OK, nothing more is happening, so here's what it was:
#1: Fully Busman moded Tascam DR-680 semi pro recorder (4 mic pres + 2 lin ins + 2 digital inputs) making for max. 8 simultaneously recordable tracks (+ a stereo mix if recording up to 48kHz). It costs 900$ plus shipping. According to various recording forums it's audibly more transparent than the out of the box version.
#2: Tascam HS-P82, a fully professional 'on location' 8-track recorder (analog or digital) recorded, equipped with 8 analog mic pres and able of recording 8 channels 96khz/24bit or 4 channels 192kHz/24 recording with two CF-Card slots allowing for a mirroring option as backup during critical recording sessions. It has 8 mic preamps and thus is capable to record either full orchestra with stereo main mic plus some spots or a surround mic.
It's price dropped from over 5000$ when introduced to around 2000$ for which it is a steal. If you want to produce huge ambitious large ensemble projects you can stack up 10 recorders and synchronize them
My assessment is that the gap between the both purely sound-wise is not very big, though I definitely prefer the preamps of the #2: they have a better mid range and transparency and less harshness in my ear (though not a huge difference); they provide ways more clean gain (clearly usable with ribbon mics) and they are quieter (less noisy). This is the first recorder I could imagine to work without external preamps.
Many thanks for your contributions.
Music is a big continent with different landscapes and corners. Some of them I do visit frequently, some from time to time and some I know from hearsay only ...