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Audio Test: Tascam DR-70D vs. Zoom H4n vs. Tascam DR-40

I just completed an audio test of the Tascam DR-70D, comparing it with the Zoom H4n and the Tascam DR-40. The test features side-by-side comparisons of each recorder’s built-in microphones, and you also get to hear how they handle several popular microphone for video work: the Rode NTG-3, Rode NTG-2, Audio-Technica 4053B, and the Sennheiser G3 wireless system with the ME2 lav mic.

One-on-one comparison videos:

Tascam DR-70D vs. Zoom H4n

Tascam DR-70D vs. Tascam DR-40

Zoom H4n vs. Tascam DR-40 

I’ve tested the Zoom H4n and Tascam DR-40 many times in the past, and they performed pretty much how I expected them to. One thing I found interesting was the difference between the Tascam DR-70D and the DR-40. Even though they’re from the same manufacturer, they sounded pretty different from one another.

Another aspect that I found interesting was how the overall “signature sound” of each recorder remained present, not matter which microphone was being used.

Which one did I like the best?

As far as the built-in microphone are concerned, I liked the sound of the Zoom H4n the best. It’s a bit brighter than the other mics, which makes it cut through more effectively, which is can be beneficial in video production. It cuts through, but not in a shrill way. The mics on the DR-40 also sounded great.

Sennheiser G3 Wirelesss
The ME2 omni lavalier microphone from the Sennheiser G3

That said, using the Zoom H4n is a clunky experience. I don’t particularly like the Menu button and push-button control switch on the side of the H4n. The menus can be a little confusing, and, as I demonstrated in this post from last year, the H4n makes recording line-level signals very difficult.

Unfortunately, all of the recorders in this test have controls that can be somewhat difficult to use. The method for turning on phantom power on the Tascam DR-70D is incredibly unintuitive. In fact, if you handed me a DR-70D right now and asked me to turn on phantom power, it would likely take me a few minutes to figure how to do it again, even though I just used the thing extensively.

The fact that the Power button on the DR-40 is also the Stop button is just baffling to me. Yes, I understand that Tascam needed to cut corners to make the device as cheap as possible, but this is sacrificing too much, in my opinion.

If I could only use one, which would it be?

Even though the built-in mics on the Tascam DR-70D sounded the least desirable in the shootout, I would still choose this recorder as my main machine for video production work. Having four XLR inputs is a big deal. Being able to easily mount it to a camera is also a huge plus. But, it’s the little things that make me want to use this one the most for video work.

I love having the ability to pan the channels on the DR-70D. I’m not even sure if panning is possible on the other two recorders. If it is, their panning controls are too difficult to find. When you’re just using one mic on the DR-70D, it’s great to be able to pan that mic to the center, so it prints to both stereo left and right. This is useful in video, because when you import that audio into your video editing software, the sound won’t be panned to one side, and you won’t need to adjust it.

Which one was the worst?

Even though I personally preferred the sound of the built-in mics on the H4n, and I personally liked the DR-70D best overall, none of the recorders were bad. With shootout tests like this, it’s important to remember that your opinion is yours alone. What sounds great to you will sound like garbage to someone else.

All three of these portable digital recorders are capable of capturing impressively good audio. You just need to know what you’re doing when you use them. It’s really easy to screw up. Audio, in general, is challenging. Audio-for-video is even more challenging. I actually shot this shootout video twice, because I screwed up on the first try.

Don’t be deterred if you are overwhelmed with audio difficulties in video production. Figure it out, keep shooting, and make your projects come to life.

Tascam DR-40

Noise

In most of the clips in this shootout, you can hear a little bit of noise in the silence between the on-screen presenter’s words. The room that we shot in was pretty quiet, so the noise that you’re hearing should give you a good idea of the noise floor performance of each recorder.

I found it interesting that the noise floors vary from mic to mic. In general, I found that the Zoom H4n had the most noticeable noise floor, although, the DR-40 wasn’t too far behind it. The Tascam DR-70D had the quietest noise floor. This is likely due to the fact that the DR-70D inherited the redesigned preamps of the DR-60D Mark II.

Technical details concerning the test

This comparison test was not terribly scientific. I simply set up the equipment, adjusted the settings on each recorder in an effort to have the input gain bounce around -12dB, and I tried to position the mics in a similar location, so each recorder will sound its best, and be functioning on a level playing field.

NOTE: if you’re not well-versed in setting audio levels, and you didn’t know what I was referring to when I wrote “-12dB,” you should read my How to Set Audio Levels article.

In the built-in microphone section of the test, I am aware that the Zoom H4n and the Tascam DR-40 are not positioned in the exactly identical area in front of the on-camera subject’s mouth. My tests are not perfect.

The video was edited in Final Cut Pro X. I used the audio tools in that software to adjust the levels so that the master audio meter in the software was as close to equal in every clip. If I hadn’t made these adjustments, the louder sounding mics would skew your impression of the sound quality.

I recorded 48 kHz 24-bit WAV files on all of the recorders. I made sure that low-cut filters were not turned on in all of the recorders. I also made sure that there were no limiters or compressors turned on in the recorders. For the built-in mic tests, the mics on the Zoom H4n were in the 90° position. The built-in mics on the Tascam DR-40 were in the XY position. The video was shot on a Canon 7D Mark II.

Chirping sound in the DR-40 clip

During the test, the DR-40 recorded a very digital-sounding chirping noise when it was used with the Rode NTG-2. Why? I’m not sure, but, it’s likely an error. I think it’s an audible digital artifact and it’s the result of some kind of error. It’s not interference from a mobile phone. No phones were in the room, and the two phones in the house were both intentionally put in Airplane mode.

The sound didn’t start out as a chirp. The clip that was recorded is much longer than the short clip that’s used in the video. The noise starts off as a high-pitch pulsating whine, and slowly transforms into the digital cricket sound that can be heard in the final video.

Does this mean that the DR-40 is a piece of junk? No, it does not. This kind of error can happen with the DR-70D, the H4n, and any other kind of equipment. This is one of the main reasons why I’m a big advocate of making two copies of the audio at all times. I rant about this practice a lot in my Tascam DR-70D Review post. If a Sescom cable had been attached to the headphone output of the DR-40, and plugged into the mic input on the camera, there’s a very good chance that this distracting digital noise would not be present in the audio that was recorded directly in the camera.

Powering the Rode NTG-2 with the Zoom H4n

There are people out there that claim that the Zoom H4n is incapable of powering some shotgun microphones. The Rode NTG-2 shotgun is often singled out as not being able to be powered by the H4n. Someone even asked me about this in a YouTube comment recently.

Once again, during this shoot, I was able to power the Rode NTG-2 with the Zoom H4n. I was also able to turn the gain up on the H4n to get a healthy -12dB signal to record.


However, I did notice that I needed to turn the gain up noticeably higher on the Zoom H4n to get a proper recording level with the NTG-2 (I had to turn the level up to 84). It did make getting a good level more difficult. I could see how this could trip up people who are not as experienced. I totally understand why people have trouble with this combo.

Microphones used in video production

Listen closely to the microphones

One of the reasons I like making shootout videos like this is so you can hear the different kinds of microphones that are commonly used in video production. When the shotgun mics are used, listen to how the on-screen talent’s voice echoes around the room momentarily when she speaks loudly on certain words. Then, compare that to the sound of the Audio-Technica 4053b hypercardioid microphone. The sound still echoes slightly when she speaks loudly, but it sounds more natural to the ear. This is why it’s usually better to use hyper cardioid mics when booming indoors.

NOTE: I cover this topic in great detail in my The Basics of Video Microphones article and video. 

It’s also worth pointing out that I went through the trouble of hiding the lavalier microphone when I tested the Sennheiser G3 wireless system. I did this to encourage others to do it. When you put a wireless mic on someone, always go through the trouble of hiding the mic under their clothing. Your audience will certainly tolerate seeing a lav mic visibly clipped to your subject’s clothing, but it always looks a million times better when the lav is hidden.

Thanks for checking out this shootout and visiting my blog. Onward!


Purchase links:

Tascam DR-70D - Amazon USA, B&H Photo, Amazon.uk, Amazon.de, Amazon.fr
Tascam DR-60 Mark II - Amazon USA, B&H PhotoAmazon.uk, Amazon.de, Amazon.fr
Zoom H4n - Amazon USAB&H Photo, Amazon.uk, Amazon.de, Amazon.fr
Tascam DR-40 - Amazon USA, B&H Photo, Amazon.uk, Amazon.de, Amazon.fr
Rode NTG-3 - Amazon USA, B&H PhotoAmazon.uk, Amazon.de, Amazon.fr
Rode NTG-2 - Amazon USA, B&H Photo, Amazon.uk, Amazon.de, Amazon.fr
Audio-Technica 4053B - Amazon USA, B&H Photo, Amazon.uk, Amazon.fr
Sennheiser G3 Wireless - Amazon USA, B&H Photo, Amazon.uk, Amazon.fr

Published by

Sam

Writer, musician, photo taker and video maker. When not writing somewhat longish articles for this blog, I write incredibly short things on Twitter: @SamMallery

4 thoughts on “Audio Test: Tascam DR-70D vs. Zoom H4n vs. Tascam DR-40”

  1. If you’re getting chirping with the DR-40 and the NTG-2 mic, you might want to make sure that you have installed the latest firmware on the DR-40. There was a version 2.0 firmware released fairly recently that fixed a bunch of issues, and it might fix the NTG-2 chirp too. :-)

  2. Great articles, Sam.
    I have a DR70 on the way and I like the idea of being able to connect to and record on camera so no need to sync.
    I’ve read your post on setting audio levels which I would do on the DR70.
    But how do I set the mic levels on the camera so that I record what the DR70 is outputting rather than also effect it with the camera amps?

  3. Hi Toby,

    Sorry it’s taken me a few days to respond to your comment. Great question! I’m glad you read my How to Set Audio Levels post. If you can apply the information in that post to properly set the audio level of a microphone that you’ve plugged into a recorder or a camera, you just apply the same principles when connecting an audio recorder to a camera.

    As far as avoiding a camera’s preamps is concerned, with DSLR and mirrorless cameras, the best you can do is to connect a mic-level signal from the external audio recorder to the camera’s mic input. Send it as clean a mic-level signal as possible. With the Tascam DR-70D, you need to connect a Sescom cable to its CAM Out jack, and set the CAM Out jack to send line-level audio (the Sescom cable attenuates this line-level signal down to mic-level). You need to use a Sescom cable because of issue with the CAM Out feature on the DR-70D that I explain in this post.

    If it was possible to go into the settings of a DSLR or a mirrorless camera and change its mic input’s sensitivity so it could accept line-level signals, then this would be a better way to avoid the noisy preamps on the camera. But, as far as I know, no DSLRs or mirrorless cameras enable you to do this. Bummer.

    If you’re using a more traditional video or cinema camera that has the ability to accept line-level signals, like the Sony HXR-NX100, then you would definitely send the camera a line-level signal from the external audio recorder (as opposed to sending it a mic-level signal).

    Thanks for commenting!
    Sam

  4. thanks a lot, you really have some good gear. And your webpage is very easy to read (also important). I have used H4n for years (mostly voice over for screencast videos). The buttons are terrible to use. The sound is OK. I destroyed my H4n by putting chinese made Ultrafire batteries with 3.7 Volt into it !!!

    I then got Tascam DR-40 and it is MUCH easier to use, buttons, display, everything is better in my opinion. It is intuitive to use.

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