Test Drive: The Tascam DA-88

Under the eight Peak reading VU meters are the individual channel Record Ready/Safe buttons. No questions here; when they're pressed, a loud click and a flashing red LED doesn't lie. A simple closure, optional foot switch will give dexterous toes remote control of punch ins. Other buttons on the front panel include a Remote switch that disconnects all of the front panel controls excepting Display, Up, Down, and Stop, and transfers all other controls to the optional RC 848 Remote Control. This monster of a remote allows you to control numerous machines, see Absolute and Locator times at the same time, and to control several machines linked together to perform as one with a sample accurate lockup and more. A keypad allows the direct entry of tape position and the ability to control other machines on the same working surface.

Up to 16 DA 88s may be connected together for a total of 128 tracks. The Chase button, on the front panel just under track 1's VU meter, lets your first machine be the slave master when others are added on. Moving across to the right, a Clock button chooses between an Internal clock, an External SMPTE clock, or a WORD lockup to Video should you venture into audio for video. Buttons for SMPTE Generation and Recording are also under the VU meters. A SMPTE time code card is available as an option with one card locking up an entire system of DA 88s.

Of the last two buttons, one sets the Sampling Rate to 44.1 or 48k during tape formatting. Two LEDs show which rate has been recognized by the deck whenever a tape is inserted. The last button is the Format function and must be double clicked before it will work, and of course, completely erase and re format the tape. Tascam warns users not to run tapes previously used for video.

It's the formatting of the tape that sounds bothersome when compared to an analog deck, but the process is simple just like a computer floppy. There is, however, no such thing as fast in this mode. It's real time and, perception being reality, it's the slowest thing on this box. The only saving grace is the whole tape doesn't have to be formatted at one time. Formatting can take place from any point you choose. So you can format what you need, then format more even after audio has been recorded on the tape. The only comment from Tascam on this subject is to be careful not to allow an un formatted "space" when practicing the format what you need method. It might be better to format the tape in its entirety during your lunch hour and forty eight minutes! "Time Management," you know.

One other option is the not so decked out RC 808 Remote Control which offers basic control over most of the functions, including: All Input, Auto Input, Insert, Repeat, Rehearsal, Auto In/Out, the eight Record Ready buttons, and the two Locator memory and recall buttons. Unbelievable as it may seem, there is only one LED on the small remote, a little red one in the Record button's corner which is protected by barriers on each side. The buttons on the remote are sensitive, but they have a quiet little "snap" to assure they have been pressed. Although it is not the "Big Daddy" that the 848 is, the 808 is a nice, metal box with a long cord and a 5½ x 6-inch footprint that sits comfortably in even the most cramped studios.

The rear panel has a large heat sink next to the power cord's socket. What it is doing there, I haven't a clue. The deck generates only enough heat to make the heat sink not feel cold. The unit consumes only 74 watts of power. That means a light bulb in the lamp on your night stand uses more power! The eight RCA input jacks sit in a row above the eight RCA output jacks. The multi-pin connector for balanced ins and outs sits between the RCAs and the heat sink. A space above allows for the optional SMPTE card. There are multi-pin connectors for digital in/outs and an optional meter bridge. Two remote ports, a Sync out, a WORD in/out, a foot switch, and a selector knob to set the slave machine number span the top of the back panel.

The DA 88's specs are impeccable. Wow and flutter do not exist. Frequency response is flat across the board to within a half a dB. Dynamic range is >92 dB. 16 bit linear quantization and some A/D D/A converters that sound good make the Tascam DA 88 a little work of art.

Several brand name tapes are available at your local Target or K Mart for nine bucks and will most likely be available for some time since Hi8mm is the current "format of choice" for video cameras. Just considering the cost of analog tape in comparison to this format may help you to justify buying one with upper echelons. (This tape will replace almost four analog tapes!) Imagine, if you will, a production room where every client has their own 8 track master. A complete, modifiable record of every spot you've made for them will fit into the palm of your hand! Cost? Cheap. Storage? Pick a drawer any size drawer.

Now, there's going to be no knocking of digital workstations in this review, but credit must be given to a brilliant product design from the folks at Tascam (and this writer/Production Director hasn't been too particularly kind to Tascam all these years). If you want a digital box that will give you multi-track capabilities, well designed and well placed "working" controls, with a modular approach to growth, on a storage medium that beats the pants off the cost of workstation hard drives and memory expanders, the DA 88 is your box. The only thing that would make it a perfect world, would be one of each!

With Tascam selling them as fast as they can make them, the DA 88 can be had for a street cost of less than $4,000. That means the digital age can make it to your production studio today for less than the cost of a good cart machine! Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.

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