Digital Audio Tape (hereafter DAT) is a recordable audio format conceived by the Japanese conglomerate Sony in the mid 80's with the intention to replace the venerable compact cassette. The technology for the medium itself is derived from video recorders and the 4 mm tape, cassette and the rotary head configuration is quite similar to the 8 mm video cassette from Sony (a lot smaller though). The format never gained any popularity in it's intended market for a variety of reasons but quickly became standard for use in professional and amateur recording environments despite their being a number of issues with the format that should have prevented it being used there.
The DAT standard allows for recording in 32KHz @ 12 bits (LP Mode, a 16 bit signal is companded into 12) on 2 tracks and 32 KHz @ 16 bits in 2 or 4 track mode, and 44,1 or 48 KHz @ 16 bits in 2 track mode, but only enforces that a machine should record on 16 bits at 48Khz and playback at 44,1 & 48KHz. Newer machines sometimes extend this with bitrates up-to 24 and with up to 96KHz bandwidth but be aware that recordings that are made using bit or sampling rates above the published spec are rarely playable on other models. The format has gained quite a bit of popularity as a data backup tape for computers and this has ensured that blank tapes are relatively cheap and plentiful, but please note that computer DAT tape drives are in most cases incapable of playing back or recording audio DAT tapes, notable exceptions are the drives that came standard with SGI workstations between 1995 and 2000.
Sadly but perhaps predictably the DAT market has felt the force of the current popularity of Mini Disc, CD Recorders and sundry other new technologies, HHB and Fostex no longer make their famed portable timecode recorders but more importantly than that Panasonic has stopped producing DAT machines, this is a real shame since they were the best semi-pro machines that you could get and their 4 head mechanisms where used in a number of third party machines, furthermore the formats originator Sony stopped making DAT machines on November 25th, 2005. This leaves us without a semi-pro recording format that is uncompressed by default, is a published standard and commonly supports wordclock so truly digital copy's for the home recordinist are hereafter only possible via cdr to cdr copying on a computer or on a dual CD Recorders desk, both fine for consumer use but out of the question for professional usage due to the short shelf life of recordable optical media. On the brighter side TEAC still has a large line of semi-pro machines.
Recorders, Discontinued models, Tape Manufacturers, Accesories, DAT Forums, Software, User sites, Beginners, Hardware tech, Maintenance tech info.
Currently Manufactured DAT Recorders
Manufactures the Stelladat II portable timecode recorder, it can record in 2 and in 4 tracks modes unusually enough and can record in 88.2KHz and 96KHz in addition to the more usual, it has a 4 channel mixer built in and a full compliment of time code functions, rechargeable Lithium-Ion battery that will give 2 hours + of running time, balanced digital and analogue I/O and built like a tank, more info here. Although not listed on their hompage or in some of their catalogues they are also still manufacturing the Stellamaster rack mount recorder, it is similar in specification to the Stelladat II but minus the built in mixer, battery and related portable options, priced some 20% cheaper as well.
Tascam, who are the professional audio division of TEAC is one of the staunchest supporters of the DAT technology, they have often had less troublesome transports than some of the other consumer/semi pro makes. The rack mountable DA-20 MKII is their cheapest model and it's a long running model that is much beloved by small recording studios, the DA-40 is basically a variant of the 20 with balanced digital and analogue I/O and better control functions, the DA-45 HR however is a 24 bit variant that has audio specifications to die for and a fairly modest asking price. The dual well DA-302 is a bit special, while as a recorder it has specifications similar to a DA-20 it will do straight digital copy's between the decks, this means that if you have a DAT recorder that supports any sort of a time code or extended bit or frequency ranges the 302 will copy them exactly since it does just transfers the digital information between the tapes and does not process them in any way, in other words a headache cure on par with panodil. The DA-P1 is a professional portable recorder that goes one over the Sony offerings by having balanced I/O and phantom power, for more real world info on the DA-P1 a fan page can be found here. The DA-60 MKII is Tascam's timecode offering however, is as far as I can gather the only 4 head recorder that the company makes and has a better audio specifications than the other 16bit recorders as well.
DAT Tape Manufacturers
Makes consumer DAT tapes in the form of a product called simply DAT, a more professional type band in the form of DAT Pro, they do not publish the specifications for the consumer version so it's impossible to say what if any differences are between the 2, the company also has a version that is called DG-4 that is DDS spec.
Makes tapes available in lengths from 15 to 120 minutes, more info from their Tape Catalouge.
Makes a consumer grade tapes in the form of the DM series, note that despite what it says on this page it's also available in 45 min lengths at the least there in Europe, professional grade tapes in the form of Audio Pro DAT and DDS tapes in the form of HS-4.
Makes both audio and DDS type tapes along with cleaning carts etc.
Makes the DAT-R (PDF) series of audio mastering tape.
Big Turkish producer of blank tapes, makes the RD Series of metal particle DAT tapes.
Makes the consumer grade DT-RA metal formulated tapes, the professional grade PDP series Pro DAT tapes and DDS tapes in the form os DDS Premium .
DDS Manufacturers Group
Makes consumer grade tape in the form of DA-RXG that is available in an 180 minute version that will give you 6 hours in LP mode, and DDS spec tapes in the form of DC-4.
DAT Accesories, service etc
Has a small range of DAT accessories including a error rate counter.
Otari's DAT pancake evaluator
Discussion Boards & Mailing lists
Here go all Discussion boards, mailing lists on related stuff that are not strictly trading posts.
DAT Heads mailing list
A mac based mailing list that originally discussed how to transfer DAT recordings to and fro DAT, but now has a widened discussion base.
A discussion group dedicated to discussing soundcards based around the C-Media 833x (both the the ISA & the PCI cards) and digital transfers, originally centred much around DAT transfers and still has a lot of info.
Exact Audio Copy mailing list
Originally a discussion group regarding CDR transfers, later a software products that allegedly copies CDR's better than the norm, but while extremely banal in parts there is still some interesting info related to digital recording and transfers in general and occasionally information specific to DAT's.
Info on discontinued DAT hardware
When shopping for a used portable recorder try to steer clear from models that have small rotary heads like most of the Sony models, these wear out much faster than normal size heads, also note that some of the earliest models discussed here were never available in the USA, threats of lawsuits from record companies kept DAT recorders away from America for a couple of years or so until the SCMS system had been introduced. For the same reason many early recorders will not record on 44,1 KHz and even some current models will not record from digital links on that frequency.
Made a lot of consumer and semi-pro recorders particularly in the early 90's. One model from that time that we liked was the XDS-1100, a budget rack mountable unit that featured a 3 motor transport, optical digital I/O, 1 bit converters and came with a remote, cheaper and sounded better than the equivalent Sony for some reason, there was another home model called XD-S260 but I forget the details. The portable models from the company are a bit more dubious since most of them have the old somewhat less than reliable Sony transport like the HD-S1, while ergonomically better than the Sony it's much too risky a purchase. The HDX-3000 is another matter however, this was the first semi-professional portable DAT recorder and HHB models were based around this machine for years, the machine could be powered by 10 internal AA batteries, from a rechargeable battery pack or by an external 6v supply, had AES/EBU digital I/O (on a cinch plug, cannot recall if it would mate with a SPDIF), balanced analogue input and unbalanced outputs, as it was a made in the late 80's during the SCMS wars it can only record on 48KHz via the analogue ins and sounds a bit dated today but better than most of it's vintage, slightly bulky by modern standards.
Had a DAT car player called DTP 08 that was an OEM version from JVC and in addition to playing digital audio tapes had the usual radio and built in amplifier, playback of 44,1 and 48KHz tapes only.
The DA-1 and DA-2 were some of the first portable recorders to hit the market, while they were fairly reliable those 2 models suffered from below average sound quality (the DA-1 did not even have a 16 bit converter) and an annoying user interface.
The company discontinued the manufacture of 2 of their more upmarket recorders in 2002, the D-25 had similar features to the current D-15 model but had a bigger buffer and digital control interfacing as standard rather than an option. Their D-30 was one of the longest running and possibly one of the best DAT recorders ever manufactured, it's a cost no object timecode DAT with 4 heads and a very impressive transport, equally impressive is it's "reassuring" weight, but this model also has lots of automation features that make it preferable in film and broadcast work. The portable PD-4 V2 was replaced at the same time with the current PD-4M, the only difference I can see between the old model and the one linked to is the lack of an 8Mb buffer in the V2 version. The last of the Fostex line of DAT recorders was discontinued in 2004, with the most notable of those being the PD-4M, a professional portable model that has 4 drum heads allowing you to monitor off tape along with full sync capabilities an a simple line/mic mixer, the rack mountable D-15 is a reasonably priced timecode macine that features an 8MB buffer that allows scrubbing etc, optional RS422 for integration into a broadcast system or suchlike and the same 4 motor transport as the PD-4M, the company also had a cheaper rack mount unit in the form of the D-5, no timecode but fully balanced analogue and digital I/O and a remote control.
Made the PDR-1000 a ruggedised professional 4 head and 4 motor portable recorder.
Was an early supporter of the format and had for a time portable, home, professional and car players that used the format but lost fait in it in the early/mid 90's. The XD-700 is a early high end home unit that records at 32 and 48KHz only and had both optical and coax digital I/O and has fairly extensive fade in/mixing/programming capabilities for a home deck.
Made the DT-901 a fairly plain looking home deck (and was one of the cheaper models if I remember it correctly), it supported LP mode and had both coax and optical I/O, the machine is oddly enouch called Onkyo Integra R1 on the front but the correct model number is on the back, and BTW it had a reasonably good remote. the factory specs where a bit optimistic, the frequency range quoted was 2Hz to 20KHz for instance and the unit was an out and out home deck and hence features the dreaded SCMS.
Discontinued the manufacture of DAT recorders in 2002, last product from them was the professional DTR8S rack mounted unit, it sports balanced I/O, AES/EBU and coaxial digital I/O, subcode editing and SCMS defeat. You can still get information on the unit from the company in Japanese or English. Older professional machine from the company was the DT-90R theat had 4 heads thus allowing monitoring off tape, remote control input that supports the Sony protocol, made from ca 1994 to 1998 ? and had time code support.
As the inventor of the format it will probably not come as a surprise that they have made more models than anyone else, also they made a whopping 660.000 units between 1987 and 2005, considering the average price of each unit was way above consumer level that is nothing to be sniffed at and you should be able to find a unit or 2 on the second hand market. 2 of the first recorders that the company sent to the market in 1987 were the semi-pro DTC-1000es and the pro PCM-2500, they shared the same case and mechanism but the PCM-2500 had an extra converter box of the same size as the recorder itself. Both would only recorded on 44,1 and 48 KHz, and had fairly basic subcode editing functions, those models did not make it to the USA in any great numbers due to legal action by the American record labels that wanted to stop the selling of any consumer class digital audio recorders, but sold quite well in Europe and Japan especially amongst smaller recording studios and recording amateurs. In the early to mid 90's the format was beginning to mature and the PCM-2700a was the companies professional DAT offering, it sported a 4 head transport and loads of features and is a recommended second hand buy if you can get it at a reasonable price, the main domestic model then was the DTC-690, a good rack mountable workhorse but beware of SCMS woes and transport problems with early models. At that time Sony also sold the TCD-D10 PRO II and TCD-D7 portable recorders, the former being an out and out pro machine with absolute time recording, balanced I/O and a built in speaker but the latter one of those extremely troublesome Sony DAT's that used the early walkman transport that should be avoided at all costs. A recently deleted portable unit from the company is the TCDD8, it's similar to the late 90's walkman recorders but allows you to record on 32, 44 and 48 Khz in both analogue and digital modes and has a 32khz 12bit LP mode giving you a 5 hour recording time with a 150 min tape, you can view the technical specs here courtecy of AAA Camera. 2 further consumer level decks where dropped from the catalogue in 2004, namely the DTC-ZE700 that was for all intents and purposes a slightly cheaper version of the Sony DTC-ZA5ES with a shorter warranty, wider distribution and only available in black, mechanically and electronically identical however, the last consumer DAT from the company to be dropped was for sale in Japan only for the last few years but that was the DTC-ZA5ES which is a typical late generation Sony consumer deck in that it will only record at 44,1KHz in analogue mode while 48 and 32 KHz are supported via an S/PDIF digital link, but the digital link does not work on 44KHz and in addition SCMS copy protection is always on. The transport is the semi-pro 4 motor unit and the D/A and filter is the bitstream Advanced Pulse & Score units that where shipping wit their more upmarket CD players a couple of years back and the ubiquitous Super Bit Mapping is there as well, more info here. Perhaps a slightly more alarming loss was the TCD-D100 which was the last of the DAT Walkmans and is one of the niftier and smallest portable recorders on the market. The professional range was axed wholesale at the same time that included all the model below, including the PCM-R300, which is fairly well specified recorder for the price but the RRP in 2003 was 945 USD, it is a 19" rack mount model that supports all standard DAT recording modes bar the 4 channel one, the PCM-R500 was the next step up in the line and has more controls, automation features and balanced digital and analogue I/O in addition to unbalanced and the RRP in 2003 was 1,625. The PCM-R700 is a 4 head machine allowing you to monitor off tape but is otherwise similar to the R500 and top of the range was the PCM-R7040 behemoth which is a timecode recorder with just about any feature you can imagine, this model was intended for use in video work and as such features some unusual features and interfaces such as slaving to BNC video signals, SMPT reading ad writing and so on, all I/O is balanced with the exception of the monitor channels (for monitoring off tape), it has 3 industry standard remote control options and a bi-directional RS232 interface, it had the same transpot as the R700. They had a portable pro recorder in the form of the PCM-M1 but that is basically the same unit as the Sony TCD-D100 consumer Walkman but without SCMS copy protection and will record digitally at any frequency.
The company built a classic portable machine in the form of the Stelladat but no longer supports it, however the Sonosax company does manufacture an updated version of the machine and provides support for the earlier version in fact the new software v.3 update is installable on the original Stelladat.
Tascam introduced their second generation of DAT machines in the early 90's, their main emphasis was on the rack mount DA-30 that featured a host of professional features such as balanced I/O while being at a semi-pro pricepoint. The DA-P20 was a portable version of the mechanism used in the DA-30 that for some reason was much cheaper than the rack version and as a second hand buy is recommended over the similar Sony models.
While Matsushita had an excellent line of semi-pro DAT recorders in the 90's and indeed was one of the main producer of transports for the format the company unusually enough marketed them under the Panasonic brand which is their consumer electronics brand rather than under the Technics moniker which is their usual moniker for semi professional products. There were a couple of consumer recorders put out under the Technics name in the late 80's/early 90's and the professional portable SV-260A which was when it came out one of the better units on the market, it featured balanced inputs that were switchable between line and mic (the mic preamp was quite good BTW), but only unbalanced line outs and connector compatible with the interface connector on the Sony portables, weight is approx. 1 kg without batteries, there was a broadly similar version of this model for he Asian and American markets called SV-255, a later variant of this model was the SV-MD1 which featured better I/O.
It's possible to use a few types of computer DAT drives from Sony and Perigrine to read and write audio DAT tapes, this may require modification of the drive. The pages here below contain either software that reads those drives or tips & pointers for finding and modifying the said drives.
A nifty software utility that allows you to use as DDS drive (a computer DAT backup tape) to transfer recordings digitally to a hard disk.
This is no longer being sold but you may find it on the second hand market, this was a software and hardware combination for the Mac that allowed the reading and writing of DAT tapes directly.
A dos program that dumps DAT data to Wav files
DAT from DDS tapes Faq
Using Audio DAT's in DDS drives
Audio from a SCSI DAT drive
Also a VB windows program
These are user sites, to differentiate them from technical discussion sites, DAT users (or DAT heads) usually discuss swapping of home recordings & live recordings etc, but whatever technical discussions are to be found on these sites should be taken with a grain of salt.
It's a DAT, DAT, DAT world
Michaels DAT Page
Jens DAT Homepage
Technical Info & resources for beginners
DAT from the WPI Technical Theatre Handbook
Understanding Error rates
DAT Heads FAQ (Old)
New Tape Formats
Model specific technical information
Heiko's DAT Page
The Sony TCD-D7 & TCD-D8 Homepage
The Tascam DAT Deck's FAQ
Sony TDC-D7, Fostex D-5, Onkyo DT-2710
Maintenance tips etc
Tips for Panasonic SV3700
Level mod for the SV3700
DAT Repair tips
Tape path basics
How to avoid crunch
Accesing hidden error rate displays
Extracting eaten tapes
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