Thoughts on DAT as a format

Make / Model: DAT (Digital Audio Tape)

Build Quality

Eh

Sound Quality

Ok, if they work

Impressions

DAT players are old technology, obsolete these days. The tape deteriorates, and unlike analog recordings, where tape issues lead to minute losses in audio, DAT dropouts result in chunks of audio lost. So it’s relatively irresponsible to use them as a format for masters. However, a good number of masters were recorded to them when the format was in it’s heydey. So for some bands, all of their masters may be on DAT. Accordingly, mastering engineers need DAT machines.

And of the DAT Macines, there were was one ubiquitos machine, the Panasonic SV-3700/SV-3800 machine. It’s common occurence in studios throughout the world had to do with it’s basic reliability, realtively easy maintanance, and that tapes made on it, seemed to work OK on other machines. But in it’s old age, these machines have been hard to find in good working order. Heads are spec’d to be replaced every 1000 hours. The tape path needs to be thouroughly cleaned more frequently. And alot of the rubber parts are detoriating. And, like analog, the tapes themselves have been seen to need baking in some instances to elimate shedding.

What I’ve observed, is that today, for the purposes of playing back DAT, the SV family isn’t the machine to use. Oddly, it’s the DA-20 Tascam that has seemed to stand the test of time at an affordable price point. The DA-20 has some drawbacks though in it’s limited i/o selection and flimsy feeling parts. However, the Fostex version (D-5), addresses many of the i/o issues.

Overall, it isn’t really worth bothering with DAT at all, unless your aim is to have machines to archive masters already on DAT. The process is akin to running into burning buildings to save something, accordingly, I wouldn’t reccommend archiving or mastering to a format that is essentially, a burning building.

Of note: In the DAT days, I used to prefer HHB tape media over all else, as they tended to playback with the least issues. But as the tape stock has aged, I’ve found that to not be the case. The HHB’s tapes I’ve had (and perhaps it was this certain stock) tended to be noisey on rotation, and cause working machines to spit an error.

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