I’ve been trying to come up with a spicy intro for this post, but it seems best to start here: I am definitely going to buy the Tascam DR-70D. I’ve been waiting for a manufacturer to come out with a field recorder with this kind of a design for a long time, and it’s finally here. I wanted something small enough for use with a camera, yet with a form factor that would work in a location audio bag. The DR-70D even has some features that I wouldn’t have anticipated.
The first thing about the DR-70D that I wasn’t expecting is its low price. I always figured if a manufacturer made something like this, the number of people who would want it would be low, so the price would be higher. Not the case here. The DR-70D is priced at $300 (give or take) at launch. The very existence of this product is also a strong indication of the growing size of the audio-for-video market.
Before the DR-70D was announced, the closest recorder to it was Tascam’s own DR-60D. However, the physical shape and size of the DR-60D (including the latest version of this model, the DR-60D MkII) was considerably more boxy than the DR-70D. Those models also only feature two XLR inputs, and they don’t feature built-in microphones. The boxy style of the DR-60D never appealed to me, as it would be bulky on a camera rig, and it would take up too much space in my audio bag.
The DR-70D is equipped with most of the core features I’m looking for: 4 XLR inputs (three on the right side, one on the left), an output dedicated for sending the recorder’s audio to the camera, an input dedicated to monitoring the sound from the camera (I’ll explain why these things are important to me later in this post), and its all-important design and form factor. It has a female 1/4″-20 thread on the bottom to attach it to a tripod, and a removable bracket with a 1/4″-20 screw (to attach it to the base of a camera). If you remove the bracket from the top, it exposes a standard shoe mount, where you can attach a wireless receiver, a shotgun microphone, etc.
The only things missing from the DR-70D are features that would drive up its price. It would be nice if it was made out of metal and built like a Siberian tank, but that costs money. It would be awesome if it had a reliable timecode generator and ports to sync external gear, but again, that is expensive. It would also be handy it if had an power input, so I could attach to my battery distribution system. There’s a good chance that its micro-USB port can be used to power the unit with an external battery, but, I won’t be able to determine this until I have the thing. This possibility interests me because I prefer to use NP-1 batteries to power my field equipment. These batteries last much longer (so they’re less likely to die in the middle of a take), I can power multiple pieces of gear with one of them, and they’re rechargeable (less waste, less cost).
The display of the DR-70D is angled upward slightly, which will make it a little easier to read when it’s mounted underneath a camera. This is potentially handy when the recorder is in the right location in relation to your eyeballs. The downside of an angled display like this is when your eyeballs are in the wrong spot. If you have the DR-70D mounted to the top of your camera and you raise it up on a tripod, you could lose sight of the display pretty quickly. If you slide this recorder into a location audio bag and strap it to your chest, the display will be angled away from you, which isn’t the end of the world, but it is kind of a drag. I would have preferred a display that wasn’t angled. It would be amazing if it had an articulating display, like the one found on the Panasonic GH4. One can dream.
To make these connections with the majority of DSLR and mirrorless cameras, you just need short, male-to-male stereo mini-plug cables, like this one from StarTech.
The camera output on the DR-70D enables you to send the audio that you’re recording to the camera. This is useful for many reasons. Because you’re recording a copy of the audio in the DR-70D, and a second copy in the camera, you’ll have two copies. Equipment isn’t perfect. It screws up sometimes. For this reason, it’s always in your best interest to record more than one copy of the audio.
It’s also useful to record the audio directly into the camera in case you want the option to not have to sync the separately recorded audio files in post. Audio purists would never suggest you do this, but, there are occasions where it’s nice not to have to sync. If the work you’re doing isn’t terribly important, I find this to be an acceptable practice. Remember, the quality of the audio that you record with the DR-70D will be much higher quality. You can set the DR-70D to record 24bit 48kHz WAV files—or even as high as 96kHz. Your camera records much lower quality files.
One of the big shortcomings of the DR-60D is that it lacked built-in microphones. I really like that the DR-70D has them. Sure, they’re a little comical looking. Two button-sized microphones staring blankly out of the back of the thing, separated by several inches. It’s not the most sophisticated microphone array to grace a portable digital recorder, but hey, it’s much better than no mics at all. They’re probably far superior to the pinhole microphones you find on DSLR cameras. There’s an old saying that microphones sound how they look. This saying usually proves to be right. Glancing at these babies, I’m not expecting the world. But who knows? They just might sound great.
I’m going to echo what I said in the first sentence. Thank you, Tascam. Here, take my money. You did it. Thank you! Expect a hands-on review of this thing from me sometime in the near future. I’ll wrap this up by quoting myself from the review I did of the Zoom H5 a couple of months ago: “At the end of the day, this is a low-budget, entry-level device. This is not a substitute for a Zaxcom or Sound Devices recorder. ” The same applies here. The DR-70D isn’t here to replace the gear that true professionals use to earn their living. It’s here to improve the workflow of people like me. People who have $300 to spend on this stuff, not $3000. It’s a new option, and it’s an exciting one.
UPDATE – Check out my in-depth hands-on review of the Tascam DR-70D post. I explain how its features can be helpful in video production.
Tascam DR-70D - Amazon USA, B&H Photo, Amazon.uk, Amazon.de, Amazon.fr
Tascam DR-60 Mark II - Amazon USA, B&H Photo, Amazon.uk, Amazon.de, Amazon.fr