How often do read that “you can hear an indie film before you see it”. In other words, poor sound is the first giveaway for low-budget productions. But what if audio acquisition were made easier for indie moviemakers, especially one-person bands?
What if sound recording was able to pretty much run itself without you having to constantly split attention between directing, interviewing, shooting and checking your audio recorders’ level meters? What if there was one less thing to do in that list?
TASCAM has been giving some thought to this common problem and has come up with some original solutions – micro recorders that attach directly to your lavaliere and handheld XLR-connected mikes.
The long-lived Japanese audio industry supplier – I owned TEAC and TASCAM audio gear more years ago than I care to count – has also updated the DR-60D 4-channel recorder popular with DSLR moviemakers and added the DR-70D to its line-up, equipped with 4 x XLR inputs and built-in stereo mike.
The TASCAM DR-70D Linear PCM Recorder
Let’s start at the high end of this new, expanded DSLR- and mirrorless-friendly line-up. TASCAM’s product page tells us that it is “the ultimate recording solution for filmmakers” (available at B&H Photo) and that it can be mounted above or below your camera, and has a pair of built-in microphones to record onset sound in stereo.
Six audio inputs is impressive and in keeping with the multi-source audio acquisition demanded by immersive audio solutions like Dolby’s Atmos for cinemas and for the home.
The more high quality sound you acquire for your productions, the more to choose from in editing. The DR-70D even includes a slate tone generator and a camera-out jack to send a stereo mix to your camera for automatic synching in post via software like Red Giant’s PluralEyes.
Multiple audio track nirvana. Imagine shooting with two cameras, the DR-70D’s stereo mikes and 4 well-placed XLR mikes distributed around your set and subject. Final Cut Pro X’s multicam feature and PluralEyes would make synching and editing multiple audio and video tracks a breeze.
You can use the DR-70D as a standalone audio mixer/recorder too. Handles either side of the front panel can be used as shoulder strap attachments or it can be mounted on its own stand or tripod as the heart of your audio set-up so your main camera can be made lighter and freed-up for hand-holding without being hampered by cables to your mikes.
I look forward to trying the DR-70D – it looks like the audio recorder I have been waiting for.
The TASCAM DR-60DmkII Linear PCM Recorder
Meanwhile TASCAM has not forgotten about its lower-priced tripod-mounted recorder, the DR-60D, and updated it to its mark II version earlier this year.
The DR-60DmkII (available at B&H Photo) is narrower than the DR-70D but raises your camera up higher. Vertical mounting is not the only option though – I have spotted rigging variations in the streets where moviemakers attach them to the rear of long, shoulder-mounted DSLR set-ups.
Like the DR-70D the DR-60DmkII accepts XLR-connected microphones though only 2 of them compared to the former recorder’s 4 XLR inputs. Otherwise there are many internal and feature similarities between the two models given the DR-60DmkII’s update earlier this year.
For the full rundown, I recommend studying the DR-60DmkII’s product and specifications pages.
The other big difference between this recorder and the DR-70D? No dual built-in omnidirectional microphones for ambient audio. I consider that so useful for the work I do that it is the main reason I would choose the DR-70D. However, your needs may differ.
The TASCAM DR-10X Plug-On Micro Linear PCM Recorder for XLR Connection
Next on the list is quite a mouthful for such a small though powerful device, the DR-10X (available at B&H Photo). This is the recorder that first alerted me to the possibility TASCAM may be up to something very interesting indeed.
Like the DR-70D and DR-60DmkII it records to SD cards though in this case microSD cards. Like its two cousins it has dual recording mode – a function I believe is a must-have in portable recorders when shooting under less-than-perfect conditions – so copies of your recordings are captured at lower levels as safety tracks. This is especially useful in places with unpredictable, uncontrollable audio levels.
The DR-10X attaches to your XLR-output microphone for, as TASCAM says, “the ultimate compact news gathering recording system” capturing monaural sound “at 48kHz/24-bit Broadcast WAV resolution”.
TASCAM promotes the DR-10X as a “simple-to-use ENG recording” solution and that it surely is but it also looks incredibly useful for many of the short films and documentaries I need to produce which sometimes involve vox popping members of the public on the movie’s topics. I have a loaner XLR dynamic mike I use for that but it must be attached to my Zoom H4n (Available at B&H Photo) via a long XLR cable, which can make for some dodgy situations when in busy public locations.
A more up-to-date and probably higher-performance microphone to attach to the DR-10X may be RØDE’s Reporter dynamic mike.
I like the idea of a lightweight microphone with a small, dependable audio recorder attached. Wireless mikes are great in principle but they are not exactly cheap. Different countries, states and even cities specify different parts of the radio spectrum for their use, I am told. And I can do with less cables and gadgets attached to my cameras and rigs, not more, being a one-person band with enough on my mind already.
And so to the last item on an already impressive list from TASCAM this year…
The DR-10CS/CL Micro Linear PCM Recorder with Wireless System
Like the DR-10X, the DR-10C series recorders (also available at B&H Photo) enable you to bypass using wireless linkages between microphone and camera-mounted receiver. They have similar specifications recording-wise to the DR-10X including a lower level safety track, small size and are apparently able to run for hours on a single AAA battery.
I find the latter are far too hard to find in stores online and off right now but they are my first choice for moviemaking. My experience with various brands of locally available rechargeable and regular AAA batteries is that they do not seem to hold their charge for long enough.
Panasonic’s eneloop Pro AAA batteries may give you longer life, though I have yet to successfully obtain any in that size here. I also recommend the Maha Powerex range of chargers.
I don’t know how I went without them for so long, with their various operational modes including charge, refresh & analyze, break-in, discharge and cycle. Since buying some Maha chargers my batteries seem to be performing better and for longer.
Back to the TASCAM DR-10C series. Given the different connectors on lavaliere microphone brands – including Sony, Sennheiser, Shure and Lectrosonics – there are several variations of the DR-10C. Which one will work for my older Sony lavaliere mikes is not quite certain – they use the 3.5mm TRS connection with screw-locks that TASCAM’s specifications page notes is for Sennheiser microphones. A mystery to solve.
Less mysterious is that you will need to buy optional kits to attach your lavalieres to the DR-10Cs if they are Shure or have Sony/Ramsa connectors. in which case they are designated AK-DR10CH or AK-DR10CR respectively.
Note that you can use the DR-10Cs as stand-alone recorders or in conjunction with wireless receivers as back-ups. Two or more DR-10Cs can be synchronised via infrared signal.
This microphone system gets around the multiple connecters used in wireless transmitters and receivers with its MiCon™ connector system. There are currently 11 different MiCon connectors to link the RØDE Lavalier to a range of consoles, cameras, portable recorders and wireless systems as well as the TASCAM DR-10C series recorders.
I am impressed with the direction TASCAM is taking with these recorders, especially the DR-70D, the DR-10X and the DR-10C series.
At the moment I am trying to work out the best, most efficient and cost-effective audio acquisition kit for my solo work as a moviemaker. I need to cover a range of situations – face-to-camera interviews, two-person conversations, ambient sound gathering, vox popping aka man-on-the-street and multiple microphone set-ups that may also involve more than one camera.
I may never be able to hire audio recordists or other crew members to look after recording audio at the highest possible quality. I have queried a number of industry professionals on how to most effectively equip myself to do it solo but so far have pretty much drawn blanks.
In the face of that lack of workable suggestions, TASCAM’s camera-mounted and micro-recorder solutions look like the best I have come across so far. Please bear in mind that I have not put any of these devices to the test. None of them have appeared local to where I live, yet, or have not been released at online retailers but soon will be.
If this article has been of use to you then I hope you will be able to see, try and then buy these items if they work for you.
If you do decide to buy, please take advantage of TASCAM’s holiday rebates, available from now through to December 31st and available only to customers in the United States.
(cover photo credit: snap from the B&H Photo Video)