Hi Bruce,
Today I picked up a bunch of stuff I really didn’t need. The gear junkie in me just couldn’t walk away without it.

One of the items was a Tascam DA-30 DAT recorder. Exactly what did people use these DAT mixdown decks for? Like, where did they fit into the chain? — Larry

Hi Larry,

Every multitrack mix has to end up as a 2-track stereo master. That stereo recording of the mix used to be done on a 2-track analog tape deck. But when digital starting overtaking analog, and engineers wanted a hiss-free recording of their mixes, many switched to DAT (Digital Audio Tape). They connected the mixer master outputs to the DAT analog line inputs.


Sony DA-P1, an example of a portable DAT recorder.

We also used that technology to record classical-music or folk-music performances on location with two microphones, or to record a rock-concert mix off a PA mixer.

A DAT recorder records digital audio on a tape cassette with 1/8″ tape. The recorder heads are in a rotating drum that does a helical scan of the tape. That way, the heads “see” a high track speed while the tape itself moves very slowly. The recorded tracks on DAT tape are 1/10 the width of a human hair!

DAT tape path.

Inside the DAT recorder is an A/D converter to convert analog input signals to digital signals which are recorded on DAT tape. The device also records and plays digital signals directly through a SPDIF or XLR (AES/EBU) connector.

Nowadays we just mix to a computer hard drive using recording software. When memory gets cheap enough, we’ll mix to a flash memory card so we can get digital sound quality with no moving parts. Some portable studios use this method already.

No matter what the recording medium is, the sound quality depends mainly on the analog-to-digital converter and the clock. The storage medium — tape, hard drive, CD or RAM — is just a way to store the binary numbers.

I’m keeping a Sony DAT recorder to play all the DAT tapes I recorded back in the ’90s. The DAT tapes still play, but I’m worried about how long they’ll last. A little tape degradation could mess up those microscopic tracks, causing drop-outs. I’m glad that DAT technology was superseded.

Hope this helps. Enjoy your gear!

Bruce

Originally posted 2011-08-28 12:09:46.