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Digital Audio Tape (DAT) (part 5)

In the professional recording studio DAT is simply a fact of life. It wasn’t intended to be a pro system, Sony already have their 1630 system which records digital audio onto a U-Matic video cassette...


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DAT in the Studio - DAT at Home

In the professional recording studio DAT is simply a fact of life. It wasn’t intended to be a pro system, Sony already have their 1630 system which records digital audio onto a U-Matic video cassette. But DAT is just so convenient; it’s cheap enough for producers and artists to have their own DAT at home and the sound quality is good enough to make CDs from. In the home studio, or any studio where there are budget restrictions, there is bound to be the question of whether to use DAT or 1/4" analogue tape for mastering, if you can only afford one or the other. It boils down to the question of whether or not you are going to have to do any editing. DAT is not as yet an editable medium, it would have to be transferred to a 1630 tape or to a hard disk editing system. Many music studios should be able to manage without the chopping block, and DAT will certainly deliver the goods as far as sound quality goes. Analogue tape isn’t as accurate sonically, but if you are running a general purpose studio where you have no idea of what sort of work is going to come in from one day to the next, then you just have to have tape. It is still the easiest and quickest medium as far as total turnaround time from job in to job out is concerned. For myself, I prefer to have both DAT and analogue to hand so I have the best of both worlds, and I can back up my DAT masters to analogue to give me an extra degree of certainty that my recordings are at least physically going to stand the test of time.

In the home hifi system, if the cost can come down sufficiently, DAT will be an ideal replacement for the Compact Cassette. The only possible snag might be that personal stereo DAT may not be possible at the degree of compactness we have become accustomed to. Apart from that, there are several advantages: the sound quality isn’t just good, in a good machine it is state of the art, or at least state of the available art, bearing in mind manufacturer’s research into 18 and 20 bit recording systems. Also, two hour tapes are available which puts the Compact Cassette’s maximum of 60 minutes a side to shame.

Unfortunately, the time has come for me to tell you about the fly in the ointment that is going to spoil a lot of our fun. And that fly’s name is...

Serial Copy Management System

For years now the record industry has been whinging that people are copying their products onto cassette instead of going out and buying them. They used to do surveys asking people how many records they had copied in the last month and then claimed that whatever the answer was, that was the number of sales they had lost, regardless of the fact that it costs a lot more to buy a record than to tape it. My personal attitude to the problem is: yes it is morally wrong to infringe someone’s copyright. I don’t like it much when people infringe mine so I would prefer not to do it to someone else. But I also think that people ought to be able to do what they want to do, as long as they pay for the privilege, and currently there is no legal way of copying a record or CD - even one that you have bought - onto a cassette to use in the car. This is just plain stupid and the record companies and government ought to work something out so that ordinary people don’t have to feel like criminals every time they press the record button.

By David Mellor Thursday January 1, 2004

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