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.



Technique, Inc. © Copyright 2013 All Rights Reserved


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

23 comments:

  1. Ty,
    "the BP-6AA attaches to the bottom of the DR-60D and has a threaded hole on its lower side for"

    I have the battery pack and the attachment adapter does not work with the DR-60.
    I wish it did.

    John Lifavi

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I have some Tascam DR-60D's which will not power up from AA NiMH rechargeable batteries. When these same batteries are installed in some other Tascam DR-60D's, power up is successful. The first Tascam DR-60D's will power up from AA alkaline non-rechargeable batteries. Any ideas on how to get these units to power up from rechargeable batteries?

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    2. How old are the batteries and have you measured both sets for voltage?

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    3. Have you tried changing the System Battery Settings from Alkaline to Ni-MH?

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    4. I just began working with my son on his new DR-60d, and we're having the same issue; it won't power up with internal Ni-MH batteries. Internal alkalines work fine.

      Ganging 6 Ni-MH AAs via the BP-6AA does work, as does bus power and AC power...all of these methods use the USB port.

      The Ni-MH batteries we have are brand new Powerex 2700mA. We're going to run them through a full refresh cycle to see if that helps.

      Has anyone found an answer to this problem of not recognizing Ni-MH batteries installed internally? Are there issues with some of these units that anyone is aware of that cause this to happen?

      Delete
  2. John, are you saying the battery doesn't work or the mechanical attachment from the battery to the DR-60D or the battery sled to whatever? If you can be specific as to the problem (even with pictures) I'll send that info along to TASCAM. Please contact me directly at tyford@tyford.com

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  3. and not a word about the quality of the pre amps ? ! I spoke with some tascam people at NAB and they said this unit has better pre amps than the DR-680 that I used for several years as my recorder. the 680 is pretty clean so it would be interesting to compare. FWIW I use the 680 for ISO records with paired 552 using the AES to clock lock it :)

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  4. I sent my unit back when I got it. It seemed to eat batteries and, as Ty mentions, I ended up feeling like I still needed my Mixpre-D in front of it. With a mixpre and it with the 5D on top, it was quite top heavy. Better quality by using my mixpre and PMD-661 mounted on an arm. I do recommend the DR-60 for amateurs looking to improve their audio capture with less fuss.

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  5. I think its a pretty solid unit. The battery life does stink so that's one negative. I've used the 680 a few times and the 60 does seem to have slightly better preamps to my ears. Although this is going off memory of the 680 and not a side by side comparison. I still like SD stuff better but for the money the 60 is a decent unit. I'm getting pretty clean audio from it and the noise floor is def better than what you get on the dr40 and the 100 in my opinion.

    Is it the best audio device in the world? Of course not but not bad for the price.

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  6. Hi Ty, Thanks for all you do, it's such a great resource, I see you on the COW too.
    I'm in the market for an external recorder and I'm considering this 60D Tascam, do you know if ANY USB power will power the unit?

    I have a SD Mix Pre-D. Do not currently shoot DSLR but probably will.

    Also looking at the Tascam DR-100mkII - why go for the 60D over this?

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  7. Thanks!

    I did not attempt the powering by USB, because I was not sent one. As I show in the review however, it is quite possible. Do you know something I don't?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I have a small battery that runs USB devices, it'll charge phones and laptops on the go, powers my go pro for days, might work as a nice power supply in the field. See it here: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B003ZBZ64Q/ref=oh_details_o08_s00_i03?ie=UTF8&psc=1

      I would even consider the SD 502 but it records stereo, I need to access the individual tracks. What I want to do is feed the camera and have a backup recording on another device. If I feed the Mix D -center the channels, the signal from 2 mics coming in, and then out of that one channel to cam and one channel to a Tascam, I still would not be able to access just one of the channels. Do you see what I mean?

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    2. What happens if you split the audio from the MixPre (Sound Devices, right?) with a Y cable and send each channel to both the camera and the DR-60D? There's also an unbalanced stereo output on the DR-60D. you could use that to feed a DSLR.

      Delete
  8. YES, 2 Y cables would split the signal to 2 sources, excellent.
    Not interested in unbalanced signals. Thanks.

    Also looking at the Tascam DR-100mkII - why go for the 60D over this?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sorry, I don't know the DR-100mkII.

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    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  9. I decided to give it another try as many folks seem to say that the unit isn't as bad with batteries as I experienced (I bought one of the first ones). I do notice that I cannot use Lithium's in this. The choice is to use either Alkaline or Ni-MH. That's a downer. I'll fully recharge my Enloops tonight and see if they give me better life in this later ROM updated unit.

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    Replies
    1. Alf, Based on your comment, I reached out to TASCAM. Tom Duffy was kind enough to respond.

      Regards,

      Ty Ford

      "They'll work fine, but the DR-60D isn't calibrated to warn the
      user when the battery is about to go dead.

      Alkalines drop slowly through 1.2 to 1.1V, so it's possible
      to stop the recording before the battery dies completely.
      Similarly, NiMH batteries still continue to drive as they
      lower their output.

      Lithiums drop hard at the end, so we don't guarantee that
      the DR-60D can catch it in time and exit record cleanly.

      We don't want to make the margin too safe, otherwise the
      user won't get the full life out of Lithium AAs which
      cost twice as much.

      Rather than spend extra on disposable AAs, the user should
      be looking at a portable USB power supply."

      Delete
  10. I use a Lanparte AB power plate to power my rig including the DR60 (it powers also my cam panasonic GH3, EVF Alphatron, Fujinon 13x4.5 BERM lens and it functions as aHDMI distributor) With a full Lithium 160Wh/11Ah AB battery I can shoot for about two days and still have power left. Very useful for DSLR shooters with lots of stuff on their rig; only one battery to charge when you go out. And it even charges my iphone when it dies in the field :-)

    John Twigt
    www.workstation.nl

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Excellent solution! No problems with noise backfeeding from one devices's power supply back through the connection and to other devices that share the same DC power source? That happens occasionally with commonly connected DC powered gear.

      Delete
    2. oh, and thanks for stopping by!

      Delete
  11. I always enjoy and appreciate your informative reviews (and I realize that this one was posted some time back) however, I thinks it's important to point out that your review of the Tascam DR-60D contains some misinformation.

    The entire section named BAD MEMORIES is incorrect.

    There are two methods for formatting an SD card on the DR-60D, "Quick Format" and "Full Format". You say:

    "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."

    You didn't wait patiently enough. A 16Gb card wil take around 3 hours to "Full Format". The card was corrupted by your having ejected it.

    "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."

    A 4Gb card will take around 30 minutes to "Full Format". The unit didn't get "hung up", you didn't wait long enough. Again, the card was corrupted by being ejected in the middle of a low level format.

    I don't really get what you're getting at in the third paragraph but you make it sound as if the unit has rather exacting protocols that must be followed. In fact, as long as you don't eject a card while formatting it or recording to it (true for every device I can think of) there are no problems. Cards can be inserted before or after power-up at any time.

    The "Tested Media List" linked in the fourth paragraph is useful information but the problems you encountered were not caused by your choice of media. The DR-60D, like most audio recorders (and unlike most video recorders) is fairly tolerant of media selection.

    I would summarize all of this by saying that you really only ever need to use the "Quick Format" function. When you insert a card that has not been previously formatted on the Tascam and it asks if you want to format it a “Quick Format” is what is performed. "Full Format" would be useful if you had reason to believe that there were bad sectors on your card in which case low level formatting the card on your computer would be faster. "Quick Format" of a 32Gb card (the largest a DR-60D can handle) takes around seven seconds. "Full Format" of a 32Gb card takes approximately five and a half hours.

    Thanks again for all of your hard work and a generally informative review.

    Lance Ford Jones
    Film Department
    Ringling College of Art and Design

    ReplyDelete