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Sony PCMR300

DAT Recorder By Paul White
Published April 1998

Sony PCMR300

Paul White tests a new Sony DAT recorder offering professional features at an affordable price.

Just a decade ago, most mastering was done to 2‑track analogue tape, but now virtually every serious recording facility on the planet relies on DAT, a failed digital consumer tape format rescued from oblivion by the audio industry's overwhelming desire to go digital. Though DAT was never intended to be a professional format, the better machines on the market tend to be both good sounding and reliable, and in an era where there have never been so many different approaches to recording audio, DAT remains one of the few standard items of studio equipment. How long this will prevail in the current climate of 20‑bit‑itis is another matter, of course.

Sony were the inventors of the DAT format, and their more costly machines have always been respected as reliable workhorses. Indeed, many of the original DTC1000s are still pulling their weight today. However, the company didn't fare so well with their low‑cost machines, and we've heard reports of these breaking down. Perhaps the end user was expecting too much for too little, but I've never really bought the concept that low‑cost machines are only designed to stand up to consumer use. If a machine can't cope with being used to mix the odd track every week or two by an audio engineer who knows the value of keeping the machine clean, how the hell is it supposed to cope with the domestic user who uses it on a daily basis as a substitute for an analogue cassette deck, and whose only attempts at cleaning involve wiping the top cover with Pledge when the dust gets too thick? Call me cynical, but surely this is just a mammoth cop‑out to excuse machines that aren't fit for any application!

The PCMR300

Having got that minor rant out of the way, I'll move on to the subject of this review, Sony's mid‑price PCMR300. While this machine doesn't pretend to be a top‑end pro recorder, it is designed with the features serious users need — in particular, the ability to switch out the criminally intrusive SCMS.

The PCMR300 uses folded and pressed steel construction supporting a Sony transport that combines moulded plastic components with a sturdy metal base. The circuit boards are held to the base via plastic pillar clips, and overall the standard of construction is what you might expect from a good hi‑fi component. A rackmount kit is included with this model, though the basic machine is obviously designed for desktop use.

Pressing the Open/Close button causes the motorised transport door to open, whereupon you place the DAT cassette on a tilting tray assembly. When the door is closed, the cassette is slotted onto the transport drive hubs and the tape threaded around the head drum. All the transport controls are 'soft touch' logic controlled, with certain record‑mode functions being selected via stubby slider switches. A small infra‑red remote control is also included.

As with just about any DAT machine, all the usual record, play and track ID functions (Start Skip and End IDs), are supported, as is a long‑play mode where a longer recording time can be achieved at the expense of some fidelity. However, to meet the needs of the professional, the machine can be set to record at 48kHz, 44.1kHz or 32kHz (long play), and the SCMS status can be set to one of three modes: copy permitted, first‑generation copy permitted, or no copy permitted. Both coaxial and optical S/PDIF digital inputs and outputs are fitted, but the more professional AES/EBU is absent, and audio connections are on unbalanced phonos only.

Another feature that some professionals will appreciate is the inclusion of switchable Super Bit Mapping, Sony's own noise‑shaped dithering system. As far as I'm aware this is built into the input‑converter hardware, and it has the effect of increasing the dynamic range of the recording by moving dither noise into a frequency range where the human ear is least sensitive, usually in the 15kHz region. It may also be switched out when not required — perhaps if noise‑shaped dither is to be added in a later mastering procedure.

SCMS status can be set to one of three modes: copy permitted, first‑generation copy permitted or no copy permitted.

One problem with all digital recorders is that their error‑correction systems hide potential problems until it's too late — one minute a tape plays apparently normally, but the next time you play it, audible dropouts appear. The answer to this problem is to provide a comprehensive error readout, but even the better DAT machines tend to make do with a fairly perfunctory error readouts that provide only an overall error figure. Rather more usefully, the PCMR300 provides a separate error‑rate readout for both heads on the drum (selected via the Counter Mode button on either the remote or the machine's front panel). Even so, there's no indication of whether the displayed errors are recoverable, interpolatable or non‑concealable, and unless you have experience in these matters, you don't really know what maximum error rate is permissible either. All the manual offers is that if 'Err' flashes, or if the error‑rate value is positive for more than around five seconds at a time, you have a problem.

The display can also be set to show absolute time, track playback time, remaining time on tape, and tape running time.


The PCMR300 operates in a similar way to any other DAT recorder, producing clean, uncoloured results comparable with other digital devices in the same price range. Sound quality is essentially determined by the types of converters used and on the implementation of their support circuitry (such as power supplies and earthing arrangement). Given that professional dedicated stereo converters cost more than twice the price of the complete PCMR300, I think it's safe to assume that the latest generation of consumer converters are being used.

Recording using Super Bit Mapping yields no obvious benefits on most pop material, but if you record acoustic material at deliberately low levels using this system, decaying sounds tail off more gracefully. Because no decoding system is needed, the benefits of SBM will transfer to subsequent DAT clones or CD‑Rs, though any benefits will be removed by further processing that adds dither or truncates the data.

Tape handling is fast and positive, but what intrigued me was that I could play back a tape I had made several years ago with no displayed errors at all. It's quite impossible to make a digital tape recording that doesn't include some correctable errors, so either the on‑board system has a threshold that doesn't bother you if the number is sufficiently low, or it only reports on uncorrectable errors that are concealed by interpolation (a technical term for guessing the missing bits based on the data on either side of the error!).


Using very cheap DAT machines is asking for trouble, but the PCMR300 strikes a realistic balance between professionalism and affordability, even though the hardware has obvious consumer origins. Of course, long‑term reliability won't be known until a given model has been used in the field for a few years.

The switchable sample rates and the option to disable SCMS are essential for any serious studio application, and while Super Bit Mapping isn't vital, it's a nice option to have, especially if you're recording acoustic music or voice directly to DAT, or dubbing from an analogue source. The control layout is good, the display includes absolute time, and all the usual IDs may be added automatically or manually, as well as being edited later. There are no unnecessary frills to complicate the operation, and if you do run into trouble with tapes from other sources, you can at least check the error readout to see what's going on. As suggested earlier, a better description of what the error readout actually measures would be useful, but having the facility at all on a machine of this price is a bonus.

The PCMR300 is a sensibly priced machine with just the right features for most studio applications, so if the lack of balanced analogue connectors or AES/EBU XLRs doesn't worry you, it's well worth checking out.


  • Affordable.
  • Switchable sample rates.
  • SCMS can be disabled.
  • Integral error‑rate readout.


  • No AES/EBU connectors.
  • No balanced analogue I/O.


This is a machine that sits at the upper end of the consumer range, whilst offering a number of useful professional features.