Hands-On Review: TASCAM Portacapture X6

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Hands-On Review: TASCAM Portacapture X6

In today’s crowded and fast-paced media landscape, quality portable audio recording has never been more important. Whether you’re interested in podcasting, streaming, content creation, or audio-for-video applications, having a way to record high-quality audio in a lightweight, easily transported package is a must. To answer this call, TASCAM has released its next-generation field recorder, the Portacapture X6, which combines app-like operation with powerful 96 kHz / 32-bit floating point recording for an everyman device that can tackle almost any modern recording scenario.

TASCAM Portacapture X6
TASCAM Portacapture X6

But how well does it really perform? Despite the lack of some expected creature comforts, some physical design limitations, and the need to buy extra accessories to get long-term reliable performance, we can affirm that the X6 not only runs like a well-oiled machine but provides users with enormous flexibility, value, and some very forgiving recording features that make it easier than ever to capture professional-level audio. If that’s all you are looking for, then read no further. But if you’re interested in just how well the X6 runs when put to the test, then let’s dive in!

Unboxing

When I received my eagerly awaited demo model, I carefully unboxed it and was surprised by the heft of this little recorder. Although significantly lighter in weight than numerous multi-channel field recorders and portable podcasting studios, the X6 is much thicker than most of TASCAM’s previous DR-series portable recorders. Tightly packed in cardboard on top of the manual and warranty documents, the X6 comes with four AA alkaline batteries to get you started. I always like to see products like this being shipped with some starter batteries because when I get my hands on a recorder like the X6, the last thing I want to do is wait to scrounge up some batteries rather than diving headfirst into my new purchase. However, I immediately noted a carry case was missing. For this role you'll have to pick up the AK-DR11G MKIII accessory kit or a third-party product. 

AK-DR11G MKIII
AK-DR11G MKIII

Interface

Once I powered it up with the locking power slider, I was struck by just how inviting the user interface really is. Being accustomed to simple, button-operated field recorders with small screens and dull text, the X6 really does start to feel like an ergonomic smartphone after just a few minutes. The main interface provides you with eight selectable options presented as “apps,” much like on an iOS or Android device, with two selections for browsing your recorded files and using the X6 as a computer-compatible SD card reader, and six different preset recording modes covering the full gamut of modern audio recording needs: ASMR, Voice, Music, Manual, Field, and Podcast.

All the X6 functions are essentially available in each mode, with the different modes simply providing users with pre-selected recording settings that TASCAM deems ideal for each described application. In reality you will probably need to make a few adjustments to fit your use when selecting a recording mode, but luckily, with the intuitive and incredibly fast interface, making quick adjustments on the fly is easy and, dare I say, fun?

Each mode also presents the interface differently to make it even easier for quick fine-tuning. For example, Music mode presents you with an image to select the type of instrument you are recording (or no preset), as well as input gain, output gain, and an image for choosing between the six onboard reverb types. In Voice mode, you get a simple microphone symbol with a circular visualization of your volume level and touch-controlled gain. On Podcast, you can directly control your mic, two programmable pads with built-in sounds like applause or custom sounds from your SD card, and a simple mixer for rapid and painless production. Indeed, each mode has a completely unique control scheme designed to make every application as hassle-free as possible, and it really does reduce the time it takes to exploit the X6’s functions for specific tasks.

Recording Specs

Before I get into the X6 in use, we should review some of the specs. While the X6 is unlikely to dethrone some of the high-end products in the field recorder category, its recording capabilities are quite respectable, especially in this price range. The X6 offers 6-inputs and 2-outputs (two built-in condensers, two phantom-powered XLR inputs, and one stereo 3.5mm input with plug-in power), making it quite capable of serving as a miniature portable audio interface, podcasting studio, or all-in-one audio-for-video recorder and microphone. While the maximum sampling rate of 96 kHz (the X6 can record in 44.1, 48, and 96 kHz) won’t send shockwaves through the industry, it does provide more than enough audio quality for its intended applications, including in the professional domain. However, it’s the 32-bit floating point resolution from which most customers will really benefit.

With 32-bit float operation, it becomes much easier to avoid clipping and distortion when recording loud sound sources or environments with strongly peaking transients. While the experienced audio engineer might not find much use for this function (and it does increase the size of audio files by around 50% over 24-bit), those with less audio expertise will find that the increased headroom and widened noise floor make it considerably easier to walk away with clean sounding, professional-quality audio recordings.   

In my experience testing the X6, I found this function wasn’t usually necessary with recording loud musical sources, like a rehearsing band in a small studio space, but became much more useful when recording dynamic, up-close conversations with heavy plosives and noisy outdoor environments (city streets, crowds, and sporting events).

In the Field

In my field tests of the Portacapture X6, I tried to cover as many intended scenarios as possible. I was able to get a full picture of its capabilities in such applications as ambient field recording, loud music recording, and city street captures.

While the X6 sports plenty of features for the modern video producer or content creator, at its core this is a field recorder, so the most natural and obvious use for the X6 is certainly just that: ambient, stereo sound recording. To this end, I tested the recorder’s ability to capture nature sounds and city streets, as well as the unique blend of the two often encountered here in the parks of New York.

Using the Field recording mode, I took a leisurely stroll through Fort Tryon Park, one the city’s loveliest, to try and capture everything from the chirping of birds to the breeze against the trees. The two stereo condensers built into the X6 are plenty sensitive, capable of picking up distant bird chirps and footsteps with ease. The recorded audio was smooth, immersive, and full sounding. At this stage, however, another missing accessory becomes painfully obvious: a windscreen.

Any seasoned field recorder knows that you can’t simply record ambient outdoor audio without some wind protection for your mics. In this case, while the X6 (understandably) does not ship with a windscreen of any kind, you can at least pick up TASCAM’s OEM WS-86 fuzzy windscreen, which is an absolute necessity if you plan on doing any recording outside. While the X6 captured lovely details in immersive stereo, especially with 96 kHz engaged, it was constantly plagued by overloaded distortions with even the slightest wind gusts. Onboard features like the selectable limiter and adjustable low-cut filter greatly reduced the severity of this effect on low-intensity wind, but even with the recorder’s auto-gain function (a great set-and-forget feature), it was simply not possible to get reliable, distortion-free audio without adequate wind protection. As such, we highly recommend you pick up the WS-86 windscreen if you plan on recording outdoors.

TASCAM OEM WS-86 fuzzy windscreen
TASCAM OEM WS-86 fuzzy windscreen

Unfortunately, unlike the larger X8, the condenser mics are not removable. Similarly, the X6 mics can be rotated horizontally in a ratchet style for swapping between a true XY stereo pattern and a standard AB pattern, but cannot be adjusted vertically, limiting the angle choices somewhat. However, all of this is to be expected of a product that’s currently selling for $100 less than the X8, and these features aren’t really a concern for customers simply looking for a quick and easy solution to their audio recording needs. In most cases, the semi-fixed, rotating design of the condensers will get the job done, and if more flexibility is required, it might be worth it to take advantage of external mics or reach for the larger X8.

On the street, the X6 wasn’t as stealthy as a true pocket-sized recorder, but it was more than well equipped for the role, capturing passing vehicles with pleasantly wide stereo ambience, and easily picking up subtle sounds like footsteps, distant conversations, far-off music, and other tell-tale sounds of the city. In this role, the X6 can really excel as a portable recorder for video shoots out in the street, allowing you to mount it directly on your camera and capturing quality audio from your subjects without having to worry about wireless lavalier or handheld microphones (in this case, the simplicity of Voice mode will work best for most).

I can’t emphasize enough how convenient the interface of the X6 was out in the field. With a few quick taps of the touchscreen, I was rapidly adjusting gain, changing low-cut frequencies, and inverting the phase of my microphones. It really does speed things up.

In the Studio and On the Stage

There will likely be more than a few musicians and bands who will see the X6 as a potentially useful utility, and to that end, TASCAM has packed a range of features that can make the X6 handy for everything from recording band rehearsals, jams, and song ideas to capturing live performances or engaging in full-on studio recording. Since the X6 offers up to six simultaneous sources (four tracks) for recording and sports very low-noise HDDA (High-Definition Discrete Architecture) XLR preamps, you could purchase this recorder simply as an ultraportable audio interface and multitrack recorder, and you’d walk away quite happy with that decision. However, there are limitations.

For example, the onboard mics, combined with built-in features like a noise gate, limiter, and the 32-bit float recording capabilities, will let you capture your whole band or loud individual instruments with little issue. The two XLR mic inputs can be used to record things like miked electric guitar amps and can theoretically be combined with the stereo condensers and a third source via the stereo 3.5mm input to record a small ensemble live with relatively full microphone coverage.

But the limited XLR inputs and the logistics of trying to exploit the 3.5mm input or balance the stereo mics with your other mics can make this a challenge. In this regard, the X6 performs far better as a portable recorder for solo musicians and single instruments, for example, recording vocals in a bathroom for the unique acoustics rather than hauling out your computer and interface, or quickly tracking high-quality acoustic guitar takes for your bandmates when traveling.

In my opinion, the best multitrack recording application for the X6 is in the field of podcasting. Since most podcasts and livestreamed content will have, at most, two microphones at any given time, the X6 can be a very portable and convenient solution for these scenarios. For anything more, you’re better off picking up the X8 with its four XLR inputs, or a bona fide audio interface.

Nonetheless, bands looking for something that will record jams and rehearsals for later listening or capture live performances at venues will find the X6 works quite well, and easily avoids distortion with some light gain staging, even in 24-bit mode. Whether receiving a mix from the board or recording through the stereo mics (or both), the X6 is a great option for grabbing your live performances for later upload or syncing with a video without the need to constantly monitor and operate the recorder.

Audio for Video and Bluetooth

We’ll touch on this section briefly since we weren’t able to get our hands on the AK-DR11CMKII accessory kit or the AK-BT1 Bluetooth Adapter before the time of this review. The X6 supports easy audio-for-video usage via the aforementioned accessory pack, which provides customers with two 3.5mm TRS audio cables, a 3.5mm TRS Y-cable splitter, a fuzzy windscreen, a soft carry case, and a cold-shoe mount for any standard DSLR or mirrorless camera, letting you mount your recorder directly atop your camera via the tripod mount socket on the bottom of the recorder.

In this capacity, the X6 can be used either as a stand-alone audio recorder or as an additional stereo microphone, with the ability to use the built-in microphones and take external shotgun and plug-in-powered lav mics and record them all simultaneously to their own tracks. I can easily see this as one of the main uses of the X6, because it sports just enough connectivity and the high bit rates that will make it easier to capture distortion-free audio during video shoots in indoor or outdoor settings.

With the AK-BT1 adapter, you get convenient app control and the option to synchronize the time code of your audio with your video wirelessly via an external master timeclock like the Atomos UltraSync Blue Master TC. The excellent (and free) Portacapture Control app (available on iOS and Android) allows users to access the recorder's transport functions, gain, mix adjustments, and many other parameters, even at a distance of 32.8‘, with the AK-BT1. This app-based integration makes producing videos, podcasts, songs, and location audio faster and easier. 

Target Audience

After spending time with the X6 and really getting to know its copious features, I find myself asking the simple question: who is this for? When it comes to specific scenarios, the truth is there are many products that will do their individual jobs better. The X6 won’t outdo a Zoom F6 for pro-level audio-for-video recording, it won’t beat a RØDE RØDECaster Pro II for dedicated podcasting, and it would have a hard time defeating a stand-alone audio interface and computer for home studio recording. But the answer isn’t in the X6’s ability to do any one thing perfectly but, rather, its flexibility to handle ALL possible audio recording scenarios.

In this modern age, the average creative isn’t simply doing one thing at a time—this is the era of hustle. It’s now common for many recordists to be engaged in streaming, music recording, podcasting, and versatile content creation that can include everything from video production to journalistic interviews. In this sense, the X6 is a remarkably forward-looking product that aims to fill the role of a Swiss Army knife for content producers. Rather than invest in potentially thousands of dollars of audio equipment to be able to handle all these possible applications, a creator can hit the ground running and start out strong with something that can easily adapt to whatever they throw at it. The X6 is all about applicational dexterity and ease of workflow, and in this sense, it’s a major success.

Final Thoughts

Even with some limitations, the Portacapture X6 impressed me. While it recorded quality audio and proved to be extremely forgiving, thanks to its 32-bit float operation, the feature that stuck in my head above all else was the elegant interface. As someone who has used a wide range of portable recording devices, from top-of-the-line Sound Devices products to the cheapest of pocket recorders, the biggest advantage of the X6 in my mind, beyond its adaptability, is simply its ease of use.

While it would have been nice to have a soft case to contain it while recording, I have never experienced as fast a workflow as on the X6. Even products with more hands-on knobs and controls, like the Zoom H6, have trouble competing because of the sheer breadth of functions that you can tap and scroll through in a matter of seconds. When you are recording something live, where do-overs aren’t so simple, and time is of the essence, this is truly a welcome feature.

So, if you are an audio specialist who operates in only one discipline and are seeking the most powerful platform possible, the X6 might not provide everything you need. But, if you are a content creator looking for an adaptable recorder that can unlock several avenues of production at once, or simply a burgeoning field recordist and sound designer seeking a simple and easy to use stereo recorder, the X6 delivers the goods.

For more information about this portable recorder, including additional features, specs, and highlights, be sure to check out the detailed product page for the TASCAM Portacapture X6. Or drop us a line below, and we’ll do our best to answer all your comments and questions.

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