Tascam recently announced the DR-701D field recorder, which, at first glance looks very much like the DR-70D. Indeed, the DR-701D shares the same overall look and many of the features of the DR-70D, but it also has a number of impressive abilities that set it apart.
Let’s just get right to the chase.
Who is the DR-701D good for?
In my opinion, this looks like a great machine for a solo independent corporate videographer, or for a small corporate crew. Basically, if you’re an independent creator with an ear for quality and a desire for an automated audio/video workflow, the DR-701D looks like a winner.
There are two features in that truly make it special:
- The higher-quality preamps
- The HDMI sync ports
When it comes to DSLR video, you hear A LOT of talk about preamps. This is largely due to the fact that the preamps in cameras are noisier than the ones you find in decent audio gear. This has made many people acutely aware of preamp quality. Good preamps are something people actively seek, so Tascam explicitly stated that the HDDA preamps in the new DR-701D are better than the ones in the DR-70D.
The new Zoom F8 has preamps that sound clean and have lots of headroom. Wonderful. But here’s the thing… in my opinion the Zoom F8 is overkill for the average corporate or enthusiast shooter. To be blunt, you will probably never need eight channels of audio (I wrote about the F8 in a dedicated post). If you were thinking about getting the F8 to take advantage of its upgraded preamps, you should probably start seriously considering the DR-701D instead. It’s significantly less expensive, it’s smaller, and it still has ample inputs and tracks. Plus, it has those unique HDMI sync ports.
HDMI has arrived
Tascam deserves a lot of credit for coming up with the new HDMI sync ports on the DR-701D. Here’s how they work: you connect the HDMI output of your DSLR to the HDMI input on the DR-701D. Now, when you press record on your camera, the DR-701D will automatically start recording at exactly the same time. Not only that, but the DR-701D is also receiving time code from the connected camera via HDMI. This means your video editing software will be able to easily sync the externally recorded audio files. It’s an impressive little trick.
The HDMI output on the DR-701D can be connected to a monitor, and presumably, to a monitor/recorder like the Atomos Ninja. This makes for a pretty nifty workflow, which I think would nicely suit the needs of independent corporate shooters and creators. You could also use the HDMI output to connect a second DR-701D, giving you an audio recording system with eight XLR inputs. But, it’s likely you will never use this feature.
For a long time I’ve wondered why HDMI ports aren’t more widely used in pro audio equipment. They’re a compact, widely available protocol that can carry many channels of high-definition audio and video (in addition to time code, apparently). The connectors themselves aren’t very robust, which could be one reason why they’re never used in this kind of gear. It’s not that difficult to accidentally unplug an HDMI cable because there is no locking mechanism on the connector. At the end of the day, HDMI is a consumer format. But, it’s still intriguing to see it used in an innovative way on the DR-701D.
What’s different about the DR-701D
At first it seems like Tascam just included a few new features in the exact same chassis of the DR-70D, but, when you look a little closer, you start to notice other differences. For example, the area where the HDMI ports are located are in a pronounced hump that isn’t found on the DR-70D. This means that the DR-701D is slightly larger and heavier (the DR-701D weighs 1.44 lbs, the DR-70D 1.37 lbs). The data wheel and menu button are in completely different places. And the screen on the DR-701D is blue, whereas the DR-70D’s screen is orangey-yellow. ::brain explodes::
Another major difference is the Monitor button on the new DR-701D. One of the features that many people wanted on the DR-70D was the ability to monitor the individual tracks, but it isn’t possible. You can only listen to the entire stereo mix with the DR-70D, or listen to audio from a connected camera (if you’re using the CAM In feature).
In contrast, the DR-701D offers extensive monitoring options. You can listen to each channel independently, the full stereo mix, a mix of just channels 1 + 2, or 3 + 4. You can also listen to all 8 of the HDMI audio channels independently, or in coupled stereo mixes. Having good monitoring options is very important. This is perhaps the most meaningful upgrade for over the DR-70D.
Another thing that’s different about the DR-701D is its magnesium-alloy chassis. While it’s great that it has a significantly better body material, the plastic body of the DR-70D doesn’t seem lacking to me in any way. The DR-70D is built pretty tough, with the exception of its flimsy battery door, an unfortunate design element that appears to have been passed on to the new DR-701D.
The DR-701D also has an additional stereo mini-plug line output on its left side, which isn’t included on the DR-70D. In the manual for the DR-701D, they suggest using this output to connect a pair of powered speakers. A more practical use for it in video production would be to connect it to a little backup recorder, such as the line input on the Zoom H1. It’s always a good idea to make an additional copy of the audio. You could also use this output to connect wireless headphone transmitter, such as the Comtek M-216, so you can provide a pair of headphones and a PR-216 to the director, the script supervisor, etc.
The DR-701D is marketed as a 6-track recorder, but that’s kind of a stretch. It can record four individual, isolated tracks and a stereo mix of those four tracks. Add those together and you get 6. Okay, fine. The unit cannot accept more than four inputs. So, as far as I’m concerned, it’s a 4-track field recorder. That’s okay, though. You can do a lot with 4 tracks.
All in all, I think the DR-701D is an enticing little recorder. It can do lots of stuff, and as far as its HDMI ports are concerned, it can do things that no other device is capable of.
It probably has similar drawbacks that the DR-70D suffers from. For example, since there aren’t many buttons and knobs on the unit itself, many of the settings adjustments you need to make happen in menus on the screen. This isn’t ideal. Simply turning on and off the phantom power on the DR-70D is confusing. Since the DR-701D features more capabilities and timecode support, you can bet that its menus are loaded with many more options and screens.
If you’re aspiring to become a professional location sound person, the DR-701D may not be the best recorder to buy. Sure, the BNC timecode input is useful, but only if you have Lockit boxes and a timecode slate, which you most likely lack. But, the monitoring feature on the DR-701D is pretty important for this kind of user. So maybe it is worth getting instead of the DR-70D.
One last closing thought… The model numbers of the DR-70D and the DR-701D are maddeningly similar, but, I’m glad Tascam resisted the urge to give this new recorder the same model name as a Canon DSLR. The tired minds of the video production community appreciate it. :)
Tascam DR-701D - Amazon USA, B&H Photo, Amazon.uk, Amazon.de, Amazon.fr
Tascam DR-70D - Amazon USA, B&H Photo, Amazon.uk, Amazon.de, Amazon.fr
Zoom F8 - Amazon USA, B&H Photo, Amazon.fr
Zoom F4 - Amazon USA, B&H Photo
Atomos Ninja - Amazon USA, B&H Photo, Amazon.uk, Amazon.de, Amazon.fr