Tascam DR680mk2 In the Field

Ok so I did sound yesterday for a Chef from NY , Visiting Tokyo , We had a great time captured a LOT of stuff .

I had on a full Harness rig , Petrol 607 Bag , 2 Wireless Lavs , 1 Boom mic . The Wireless were going into Channels 1&2  of my Sound Devices USB Pre2 running off a USB Lithium Battery , (And It impressed me on its power consumption tremendously But that is for another story )

Digital SPDIF Out to the Tascam on Channels 5-6 , as they will accept Digital Input .

The Boom mic was on Channel 1 .

With it setup like this , I could control all 3 levels by leaving the Rec Trim menu on the Tascam open and Channel 1 selected , The DATA knob works as my fader , And I have the 2 controls on the Sound Devices preamp to control the Wireless units .

This was pretty comfortable throughout the night , and Worked fairly flawlessly until later in the evening where for a short time I powered down , Then later after break when I powered back up interesting things started happening . None that I didnt expect save 1 .

The Tascam FROZE in the middle of a scene …. A Popup comes up saying DIN LOCK ,  and all the buttons and controls on the Tascam Froze , I couldn’t turn it off , couldn’t change menus , couldn’t stop it , change volume , or anything , it just FROZE with the Popup DIN LOCK , showing on the screen .

It was so bad , I had to pull it out of the Bag unplug everything and pull out a battery to Un-power it or power down . Then I restarted it and pugged everything back in . and it worked fine the rest of the night .

But freezing up while your working , and in the middle of a shoot is a very serious issue . The Film crew is depending on everything to work so the job can get done and something good created .
This is a quality control issue maybe ??  I will search the net to see if anyone else has had that issue before I pass judgment , If it is a One off then it would be unfair to Castigate .

Power = I used a NP-L970 type battery on a Battery sled , and too my surprise , 1 Battery lasted me a good 6 -7 hours from a full charge . Very happy with that indeed . As these batteries are NOT THAT BIG , I mean really 7900 ma . Small Fist sized , Fit 2-3 of them in your bag , and just swap out as needed , I was very happy indeed with the power .

Monitoring ,  The Headphone Driver Could be a little better , But that would probably cost more power reducing the pleasing level of power consumption of that setup .  I could drive my headphones ( Sony  MDR -900 ST )  studio cans well enough to hear what I was doing .

I can live with that .

Connections ,—>

Love the fact that you have Locking Connectors , which in fact prove useful last night when someone in a Bar we were filming at tripped up the Boom Mic Cable . I held on ,and so did the Connection . No Signal Lost ….whew !

The SPDIF Digital I/O  adds to the Input scheme , as it is either SPDIF OR AES/EBU , selectable in the Menu . Now , This is a Cool feature ( As long as the Machine doesn’t LOCK UP !!!) because Many Digital Mixers have AES Outputs now . so One Cable across the room , from the Mixer to you . You can have a Stereo Master mix and a bunch of Analogue channels to Play with ( Kind of what I was doing last night )

I think really , With have the Wireless on the Faders of the Sound Devices giving me level control , The 680 became useful indeed .

The Ability to add Markers via the DATA Button and Setup what The Pause button does really makes it work too.
Camera was starting and stopping , But I was requested to just roll , so I did for the most part .  A LOT more audio than there is Video .  But What I did was Put Marker Files about where I saw the camera start or stop , or and even change or lull in the events . So in a DAW those markers should show up ( I will need to test that personally as I just dropped the SD Card with the Camera operator , and it will get mailed back to me . )

The Pause Button =  Two Choices ,  Pause —- Hit Rec again Same Take , but ext number increase ,  or Pause — Rec , New Take , Incremental File number  increases . If you are setup for WORD file names that is a Very helpful feature . Ex:  Scene2-01 , Scene2-02 etc , so by programming the file names Scene2-  , Scene3-   like that with a dash , You can have very clean visible file names to match the Camera , or call sheet .

I didnt have the Backlight ON all the time , had it set to 10 seconds so I could hit the HOME button and see my levels ( Night Shooting)  So that saved power , plus I was only using one channel of Phantom Power ( Boom Mic )  So THAT also save power .

Aside from the Software Freezing up ,  the rest of the evening was predictable , and Workable using the 680mk2  .

The Stereo MIX feature of recording the Mix of all incoming to  Channels 7-8 as a Stereo file separated from the MONO ISO files , is very likeable and I could see easily , the Camera or Editor just snagging that file alone to work with if your careful with your levels and have a good mix .
This is where the Digital Output is also Useful indeed , With a Camera that has AES /EBU input , again 1 Cable or Cable and Adapter , direct to Camera . ( I have the Cable , a little over 3 meters I think )

The Power usage allowed me to trust the 680mk2 a little more after using it yesterday . I know what I can get away with in terms of power . That Is a BIG issue on a long shoot .

The Software freeze , I am pretty quick at rectifying problems so I knew what to do , But what if that had Cost me DATA ????   See that is an Issue for Tascam to Consider . The Software for a recording device like this , Really should be ROCK SOLID , and thoroughly tested in every respect , as this type of device isn’t really a HOBBY machine , It is designed for Working with . The Freeze-up really unnerved me . That is a Concern , and what was really interesting is there was another sound guy , who was watching me , He wasn’t working he was just at the Bar and was watching when the Freeze happened . That was a bit embarrassing to say the least .

There were several LOUD instances thru the night . The Limiters on my Sound Devices proved themselves over and Over , the Tascam , did not . I really had to watch the gain and probably clipped a few areas where it got really loud real fast and I didn’t have time to adjust ( The need for Faders , for each Channel )


I give it a solid B+   Still needs work .  But it is quite usable . Aside from the occasional Freeze ( which was based on the Digital connection by the way )   DIN LOCK .
So If I had been all Analogue inputs Last night , Basically the Freeze would not have happened .

My 2 cents worth .  For whatever it is worth to you .


RME Quadmic 2 First Impressions

4 Channels of Portable Mic Preamps

DC Power that averages a little over 380ma , at 12 volts in use ( Phantom power will increase the draw a bit )

Cool form factor , and if you have Cable making skills it is Baggable .

Looks Very Cool . But Are looks what really matter ? No .


Lets get to the Critique shall we ?

#1  Know your Mics , Seriously you must know what your mic sounds like in different preamps before you can make an accurate assessment of anything to do with recording .

I have several Stereo Mics , And I KNOW what they sound like in different devices , Sony ECM-999 , ECM-MS957 , Audiotechnica AT-822 with adapters for XLR input .

In My Fostex FR2le  , The ECM-999 makes a fantastic sound gathering tool very open sounding , clear distinct , if even a little too much , sudden loud sounds really go over the top if your gain is high .
Same Mic in the RME Quadmic 2 , was Quiet enough to be used in most environments , BUT in a really quiet room  I have to really turn up the Gain to get sound levels out of it . Thereby introducing noise . With the Gain on 2 channels turned almost all the way up , feeding the outputs to a Sound Devices USB Pre2  , and the Laptop . I recorded Outside sounds with wind , birds in the distance , and then brought the mic in to record my Wife making Curry in the Kitchen ( as I have a Kitchen scene to record in the near future for a film )
Outside , the Sound was not quite as Spacious as I would have liked , but It was definitely useable sound , I think for a great many ambient and outdoor sounds that have a lot going on this preamp will be just fine with that mic .

In the Kitchen I wasn’t getting that OPEN airy big sound I was looking for from this mic , but I did get good stereo separation and closing my eyes listening I was able to follow my wife around the room in what she was doing with decent placement of left and right . But I could wish for a little cleaner gain .

On to the next Mic the ECM-MS957 which was actually and surprisingly a little Better sounding ( we are talking about a 400 dollar difference between these mics . I was actually liking what I heard in the room and outside both with the 957 , Still not the Big Air, or Open sound but nice . This preamp has a more focused sound to it . Lots of low end , ( I really had to use the Low cut filter )
The ECM-MS957 with the Tascam DR70D , or the Fostex FR2le is a fun mic , Not completely noise free but really decent sensitivity and open enough on sound and separation  . In the Quadmic Preamp  It is a More Closed sound with tighter focus but clean enough for me to use in a great many situations with satisfaction .

My AT-822 with XLR adapters , I know what this mic sounds like , on My Camera it gives me exactly what I want ( There will be a Video soon about the Tokyo Yamathon and ALL the sound was from the AT-822 )

But I wasnt exactly thrilled with the combination of the Quadmic Preamp and my AT-822 .  It Left me lacking somewhat . Impedance issue maybe ?? Most likely .

THAT though is the main point , The Quadmic has serious levels of headroom , Your not easily going to clip this preamp , As example I took out a RODE NTG2 , ( also have the NTG3)  , But the NTG2 being less gain than the NTG3 , I thought would be a good test, and so at Arms length speaking into the mic I bring up the Gain , and More gain and MORE gain   to the point of No more room to go and wasnt even getting the signal light to light up much less the clip light , so I bring the mic right up to me 2 inches from my mouth talking at good solid volume , kind of pushing it actually and FINALLY got it to clip with the gain practically wide open . ( your never going to record like that )

It Has Headroom .

OKTAVA MK-012 set with Cardioid capsules on , ……. Very agreeable sound indeed . Plenty of gain , and even in a quiet room , I could seriously use that combination on a film set with no hesitation at all .  Focused, Solid , Round , Crispy , yes indeed .

You have to remember this is a Portable Preamp running on LOW Power consumption so Expectations also have to be adjusted . Is it a Sound Devices 442 or Kamesan/Sigma 442 ?

In a word , No .  But it sounds better than the Recorders inputs in many cases , Equal to in other cases , More closed and focused in most cases , So why did I get it ?

Level control , 4 Channels of Level control that I didn’t have  and That it WILL give me quite nicely . But the unexpected level of Headroom this preamp has means that with Gain balancing between my Recorder and the Quadmic preamp I will have a REALLY wide range of stuff I can record with good quality .  From a Quiet room setting of two actors/actresses talking in low tones , To Explosive TAIKO drums without Clipping ( THIS IS a BIG deal ) I actually feel after testing this preamp out even though it doesn’t have Limiters like Sound Devices , I can get away with a LOT more that I would have before .

You see Digital Recorders , that say they have Limiters usually have the Limiter AFTER the A/D converter Hence the reason for having a Sound Mixer that Has Analogue Limiters well BEFORE the Recorders A/D converters .

Here is the Difference though , Limiters if Improperly used will Crunch your sound or Squeeze it and you hear it , it will detract from what your doing .

The Quadmic 2  Has enough Headroom that I can play with the gain well before going to the recorder and then maximise my gains in the recorder without clipping getting a really solid sound in Bigger scenes and situations . ( IE Car Crash , Drums , Explosions etc ) as long as I set it up ahead of time , I will get an Uncompressed Big Sound that doesnt lose it’s dynamics because of a overshoot into a brickwall limiter that goes crunch .

So , All In All do I feel like it is a worthy purchase ?  I do . Yes . …Is it a perfectly Quiet preamp , No it isn’t  ,  It is also a little picky about what Mics are plugged into it . Some mics will be that Big Quiet open sound your looking for , Some mics will not , Mostly due to a non variable impedance of the Preamp .

Learn what Mics work well with it , And it will reward you . Simple . But dont expect a Rupert NEVE , API , or SSL  sound out of it .

It is Better than a Mackie Mixer by far . But not Quite Sound Devices or Sigma . Close but not quite . So I use the gain in the recorder to match up and it will be quite enough to work with .

It is the Blue Jean chick in Tennis Shoes who will  will go hiking with you at a moments notice , It isn’t the Fairy Princess going to the Ball  in a Flowing Sequin Dress / Gown

It Runs on my small Lithium 4 amp 12 volt battery ,…. I have an even bigger Multivoltage Lithium 16 amp 12/16/19 volts selectable for laptop and other power needs . That will give me ALL WEEK power with this preamp out in the Wild or on Documentary sets , without worry .

I give the RME Quadmic 2  a sonic B+  , A-    and am quite content to use it without fear of a directors discontentment , They would never know , Only a true Sound Professional or Audiophile listening to the Isolated sound might want for a bit more , But in the Mix of a Sound track for a Film You will never ever notice it . It is that good at least .

I would ( and WILL) record Baroque , Classical , Trios and Quartets with this . Using agreeable mics with it . That is sensitive material HUGE dynamic range needed From very Delicate sounds , to Big Forte sounds , The Quadmic 2 has the room for it . I have used Preamps that Did not , and Recorders that Balk at the level differences . You setup to capture the delicate and blow the Loud because the A/D gets overloaded .
The Quadmic 2 preamp wont do that . I can setup for the delicate and use the LINE input on the Recorder giving me Way more headroom .
I am pretty confident , that I will have happy Clients with this preamp .

But as an Audio Guy , My Gear quest never ends …….



Mics and Mic Preamps ( Portability )

Why have a Mic preamp that is Portable ( IE Battery or DC Powered)
The Studio guy isnt going to , His or Her Gear is Racked in and squarely stationed in the Studio .

But I have a Penchant for Portability . The Ability to setup anywhere and get sounds that you would not get otherwise .

But there is a lot more to that Portable setup that initially meets the eye ( or Ears in this case)  Portable means also Outdoors in which now you have to think about Wind protection . Proper Wind protection requires some inginuity , because the stock wind furries and foam very rarely do the trick . ( Baby Socks really help though ) .

As I write this , I have a small solar panel facing out one window that the sun is coming thru , and a long power cable to a small 2 channel Mic Pre ( not of great audio quality but it works ) and out the other window facing the Park across the street is a Stereo Mic . The Mic has a Sock , and a Furry over the sock . And Still getting some wind noise , But I hear every tiny creature that you would not be able to hear just with your ears .
Therein lies the point , What You dont realise that your hearing . Mics dont lie .

There is a phenomenon that happens with human hearing , We shut stuff out . and do not realise just how much we shut out . But when we put the headphones on we dont . We hear everything in those headphones .

Imagine that , All the stuff you miss , now right in front of you .

What is even more interesting is when certain ceatures get interested in your Microphone , Birds and what not . And they Get right up to the mic , The rustling of Feathers , the Tiny grunt sounds , or happy curious gurgles , You can hear their curiousity . Quite clearly I might add .

The Quality of Preamp will make varying degrees of difference . For example , A Slightly noisy preamp ( white noise or broadband noise ) in a city environment isnt neccessarily a bad thing , and with some City Noise being really harsh and sharp sounding , and moderately noisy preamp adding that suble HISSSSSSSs in the Background can Soften the Harshness of City sounds making them easier to listen to .

Conversely , out in Nature , Where there are now  very little in the way of Complex sounds and the busy layered textures that White noise would Soften , You would want a very pristine Preamp /Mic combination  Because the spaces in between the sound you capture become just as valuable , Silence is also a Sound . It is a space in time , and part of that space your in .

So where does this short rant lead ?

Noisy Preamp , EFfing Piece of $$%# , Dont Buy this !!! YADA YADA YADA , The Comments sections are often More Noisy that the Device being reviewed .

But Instead , the Idea that That Noise might even be Useful doesnt even cross the mind . This is part of the Media Programing versus real education , or working knowledge .

Now Albeit I would not use that Noisy Preamp in the Studio except on really loud instruments , where I can turn the gain down so far the noise wont matter ( IE Drums and Percussion ) , but the Preamp can be useful , And an extra set of Channels ? Never know when that will be handy .

Having Multiple sources of Audio , For different types of sound . It is a Tool Box , Just like any other Tool box , it isnt any good if it doesnt have tools in it .

Portable mic preamps , Yeah , Must haves . at least in my toobox .