To begin with, I should state up front that I’m not an audio person, nor am I qualified to judge audio quality on a professional level.
This article is written for a noob (similar to myself) who has to make do with the information available online and take a decision based on that. I’m in the hunt for a cheap sound recorder that is good for:
- Recording dialogue and monologues, particularly interviews.
- Recording ambience and some specialized sounds.
- Performing as a backup to the main sound recorder (which will be a Deva or a Sound Devices system securely in the able hands of a production mixer).
- Great quality for speech-based recordings.
The two sound recorders I’m specifically looking at are the Zoom H6 and the Tascam DR-60D. Ideally, I’d prefer to own a Sound Devices recorder – but I don’t have the budget (I have to pay double for whatever I want to buy) nor the ability to appreciate such a tool.
If it were portable, and I had had the budget, I would have bought the Tascam HD-P2, which I’ve written about in 5 low-budget audio recorders for video production. If you don’t know why you even need a sound recorder, head over to the Chapter on Audio in the Comprehensive Rigging Guide.
Which one sounds better: the Zoom H6 or the Tascam DR-60D?
Since I have no way to test either device before purchasing it, I’m forced to rely on online reviews. Luckily, there are passionate individuals who take the trouble to provide samples for comparison. Here are some reviews and comparisons:
First, a great and detailed comparison:
Here’s a great review of the Tascam DR-60D:
Here’s a good review of the Zoom H6, also compared with the Zoom H4N:
Right away, the biggest noise on the Internet regarding the Zoom H6 is its increased noise (bad pun intended). Secondly, it has a poor display that isn’t visible in daylight. For some strange reason, the H6 is shaped like a telephone receiver. On the other hand, it comes with an SD card, a stereo microphone and four XLR inputs.
And it looks great.
Audio specs comparison between the Tascam DR-60D and the Zoom H6
How do they compare theoretically? Here’s a chart (if you don’t know what some of these terms mean, head over to the audio section of Driving Miss Digital):
|Zoom H6||Tascam DR-60D|
|3.5mm TRS||1 (M/L)||2 (M,L)|
|2.5mm TRS||None||1 (Remote)|
|3.5mm TRS||2 (L, H)||3 (L, H)|
|File format||WAV, MP3||BWF|
|Audio bit depth||16, 24||16, 24|
|Sampling Rate||44.1-96 KHz||44.1-96 KHz|
|Number of channels||6||4|
|Battery life (Continuous recording)||20 hours||A lot less|
|Battery options||4xAA, USB, AC||4xAA, USB, AC, TASCAM BP-6AA|
|Dimensions||(77.8 x 152.8 x 47.8 mm)||(133 x 93.2 x 78 mm)|
|XY Stereo Microphone||Yes, with foam windshield||No|
|Mid-size Stereo Microphone||Yes||No|
|2GB MicroSD card with SD Adapter||Yes||No|
|Warranty||1 year||1 year|
Note: Prices and features might be inaccurate. Please refer to the manufacturers’ websites for correct information and prices.M – Mic, L – Line, H – Headphone
Specifications-wise they are similar. Where the Tascam DR-60D lags behind are:
- Poor battery life.
- Potentiometers are not analog.
- Doesn’t offer a strap or bag, or even spare batteries.
- Has only two XLR inputs (though that isn’t a problem if you only need two).
- It’s twice as heavy.
The Zoom H6 has the following problems:
- Poor ergonomics and display.
- Only the add-on XLR unit has backup recording (sold separately for $69.99).
- Lower-grade preamps.
- Limited tactile controls.
Are there any disadvantages to both the cameras? Two important ones:
- No XLR output to camera.
- No BNC Timecode or Genlock option.
How am I going to decide?
It’s one thing to be an audio specialist and know what you want, and it’s quite another to be a noob without much audio sense. I come back to my requirements:
Recording dialogue and monologues, particularly interviews
In a monologue situation, most people record with just one microphone. A safer way to do it is by recording on two microphones – a lavalier and a shotgun. I tend to be of the latter disposition. If another person joins the conversation, and I have to record one or two more inputs, I can’t do that with the Tascam DR-60D.
Sure, I could get a mixer and then feed that into the sound recorder but I’m not a production mixer and I wouldn’t know what to do with it in any case. Secondly, for quick backup audio, the Zoom H6 also includes a couple of stereo microphones. I could use the same for other scenarios if I ever needed them.
If you’re absolutely sure you don’t need more than two XLR inputs, then based on the controls available and the audio quality tests, I’d say the Tascam DR-60D is better.
Recording ambience and some specialized sounds
Here the Zoom H6 wins hands down. The additional microphones (capsules) makes it easy to walk around quickly and pick up some ambient sounds. It’s also lighter and one can carry it like a smartphone (from 1999).
Performing as a backup to the main sound recorder
Here the Tascam DR-60D has the advantage, because it can do backup recording on both its inputs. However, the Zoom H6 can also record backups with the additional EXH-6 Dual XLR/TRS Combo Input Capsule which isn’t too expensive. In my case, this is a tie.
Great quality for speech-based recordings
To my ears they both sound great. But going by what the experts say, I’d say the Tascam DR-60D has the upper hand.
Here’s the explanation from their website:
…the MSH-6 MS capsule is being used to capture the main sound source in stereo, with external boom and lavalier mics (connected to Inputs 1 and 2) focused on the talent providing narration. Another pair of external mics is connected to inputs 3 and 4 and are being used to record a second stereo image, this one of the other performers in the scene. By using the MS capsule, you can then use the H6’s onboard MS decoder to adjust the width of the main stereo image in post-production.
The MS capsule is part of the kit. The modularity of the Zoom H6 makes it a versatile tool.
What’s the takeaway? Strange as it may seem, the Tascam DR-60D is the better sound recorder, but for my needs, the Zoom H6 is better. But there’s one problem – the Zoom H6 is out of stock in most places, and is selling for $500 or so, $100 over its base price. Go figure.
Update 2016: I purchased the DR-60D and this is what I use for all of my videos.