Paul White gets behind the wheel of Tascam's new pro DAT recorder and finds it delivers a comfortable ride.
As reported in last month's news, Tascam have just released their DA30 Mk II DAT machine — though it seems to have little in common with its predecessor other than its name.
Cost‑wise, the DA30 Mk II sits comfortably between the top end of the semi‑pro market and the lower end of the professional market, and since the demise of the Sony DTC 1000 which carved its niche as a studio standard, this Tascam model looks well equipped to fill the gap.
Rather than clothing the Mk II in the beige livery of the DA88 digital 8‑track, Tascam have played safe and gone for a black finish; at 3U deep, the rack‑mounting machine comes over as being both chunky and robust. Unlike semi‑pro/consumer DAT machines which tend to have a fixed 48kHz sample rate and invariably incorporate SCMS copy protection (Serial Copy Management System) just to help frustrate matters, the DA30 Mk II provides both 44.1kHz and 48kHz (switchable) record rates using the now familiar 1‑bit AD/DA topography. There's also a long‑play mode which doubles up the recording time, albeit at the expense of sound quality, though this may be useful for logging work.
Both balanced XLR and unbalanced phono analogue line inputs are provided, though there are no mic inputs on the machine — mic inputs are invariably limited to portables. Separate level control knobs handle the analogue input levels, though there's also a 'Calibrated' setting which sets the balanced inputs to a nominal +4dBu sensitivity and the phono inputs to ‑10dBv. In 'Cal' mode, the input level controls have no effect.
On the digital front, both SPDIF and AES/EBU are supported; a front‑panel switch may be used to select between the two, which can make life a lot easier in a digital editing situation where, for example, you can use the AES/EBU connections to patch into a hard disk editor and the SPDIF to provide a simultaneous feed to a second DAT machine for cloning. There's also an 'Analogue/Digital' selector switch which has three positions to accommodate balanced or unbalanced analogue inputs. If the analogue inputs are fed from the output of your desk, you may never need to repatch your DAT machine again.
An optional hard‑wired remote control is available if required, though a parallel control I/O port is also fitted, providing a means to add a customised remote control system. Other than the usual DAT functions, all of which the DA30 Mk II has, there's a large Data/Shuttle wheel, which is actually a concentric arrangement furnishing two controls in one. The inner portion of the dial is used to enter programme numbers for fast search, or to change the ABS time display when editing IDs. The outer ring provides variable speed audio cueing, in both directions, up to a maximum of 16 times normal play speed. This is far more useful than the usual double‑speed audio cueing, and the machine can be made to drop into Pause as soon as scrubbing is completed, leaving the tape cued up ready for playing. If scrubbing is accessed from Play mode and the Standby button hasn't been selected, the tape will go straight into play as soon as the scrub wheel is released.
The DAT cassette loads via a motorised drawer, and the control panel features large buttons for the main transport controls. The display area is clearly set out with peak metering; a Margin facility shows how close the input signal peaks have come to clipping. Various editing information also comes up in the display when you're adding or moving start IDs and so on. The counter may be toggled between three modes: Absolute Time, Programme Time, and Remaining time, using the counter Mode switch.
Most of the controls will be familiar to anyone who's used a DAT machine before, but the 'Memo' facility is something I haven't had on any of my previous DAT machines. This is simply a single‑point autolocate which can be set either on the fly or while the tape is parked, and as the locate point is referenced to the ABS data on tape, it can't drift. Pressing the Locate button then causes the transport to search for the autolocate position, after which it parks itself and awaits further instructions. A Repeat play facility is also available, which allows a single section (between IDs) to be repeated up to 16 times. For those users with the optional remote, up to 50 programs can be loaded into memory and then played back in any order.
Of course, all the usual Skip ID, Start ID and End ID protocols are supported, as is Auto ID'ing of material being recorded. Each time a new recording is made with Auto ID on, the new start IDs follow on from the existing ones, providing there is no unrecorded tape between the two sections (in other words, the subcode must overlap), but if the program numbers do get messed up for any reason, they can be re‑numbered manually or automatically. If a DAT tape with a TOC (Table of Contents) is played, the display can also show the accurate remaining time, but even when a new recording is being made, pressing the Remain button enables the machine to make a fair guess at how much tape is left by reading the cassette length (from the sensors on the cassette shell) and subtracting the elapsed time.
During our tests, the DA30 Mk II behaved perfectly, its sound quality comparing well with the best DAT machines around. The large buttons make the machine easy to use, and although it does rather hog your rack space, there's no messing about with tiny or badly‑legended buttons. I found the variable‑speed shuttle facility particularly useful for cueing up sections of programme material, while the large, clearly set‑out display made recording a pleasure. At first I thought the data section (centre ring) of the control wheel was simply a gimmick to avoid having to find room for a numeric keypad, but in practice, it is easy to use and does help keep the panel layout clear. Compatibility is occasionally a problem when moving tapes from one DAT machine to another, but in this instance, I found that tapes I'd made on my two Sony machines played back on the Tascam with no problem.
So, is there anything I didn't like about this recorder? I have to say that everything that is provided appears to work exactly as specified, but I really would like to see some form of meaningful error readout on all professional DAT machines, otherwise you don't know when the machine needs cleaning and you don't know when a tape is on the edge of bombing out. In addition, It would be nice to see the remote included in the price, and I also feel that it wouldn't have been too much to ask for gold‑plated phono sockets.
Ultimately this is a friendly workhorse of a machine that's easy to use, sounds good and has all the facilities (other than timecode) that most audio professionals demand. I know there's always a temptation to buy cheaper DAT machines, but this particular model is built for professional use and costs roughly the same as a quarter‑inch, 2‑track analogue machine used to cost. A cheaper DAT machine might sound fine, but you can't depend on it day in, day out. Hopefully, this is one of those boring machines that's simply going to sit in the corner and get taken for granted.
- Fast Wind Time: Approximately 70S for a 120‑minute tape
- Sampling system: 16‑bit at 44.1kHz or 48kHz; 12‑bit at 32kHz in Long Play mode
- Signal to Noise Ratio: Better than 92dB
- THD (Standard Speed): Better than 0.004% at 1kHz
- Wow and Flutter: Unmeasurable ( better than 0.001%)
- Digital I/O: SPDIF and AES/EBU
- Analogue I/O: Balanced XLR and unbalanced phono
- Weight: 8.5kg
- Physical Format: 3U, 19‑inch rackmount
- Good analogue and digital I/O facilities.
- Uncluttered control panel with shuttle facility.
- Good overall sound quality.
- Remote control is optional.
- No error readout system.
A sensibly priced, workhorse DAT machine with all the necessary professional features.