Derek Johnson examines one of the more affordable recorders, the Aiwa XD-S1100.
The supply of truly affordable (or at least sub‑£1000) DAT recorders may eventually dry up for good, but for the time being there are still machines to be had in this price range. The Aiwa XD‑S1100 is a domestic machine available from HHB, who are providing a warranty for pro users. Even though the build quality of the XD‑S1100 is as sturdy as we'd expect from a decent domestic machine, this last point is worth dwelling on: nearly all affordable DAT machines, past and present, are domestic models that have moved sideways into the studio market, complete with domestic warranty. Thus, any problems encountered while using such a machine in a studio are not covered by the warranty. HHB, following a thorough test period, are happy to fill in the warranty gap with the XD‑S1100, and they will also be keeping good stocks of spares. A few words about the HHB connection: when originally delivered, the review XD‑S1100 had suffered minor damage in transit. HHB promptly took the machine back, one of their engineers gave it a thorough once over, and it was returned as good as new. That's what I call service.
The machine is solidly built, and has a three‑motor transport on a sturdy chassis with anti‑vibration insulation. One‑bit digital converters are used, and a wireless remote is supplied. Transport controls are standard fare, and the XD‑S1100 has all the usual familiar DAT sub‑code management functions (start, skip and end IDs, for example). Full analogue and digital (coaxial and optical) connections are provided. Its sound is, subjectively, as clean and noise‑free as we've grown to expect from domestic DAT machines in general; pros or those with spare cash (and demanding ears) could easily whack a high‑spec DAC on the digital output, but the sound is certainly good enough for day to day use by the bulk of musicians.
I didn't like the cassette drawer much: the cassette tends to slip around a bit before being admitted to the main compartment. When ejecting a DAT cassette, the tape disengages, and the case is flirted out into the drawer. I'm sure there is no physical danger, but it doesn't feel very good. One other point is that while the XD‑S1100 will play back 32kHz/long play recordings, it can't actually record at this rate. It may surprise you to know that 32kHz, with its 16kHz frequency limit, still produces reasonable results, and since tape runs at half speed, it lasts twice as long. This is useful for various purposes, so it's a bit of a shame not to have the facility on what is one of the few remaining affordable DAT recorders. One last niggle regards the inevitable inclusion of SCMS copy protection; this prohibits digital to digital copies past one generation. However, SCMS can be removed from the digital stream with a special device — for example, the CopyRite SMCS defeat box from Audio Design (0734 844545), or Blade Music's Stripper, available shortly (0223 208552).
However, I digress: as an affordable, uncompressed digital mastering medium, there's nothing to touch DAT. The Aiwa name has a place in many a musician's heart (remember the portable HDS1?), and this new machine shows no sign of letting the side down.