Test Drive: DA-302 Dual Digital Audio Tape Deck from Tascam

Front Panel Controls

The loaded front panel has separate transport controls for each deck, and most other controls are shared by the two decks. There are the usual Rew, FFwd, Stop, Play, Pause, and Record keys. Pressing the Record key sets the unit in Sampling Monitor mode which lets you monitor input signals. This is the same as the Record-Pause mode except the tape head is not rotating or in contact with the tape. When pressed once, the Rew key provides 2x normal reverse playback cueing. When pressed again, the speed is 4x normal. The FFwd key works the same way but speeds are 3x or 6x normal playback.

Left and right Skip keys locate to the next or previous Start IDs. Several presses locate forward or backward the number of times the key is pressed, which is shown on the display. The Standby key, when on, puts the DA-302 in the Play-Pause mode after a program is located. When off, the unit is in an auto-play mode. The Record-Mute key adds four seconds of silence to a recording before entering the Record-Pause mode. The ID Mode key selects the type of ID you want to manually write or erase (Start or Skip) as well as the Renumber function. The Auto ID key enables automatic writing of the Start ID when audio is sensed at the inputs (or after three or more seconds of silence between programs) and allows setting the input threshold.

From here on, the familiarity of the controls begins to fade. The Common Mode switch selects between 1&2, 1>2, and Off. The 1&2 position is used for simultaneous recording or playback on both decks. In this mode, the transport controls for Deck 1 also control Deck 2. So, starting and stopping both decks only requires pushing one key. When the Common Mode is set to 1>2, continuous recording and playback is possible. With two 2-hour DATs, four hours of continuous recording/playback is possible, or eight hours when the Long Play (32kHz sampling) mode is selected. Of course, additional DA-302s can be connected to extend this time. With the Common Mode switch in the Off position, both decks can be operated individually. However, in this mode, analog signals can only be recorded to Deck 1.

The Fs switch sets the sampling frequency (32kHz, 44.1Khz, and 48kHz). The Input switch selects between digital and analog inputs. The Analog Input switch selects between Uncal and Cal and sets input level control to either the internal calibrated levels or to the external Input Level controls on the front panel.

The large display at the top center of the front panel features readouts for both decks, including individual level meters, time displays, ID indicators and more. There are a few display controls directly below the display. The Counter Mode chooses between four time-display modes: Counter, Absolute Time, Program Time, and Remaining Time. The Reset/Memo(ABS) key resets the counter to zero when in the Counter display mode, or stores the current absolute time to an autolocate memory location when in the Absolute Time display mode. There are Counter Mode and Reset/Memo(ABS) keys for both decks. Each deck has margin indicators on the display (which actually share display space with PNO indicators). The Margin Reset key resets the margin indicators when in the record mode. During playback, pressing and holding this key displays the current margin levels on each deck. The Select 1/2 key is used to select which deck various menu functions will be applied to. Large indicators appear on the display to show which deck is selected. A headphone jack is provided on the front panel with level control. A switch permits selecting headphone audio from Deck 1, Deck 2, or a Mix of both.

What’s On the Menu?

The menu functions are accessed with a set of controls at the bottom center of the front panel. Sixteen parameters can be set for each deck. Set the Skip ID function on or off. Set the Single function on to cause the unit to enter the Play-Pause mode each time a Start ID is sensed. This is much like the Single Play mode of some CD players except that the 302 will play back a half-second or so of the next program before backing the tape up a bit and entering the Play-Pause mode. The Repeat Mode can be set to Off, All, or Single for repeat play of all programs on a DAT or a single program. The autolocate memory point mentioned earlier can be edited in the menu mode. Start IDs can be written manually on the fly and can also be written using menu functions to set the Start ID more accurately (within 5 frames).

Program Play is on the menu. Up to fifty program numbers can be programmed for playback on each deck in any order. An Error Rate display is available for both decks. This is a handy way to check and see if a tape is bad or if the deck needs cleaning. The DrumT menu selection displays the deck’s drum rotating time since day one—used for maintenance scheduling or for finding out just how used a used machine is!

The digital format is selected from the menu (S/PDIF or AES/EBU). The Copy ID selection sets restrictions on digital copying. Digital copying can be completely prohibited or just one generation can be allowed. Or the prohibit function can be removed altogether. Peak Hold for the level meters can be set on or off. The display brightness can be set to Dim, Normal, or Bright. A Seqtime parameter lets you set the absolute time at which deck 2 will start during continuous record/playback functions. When another DA-302 is connected and in the continuous record/play mode, this parameter will send a start signal to the connected unit. In this same situation, when the Loop selection is set to On, continuous record/playback will loop back to the first deck when it’s through with the last deck in the chain. Finally, the Cascade Output signals are selected from the menu between the input signals and the playback output signals, as mentioned earlier.

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