The hype around the Panasonic RR-DR60

a diagram of a DR60 overlaid on a swirled purple background with the words "the hype around the Panasonic RR-DR60"

A look at lore surrounding the legendary Panasonic RR-DR60. How did the late 1990s audio recorder become a device that now sells for $4,000-5,000 USD on eBay? What makes the DR60 so special?

Highlights include:

  • plenty o' nostalgia (and skepticism)
  • a digression about hard drives (everyone's favorite)
  • some arguments in favor of using older gear to investigate the paranormal

This is the written version of an episode of Buried Secrets Podcast, which you can also listen to here or on your favorite podcatcher.

In a 2009 experiment, cheap thrift store objects were listed on eBay, accompanied by uniquely compelling product descriptions. The copy was penned by a star-studded cast of writers, including Meg Cabot, William Gibson, Ben Greenman, Sheila Heti, Neil LaBute, Jonathan Lethem, Tom McCarthy, Lydia Millet, Jenny Offill, Bruce Sterling, Scarlett Thomas, and Colson Whitehead. The 200 objects, purchased for $250, sold for nearly $8,000, because of the power of the narratives that were created for each item.

I think about that experiment often, especially when it comes to sought-after paranormal devices.

If you look up the Panasonic RR-DR60 on eBay, you’ll be greeted with listings of the decades-old device priced at an eyewatering $4,000-$5,000. Similar vintage recorders, like the Panasonic RR-QR240 and Panasonic RR-QR80, go for a steep $500. So, what’s the deal? Are people just particularly nostalgic for old Panasonic recorders from the 1990s?

If you’re into the paranormal, you already know the answer to that.

Within the ghost hunting community, the Panasonic DR60 is famous for supposedly being the crème de la crème of EVP (electronic voice phenomenon) recorders. Supposedly this recorder can capture EVPs better than any other.

However, plenty of people have claimed that the device adds weird sound artifacts to any recording (that’s why the recorder was discontinued, after all). Other folks have said that most of the recordings turn out pretty normal, but that they do get a higher than average amount of EVPs.

I first learned about the Panasonic DR60 from the podcast Astonishing Legends, which published an episode in 2018 in which they brought the mythical device to the equally mythical Sallie House in Atchinson, Kansas. In the episode, they play what seems like a possible EVP; it certainly sounds like a terrifying otherworldly being is screaming at them. But it could also be a glitch; I couldn’t say.

I have never used this device, but I’m interested in why this recorder is so popular.

Part of it, I think, is the obvious: People want communication from entities, and this device seems to deliver EVPs. Never mind that it seems to add weird audio distortions to many ordinary recordings.

Another aspect might be the legends that have grown up around the recorder, à la that 2009 eBay experiment. If enough people are told that something has a particular power and backstory, then a certain number of those people will believe it. Especially if the product is featured on TV.

But if you listened to the last few episodes, you know what I'm about to say: I also think that nostalgia might be at work.

In the last couple episodes, I talked about nostalgia and paranormal investigation, from the use of spirit boxes to instant photography in ghost hunting.

Many of the devices that we use to investigate the paranormal happen to be iconic technology connected to the 1980s and the 1990s. I think that nostalgia has a large influence on the devices we choose to use to investigate the paranormal.

As someone who was born in the 1980s, I certainly have plenty of that nostalgia myself, and it’s easy for me to idealize old tech and believe that it was better in some ways—or at least more charming. (You’ll often catch me raving about my old 2000s-era PowerBook G4, for example. Or walking around Queens taking pictures with one of my two instant cameras. I’m not immune to nostalgia, for sure.)

The Panasonic DR60 is interesting, because despite being from the 1990s, it doesn’t use tape; it’s a digital recorder. However, it also doesn’t connect to computers via USB. My understanding is that in order to get recordings off of it, you have to play the recording out loud and then record that audio.

The DR60 seems to be a piece of in-between technology, much like the Sony Mavica (a 90s digital camera that used floppy disks, and later CDs, for storage) or MiniDisk player. (I still feel nostalgic about my old MiniDisk player, even though I replaced it with a Walkman that played CDs as soon as I could because it was such a pain to have to rip CDs onto blank MiniDisks if I wanted to listen to them.)

I have a real soft spot for mostly useless in-between technology, because it’s typically innovative but also not quite innovative enough. MiniDisks were a great idea that didn’t quite work for most consumers and was rendered obsolete by mp3 players. Though it sold well in its time, the Mavica was eventually replaced by digital cameras with SD cards. The DR60 was discontinued because of its low recording quality, but USB-connected digital recorders probably would have led to its extinction anyway.

You know, I’d find the DR60 quaint if it didn’t piss me off so much.

I despise the narrative that a person needs to spend a ton of money to investigate the paranormal, which is why when I fleshed out my version of the Solo Estes Method, I focused on finding affordable gear alternatives wherever possible.

Despite enjoying tech, for a long time, I mostly eschewed paranormal gadgets (aside from my spirit box and a digital recorder) because of their high cost. I’m of the opinion that you can use anything to investigate the paranormal, from your own senses to a paper fortune teller, a set of dice, deck of tarot cards, or a voice recorder app on your phone.

I've also been on a DIY gadget kick—I want to find ways to create DIY versions of devices that would otherwise be inaccessible to most people (including me). I've been chronicling my adventures in learning to solder and build things on my blog.

But to get back to the DR60: I noticed that its price, as reported in articles, skyrocketed year over year:

EBay is full of listings with language urging customers to act fast or they’ll miss out on a rare opportunity to buy a genuine DR60. Other vintage recorders have hopped on the bandwagon, as well: One listing for a Panasonic RR-QR80 (which, remember, now sells for about $500) says things like “If you are using a Panasonic RR-DR60 by itself without a Panasonic RR-QR80 for EVP, you are only getting part of the picture. Professional investigators have learned that they need to use both an RR-DR60 and RR-QR80 at the same time.” That absurd, high-pressure sales type language is sleezy, ultra-capitalist drivel, and is a symptom of the bizarre hype around the device. I don't necessarily think that the device is a scam, but I don't support the narrative around it.

I’m not trying to call anyone out here. I can’t fault the people who use, buy, and sell these devices. (Honestly, if I came across one, I'm not sure that I could resist the temptation. I live in New York City and selling it would get me the equivalent of several months' rent—4 or 5 grand is serious money.)

I also don’t care whether the DR60 “works” as an EVP recorder or is just recording creepy-sounding glitches. It seems like a case where both can be true, depending on the circumstance.

But I do think it’s worth thinking about why some devices get so much hype, and why there’s such an eagerness to put so much stock in a particular piece of tech over cheaper, easier-to-find alternatives.

Some half-steeped arguments in favor of devices like the DR60

Before moving on, I wanted to attempt a lukewarm defense of devices like the DR60. Now, I'm not actually advocating for the DR60, just because, as I said, I think the scarcity pricing and narrative around the device is absurd.

But I did think of a couple arguments in favor of using an old recorder.

First off, let's look at one of the smartest arguments that I've heard in favor of using gadgets—of any sort—for paranormal investigation.

On a recent episode[^1] of The Invisible Night School, Jayson, who's one of the organizers of Panparacon among other things, talked about how it can be helpful to have a buffer between you and paranormal phenomena, just from a physical and mental health perspective. He compares gadget use to adding a capacitor or resistor to a circuit.

He pointed out that gadgets can be a protective buffer between us and the paranormal. For example, if you do an Estes Method session and get wild results, that probably won't completely change your worldview. It's just a cool paranormal experience, but nothing mind-blowing. Whereas if you see something more dramatic and "real" feeling, like a full-bodied apparition, that can completely shake the foundations of your reality.

So while I still don't think gadgets should be held up as some sort of gold standard for paranormal experiences, I absolutely agree with Jayson here.

I can also think of an argument in favor of using old gadgets for paranormal investigation. Even glitchy ones.

In the last episode, I talked about computational photography, and I looked at controversial cases of our devices automatically doctoring the images that we capture without letting us opt out. Some computational photography seems fairly innocent, like phone cameras' portrait mode. Others, like Samsung phones' AI-assisted recreations of the moon, which were passed off as "zoomed in" images, are more deceptive.

I also talked about how teleconferencing services like Zoom clean up audio, and how many of our devices do behind-the-scenes work to bring us "higher quality" images and audio. But by smoothing out the world, they bring the evidence of reality that we capture—pictures, recordings—closer to an algorithmically determined "ideal" version.

In that case, it's easy to imagine that newer devices, especially ones using algorithmic assistance, might erase evidence of the paranormal before we even see it. If a program is designed to get rid of anomalous audio, for example, might it filter out an EVP?

I offered glitches as a possible way for the paranormal to surface in our attempts to capture paranormal evidence using modern smartphones. So it's worth paying extra attention to glitches when they occur, since they may be the only opportunities for anomalies to slip through.

So, with all that being said, it does make sense to fall back on older technology that we have reason to believe doesn't make algorithmic adjustments to optimize our photos, video, and audio.

All right, those are my half-hearted arguments for using older—maybe even analog—devices to investigate the paranormal. That being said, I'm not totally convinced.

The audio recorders that I use

I suppose I should mention what audio devices I favor for paranormal investigation: I own a Zoom H4N (a high-quality digital recorder), which I use on occasion. I've used it more to record podcast episodes than I have to do paranormal investigation.

I use my $50 Sony digital recorder most often while out and about, because it's small and portable. I favor recorders like this over my phone because the recordings are better quality and file management is a bit better.

That being said, I haven't done a ton of EVP sessions, in large part because the EVPs that I have captured have been . . . frustrating. It's a longish story, but for some reason, I seem to have encountered a real trickster element to EVPs.

I don't own a tape recorder or pre-USB-connection device like the DR60. I'd love to try out a tape recorder, mostly because of my nostalgia for cassette tapes. But since there's been a lot of ink spilled about the paranormal and magnetism, I'd be curious whether the use of magnetic tape would make any difference in evidence collection.

Also, if the paranormal could influence devices that use magnetized elements for storage, it's also worth asking whether they can influence old-school hard drives, since those disks are magnetic as well. (By the way, in case you're wondering, according to the technical guide to the RR-DR60, the device uses 16-bit flash storage. So that's semiconductors, not a hard drive with moving, magnetized parts.)

Check out my other episodes and blog posts about nostalgia and paranormal investigation.

[^1]Around the 01:10:00 mark.