If you want an audio recorder to use primarily in video productions, there are many options to choose from. But, if you narrow the list down to just budget-friendly audio recorders that were designed for DSLR cameras — the number of options gets much shorter. You’re pretty much picking between the Tascam DR-60D Mark II and the new Tascam DR-70D. I recently purchased the DR-70D, and I thought I’d share my thoughts on the unit in this post.
First and foremost, the form factor of the Tascam DR-70D is excellent. It’s compact, and the design makes it easy to mount it directly to your camera, or neatly slide into an audio bag. The DR-60D Mark II is a bit fatter and taller than the DR-70D. It wouldn’t fit comfortably into my audio bag, and I find it a bit too bulky to mount directly to my camera. The DR-60D is nice for what it is, but the form factor of the DR-70D is much more appealing to me.
Another drawback of the DR-60D is that it only has two XLR inputs. It also doesn’t have built-in microphones. In contrast, the DR-70D can record up to four individual tracks (and it has four XLR combo inputs), and it has built-in stereo microphones. Basically, all of the reservations I had about the DR-60D are not present in the DR-70D. It feels like it was made just for me.
The physical build quality of the DR-70D is impressive, considering its budget price. It’s plastic, but it doesn’t feel cheap. The knobs and buttons seem nicely built. The screen is a decent size, illuminated, and readable. All four of its combo XLR inputs have metal locks (which secure the attached cable to keep it from slipping out). Physically, if there’s anything not to like, it’s the door on the back of the unit that you need to open to access the battery compartment and SD card slot. It just feels like it’s going to be the first thing to break. That, and the lack of dedicated controls (such as phantom power switches).
The top of the DR-70D features a bracket that enables you to easily attach it to a camera. If you’re trying to decide between this recorder and a handheld-style recorder like the Zoom H4n, the camera-friendly aspects of the DR-70D should weigh heavily in your decision making. The DR-70D is just a lot easier to use with a camera. The H4n and other recorders like it have a female-tripod sockets on them, which enable you to mount them to the shoe of a camera (when you use a separately available shoe-mount accessory to do so). But…
…even when you mount a handheld recorder like the H4n to a camera with a shoe accessory, or when you mount them to camera rigs with extension arms (like the Noga CineArm), I find that they can still be fidgety to work with. They always end up getting loose and start swinging and wiggling around. The bracket on top of the DR-70D offers an incredibly solid connection with the camera. There is no looseness. It’s what you want.
The bottom of the DR-70D features a tripod mount, so you can easily sandwich it between your camera and and a shoulder rig, or a tripod, like this:
You can also use the mount at the base of the DR-70D to attach it to the top of a camera cage. In other words, you don’t need to mount your camera on top of the DR-70D, you can mount the camera below it, too. This can even be done with the same shoe-mount accessory that is used to mount a Zoom H4n to the shoe of a camera.
Keep in mind that the LCD screen on the DR-70D is angled slightly upward in a fixed position, and if you mount it above your camera, the screen is going to be tilted upward a bit. Besides the flappy battery door, this is another design decision that I’m not super happy with. Just a flat, normal screen would have been better.
The camera-mount bracket on top of the DR-70D can be removed with a screwdriver, which makes it a little easier to slip into an audio bag. When you take the bracket off (be careful not to loose the screws when you do this), an additional camera shoe mount is revealed underneath it. This shoe mount can be used to attach a shotgun microphone, a wireless microphone receiver, or, like in photo below, a pair of wireless receivers:
With so many mounting options, there’s no question that the DR-70D was designed primarily for video production. Let’s dig a little deeper to see what else this thing can do to help you in video production.
Features that can help you in video production
There are a number of other features built into the DR-70D which can help you in video production:
- The camera In/Out jacks
- The ability to record Broadcast WAV files
- The built-in slate functionality
1. The camera In/Out jacks
When you’re shooting video and recording audio with the Tascam DR-70D, you can record a second copy of the audio into the camera, using these In/Out jacks. Doing this is useful for many reasons. Having a good copy of the audio recorded into the camera could potentially save you the trouble of syncing external audio files in post. If the project you’re shooting isn’t especially important, this can be a time-saving option.
It’s also smart to have a good copy of the audio recorded into the camera in the event that something happens to the audio that was recorded into the DR-70D. What happens if the recorder’s SD card is lost before the audio files are backed up? What if the DR-70D has a error, and the files are corrupted and unusable? There are a number of things that can go wrong. Thi is why having two copies of the audio is always a smart idea.
This is the reason why the Tascam DR-70D has its camera In/Out section. The “Out” jack is an output. You attach this to the mic input on your camera. I accomplish this with one of these 1-foot long mini-to-mini cables by StarTech. The “In” jack on the DR-70D is an input. You connect this jack to the headphone output of your camera (if your camera has one). You can use the same cable for this that I linked to earlier in this paragraph.
In the menus of the DR-70D, you can adjust the levels of the “Out” jack. This is because different cameras have different tolerances in their mic inputs. On some cameras, you can turn down the mic input level. This is usually a good idea, because the preamps on cameras typically don’t sound good, and when you turn them down, you can achieve better sounding audio recordings. So, if you can turn down the input level on the camera, you will need to turn up the output level on the DR-70D. That’s why you can adjust this in the menus of the DR-70D.
NOTE: If you’re not comfortable setting audio levels, you need to get comfortable. It’s not as hard as you think. You can learn how to do this by reading my How to Set Audio Levels post, which was written especially for video people who are uncomfortable with audio. YOU CAN DO IT!
By connecting the “In” jack on the DR-70D to the headphone output of your camera, you will be able to listen to the sound in your camera through the DR-70D. Why would you need to do this? Imagine you’re out in the field recording a few people who are wearing wireless mics and speaking to the camera. You have your headphones plugged into the DR-70D so you can monitor the sound to make sure everything is set and working properly. If you are utilizing the camera In/Out section, you will be making a backup copy of the audio in the camera. In the middle of the shoot, you can change what your headphones are listening to. You can switch them to listen to the camera, to make sure that the audio being recorded into the camera sounds good, too.
This may sound like a pain in the butt. It is, but it’s worth doing.
As useful as the camera output is on the DR-70D, unfortunately it has a noise/hiss issue. The problem presents itself when the Output Gain on the DR-70D is set to “Cam.” Even with the mic input on your camera set to its lowest setting, a hiss noise will be terribly loud in the audio that you record into your camera.
This isn’t surprising. I experienced a similar issue with the Out jack on the Zoom H5 plugged into my Panasonic GH2. The solution for DR-70D owners is to use this Sescom attenuation cable on the camera Out jack on the recorder. The Sescom cable transforms line-level signals to mic-level. I explain this process completely in this separate dedicated post.
Unfortunately, this kind of thing is normal and expected when using low-priced audio gear. Thankfully, there are workarounds available, like the Sescom cable.
2. The ability to record Broadcast WAV files
The Tascam DR-70D lets you set it to record in a number of different file types, resolutions, and bit-depths. I almost always set my recorders to record 48kHz 24-bit WAV files. That kind of file sounds great, and it works well with video editing software.
A nice thing about the Tascam DR-70D is that it lets you set it to record Broadcast WAV Files, which are often abbreviated to BWF. This kind of file is very similar to a regular WAV file, but it contains meta data that post-production video editing software looks for. So, you can set the DR-70D to record 48kHz 24-bit BWF. I recommend using this setting. It will sound great, and it’s the most video-friendly audio file format you could ask for.
3. The built-in Slate functionality
The slate functionality on the DR-70D is pretty nice. A slate is a tone. It’s a BEEEEEEEEP sound. When you’re recording, you can press the slate button on the face of the DR-70D, and it will record a loud BEEEEEEP. If you have the camera In/Out cables hooked up, it will also record this BEEEEEEP into the camera.
This is useful because it creates an audible and a visual marker in the audio tracks of the recorder, and in the camera (if you have camera In/Out cables hooked up). When you bring your footage into post, you will clearly see these BEEEEEEEP sounds in the audio files, because instead of the usual wavy, spiky audio files, you will see an obvious square block where the BEEEEEEPs happen.
There is also a function on the DR-70D that I didn’t test out, which enables you to jump from slate marker to slate marker in the recorder. So, if you record a bunch of takes without stopping, you could jump from take to take, kind of like an instant fast-forwarding feature.
Slates like this are also used to calibrate audio equipment. Basically, you connect the DR-70D to another recording device, like a camera, and you turn on the slate. The volume of the BEEEEEP is the maximum volume of the recorder’s output level, so, while it’s beeping, you can adjust the input recording level of the camera. I usually do this when I connect my Sound Devices 302 mixer to audio recorders and cameras. I fiddled around for a little while trying to do this with a camera and the DR-70D. It was a little more fidgety than using my 302, so I didn’t end up spending too much time experimenting with it.
The DR-70D can be set to record MONO, STEREO, or 2MIX. This is an important piece of the pie. Pay attention here. Make some mental notes…
If you are recording more than one channel, and you want individual, isolated audio tracks for each channel, you need to set the DR-70D to MONO mode. People often misinterpret the word “MONO.” They think mono is bad, and stereo is good. This is not the case. Mono simply means one, and stereo simply means two. So, when you set the DR-70D to record MONO, you are telling it to record individual tracks for each of its inputs.
So, for example, if you have four wireless microphones plugged into the DR-70D, your best bet is to set it to record in MONO mode. This way you will have an individual audio file for each of the wireless mics. If all of these mics are mixed together, it can be a lot more difficult to edit the sound in post.
When you set the DR-70D to record in STEREO mode, it can record two separate stereo tracks. Remember, stereo simply means two. So, if you are recording two stereo tracks, that’s actually four tracks. Why is this important? Well, the DR-70D has a cool feature called Dual Recording, where it will record a second backup copy of the audio at a lower level. So, in the event that the thing you are recording gets unexpectedly loud and it distorts the audio, the second copy of the audio that was set at a lower level will be there, and it won’t be distorted.
The problem is, if you have the DR-70D set to record in STEREO mode, and you have more than two channels turned on to record, you can’t use its Dual Recording feature. The DR-70D is limited to only being able to record four tracks total. So, in order to use Dual Record, you can’t be recording more than two tracks at a time. It’s a little confusing, I know. But hey, it’s not so bad. You can figure this out.
This recording mode will utilize every input on the DR-70D, and mix them down to a single stereo track. In the past, I always plugged microphones and/or line-level signals into my Sound Devices 302, and I mixed them down to a single stereo track. I would then plug one of the outputs on the 302 into the camera, and the other into one of my 2-channel portable audio recorders. The 2MIX mode sort of turns the DR-70D into this kind of setup. Since you are only recording a single stereo track, you can use the Dual Record feature.
The Tascam DR-70D is a remarkably well designed and nicely outfitted audio recorder for video production, especially considering the price. It fits nicely onto your camera. It fits nicely onto your rigs. It fits nicely onto your tripods. It’s a nice change of pace for me after using handheld-style recorders for so long.
But, the Tascam DR-70D isn’t perfect. The worst thing about it isn’t its somewhat flimsy battery door. The worst thing about the DR-70D is navigating around its menus, and trying to make important adjustments with just a MENU button and a DATA wheel. It’s not a terrible experience, it just takes some getting used to.
There is a lot to like in the DR-70D. There is a lot more to it that I didn’t get into here. It has limiters, it has phase features, it has M/S stereo recording features. You can adjust the level of the Dual Record tracks. You can change the phantom power from 48 volts to 24. I could go on and on. It’s kind of nuts.
Be sure to watch the review video I made about the DR-70D. I explain a bit more about functions like its Dual Record feature, I explain many of the details about its camera In/Out features, I go over the external 1/2 mini-plug input that enabled you to connect on-camera mics like the Rode VideoMic Pro, etc. If you have the time, definitely check the video out.
- Excellent physical design for video production
- Four XLR inputs, can record four individual tracks
- Built-in stereo microphones
- Nice camera-mount bracket, and extra shoe mount underneath
- Nice build quality, especially considering its low price
- Lack of physical controls creates lots of menu surfing
- Rear battery door is a little flimsy
- Fixed, tilted LCD display makes it hard to see if mounting above camera
- You get a lot of recorder for very little money. You feel guilty somehow. :)
Tascam DR-70D - Amazon USA, B&H Photo, Amazon.uk, Amazon.de, Amazon.fr
Zoom H4n - Amazon USA, B&H Photo, Amazon.uk, Amazon.de, Amazon.fr
Tascam DR-40 - Amazon USA, B&H Photo, Amazon.uk, Amazon.de, Amazon.fr
Rode VideoMic Pro - Amazon USA, B&H Photo, Amazon.uk, Amazon.de, Amazon.fr
Revo SR-1000 Shoulder Rig - Amazon USA, B&H Photo, Amazon.uk
Short Mini-Plug cables - Amazon USA, Amazon.uk, Amazon.de, Amazon.fr
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