REVIEW : Tascam DR-70D

Tascam's DR-70D - a great sounding and high usable field and studio recorder

Tascam's DR-70D - a great sounding and high usable field and studio recorder

As I hope that readers have noticed by now, I do a (mostly) weekly podcast as part of my offerings.  Most podcasts are recorded in my home studio using a Heil PR90 microphone into a Mackie ONYX Satellite Preamp/Mixer.  That loops in and out of a DBX 266XL Compressor/Gate and then out of the Mackie via FireWire into the Mac and is recorded using Logic Pro X.  I control the in studio recordings using a Korg nanoKontrol Studio.  This is a great setup.  Right until I need to head into the field.  Fortunately, I have found a great field recorder in the Tascam DR-70D.

One of the reasons I am back to the Mackie ONYX in the studio instead of my Apogee Duet is that I love the quality of the Mackie preamps.  They sound great.  I also like being able to loop through the DBX unit because I like the sound of its compressor better than the digital compressors in Logic.  When I started looking seriously at a multichannel field recorder, I was most driven by the quality of the preamps for my microphones as well as the ability to provide phantom power to my microphones.

With the DR-70D, there are four distinct XLR ports available, so I could do a four up interview easily carrying nothing more than microphones, cables and the DR-70D.  This is a lot easier than unhooking the Mackie and hunting for AC power.  I can also use Channels 3 and 4 with the built in microphones.  They are decent enough for environmental audio or scratch tracks but for voice, I much prefer to go with a proper microphone.  For my field mics right now, I am using MXL broadcast microphones that have very good directional control, and good suppression of out of field sound.  I can mount them to table stands and there are shockmount cages to cut down on vibration noise and the picking up of table tapping as sometimes happens with guests.

The DR-70D has an inclined display that is easy for my eyes to read and provides separate level information for each channel.  I can enable or disable each channel independently , as well as define whether phantom power is supplied or not.  For low impedance microphones with high quality capsules this is a requirement.  You can also use TRS cabled microphones and there is even a Line In for high impedance inputs.  Each channel is configurable as to source.

Each channel can also have its own low cut filter as well as its own limiter.  The level of independent control is excellent and while the DR-70D is physically small, it is easy to learn to use and one easily builds the skill to work quickly with it.

Tascam DR-70D mounted between camera and tripod.  Large controls and easy to read display make it successful

Tascam DR-70D mounted between camera and tripod.  Large controls and easy to read display make it successful

The DR-70D is advertised as a recorder for DSLRs.  This is not a bad positioning as we know that the microphones and audio capabilities of most video recording cameras is pretty horrible until you get to the higher end gear such as Sony's FS family, Canon's CINE family or similar products.  I would submit that while this is a very viable design point, for many videographers, it is standard practice to record the audio completely off board for greater control and no need to interface to the camera at all.  The DR-70D is well suited to this in addition to its role as a mixer / aggregator to the in camera recording input.  

For those who want to mount the DR-70D to a DSLR, it comes with a plate that screws to the camera tripod socket and on the bottom has a 1/4-20 mounting hole to attach the unit to the tripod.  The camera mounting plate is removable if you don't need it.

What makes the DR-70D so handy is that it can do 4 low impedance channels at the same time.  The Zoom hand recorders are quite excellent, but you need to go to the H6 to get to four channels.  While I like the quality of the Zoom units, in my opinion, the preamps in Tascam products sound better.  I have owned a DR-60 in the past and for two channel work it was great, but I prefer the DR-70D from a usability index even if I am only recording one or two channels.  It's a bit bigger and therefore easier to work with.  You also don't have to spend a lot of time menu diving to get work done.  Positive direct control buttons are quicker than navigating a menu.

Four way looks at the DR-70D.  3 XLR inputs on one side, 1 more on the opposite side. Back panel contains the built-in mics and the battery bay.

Four way looks at the DR-70D.  3 XLR inputs on one side, 1 more on the opposite side. Back panel contains the built-in mics and the battery bay.

The sound from the preamps is clean and nicely warm.  It is not overly boomy, even with the low cut filter and limiter turned off.  The meters are quite responsive and I find them to be accurate.  You can record your audio as uncompressed WAV files or as compressed files.  I never record in compressed format because storage is cheap.  Storage uses SD, SDHC and SDXC cards.  The card slot is behind the rear panel battery door.  There is a USB port so you can mount the unit as an external device to your computer so you do not have to pull the card to download your tracks, handy if you have the thing mounted up somewhere.  Power is supplied by 4AA batteries with a selector for alkaline or NiMH to align the battery meter to match the battery type.  There is an optional AC adapter, but I have not got one as my intent is to use the device as a field recorder for interviews, and guests on one of my shows.

Others have said that the built-in mics are not as good as the directional microphones built in to other handheld Tascam units or similar Zoom units.  I have to agree, but the built-in microphones are not part of my desired use cases.  I bought the DR-70D specifically to support multiple low impedance microphones across up to four channelswhile running the entire unit on batteries.  So far, the DR-70D has delivered perfectly.  That opinion offered, they are certainly not useless microphones and I will use them for environmental audio from time to time.

I also liked that Tascam has had an ongoing series of firmware updates.  Not only do the updates address bugs, but they also add new functionality and improve existing functionality.  I like that as a buyer, I am getting some decent level of investment protection.  Perhaps I could have spent less on a field recorder, but this is one thing that you only get with committed manufacturers.

If you need a field working bag for the DR-70D, the good folks at pro gear company Porta-Brace have a shoulder bag designed specifically for the DR-70D.  This is handy if your kind of field recording is being done on location and you are also responsible for handling the boom mic.

For those who need more pro video centricity, there is the DR-701 which adds 2 mix channels to the initial 4 as well as timecode support.  While I would find this handy, I chose to save money and simply use a clap or Red Giant's incredible PluralEyes in post to sync the real audio with the scratch audio recorded in camera.

I am very pleased with the Tascam DR-70D and it gets a four star The Photo Video Guy recommendation.   What would have gotten it the extra star?  More expansive meters with better gradation, similar to what is found on a SoundDevices field recorder.  But without the SoundDevices extra cost.

In conclusion, the Tascam DR-70D is a superb field recorder for the money and can also be used effectively in a small or home studio for up to four low impedance microphone inputs.  The unit retails for around $420 CDN and you can often find one on sale.  Recommended.