Multi-Track Field Recording Gets Affordable with the Tascam DR-680

3Share

In today's crowded field of portable digital audio recorders (Tascam alone has seven different models on the market), the new DR-680 has managed to carve out an impressive niche for itself. It's currently the most affordable battery-powered field recorder that's capable of recording six separate microphone inputs onto their own individual track. That's big news for anyone on a tight budget who's involved with producing reality television, live music recordings, or any job where numerous microphones need to be recorded discretely. There are other portable recorders on the market that can accomplish these tasks, but the closest competitor costs over three times as much. This machine has rewritten the rules of what is and what is not possible on a strict location audio budget.



The DR-680 has a lot to offer in terms of functionality and features, which I'll elaborate on later in the article. First I'd like to discuss how its inputs and outputs can be put to use in different situations. Inputs 1 through 6 feature unbalanced RCA outputs that can either act as dedicated outputs for each mic/line input, or as three stereo mix outputs. This means that you could feed as many as 6 wireless headphone transmitters to keep every important person on set happy. The graphic below will give you an idea of the extensive kind of rig you can get going in a larger audio bag like the Petrol PEGZ-2 Eargonizer:


5 x Sennheiser Wireless Receivers
1 x Wired Boom Mic
6 x Comtek Transmitters (for wireless headphone feeds)
1 x Headphone monitor with Sony MDR-7506's


It's not likely that you would need 6 separate Comtek transmitters in one bag, but it's pretty cool that it can be done. The 6 outputs on the DR-680 open up the doors to a number of different location audio workflows. Typically in reality television shoots you have several wireless microphones in use. The dialog is unscripted, and you never know exactly what's going to happen. So a common practice is to record the audio from every microphone on its own track. Since it's unpredictable what the subjects are going to say and do, you're better off recording everything and mixing the audio in post.

That's why an affordable multi-track recorder like the DR-680 is such a welcome addition. It can be used with or without a portable field mixer. You can plug up to 6 microphones directly into the DR-680 and record all of the audio as individual tracks without a mixer. You can pan the tracks inside of the DR-680 and record a stereo mix. So if you had 5 people wearing wireless microphones and one boom microphone, you could pan all of the wireless mics to one side and pan the boom to the other, so the boom is separated from the wireless in the stereo mix.

If you have a portable field mixer like the Sound Devices 552 or the Wendt X4, you can easily use it with the DR-680. You can plug all of the microphones into the portable mixer, and plug the direct outputs on the mixer into the inputs on the DR-680. Or you can do the opposite. Plug all of the microphones directly into the 680, and plug the direct outputs from the 680 into the inputs on your field mixer. Having options is always a good thing. There are coaxial S/PDIF inputs and outputs on the DR-680, which makes it possible to record a total of 8 tracks at a time. The digital inputs can be switched to accept the AES/EBU format. A stereo mix can be separately recorded, independent of the mic, line, and digital I/O tracks.



I was able to fit the DR-680 into a small Petrol audio bag with a dual channel Lectrosonics SR receiver, two Lectrosonics URA100 wireless receivers, a Remote Audio BDSv3, a Remote Audio NP1 cap, and a Switronix NP1 battery. There are 15 switches on top of the DR680 that allow you to adjust the inputs to accept line or mic level signals. You can also change the input gain for each channel from low to high, and to turn on and off phantom power in groups of two. The playback of recorded files is handled from the top of the unit as well. In short, there are many controls that will not be accessible in a normal location audio bag. But once you have your gain structure worked out and inputs and outputs sorted, most of the controls you'll need quick access to are prominently featured on the face of the DR-680.

Keeping an eye on your levels is always important in audio. The display of the DR-680 does a decent job of this, but one thing that's missing are bright red LED lights that warn you of clipping. Another thing that isn't found on the DR-680 are gain knobs for each of the individual inputs. If you want to adjust the level of a channel, you have to use a single value knob to control them all. Limiters are provided on every input, which will help against clipping.



What's impressive about the microphone inputs is that in addition to giving you four balanced combo XLR and 1/4" inputs, the two additional 1/4" microphone inputs feature balanced TRS jacks. This kind of input enables you to record audio with less noise then unbalanced TS jacks. Phantom power can be supplied to every microphone input, including the two balanced TRS inputs. Controls for phantom power and numerous other functions can be found on the top of the DR-680.

The DR-680 runs on 8 AA batteries, or with the included AC adapter. Regular Alkaline batteries get you 4 hours of use, and NiMH batteries provide 4.5 hours. USB 2.0 connectivity is provided, which enables you to rapidly transfer files (it's compatible with Mac and Windows). The audio files are recorded onto SD cards (card not included). The DR-680 will work with up to 32GB SDHC Cards, giving you over 370 hours of MP3 recording time. An internal speaker makes it possible to monitor the recorded audio without headphones, and a 1/4" headphone output makes it possible to monitor without the internal speaker. It even has these cool little pop-out kickstand feet that make it more tabletop friendly. The best thing about this machine is that there is nothing close to it at this price. If you need to record multi-track audio in the field on a tight budget, the Tascam DR-680 is the only game in town.

3 Comments

Thanks for your great review Sam, I agree this is a great machine for a great price with only minor limitations, here is a review of my experiences with the TASCAM DR-680 at over 100 degrees operating temperature:

 

I chose the DR-680 because it recorded to a flash drive, I used 32gb sd cards, rather then to a hard drive, I felt the flash drive would be less likely to fail due to rough roads, airline travel, dust, and wind, with varying humidity. I also liked the 6 channels available for discreet recording. I did not need time code, as we were not using a clapper or sync time code, we were shooting on two 5d’s.

 

Things I loved: Portable, very light, the flash drive performed excellently, it has 48V Phantom for my boom mic (see also things I didn’t love). It ran almost nonstop for two 36 hour shifts

 

Things I Didn’t Love: Heat not so good! The manual says its maximum operating temperature is 104 degrees Fahrenheit. Let me tell you what happens after that. My DR-680 was in a portabrace bag with air space all around on the left and right sides, it was hugged close to the case on the bottom and had some air space on its top, then on the other side of a divider were 4 lectrosonics receivers. In the first days of shooting we were told the ground temp got to around 109, after quite a while I noticed a buzz in the boom, I turned off the 48 Volt power supply and that eliminated the buzz. I had to run without the boom for a little while to let it cool off. The other channels that didn’t require 48volt power would operate fine. A day later we had another shoot and we were fine until the temp reached close to 115, I had learned just to take breaks inside the air conditioning, but this time we had to run for an extended time outside shooting a scene. So up pops an error message that says “device error”, no other remedy would work, I tried cooling it down, the only way to get rid of the error message according to the manual was to unplug it, I lost all the files since the last shutdown. This device has to be shutdown and given time to complete the writing of the files to the sd card otherwise if you just pull the power you are not saving your files. Lesson learned, from that time on I frequently in between scenes shut down and then started up again in order to save the files.

 

Ed Anderson

Ronhillimagery.com

Hi Mark78,

With the appropriate microphones, it is possible to record a singer and a guitarist using the Tascam DR-680. However, it's important to note that the DR-680 will not allow you to overdub additional tracks. For example, if you record a singer/guitarist with the DR-680, it isn't possible to layer a bass guitar track, tambourines, and back-up vocals later.

The DR-680 is a great machine if you need to make raw live music recordings. But if you want a recorder that will enable you to layer additional tracks and sculpt a song as you would in a recording studio, a multi-track recorder like the Tascam DP-02 is the way to go.

Thanks for posting your question!

Sam

Hi, is it also possible to record a singer, or an electric guitar with this recorder with good results¿ That could be a good idea? Thanks.

Close

Close

Close