Tascam DR-70D

Tascam DR-70D
Tascam DR-70D
DR-60D-top, DR-70D- bottom

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

Tascam DR-70DBuilt-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

DR-70D-camera2rWhere 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.

Audio Only

Tascam DR-70DThe 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.

Downsides

Tascam DR-70DThere 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. . .).

DR-70D-FrontPanelThere 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

Tascam DR-70DThe 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.

Tascam DR-70DThankfully, 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.

Tascam DR-70DThe 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.

Download
Listen to “DR-70D-RE50-High”
Download
Listen to “DR-70D-RE50-HighPlus”
Download
Listen to “DR-70D-KMS104-Med”
Download
Listen to “DR-70D-NTG2-Med”

 

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.

Buy the DR-70D from B&H>>

Buy a DR-70D bundle from Amazon>>

Jeff Towne

About
Jeff Towne

During more than 25 years as a producer of the nationally-syndicated radio program Echoes. Jeff Towne has recorded interviews and musical performances in locations ranging from closets to cathedrals, outdoor stages to professional studios, turning them into radio shows and podcasts. Jeff is also the Tools Editor for Transom.org, a Peabody Award-winning website dedicated to channeling new voices to public media. At Transom, he reviews field recorders, microphones and software, helping both beginning and experienced audio producers choose their tools. In his spare time, Jeff will probably be taking pictures of his lunch in that little restaurant with the strange name that you've been wondering about. 

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  • devtank

    7.08.16

    Reply

    Pretty impressed with this recorder in general.

    I am not a big fan of the electronic fader’s though as they ‘step’ the fade so, in general I just set them and forget them and do any fading in Audacity. Also the menu system is difficult.

    One thing most people don’t really talk about is the size of it, it’s actually roughly the same footprint as most hand held recorders except that the form factor is different.
    Its very light and can be used with an external battery (I use an older Tekkeon MyPowerAll MP3450, which I keep in my jacket pocket on a curly cord and the recorder on a short neck strap so I have constant eyeball on it when using a boom or hand holding a mic).

    I have used this little setup to record street sounds and field recordings with 4 mics, on location since I got it. I was an early adopter from a Roland R-26, also an excellent recorder for two XLR’s. I use it with either two lav mics and a Shure VP88, or two Sennheiser MKH416P’s which the recorder supplies phantom power to.

  • Grant Blankenship

    7.14.16

    Reply

    I use this recorder for video projects, radio stories, as half of my 8 track set up when I do live music sessions. I like it a lot, chose it over a Zoom H6 for the bolt on to the bottom of the camera ability. This short doc was shot with it an an Audio Tecnica shotgun. https://youtu.be/WCr9XuaE9SQ

  • BradKlein

    3.28.17

    Reply

    A question about setting GAIN levels in this and similar Tascam models. In the BASICS menu there are choices of low, mid, high, and hi+. My question is which is the quietest GAIN setting in terms of noise generated by the Tascam unit. On can often choose between at least two GAIN setting depending on where the level control knobs are turned. Is LOW inserting a pad between the mic and preamp, which might not affect the noise floor. Or is LOW (for example) turning down the preamp for a lower noise floor? I should be able to find the answer through experimenting, but I wonder what is actually going on with the GAIN settings.

    • Jeff Towne

      4.03.17

      Reply

      I haven’t closely analyzed the resulting files, but it seems to me that it’s a balance. In general, if you have a really hot mic, a lower gain setting will be quieter, even i you need to turn the gain knob up a bit. But if you have a low-output mic, you don’t want to record at the low gain setting and have a resulting low-level recording that will require boosting the signal dramatically when you edit or mix. Any boost like that will include system noise, and if the signal is very low, you’ll get a gritty, low-res sound quality. But I do NOT think the low gain settings are inserting a pad, which can indeed add some noise in some cases. That low setting works well with very hot condenser mics, and/or for recording very loud sources, like a rock band.

  • Don Elliot

    4.03.17

    Reply

    Hey Jeff, will the Hindenburg field recorder export choices of formats and do conversion, like to MP3, in the process?

    Most obvious, for emailing an audition

    • Jeff Towne

      4.03.17

      Reply

      Hi Don: I think we’re commenting in the wrong article’s comments sections here, but just to answer your question quickly: you can indeed export in a variety of formats out of Hindenburg Field recorder. They actually don’t offer mp3, but you can export as WAV, ALAC (Apple Lossless) AAC (a better-sounding alternative to mp3, in my opinion) or MP2 (widely used in radio.) Emailing an audition, as you reference, could easily be done in AAC, and you can get better sound quality at smaller file sizes than mp3, and AAC is a pretty universal format now – it’s the default file format for downloads from iTunes. That’s a lot of flexibility, even without mp3 as an available format.

  • Thomas Blankenhorn

    9.18.17

    Reply

    I’m curious: did you check what the built-in microphones sound like? Also, did the fact that they’re omnis rather than cardios have an effect on the handling noise? (Theoretically this should should make it much lower.)

    • Thomas Blankenhorn

      9.19.17

      Reply

      Oh, I just noticed I forgot your sentence: “[T]he Tascam mics are perfectly serviceable for collecting basic ambience or demos.” Still interested in the handling noise.

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