Tascam DR-70D

I recently picked up a Tascam DR-70D as part of a solution for lightweight session recording for For Folk’s Sake.

The normal studio recordings (example) are made in the inner suburbs of London[1] about 30–45 minutes on trains from the dead centre of town. For artists based around London it’s easy enough to get to but for artists on tour who are just passing through it’s a bit of an ask to expect them to spend 90 minutes of a busy day trekking out.

Recently we had to opportunity to record Pokey LaFarge as he was in town as part of a small European tour, and his agent asked if we could record this at their office in central London to help fit in with other press commitments.

I can drag my full audio setup around with the help of a rolling Peli case but it’s not much fun. Partly it’s transporting the interface, but on top of that the laptop[2], with a power adapter and a safety extension lead. So I decided to try using a field recorder instead.

Why the DR-70D

Simply, it was pretty cheap, has four channels and online searches weren’t filled with people moaning about noisy preamps.

I was tempted by the Zoom F8 but it’s four times the price for double the channels and in practical terms there’s no much difference between four and eight channels. That is, looking back at the sessions I’ve recorded so far all but one of them could be recorded in four channel and for complicated sessions, like The Amazing Devil, eight wouldn’t be enough.

In use

It did a good job. You can hear the results yourself below:

I’m assuming it doesn’t sound as good as the ASP800 would have done in the same situation, but perfectly OK in it’s own right. It’s not a studio recording after all.

The negatives

Memory cards

It is incredibly picky about memory cards. The approved media list covers some Sandisk and a few Panasonic cards. It’s not just that they’ve only tested some, there are good quality cards on that list which failed testing. In fact of the ~20 Sandisk cards I own, almost all Extremes, only one was maybe-compatible[3]. This is hard to justify since my other cards will record 100mbit video perfectly well but apparently can’t handle 10mbit for audio.

I ended up having to buy an new Extreme Pro card just for the recorder. Since then that model has gone end-of-life and, as far as I can tell, not a single SD card on the approved media list is available to buy from Amazon in the UK.

Analogue out

The analogue output stages are awful, and this applies to the headphone out and the line out. This matters as I wanted to pass the audio into one of the cameras to act as a safety recording if something went wrong. The amount of noise on the output meant the camera recording was either unusable, or would have required a lot of processing. The noise is bad at line level, but it’s made worse as I having to set to the DR-70D to output at -40db as the GX8 expects a mic level input and will always apply some amplification.

Audio output from DR-70D into Panasonic GX8 (unprocessed)

Levels

The mic amps are adjusted in two ways. There’s a general low/mid/high setting for each channel and then the front pots provide control within that range. It’s OK, but is a bit fiddly if you’re not sure which setting you want and have to dive into the menus to adjust, where full range pots wouldn’t have that issue.

Also, there are no db levels on the display which is a niggle.

The future

I’m going to keep it, it’s good enough for what I need. Looking at the Pokey LaFarge recording, the biggest issue isn’t the audio, but the video due to problems stemming from not having extra lighting.

If I really wanted to I could add in a RME QuadMic which could be run off a USB battery with step-up adapter so I have better amps but still with purely battery power and no laptop. The same QuadMic could be used to bring my Scarlett 18i8 + ASP800 studio arrangement up to 16 channels.

  1. Zone 4, if you know what that means [Back]
  2. Actually a Win 10 tablet which means a separate keyboard and stand [Back]
  3. It’s hard to be sure, it has the same appearance and spec as one listed in the table but has a different model number. Sandisk do use different model numbers per region, but I can’t cross-compare as they’ve purged the product documentation since it’s not the latest revision [Back]