Discontinued Digital Tape Recording Formats

Discontinued Digital Tape Recording Formats

Magnetic tape is seen less and less as a medium for recording on in the digital domain and for the most part manufacturers neither make recorders that use tapes nor support them anymore, however they usually use enough common technology taken from video recorders and open reel audio recorders to be viable for use today even if not necessarily worth seeking out. However tape does have some redeeming qualities, it is better as an archival medium than optical media due to a variety of factors and long term support is cheaper.

Digital Compact Cassette - Video cassete based digital formats - Sony Scoopman - S-DAT Recorders.
Digital computer media formats: DVD Audio Recorders - PCMCIA based recorders - Magneto Optical Recorders.

Video cassette based digital recording formats

When the recording world started to turn to the digital recording formats en masse in the late 70's and early 80's the Japanese conglomerates that had managed corner a large part of the consumer audio market saw an opportunity to get into the semi-pro and professional recording markets that were at that time the playground of US based companies like 3M (Wollensak), Ampex and MCI and to lessen the time to market for those products they choose to use the consumer video cassette formats as the media carrier as they had already spent a considerable amount of time and money developing them to a point that they were reliable. Panasonic showed such a consumer recorder by 1980 that utilised a VHS mechanism. But it was in fact Sony that cornered this market, first by releasing a processor box that turned a professional U-MAX video recorder into a 16bit digital recorder and later they released the famous F1 box that allowed a home video recorder of either a VHS or Betamax format to become a 16 bit recorder. While this unit became wildly popular in the semi-pro and archival markets, the consumer market showed limited interest and that lead Sony to develop the DAT and the company discontinued offering those processors in 1987 so not to intefere with the introduction of DAT but the high prices of early DAT machines had regenerated interest in the video based recorders since they were cheaper and suffered less from dropouts.


A neat idea from Alesis, you can read more about the background of the unit on the Alesis Corp. history page, an 8 track 16bit digital audio recorder that uses a common Super-VHS cassette as a storage medium. The first version vas released around 1990 and was wildly popular despite the fact that Alesis choose to use a consumer VHS mechanism which lead to dropouts and all too frequent breakdowns (the average ADAT machine seeing much more use than the average consumer video recorder). Updates to the format have seen more reliable machines and higher bitrates along with some support for the format from other company's like Fostex who had the RD-8, more expensive that the Alesis offering but also better liked. Studer 20 bit variant of the ADAT format. Owners of ADAT's shuld note that there is an ADAT mailing list active on Yahoo.

Akai Electric Co.
Had the A-DAM DR-1200 in the early 90's, it was an 12 track 16 bit digital recorder that used Video-8 cassettes for storage, this machine was not compatible with DA88, but confusingly enough Akai later sold a rebadged DA88 (see the DTRS section below).

dbx corp.
Made a digital > video processor that used the Bitstream format rather than PCM, that format has resurfaced with SACD, it was called model 700 and an old review of it is to be found here, sadly I cannot remember how many FS it was, does anyone out there have the technical specification for this or any other dbx converter unit ?.

Tascam introduced the 8 track DA88 machine to counter the Alesis ADAT (see above), uses a Hi-8 video mechanism and cassettes for media storage and was more flexible, reliable and better sounding than the original ADAT but that format was too well entrenched in the music recording market for the DA88 to make a dent, it did however find a role in the video post production market both due to the superior reliability and due to better interfacing capabilities of the recorder. Tascam and Sony have later made other recorders that use this format and Tascam still has makes the DA88 due to popular demand, a 10 year old digital recorder that is still viable in the market is something of a rarity these days. The Akai Electric Co. DD-8 is a rebadged DA88. For more information on this format see this page. One product of interest to owners of DTRS machines is the PRSM 2024 a digital board that allows a DA88 compatible machine to work in 20 and 24 bit formats with reduced track count.

Technics PCM Recorders
Introduced the SH-P1 in 1980, it was a digital PCM recorder that used a VHS video transport for storage, a similar model called SV-P100 was introduced in 1981, and is a more common sight, but sales were disappointing and the company discontinued the line in the early 80's, note that unlike most other such video tape based recorders the Technics boxes contained their own recorders and were not just processors to be hooked up to video recorders.

S-DAT Recorders

S-DAT differs from R-DAT and common video recorders only in that the head does not rotate thus giving us simpler and more robust head assemblies, less dropouts, cleaning and adjustment are easier but recording times are usually shorter pr. meter. Other S-DAT recorders discussed on those pages are the Mitshubishi Pro-Digi, Nagra Audio and Sony DASH open reel formats that you will find on the Reel to Reel page and the Philips DCC that you can find discussed here above.

Yamaha Corp.
Yamaha's Professional Recording division took the decision to use this storage technology for their ultra expensive DMR-8 and DRU-8 8 track recorders in the early 90's, granted these recorders were aimed squarely at mastering studio's but nevertheless...The DMR-8 was a standalone unit wit loads of innovative editing and automation features that made it a great mastering recorder, the DRU-8 was intended to link with and be controlled by the DMC-1000 digital mixing desk, the cassettes used by Yamaha were called MU20P and are actually 8mm video cassettes with a extra thin tape to allow for a reasonable playing time and can be had from your local Yamaha dealer via special order.

Sony Scoopman

Oddball format released by Sony in 1991 with the NT-1 recorder, it's a 12 bit linear digital recorder that uses a tape cassette the size of a postage stamp as a storage medium and as the name implies intended more for use in voice recording rather than music, nevertheless reasonable results can be archived with the unit and it's incredibly small size meant that some live tapers stared to use it for "difficult gigs". Despite being an awesome technical achievement and having a cool factor out of this world, the format never really took off in it's intended market segment, also there appear to have been some technical problems as well since at the launch of the Scoopman the company claimed that a cassette could have 4 hours of recording time or even more, however a look at their media cataloge shows that they are not making any cassettes longer than 120 minutes. Sony Asia is listing the updated NT-2 recorder as a current product but it's not officially distributed outside of that part of the world any longer and if you want to get hold of a one in the west you will have to go to a specialist dealer such as Spymaster, but blanks can be ordered through any friendly Sony dealer. If you are using a Scoopman note that Sony has stopped making cleaning cassettes for the format, so if you find one for sale stock up.

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The site was last compiled on Sun Nov 10 2013 at 9:15:00am