Tascam DR680 as combo field mixer and recorder

I’ve been using a Tascam DR680 field recorder for a while now, for location sound, recording gigs and general mucking about and field recording. It’s a handy unit with 6 mic pres and up to 8 channel recording to SD card. There are plenty of people using these units and plenty of reviews out there for people to read, but to summarise the main things I like and dislike about it are:

  • Pros – good, clean preamps and great quality portable multi-channel recording.
  • Cons – rubbish headphone amp.

Really, the DR680 is awesome for price, and it smashes a lot of the budget recorders out of the park for preamp quality and noise performance.

For location sound jobs I will usually use a Sound Devices 442 as a front end for the DR680, just because it allows me more routing and mixing options, but I have wondered whether I could get away with not using the 442, and just using the outputs from the DR680 to send to camera. The controls for mixing on the DR680 aren’t great, but the other thing that has held me back from doing this is latency. The audio would need to go through an A/D process and then D/A before outputting from the RCA outputs, which results in a short delay of the signal reaching the camera. The other week I was working on a shoot and ran into a technical issue with my 442 which caused me to take the 442 out of the bag and just use the DR680. I sent to camera from the RCA outputs of the DR680, into a Sennheiser ew100 wireless transmitter, with the receiver attached to camera and inputting to camera on 1 channel.

How did it work out? Well, I have to admit, I haven’t listened to the camera audio, but given it was just a guide track anyway, I am not too stressed about that. I also had another mic mounted on the camera going to channel 2 of the camera as another guide for sync. Anyway, I think it did the trick alright.

After the shoot I did a quick test of the DR680 output latency. I sent a tone out of a cable tester 3 different paths before recording into Pro Tools via a Digi 002 interface.

Channel 1 – Cable directly connected from cable to tester to 002 in was my reference.

Channel 2 – Cable tester to DR680 input, RCA cable output to 002 input. This showed up a latency of 52 samples at 48kHz sample rate with reference to Ch 1.

Channel 3 – Cable tester to DR680 input, RCA cable output to Sennheiser ew100 transmitter, RF to Sennheiser receiver, then into 002 input. This showed up a latency of 54 samples at 48kHz sample rate with reference to Ch 1.

A latency of 52-54 samples at 48kHz sample rate amounts to just over 1ms delay. Not bad really, and something that I think is manageable in most circumstances as long as you are aware of it. The 2 sample difference using the wireless hop is pretty good too I reckon. These are analogue devices that modulate the audio sample to RF rather than converting to digital and back again. If you used digital wireless Tx/Rx then you would expect at least a few ms of latency to be incurred.

In summary, using the Tascam DR680 for mixing and recording functions when you are sending out to camera is not ideal due to the limited controls for mixing and the short latency incurred, but it is workable.


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