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Tascam DAP1

Portable DAT Machine By Paul White
Published February 1996

Tascam DAP1

Paul White gets out and about with the Tascam DAP1 and discovers the joys of collecting sounds outside the studio.

While it is possible to buy a good, non‑portable DAT machine for around £800, portable machines tend to be rather more expensive if they are to include the right features and sufficiently robust packaging suitable for use in professional applications. In my view, any portable DAT machine intended for serious work must include decent phantom powered mic preamps, a sensibly long running time from a rechargeable battery, packaging that protects against minor knocks and unintentional control movements, and, ideally, a choice of sample rates. Digital I/O is essential for cloning tapes onto other DAT machines back at base, and if the machine is fitted with SCMS (Serial Copycode Management System), it should be possible to disable it.

Structure & Style

Tascam appear to have taken these challenges seriously, as the design of the DAP1 seems to have met all these criteria. A fully charged battery provides around two hours of operation, although this is closer to one and a half hours with the phantom power switched on. In order to save power, the machine shuts itself down if it hasn't been used for a few minutes. The battery recharge time is a fairly brisk two and a half hours, but the battery can't be charged while the machine is running from the mains, which could prove to be rather limiting.

Weighing 1.2kg without battery, the DAP1 is beautifully packaged and styled to appeal to the broadcast market. The casework finish has a rubbery feel to it, and all the switches, connectors and buttons are recessed to reduce the risk of accidental operation. Tape loading is via a motorised door on the top of the machine, and a look inside reveals that the key parts of the transport are mounted on a casting, rather than on a folded metal sub‑assembly. The door is closed manually once a tape has been inserted, and a top panel switch selects the record sample rate to be either 44.1kHz or 48kHz. It is also possible to replay normal speed 32kHz tapes, but there is no provision for recording at this rate, or for double‑time, reduced bandwidth recording (or replay for that matter) — presumably because the battery life would be shorter than the desired recording time.

The transport controls are conveniently placed along the front edge of the machine's top surface, with the programme skip buttons directly behind, and the Pause and Record buttons located on the front panel for easy thumb operation. A choice of mic, line, or digital input format is available with a switchable 20dB pad position in the mic input, and the digital I/O format is the universal S/PDIF system on phonos. AES/EBU is more professional, but on a machine of this size, it would have been difficult to justify the extra size needed to accommodate XLR digital connectors. Nevertheless, conventional balanced XLRs are used for the mic inputs, and the switchable phantom power is a full 48 volts. A switchable limiter is also available for microphone recordings, in order to protect against inadvertent clipping. This has no user‑adjustable parameters and is presumably designed for stereo‑only operation.

Phonos are used for the line inputs and outputs. I'm not entirely happy with phonos in this application — phonos seem to be happiest when they can be left permanently connected (clearly not the case with a portable recorder), but I have to concede that compromise is necessary when space is at a premium.

A non‑latching slide switch on the top panel turns the machine on, and a display backlight is available if required (though this switches itself off again after a few seconds in order to conserve battery power). The battery charger/mains PSU is supplied with the DAP1 and plugs in at the left of the case, with a slide switch to select between mains‑powered operation or battery charging.

When recording, start IDs may be recorded automatically or manually (although the machine didn't appear to write a start ID when first put into record), and in common with most recent DAT recorders, it is possible to enter skip and end IDs. IDs can, of course, be edited, renumbered, or erased after the recording has taken place. The counter can show elapsed or absolute time, program time or time remaining, and a button adjacent to the screen is used to step through the four possible modes. There's also a single‑point autolocation function which allows any point on the tape to be marked. The tape will then return to the marked point on pressing Stop, followed by Play once the machine has stopped. The recorder also memorises the last points at which the machine was put into and taken out of record mode, and it's possible to reach either of these in a similar way, using the Stop and one or other of the fast wind buttons.

Like most modern DAT machines, the DAP1's display shows a lot more than just the time — it also includes stereo peak metering, a 'margin' readout to show how close you've come to clipping, the current sample rate, and the Program number. A slide Hold switch allows the controls to be locked in situations where they might otherwise get knocked, and the dual concentric input level dial is fully recessed, so that the outer wheel can only be turned by its edge, and the inner wheel by a recessed pointer. A friction drive between the two dials means that turning one moves the other with it, unless deliberately prevented from doing so. A full‑size, quarter‑inch stereo headphone outlet is provided with front panel level control, and, happily, there is plenty of clean level available.

In The Field

To test the DAP1, I slung it over my shoulder (using the carry strap supplied), plugged in a couple of capacitor mics and wandered around the house recording things like the cat snoring, clocks ticking, hard disks whirring, and all the usual domestic stuff. I found the controls very positive, yet at the same time, difficult to operate inadvertently — but this last observation can't be confirmed 100%, as every time you set out to do an inadvertent thing on purpose, it ceases to be inadvertent! The tape handling was fast and smooth, and I found the ability to relocate to the start or end of the previously recorded section a real help — DAT machines should include this feature, as it's more positive than relying on IDs.

One factor that can make or break a portable DAT machine is the quality of the mic amps, but those in the DAP1 are extremely quiet, making it an ideal machine for location recording or sound effect and sample gathering. There's plenty of mic gain available, and in situations where you can't predict the maximum level, the limiter is a welcome ally. If you force the limiter to operate, you can generally hear it working, especially if the degree of overload is excessive, but these side effects are far preferable to the crunch of digital clipping.


The DAP1 is one of the less expensive portable DAT machines on the market, but it doesn't seem to compromise on essential facilities in any way. Everything works smoothly, the packaging is superb, and the sound quality is irreproachable. The only criticism is that you can't run the machine from the mains adaptor at the same time as charging the battery. I also found the display quite difficult to read indoors without the backlight switched on, but at least this stays on when the machine is set to run from the mains.

If you don't need a portable DAT machine, a free‑standing model will cost you less and give you brighter, clearer metering, but if location sound is a necessity, then the DAP1 is still sensibly priced — particularly when you consider that you're getting a DAT machine plus a 2‑channel mic preamp with phantom power and peak limiting. I only wish I could persuade my accountant that I need one!


  • Professional features including digital I/O and switchable sample rate.
  • Practical packaging for location work.
  • Excellent ease of use and overall sound quality.


  • Simultaneous mains operation and battery recharging isn't possible.


A well thought‑out portable DAT recorder that is more affordable than many of its competitors.