The DR-70D vs. DR-60D
The Tascam DR-70D is in some ways an obvious upgrade from the earlier DR-60D, with some expanded capabilities, but sadly a few steps backward too. If the DR-60D serves your needs, that model is still less expensive (if only by a few dollars) and even has a few functional advantages over the DR-70D.
However, the DR-70D does have some important features that the DR-60D does not. Most obviously, there are four XLR microphone (or line) inputs versus two on the DR60D. And the DR-70D also has built-in stereo microphones, filling the most obvious shortcoming of the DR-60D (no internal mics at all).
Built-in mics may not be all that important to audio or video producers who primarily rely on specialized external microphones, but it’s convenient to be able to quickly grab some stereo ambience, or the sound of a performance, without needing to wire-up external microphones. Since the DR-60D had no built-in microphones, this change is a significant improvement.
The four XLR inputs and built-in stereo mics put the DR-70D in a direct comparison with the Zoom H6. The two recorders do have similar capabilities, but with a few important distinctions.
- The Tascam can record from any of the four XLR/quarter-inch combo inputs, or from a stereo mini input, or the built-in stereo mics, but only a maximum of 4 channels at a time.
- The Zoom H6 can record from its built-in mics and its 4 XLR/quarter-inch combo inputs at the same time, for a total of up to 6 simultaneous inputs.
- The X/Y stereo mics that come with the H6 can be replaced with other optional microphone modules, although we found most of those alternatives to be disappointingly noisy.
- Those standard X/Y stereo mics on the Zoom H6, and the similar mics on the Zoom H5, are higher-quality than the built-ins on the Tascam DR-70D, so either of those Zoom recorders might be a better fit if one’s primary focus is recording musical performances or stereo ambience. But the Tascam mics are perfectly serviceable for collecting basic ambience or demos.
With Video Rigs
Where the DR-70D really shines is as a component in a video rig. Many DSLRs and affordable camcorders have mediocre, even poor-quality audio recording capabilities, so it’s become quite common to plug interview microphones into an external audio recorder and synch that sound to the video in post-production. Like the Tascam DR-60D, the DR-70D is built to mount on a tripod, and allows a camera mount on top of the recorder — convenient placement, especially for one-man-band videographers that need to do both video and sound. Both the DR-60D and DR-70D have multiple adjustable audio outputs designed to easily send a clean audio feed to a video camera. The design, with the integrated camera mount and swell-placed meters and controls, is quite convenient for this scenario, although when there are separate video and audio operators, mounting the recorder directly under the camera can be impractical.
The design of the DR-70D is also very convenient for audio-only applications, especially for recording while moving. The DR-70D, like the DR-60D, has side rails that allow you to attach a camera strap, and hold the recorder off your shoulder or neck, freeing-up your hands, while keeping the meters and input controls visible and accessible. The DR-70D is actually a little better than the DR-60D in this respect: it’s thinner and more streamlined than its predecessor — the info screen includes the meters and is slanted in a way that makes it easy to read both, whether hung from a strap, stashed in a bag, or placed flat on a table. There are very few affordable recorders that allow use of a shoulder strap, while keeping the recorder in a convenient position.
There are a few downsides: the slimmed-down design caused a few functions that on the DR-60D were controlled by switches and buttons to instead be buried in menus. It’s not an insurmountable problem, but it does make set-up a bit more tedious. Changing settings from mic to line, even turning on phantom power, now involves scrolling through a few menus and pressing a few buttons. Those settings formerly could be changed quickly via switches on the front panel. In fact, turning on the phantom power is a little clunky — it’s un-intuitively located in the Input menu as a choice under Input Gain (Line, Mic, or Mic + Phantom).
Additionally, I ran into a quirk when using condenser mics that needed phantom power from the recorder: when first plugged in, the mics did not seem to be receiving phantom power, and when the recorder was placed in record, no audio was present. Hitting Record briefly, then Stop, then Record again, would activate the Phantom Power, and the condenser mics operated properly.
Even arming tracks to record involves scrolling through a longish menu. The input, level and phantom, record status and other parameters are in separate menus; you can end up doing a lot of press-scroll-press-scroll-press-press routines. Of course, if you tend to use the same recording set-up most of the time, you can make the configurations once, and just leave the recorder set there. But if you use different kinds of mics, or add or subtract mics from your rig, you’ll have to get used to spending some time in those menus. Luckily the menus are logically organized, so it’s not too hard to feel your way through (although I have to admit I kept forgetting where to find the phantom power setting. . .).
There are four small buttons on the front panel, which operate as Stop, Play, Forward, and Reverse. I kept wanting them to also put each track into record, but I suppose those transport controls are necessary.
The input gain knobs are small, like on the DR-60D, but have a solid feel, and can be set precisely. For better or worse, when using the XLR jacks there’s no way to gang inputs 1&2 or 3&4 as a stereo pair. So, the right and left input gains will have to be set individually even when using a stereo mic. The stair-stepping gain jumps on the original DR-60D seem to be smoothed-out.
On The Other Hand
The display is pretty decent: it’s not easy to read in outdoor light, and it’s on the small side, but it’s as good or better than most similar recorders. As with all Tascam recorders, the meter display uses a fairly obvious triangle mark to indicate the levels you probably want to shoot for. There’s not much space between that mark and where clipping starts, but there are vivid red clip LEDs next to the input gain knobs that will tell you if you’ve turned the inputs up too high!
Battery life is widely variable, depending on how many mics you’re using, and whether they need phantom power. With only one or two dynamic mics, or condensers that use internal batteries, it’s typical to get 3-4 hours of record time from the 4-AA batteries. But four condenser mics, with phantom power provided by the recorder, can burn through battery life pretty fast — you may only get an hour or two from AA batteries in that circumstance.
Thankfully, the DR-70D can run on USB power: an external battery pack, or an AC adapter can be attached to the USB connector on the recorder. When powering-up, the DR-70D will ask whether the USB connection should be used for power or for file transfer. However, that micro USB connector does not seem very secure; I’d feel much better if that connection had some kind of latch. But keeping fresh batteries in the recorder at all times should maintain power even if the USB connection drops. Why Tascam chose to switch the USB connector type from the fairly conventional mini USB to a Micro-B connector is beyond me, but that’s not an especially obscure connector, so it’s not too hard to find a cable.
The mic inputs do feel very secure: they’re XLR/quarter-inch combo connectors that have a latch that secures the XLR mic cables. There are a total of 4 XLR mic inputs, and inputs 1 and 2 can be switched to accept signal from a stereo mini input. Inputs 3 and 4 can be switched between the XLR inputs and the built-in mics.
Like the DR-60D, there’s a 1/8″ mini audio jack that can send audio to a video camera. The DR-60D had an adjustable volume wheel on that output, like the headphone out has, but the output level is now controlled by a menu setting. There’s also a camera-audio input. That input can’t be recorded, but it can be selected as a headphone source, which can be helpful if you’re shooting video, and running mics directly into your video camera. This input jack and monitor option allows you to check on the audio coming into the DR-70D, and the camera, without unplugging, or switching, headphones.
Sadly, the monitoring flexibility is not as good as it was on the DR-60D: that earlier recorder had a dedicated button for togging monitoring settings, and also allowed you to listen only to Mic Input 1, or 2, or a mix of all of the inputs, or to the camera sound.
The main monitoring setting is adjusted in the Monitor menu, but the level, and stereo panning of each mic input is set in the “Basic” menu.
When recording only two channels, the DR-70D can operate in “Dual Recording” mode, which automatically makes a lower-level safety recording that offers a back-up track if signals get too loud on the main recording. It cannot make that safety recording when recording 3 or 4 tracks at the same time.
But How Does It Sound?
The DR-70D seems to have similar, if not identical, preamps to the DR-60D. The DR-60DmkII model added an extra level of sensitivity — a “high plus” gain setting that makes more gain available than the preamps on the original DR-60D. This is helpful when using low-output microphones, such as dynamic omni mics, like the Electreovoice RE50. The DR-70D also has a High-Plus setting, but it seems a bit superfluous: the “High” setting seems to have enough sensitivity to record with dynamic omni mics, and other mics with relatively low output levels.
The DR-70D, much like the original DR-60D, gets generally very good sound quality with most microphones, but certainly sounds better with high-output condenser mics. Lower-sensitivity mics, such as an Electrovoice RE50 or other dynamic omni can be used, but turning the gains up high can result in a little hiss, and a greater chance of picking up some environmental buzzes. But that noise floor is relatively low, so dynamic mics can be used successfully in most circumstances. If the person or event being recorded is very faint, you’ll have better results with a condenser mic, but many interviews in the real world have enough background noise that this level of system noise is not noticeable.
The DR-60D and DR-70D are both quite affordable, hovering around $200 at the time this article was published; the DR-70, usually $30-40 more than the DR-60. They offer terrific quality for that price. It’s regrettable that Tascam moved some of the hardware controls to menus on the DR-70D, but something had to go to make it slimmer, and it does indeed have a more convenient shape. The slimmer form does make it more convenient to pack, and more comfortable to hang around your neck. The slanted display makes the meters easier to read from more angles. And the built-in mics might come in handy just enough to recommend the DR-70D over the DR-60D. Both models offer good sound quality and helpful ergonomics at a very affordable price. Which one to buy depends on your specific needs.