TASCAM Triple Threat

At less than a quarter-pound in weight each, three new AAA battery microphones with direct capture to microSDHC cards for DSLR, XLR-handheld and lavalier systems from TASCAM.

At less than a quarter-pound in weight each, three new AAA battery microphones with direct capture to microSDHC cards for DSLR, XLR-handheld and lavalier systems from TASCAM.

Announced this last April at NAB, TASCAM turned quite a few heads with the DR-10SG, an on-camera shotgun microphone solution aimed directly at DSLR users. With microSD support from 2 GB to 64 GB (as well as microSDHC from 4 GB to 32 GB), the microphone captures directly to the card, negating the need for an extra digital recorder or field mixer, and even an extra sound person to mic. In that same tradition, TASCAM has also just announced a new internal-capture mic in a lavalier form based on the previously available DR-10X plug-on linear PCM recorder.

The new DR-10L lavalier kit is almost exactly the same in menu and offerings as the slightly larger DR-10X XLR base unit for self-powered handheld mics, even down to the form factor of the body’s lower half, which houses a 3.5mm headphone/line-out jack, 4pin Micro-B USB-out, microSD slot, volume control buttons and power switch. (As on-talent lav system, the DR-10L includes a body clip while the DR-10X does not.) The 3.5mm (1/8”) jack is doubly useful for dual audio capture, as it will pipe right to a camera or digital recorder, but it can also be used as a headphone for monitoring during capture or playback review. (I’m assuming it’s equipped in the DR-10X for podcasts and self-recording needs, as well.)

Adding very little weight to a kit, they’re impossibly small at 51g/56.3g sans battery, respectively. Regarding battery, at an estimated 8 hours of operation with standard NiMH AAA, average capture can be extended up to 15.5 hours with lithium AAA models (like the Energizer ULTIMATE, commonly available in supermarkets). Both models are also designed to be exceedingly simple to set up and use with plug-and-play operation. Even without the menu or buttons, one-touch recording/stop is available simply by sliding the power switch directly to the Rec setting to the right. (A hold button will restrict and the one-second hold time is designed to prevent accidental on/off.)

The two models have an important difference in the head. The PCM recorder in the DR-10X has an XLR adapter rather than the lavalier jack found in the DR-10L. It does have a clamp attachment for condenser handheld mics with XLR connection, but it’s only a capture device, so it’s not supplying phantom power. Therefore, it’s only compatible with mics that already have battery operation themselves. That’s not too limiting at all, as many companies like Sony, RØDE, Sennheiser and others offer compatible models. B&H already sells several ready-to-go kit purchases that couple the DR-10X recorder with compatible handheld interview microphones like the Senal SEENG18RL and Electro-Voice RE50B models.

The offerings on these little guys are hardly entry level, either. A few of the many features achievable through an exceedingly easy to step through menu include slate-tone generation for auto audio-sync in post and an awesome feature called Dual Recording, which will capture a simultaneous lower-level safety track that can be used in post to avoid clipping. You have your choice of 24-bit or 16-bit capture, with both a 44.1/48 kHz sample rate. An 8 GB 24-bit/48 kHz mono WAV file will offer 16:32 minutes during normal capture and half that with DUAL REC running. So at a maximum support of 32 GB, that’s more than an hour of capture per card of highest quality. With 24-bit/48 kHz meeting most industry standards for broadcast, the extra 8 bits translates to roughly an additional dynamic range of about +20 dB in most mics. The peak reach is 115 dB in the DR-10L/X, certainly high enough for interview situations, even up to man-in-the-street.

Stepping through the menus on both was more or less the exact same experience, which is nice for those looking to start a system. “Manual” gain is a bit of a misnomer, as there are only a few digital steps of adjustment on each, though the devices can also be set to use auto gain. The preview equalizer that runs while adjusting input volume and each stepped adjustment of gain is incredibly helpful in making the correct settings without needing headphones, too, with stepped changes that are subtle enough for slight adjustments to dynamic range.

They vary in a few features; for example, the DR-10L adds Mic Bias and Warning Beep. As part of the same series, the similar but much more advanced onboard shotgun microphone, the DR-10SG streets at roughly the same price point. Lightweight at 110 grams, it’s an excellent travel companion for DSLR users. With simultaneous capture to the camera through a 1/8” jack, the DR-10SG will also feed directly to recorders through an output connection for dual audio from a single solution. TASCAM’s DR-701D field recorder is recommended by the company as a suitable four-channel digital recorder that will also give you HDMI syncing, timecode and XLR.
I had some time to play with it and there was quite an improvement over the internal mic of a Canon EOS-1D X Mark II. The sound is definitely better and richer than older entry-level, similarly priced models that I’ve used from Sennheiser and RØDE. The “floating” shock mount is also an improvement over other models of this ilk. Built around a central column, it’s like an elastic tower with a bit of give, but not too much, so be careful, as always.

Super-cardioid, the pickup pattern in the DR-10SG is a little different than the cardioid you’ll find in most other camera-top mics. It picks up a bit of audio from the rear while rejecting side axes ambience, useful for documentary and interviews. The mic also has four equalization presets to tailor as needed with natural and flat, standard, interview and field recording selections. There’s also a hard (but potentially brittle) plastic arm extension that positions the DR-10SG above the lens and ahead of the camera. It’s supposed to further reduce camera-handling noise and pickup more of the front-facing audio, but I felt the fairly cheap construction on that added more noise rather than subtracted it when I had to walk with the camera. (It says not to use it as a handle.) I used the 10-SG both with and without the arm using a 17-40mm ƒ/4L lens on full-frame; the mic tip never fell into the composition or prevented lens or hand movements, even all the way out to 17mm.

All in all, each of these options offers very sophisticated and smart designs at under $200. So are there downsides? Visit HDVideoPro.com on the web for a deeper dive once I’ve had some time with all three. I’ll post audio and video examples, as well.
Estimated Street Price: $169 (DR-10SG shotgun mic); $169 (DR-10L digital audio recorder with lavalier mic); $159 (DR-10X plug-on recorder for XLR self-powered handheld).

Contact: TASCAM, tascam.com.