Test Drive: The Tascam DA-88

The large transport buttons each have an LED above them to indicate the tape status. Going from Stop to Play takes about a half second an improvement over the 1¼ seconds it takes a buffer less DAT to kick into play. Going from Play to Rewind or Fast Forward and back is handled in about the same amount of time. There is a mechanical noise that can be described as a "whirrr" when the transport is engaging any command, but tape and transport movement during play and record are virtually silent.

There are several transport controls that add to the tape handling features. Two Memo and two Locate buttons function as you would expect and as the In and Out markers for several other features. An Auto Play button, with its own LED, sends the deck into Play after one of two locator positions are used. A Repeat button, with LED, will continually set the machine in a loop mode determined by the locators. These same locators also define the Rehearsal mode for checking punch in and punch out points. Did I mention the LED on the Rehearsal button? The Auto In/Out button punches in on your record ready tracks using the Locators as a guide. It's got an LED, too.

With all of these items being controlled by the two Locators, you find yourself quite involved with them during a production. The tape handling, similar to that of a DAT machine, is so quick that we found setting a locator point during the recording of each element would allow us to quickly return to a good pre-roll point for the next punch in. When it comes to tape, any tape, smaller is faster, lots faster.

The exact position of the Locator points in real time can be displayed by pressing the Display button. The Absolute Time Display toggles to the first Locator position, the second Locator position, and to the percentage of Vari Speed, plus or minus 6%. And yes, there are LEDs to show you what time display you are currently working with. Vari Speed is set by pressing a button with its own LED, and setting the amount with the Up and Down buttons. The Up and Down buttons do not have any buttons next to them on either side allowing a finger to comfortably rest on the control panel while the speed or other parameters are set. By the way, the DA 88 "remembered" the Vari Speed setting from yesterday, even though the machine was turned off! (Other functions that are backed up by a memory battery inside: the two locator points, the punch in and out points, and pre-roll time.)

The All Input button (and LED) lets you set record levels without being in record just like an analog tape machine! A Digital In button chooses between a digital I/O port and analog unbalanced RCAs or a balanced multi-pin connector as the input source. (More on the back panel later.)

There is a small but taught shuttle wheel with enough room around it to work with, enabled by a button with an LED. The wheel will sit where it's placed and scrub audio at the speed you choose forever. The same in either direction, the very first movement will cause the audio to play at a 1:4 ratio. That is, it takes a full four seconds to hear the entirety of one second! Since we're talking digital, and that means only the speed and not the pitch is being affected, cuing is ridiculously accurate and clean, easily surpassing that of a CD or DAT machine. On the other end of the Shuttle wheel, the DA 88's fastest scrub is 8:1, or eight seconds playing in the space of one. All in all, and even compared to digital workstations designed in the last year, this shuttle does a damn good job and may very well be the best feature, if forced to choose.

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