button, going back into record continues the same file or creates a new one. The Retake function allows you to delete the last file you recorded, including a 2-mix file if you were recording that as well.
**You can mark files manually during recording or use the auto marker function that can be set to drop markers at audio overs, sync errors or time intervals. Playback can be set to playback just the currently selected take or all takes in a project.

Pro synchronization
  The HS-P82 offers Free Run, Free Once, Time Of Day, Jam Sync, Regen and Rec Run. There are two BNC inputs and two BNC outputs. BNC 1 In accepts SMPTE time code. BNC 2 In accepts word clock, as well as 48 kHz pull-up or pull-down, NTSC/PAL black burst, and HD Tri-Level Sync. BNC 1 Out delivers SMPTE, AES3-2003/AES-3id-2001. BNC 2 Out delivers word sync and 48 kHz pull-up or pull-down. BNC 1 input and output can be used to cascade to other devices. The HS-P82 recognized the Time Code from my Sound Devices 744T in less than a second. I have never needed to edit Time Code User Bits, but the HS-P82 has a screen that allows you to do just that.

CompactFlash Cards Store Recorded Audio

  The switchable Power-Off Gen feature keeps generating time code (using the internal clock) when the unit is powered down, so that when the unit is powered up the next time, the time code is up to date. Small differences might occur due to the use of the internal clock and the manual points out that 23.976F, 29.97DF, 29.97ND, and 30DF may have larger deviations.
  All these modern features, control and computer compatibility, would not matter if the TASCAM did not make good recordings. Recording at 24-bit and at high sample rates, audio playback from Pro Tools or the internal converters showed that the mic preamps sound good and are quiet (factory specs greater than -100 dB A-weighted). The mic preamps worked well with most of my favorite mics: the Schoeps CMC641, a Sennheiser MKH416 or Neumann TLM 103. There was even enough gain to make my low-sensitivity, beyerdynamic M160 ribbon mic sound nice — with just a slight amount of hiss. I was expecting more proximity effect from the Neumann TLM-103 and m160, but even without the high-pass filter engaged, the mics were not woofy. Additionally, a lot of outboard preamps don’t turn down all the way, but the HS-P82 preamps are designed to mute when turned completely down.

The verdict 
  The HS-P82 is a high-caliber, professional, multitrack high-resolution recorder that has all the features a pro needs, yet it is easy enough for an educated audio enthusiast to operate. Its price is reasonable as well, considering all the options; it looks and feels like a solid piece of pro audio gear that should last for years. The following link takes new owners to a detailed HS-P82 "starter" article, recommended by TASCAM: Getting Started, TASCAM HS-P82

  Based in Baltimore, sound engineer Ty Ford is a veteran of numerous broadcast, live and recording adventures, as well as an accomplished acoustic guitar player. He may be reached at "http://www.tyford.com/" www.tyford.com




HS-P82‘s High-Resolution Pedigree

  As a professional location sound engineer, Ty Ford’s portrait of the HS-P82’s feature set and operation is quite flattering. And I also found its multi-channel sonic recording and playback quality quite impressive, considering it only costs a bit beyond $3,000. For your aspiring home recordists or occasional concert capturer, it is an amazing piece. In fact, according to TASCAM, the HS-P82 gets used a lot for high-res concert recording, due to its recording capability.
  In converter audio quality, it is the equal of TASCAM’s brilliant 24-bit DVRA10000-HD studio master recorder, also an audiophile recordist’s dream. And combining the converters’ performance with high-spec mic preamps means ultra detailed sound. I recorded a basic acoustic guitar combo and vocalist with two Audix SCX-25 lollipop mics and a Lawson L251 tube condenser; the sound was terrific. The ultra quiet mic pres, plus the AKM A/Ds at 24-bit/192 kHz, was audiophile impressive with an ultra-wide stereo image and razor sharp guitar string detail. The AKM onboard DACs are aces as well — audibly more open than the lower cost DR-680, which is a great multitrack for less than a grand.
  If you want true high-end, multichannel digital recording capability in a transportable, DC-powered form factor, the TASCAM HS-P82 should be on your list list. Based on Ty Ford’s positive comments and my concurring opinion, the HS-P82 gets a Stellar Sound Award.
—John Gatski 

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