Affordable audio recorders comparison: Tascam DR-60D MKII vs DR-70D
In this post I’m going to compare two of the most affordable and popular audio recorders for video: the Tascam DR-60D MKII and the DR-70D. Chances are that if you are reading this post you already know why it is a sound idea (no pun intended) to record your audio externally instead of using the audio from your video camera, in that case you may want to scroll down to the next section, but for those of you new to this field here is a brief summary of why you would want to do so:
- The microphones on you camera are very bad. Seriously. Even if you have spent a few thousand dollars/euros on the latest and greatest video camera the tiny microphones in the camera are not up to the same level than the rest of your equipment.
- You could mount an external quality microphone and plug it to the audio-in jack of your camera, but guess what: the pre-amps on your camera are not that good either, so you are not going to get the best out of your microphone.
- Last but not least, you want your microphone to be as close as possible to your talent (i.e. subject), ideally no more than 1 meter away from it, and generally speaking this is not going to be feasible if you have your microphone mounted on top of your camera.
These are the main reasons for which audio is always recorded separately and synced in post in all professional video productions. Most NLE programs have some functionality that, short of using timecode, allows to sync audio and video in an easy way (even Davinci Resolve 12 has incorporated this kind of functionality!). And you can always use a clapper (digital or physical) as a visual guide for syncing video and audio manually with excellent results (although this is a bit more time consuming).
Most affordable external recorder options
Having agreed on the convenience of external audio recording there are several alternatives for the videographer that will not break his/her bank account. One of the most affordable ones is the Zoom H1 recorder, which incorporates a stereo XY microphone, records to a microSD card, and has a small screen with audio levels. It costs around 100€, it is a good bang for the buck and definitely a good recorder to start with, although it has some drawbacks:
- The quality of the embedded mic is reasonable, but far from excellent.
- Although it has a mic-in jack the quality of the pre-amps is not very good, like the camera ones.
- It lacks XLR connectors, ruling out the possibility of using professional microphones with balanced cables.
- Properly monitoring the sound being recorded in the device is going to be next to impossible, even if it were mounted on top of your camera.
Next step up: meet the Tascams
If you want to go one step above the possibilities offered by recorders like the H1 it may be worth considering the Tascam DR-60D MKII or the Tascam DR-70D. These recorders provide an excellent value for the money and their price ranges between 200€ to 260€ approximately. Both of them offer the following features:
- Four track recording.
- Better pre-amps than the competition at that price point (HDDA architecture, Tascam claims a 64Db of gain).
- Professional XLR inputs with phantom power.
- Headphone input for audio monitoring.
- Camera out for sending the audio to your video camera as a reference signal and camera in for monitoring the audio being recorded in your camera, should you wish to do so.
- A reasonable audio limiter, which reduces the signal level in real time to avoid clipping. Not the quality that you would find in professional recorders like the ones from Sound Devices but definitely very usable.
- Dual recording (one audio track is recorded at a lower level to ensure at least one track is usable if the main one experiences clipping).
- Reduced size and the possibility of placing the recorder in between the tripod head and the video camera, for better monitoring.
- Powered up by four AA batteries and the possibility of using a USB battery as a power source.
- Both record at up to 96kHz/24bit WAV/BWF files.
There is little than can be objected to these recorders at that price point, the only things being:
- They are power hungry: expect less than three hours of battery life if you are using microphones with phantom power. This is significantly less than the competition (read Zoom H4/H5).
- The potentiometers are not analog, meaning that you could notice “steps” when modifying the input level, though this would be more noticeable when recording music than when recording dialogs.
- You can’t monitor channels individually with the DR-70D, you can only monitor the mix of all the channels. This may be a deal-breaker for some people.
What are then the advantages/disadvantages of one model against the other?
Tascam DR-60D MKII
This recorder predates the DR-70D and, as it names implies, it is the second iteration of the otherwise excellent DR-60D. The main improvement over the previous model is the use of slightly better pre-amps, so if you already own the DR-60D it is probably not worth the upgrade. You can tell one model from the other by the red handles of the MKII, as it can be seen above. Once nice thing about both the DR-60D and the MKII is that they incorporate specific switches for the phantom power.
The DR-60D MKII is a four track audio recorder with two XLR phantom powered inputs:
There is also a connector marked as 3–4 for an unbalanced stereo input. You will notice as well the camera out connector for sending the audio signal to your video camera mic connector as a reference and the camera in connector for monitoring the audio being recorded into your camera. Finally, there is a connector for using an optional remote control.
Some users have complained about XLR cables being stuck in the previous iteration of the model, I must say that haven’t experienced any problem so far.
In this side of the recorder you’ll notice the phones jack for audio monitoring and the camera out connector for a line level output to an amp or other equipment, plus the power on/off switch, a hold swith to prevent unwanted operation and the door leading to the SD slot and mini-USB connector, for connecting the Tascam to a computer or power up the recorder.
On the bottom of the recorder you will find a 1/4" tripod mounting thread and on top of it a DSLR attachment bracket (which can be removed) with a 1/4" screw for attaching a camera on top of your recorder, although I don’t find this configuration particularly stable.
The Tascam DR-70D is similar to the DR-60D MKII in terms of quality though it has a more convenient form factor for placing it between the tripod and your video camera, or in a small bag for audio monitoring. There are a few noticeable differences though:
- The DR-70D has four XLR inputs, whereas the DR-60D MKII has only two.
- The DR-70D has a (fixed) tilted screen. This is definitely good for monitoring when you place the recorder below your camera but not so good when you place it on top of it, using for example a friction arm. (Or when you put it in a bag for audio monitoring).
- The DR-70 has less physical buttons, meaning that you will have to navigate more through the recorder’s menus (which I don’t find particularly intuitive, BTW). One important drawback is that you don’t have dedicated switches for phantom power as in the DR-60D MKII, which is unfortunate. The buttons themselves are also closer to one another, and this can be inconvenient if your hands are big.
In the image above you can see the first three XLR phantom powered inputs plus the on/off/hold switch to power the recorder and prevent unwanted operation.
On the other side of the recorder you will see:
- The fourth XLR phantom powered input
- A micro-USB connector for connecting the recorder to a computer or powering it by means of an USB battery.
- A camera out connector for sending the audio signal to your camera as a reference (the level of the signal can be set to mic/line through the menus).
- A camera in jack for monitoring the audio being recorded in your camera, if you want to do so.
- The phones jack for audio monitoring.
- A stereo in jack for an unbalanced stereo microphone.
- A connector for using a remote control (sold separately).
In the front side of the recorder you will find:
- Two built-in microphones for stereo recording. They are probably better than the ones in your camera and they may come handy at some point in time, but remember our discussion on recording the audio externally at the beginning of this post?
- A flimsy door leading to the battery compartment and the SD card slot. This is by far the weakest part of the recorder and it looks like it is going to fall apart any moment.
Regarding the pre-amp quality I’ve found the pre-amps of the DR-70D to be slightly better than the ones on the DR-60 MKII, both when recording with a Rode NTG2 and (even!) with the Zoom H1 though its line out jack but this can be subjective.
Last but not least, and similar to the DR-60D MKII, the recorder has a 1/4" tripod mounting thread on the bottom and the DSLR attachment bracket on top of it, which can also be removed exposing in this case a cold shoe for placing other equipments such as a wireless receiver, etc. The DSLR bracket has also a 1/4" screw for attaching a camera on top of your recorder, and although this is a more stable configuration than the DR-60D MKII one it’s not going to win a prize for stability either.
Which one should I get?
There is no straight answer to this question, both recorders provide excellent value for the money, they have a reasonable similar price point (around 270€ for the DR-70D vs 200€ for the DR-60D MKII) and provide similar capabilities. At the end of the day as always it boils down to what you really need:
- If your budget is limited, you don’t think that you’ll use more than two XLR inputs and the slightly more bulky form factor is not an obstacle then the DR-60 MKII is an excellent choice. You can save the difference for a good quality directional microphone such as the above mentioned Rode NTG2 or a Sennheiser MKE 600 in order to complete your kit.
- If you require more than two XLR inputs, you need microphones in the recorder, you prefer a more compact form factor, you don’t mind having less physical buttons and you can spend a bit more then the DR-70D is the way to go.