in the [Tape] Machine
Simple Mods to Keep Your Timecode DAT Happy, by Eddie Ciletti
an almost endless variety of higher-performance disk and tape formats available
in the market, the ubiquitous 16-bit, 44.1/48kHz DAT format is far from
dead. Yet at the same time, I feel pretty safe predicting that no new DAT
recorders will be presented at any trade shows, this year or ever.
Historically, attempts to expand DAT’s horizons have been limited to 24 bits at the “standard” sample rates (as with the Tascam DA-45) or doubled (88/96kHz) rates at the “standard” bit depth, with the Pioneer/HHB 9601 being the sole example. Unfortunately, we can’t have our high-sample-rate cake and eat those tasty wide dynamic-range bits at the same time, due to the lack of real estate on tape. Increasing tape speed to four-times normal reduces a 120-minute DAT to a half hour. Four-hour (120 meter) data DAT tapes are in the wings ready to save the day, but few tape transports can reliably move such thin tape. Such a Full-Monty format change would probably require extensive mechanical redesigns as well...
Since we’ll be dealing with the DATs for some time, I’d like to offer my flu shot for some of the bugs that plague two popular timecode DAT machines, the Tascam DA-60 and the Sony PCM-7030, with a little trickle-down to some of the more “common” recorders. In this and future articles, some of the projects will be DIY—I very much encourage users to pop the cover and get familiar with what is “normal.” Other “nonuser-serviceable” tips are FYI. It’s better to know what’s coming than get caught with your pants down, or skirt up, eh? (You can always pass along these tips to your favorite technician.)
ECONOMY OF SCALE
With the exception
of the Fostex D-15, timecode DAT decks are priced well above their “timeless”
cousins. Ironically, timecode-equipped 8-channel MDMs—such as Tascam’s
DA-98 and the Alesis M20—are more affordable than many timecode DAT machines.
Why? The selling price is directly related to demand and the economy of
scale. More people need sync-able multitrack recorders than need TC DAT
decks, hence the price disparity. And considering their higher price tag,
TC DAT recorders are typically less user-friendly (lots of video-related
features) and not necessarily more reliable, an annoyance that is compounded
if the device in question sees infrequent use.
According to Brian Falatovich of Chicago’s Midwest Digital, “The best DAT machine ever made (not considering its digital converters) was the now-discontinued Sony PCM-7030.” This can be confirmed by taking a peek under the hood, especially if you are familiar with other DAT decks.
While most pro DATs
are genetically modified consumer models, nearly everything about the
PCM-7030 suggests that knowledgeable pros put great thought into developing
its extensive feature set. Compared to the PCM-2500, the PCM-7030 is quite
serviceable even with its many circuit boards. Notice I said “nearly,”
because this machine shares a few common flaws with many of Sony’s less-endowed