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The DR-60D is an easy-to-use option for capturing high-quality audio on a DSLR, writes Jerry Ibbotson.


couple of months ago I wrote an article about audio

for DSLR film production (see Audio Media April 2014), or rather how bad sound gets when shooting video on a DSLR camera. While the pictures may be fabulous, the audio is… not. One of the bits of kit I took a quick look at was the Tascam DR-60D, a compact recorder/mixer that is specifically designed to hang off the belly of a camera. Although I didn’t have time to give it a full road test at the time, it interested me enough to have a second look. Te machine itself is

intriguing. When I posted a couple of pictures of it on social media, quite a few of my friends from both filmmaking and audio popped up with comments along the lines of, “Oooh, can I have a play?” Tascam has certainly done a good job with the aesthetics. I know that, as hardened professionals we’re meant to be above such things but visuals do have an impact.

The Details

Te DR-60 is built around a rectangular ‘block’. On the main face (the one the camera operator looks at) is an LCD screen and an array of dials and buttons. You have three gain dials, dip-switches for Line/Mic/Phantom Power, transport buttons, menu and function buttons, and a select dial that doubles as the Enter button.

On one end of the machine are the inputs, which consist of two Mic/ Line XLRs plus a 3.5mm stereo input for channels

40 June 2014

three and four. Beside these is the ‘interesting’ stuff. As I mentioned in my previous article, if you’re going to feed out to a DSLR it has to be at Mic level, so the DR-60 has a Camera Out that is essentially just that – an audio feed that is at a pre-preamp point in the signal path. It even comes with a volume/ output dial for added flexibility. Tere’s also a ‘Camera In’

socket, which is designed to accept the feed from a DSLR’s headphone out (if such a thing exists). Te DR-60 gives you the option to monitor this signal, so you can check what the camera is actually recording. Flicking the DR-60 over in my hands, the other end of the machine has an SD card slot, a USB socket, a headphone socket, and a line out. With the machine powered up with four AA cells you’re presented with an LCD display that would be familiar to anyone who has used a small portable recorder in recent years. I put it to the ultimate test – trying to set up the basic record functions without reading the manual. It was a doddle. Tere are plenty of options to choose from, such as .wav or .bwf file formats and sample rates from 44.1k to 96k at bit depths up to 24-bit. One useful feature is the ability to fire a burst of tone to both the DR-60’s recording and out to the camera, to aid sync in post. Tis can be done either manually or automatically – triggered when the DR-60 starts recording.

On the top of the DR-60

is the mounting bracket for attaching the recorder to the base of a DSLR via its tripod thread. I fitted it to my own Nikon D5100 and sourced a (very) short mini-jack to mini-jack lead to link the two machines together.

In Use

In use, the DR-60 is pretty straightforward. Te gain pots are easy to use and the level display is clear, though the meter doesn’t have numbers along its length. However, there is a marking for -18dB which at least helps. Te first thing I did was

to calibrate the output of the DR-60 to the camera. I’d learned during the research of my previous feature that the key with DSLR audio is to keep the record gain low, in order to keep the noise floor at bay. I set the Nikon to its lowest record gain (it has three manual record levels) and set the Camera Out dial on the Tascam to different levels. Trough a bit of experimentation I found that having it at full whack produces a recording on the camera at the same level to the recorder. One quirk that came up with my initial recordings concerned the tone burst. I’d set this to trigger automatically each time the Tascam’s record button is pressed. But when the camera’s audio file was laid next to the recorder’s I noticed the squib from the Tascam was shorter than the one recorded by the Nikon. I can only assume this is because the camera got ‘rolling’ slightly quicker than its audio cousin did. By switching the tone control to

manual (now triggered by a Slate button) the problem disappeared. One big question for me

was: could I use the DR-60D as a mixer? Could I use the audio recorded by the camera, sent via the Tascam, to avoid the faff of having to sync up later?

I conducted a few tests using the Nikon, the DR-60, and a Rode NTG3 shotgun mic. Te latter alone marks a huge step up from the hardware I’ve seen most DSLR video shooters use and, crucially, it was off camera and hand held. I removed the SD cards

from my camera and recorder and copied the files off. Tey were loaded into a video editor – Premiere – for comparison. Syncing up the recorder audio with the camera material wasn’t as much of a hassle as I’d been imagining (once I’d sorted the tone function out). Ten came the comparison. Unsurprisingly, the audio recorded by the Tascam was clearly better.

You could hear the detail in the spoken dialogue and make out the spit-on-the- lips detail, versus the slightly muddied version reproduced by my Nikon. If you were working on a project that afforded you the time, this is the version to use. But (and it’s a biggie) if

you were in a rush and facing a deadline, the camera audio would suffice. Bear in mind the Tascam allows you to use a ‘proper’ mic on a ‘proper’ connection and to set level and to monitor. Even with the camera doing the AD work and preamplification, it’s enough to raise the bar enormously versus a more basic plug-in microphone or (shudders) the built-in ‘mic’. And you always have the Tascam’s own audio to fall back on: clear, sharp, and better than some standalone audio recorders I have used. It really does work as either a mixer or recorder. If you’re involved in

DSLR video production, this is definitely worth looking at.

The Reviewer

Jerry Ibbotson has worked in pro audio for more than 20 years, first as a BBC radio journalist and then as a sound designer in the games industry. He’s now a freelance audio producer and writer.


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