Thursday, October 10, 2013

TASCAM DR-60D Four-Track Digital Recorder for DSLR and other uses


As long as DSLRs continue to be designed by video people and photographers, audio problems will probably remain. 

I had heard that the Canon 5D Mark III audio was OK and proved it here with the DR-60D by sending audio from the DR-60D to the 5D Mark III. 

The trick was using very little gain on the Mark III and using the line output gain on the DR-60D to do the heavy lifting. 

4/2014 Update: We also found that you could get a better feed into a BMCC camera this way. Line out from the DR60 to the mono 1/4" inputs of the BMCC. Set the BMCC to MIC instead of line and set the BMCC input level to 15% and the Line out of the DR60 to 3. Faint noise but more than adequate for a scratch track. 

TASCAM, and parent company TEAC, to their credit, have always empowered people to be able to do creative audio production at a fair price, especially at the pro-sumer level.


They are one of the original Architects of the Revolution in the Audio/Video Industry.
It was with a TEAC Model 2 mixer and TEAC 3340S back in 1973 that I began my freelance VO and music recording career. I don't recall what I paid for that, but it was thousands of dollars.

At $349 the TASCAM DR-60D is a four-track digital recorder with two balanced XLR/TRS mic inputs and an unbalanced 1/8" stereo mic input that records 44.1, 48 and 96kHz at 16 or 24-bit WAV files to SD or SDHC cards. That's frankly amazing. What's missing? Not much as the feature set bullet list I've included at the end  this review shows.


If you decide not to read the manual, your success with and full use of the DR-60D will be limited. At some point, it occurred to me that the DR-60D and a Rubicks Cube or maybe a PlayStation console have a lot in common. A lot of capability in one handful, but getting the right combination proves a bit tricky until you get the knack. Then it's a snap.



MORE UNDER THE HOOD
The menu system is fairly good and easy to navigate. In it you'll find a few less obvious features. RECORD MODE contains controls for how many channels you want to record, some muting possibilities, and Mid/Side recording options for both channels 1 and 2 as a pair and 3+4 as a pair. There's an obvious yellow light on the main control panel that lights brightly to remind you whether you're in 2-channel or 4 channel mode. 

The Dual Mono and Dual Stereo selections are very neat. After you choosing the DUAL mode (you can choose either inputs 1 and 2 or 3+4 as the source), you can scroll down to DUAL LVL where you can choose from 0 to -12 dB to set at what level the second track or tracks will record. Even though there are limiters on all inputs, when you're a one-person shop, this feature may save your butt when unexpectedly loud moments occur and you're not paying attention to the audio...as you should. Nice! (10/11/13 update: Steve Oakley asked for my opinion of the preamps. They were quite usable and very clean with my mics. I didn't mention them earlier because I didn't hear any problems.)

RECORD MODE is also where you'll find the Mid-Side options. Choose REC to decode while recording in mid-side and MONITOR to record in mid-side that will be decoded later, or for playback of mid-side files that were recorded without decoding.

THE GOZINTAS & GOZOUTAS
On the left side of the DR-66D are the combo XLR/TRS input jacks. Extra points for locking XLR connectors! Phantom Power is applied only to the XLR inputs, not the TRS. Channels three and four are only accessible via the 1/8" mini-TRS jack. One use of the inputs, would be to have separate mics going to the 1/L and 2/R XLR inputs and an unbalanced stereo mic. Maybe you're at a sporting event and you have two announcers, each on a separate channel, and a stereo mic picking up crowd noise.

You could also use a Y-connector with 3-4 and plug two unbalanced sources in there; maybe two wireless mic receivers. The problem there is only one knob to adjust 3 + 4. If you need to adjust one or the other, you have to do it before it gets to the 3-4 input. You could also setup a small mixer with many sources and mix them to the 3-4 input, hoping that running unbalanced would not allow noise or interference to sneak in. There's the envelope. How far do you want to push it?

The CAMERA IN and CAMERA OUT ports are poorly named. CAMERA IN is an audio return from the camera. CAMERA OUT is a DR-60D output that you send TO the camera.

THE OTHER SIDE
The left side of the case is populated by the I/O power switch, the 1/8" PHONES OUT jack and volume control, the 1/8" LINE OUT and volume control and a rubber covered port that conceals the USB 2 jack and SD card slot. There's also a HOLD button. It may be one of the handier buttons. Slide it to the up position and the controls are deactivated. Do that and then hand it to your friend who NEVER reads the manual and ask him to re-route something or record something for you. 

FACE TIME

The front of the DR-60D is deceptively simple, but there's a lot going on. The amber screen has an adjustment for contrast, but I didn't find adjusting it away from position 5 or 6 helpful. There's a setting that determines how long the screen remains backlit. Backlighting is essential for low light operation, but the unlit display works well in normal lighting and in full sun. A backlighting intensity control for low light conditions would be helpful and might save some battery power.

A relatively large spin and push data wheel to the lower right of the data screen adjusts easily. The MONITOR SELECT button allows you to select a full mix, 1-2, 3-4, CAMERA IN, or 1, 2, 3 or 4 individually. The MIXER feature allows independent control of each of the four output pans and levels.


TASCAM DR-60D and Canon 5D mk iii
THE WARTS

The DR-66D is not positioned to replace Sound Devices or Zaxcom recorder in the bag, but it appears to be a viable option for many lesser tasks; DSLR cameras with punk audio sections top the list.

No SMPTE, which begs the question of how well the audio will sync when you're trying to double record (using camera audio for a reference to lock the better audio recorded by a  second recorder). Although no SMPTE is not necessarily a deal killer in this day and age, if that's important to you, then stop here.


Amid comments from some that, "they don't need no stinkin' SMPTE", the next question is how long are your shots? Each camera and audio recorder has its own digital clock. If you're shots are pretty short, any slight sync drift may be anywhere from immeasurable to tolerable to fixable. However, the longer the shot, the greater the possible drift. You might get lucky and have two devices that run very close to the same speed. You might not.

There is some zipper noise in the mic input pots circuitry. Not as much as I've heard in others systems and not as much as the first release of the TASCAM HS-P82, which subsequently got fixed. If you are in a noisy enough environment, such as a busy office or on a city street and you adjust slowly enough, you probably won't notice the little clicks, but you might notice the jumps in level.


Some videographers I do sound for don't realize that even when there's only one person talking, I'm still riding gain. If the background is quiet enough (think of inside interviews) and the person speaking begins each sentence with a fresh breath but doesn't project, their first few words are usually a lot louder than the rest of the sentence.


If I can, without bringing up the ambient noise floor, I manually adjust for that so when the project goes to postproduction, the voice is much more level and there's a lot less work to do. As they are inhaling, I rotate the pot back a bit to a lower level. As I hear them run out of that first burst of air, I turn the pot back up a bit to keep their voice at the same level.  That would be noticeable in very quiet situations with the DR-60D.



The gain knobs on the DR-60D are a little small and too smooth to adjust with great confidence, but if you don't operate as I do and don't expect to do a lot of gain riding or mixing, then neither the small knobs or slight zipper noise matter. Or, as I just suggested to a small film/video company out of Washington, D. C. who like working with DSLRs, put something like a Sound Devices MixPreD or 302 mixer in front of the DR-60D. Control the levels more finely and with no zipper noise.

BAD MEMORIES

After inserting a 16GB SanDisk 30MB/sec Ultra SD card and hitting FORMAT, I waited patiently watching the reels spin on the screen. After 10 minutes, I ejected it and the screen informed me that the card was invalid. It would have been nice to know that without waiting ten minutes. I guess I snuck past the gates because the DR-60D was on when I plugged in the SD card. The manual says put the card in, then turn the unit on. When I did that I was informed that the card was invalid.

Next I tried a PNY SDHC Optima 4GB card. When I powered up after putting it in, the screen prompted me and I said go ahead. Within seconds, the system said I was ready to go. I decided to also try the deep formatting that had hung earlier, and it hung again on this card spinning wheels, so I ejected the card, turned the DR-60D off, inserted the card and powered the DR-60D back up. This time it said the card that it has quickly formatted before was invalid.


I powered down the DR-60D again and inserted a third SD card. Bringing the power back up the screen asked if I wanted to format the card. I hit YES and five seconds later the main screen came back up. I took the first SD card, plugged it into the card reader attached to my Mac and deleted all the files from the card. I found a WAV file that I had recorded on the DR-60D but could not access on the reader, so I dragged it to the desktop and it played. I put the newly erased SD card into the DR-60D and powered it up. It asked to initialize the card, I agreed and we were good to go. Observe protocols and you should be OK.


I reached out to TASCAM's Dan Montecalvo who forwarded my message to Tom Duffy. Tom pointed me to the chart below, saying, "We have a continued project for media testing on all our products, so the lists are updated 1-2 times a year depending on the product. The lists do emphasize brands that are available worldwide, potentially passing over high quality brands that might only be easily available in the US. The chart below is valid as of 10/10/13. For updates, please check the TASCAM DR-60D Tested Media List link. 

BATTERY LIFE
The DR-60D requires four AA cells and has no port for external power. My first set of alkaline batteries didn't last quite as long as I expected; a little over two hours with two Phantom Power Schoeps mics running. They went a bit longer on the second set, but I wasn't using two Phantom Powered mics.


TASCAM suggests trying Sanyo Eneloop rechargeables or, for longer shoots, the BP-6AA, which, as its name suggests, holds six AA batteries of your choice and powers the DR-60D via a USB connection. Yes, it's bulkier, but the BP-6AA attaches to the bottom of the DR-60D and has a threaded hole on its lower side for camera stand mounting. (10/11/13 update: Apparently the bolt on the bottom of the BP-6AA is not long enough to thread into the bottom of the DR-60D, so you may have to McGyver a velcro strap-on to your tripod. 

According to Duffy, the BP-6AA extends operation to about 7.5 hours using Phantom Powered mics using Eneloop batteries. I'm guessing that's for 16-bit, two channel recording.

Additional external power supplies include; 


BatteryGeek Personal Power Bank 8000

iSound - Portable Power MAX

Aluratek - APB04F


There's also the PS-P515U AC power adaptor for less remote use. It's a line lump with a USB port. According to Duffy, "For tethered operation, we have the PS-P515U AC to USB Power Adapter, but if you buy say a 15 foot USB to USB mini cable, you have to watch that you don't get one with too thin of gauge, i.e. the voltage might drop too low to operate the DR-60D. I'm in the process of qualifying which long cables are good or not (I'm currently suspicious of the monoprice ones).
The REMOTE jack on the DR-60D accepts the RC-3F tripedal remote control that provides
TASCAM RC-3F Remote Control
a host of extras as shown in the table below.




And finally, although not as potent as the RC-3F, the TASCAM RC-10 hard-wired remote control allows basic control of the DR-60D.


If aiming, focusing and shooting a DSLR is too tame for you, the added audio features of these TASCAM DR-60D accessories should liven things up a bit.


For more information on the TASCAM DR-60D, Click Here.



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Ty Ford may be reached at www.tyford.com.


DR-60D FEATURES
  • Record to SD/SDHC card (Up to 32GB)
  • Simultaneously record up to 4 tracks
  • Record Mode:MONO, STEREO, DUAL MONO, DUAL STEREO, 4-CHANNEL
  • Recording format:44.1/48/96kHz 16/24bit (WAV/BWF)
  • TASCAM original HDDA microphone preamps
  • Recording levels can be adjusted independently for the 1/L, 2/R and 3-4 inputs
  • Two XLR/TRS inputs support +4dBu line level input and phantom power (24 or 48VDC on XLRF)
  • Plug-in power and high-output mic input supported on inputs 3-4
  • CAMERA OUT connector for output from the DR-60D's mixer (adjustable gain)
  • CAMERA IN connector for sound monitoring from the camera
  • Independent adjustable LINE OUT and HEADPHONE jacks for high-quality sound output
  • 50mW/ch headphone output
  • Tripod mounting socket (bottom) and DSLR mounting screw attachment (top)
  • Handles protect the screen and can be used to attach a shoulder strap
  • Soft-Touch Rubber Keys for silent operation
  • HOLD switch to prevent accidental operation
  • QUICK button feature for easy access to various functions
  • 128x64 pixel LCD with backlight
  • USB 2.0 connection for high-speed transferring of files
  • Mini USB cable included
  • Operates on 4-AA batteries, an AC adapter (sold separately) or USB bus power
  • Can extend battery life with BP-6AA battery pack (sold separately)
  • Dedicated remote control jack for the wired RC-10 remote control or RC-3F footswitch (both sold separately)
  • Internal mixer: PAN and LEVEL controls
  • Low cut filter(40/80/120Hz)
  • Limiter (1/L and 2/R can be selected for link-operation)
  • Delay function for microphone distance adjustment (up to 150ms)
  • M-S decode function
  • Slate tone generator (AUTO/MANUAL)
  • Selectable duration of slate tone from four positions (0.5/1/2/3 sec, when auto-generated)
  • Selectable slate tone generation. 3 positions: OFF/HEAD/HEAD+TAIL, when auto-generated
  • File name format can be set to use a user-defined word or date
  • Dual-recording function allows two files to be recorded simultaneously at different levels
  • Auto-record function can automatically start and stop recording at set level
  • Pre-recording function allows the unit to record a 2 second sound buffer before recording is activated
  • Self-timer function for solo recording
  • New file starts recording automatically without interruption when maximum file size is reached
  • Track incrementing function allows a recording to be split by creating a new file when desired
  • Jump back and play function
  • Equalizer function for playback, and level alignment function to enhance the perceived overall sound pressure
  • Resume function to memorize the playback position before the unit is turned off
  • MARK function up to 99 points per audio track
  • DIVIDE function