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

Dub Mode

DAT to DAT dubs are what the DA-302 is all about. Press the Dub Mode key to set the mode between High, Normal, Program, and Append. Red indicators light in the otherwise amber display to easily show that the unit is in the dub mode. To make an exact duplicate of a DAT, either the Normal or High dub mode can be used. This is digital dubbing, so the quality is not affected by the speed of the dub. High speed dubbing is twice normal speed. When copying a tape recorded in the Long Play mode, high speed dubbing is four times normal speed. When the Dub Mode is selected, a red LED flashes next to the Dubbing key. Press this key to begin the dub. Both tapes are rewound and dubbing begins. During normal dubbing, the audio is output at both the digital and analog outputs. During high speed dubbing, audio is only present at the analog outs. When a tape recorded in Long Play mode is being dubbed at high speed, no audio is available at either digital or analog outputs. Normal speed dubbing makes sense when you want to hear what is being dubbed. Otherwise, the high speed mode is the way to go.

The Append Dub mode permits dubbing from any point on one tape to any point on the other. It’s the same as the Normal Dub mode above except that the tapes are not rewound first. The high speed mode is not available in the Append Dub mode.

The Program Dub mode is handy. This mode allows you to program up to fifty programs on one DAT that will be recorded in any sequence to another. When started, the left deck will search out the first program. When located, the dub begins. When done, the second deck enters the Record-Pause mode and waits for the first deck to locate the next program in the sequence, and so on. The second deck knows to stop once the first deck senses the next Start ID. Then it stops recording, backs up a couple of seconds, and enters the Record-Pause mode while the first deck begins its next search. This function can be used to select, let’s say, your favorite promos for a demo from your master DAT and dub them to another DAT…while you work on something else. Pull selected spots from a commercial master for a specific client. Again, dubbing occurs without user interaction, and programming is fast and easy.

Remote Control

If you like kicking back with your feet on the desk while operating your equipment, the DA-302 gives you a wired remote control. You get about fifteen feet of cable attached to a remote control about the size of most large VCR remotes. There are 54 keys on the remote. Each deck has its own transport controls, counter keys, Standby key, Sampling Monitor key, and Locate key. Pressing the Locate key locates that deck to the time stored in the Memo(ABS) memory. The Dub Mode and Dubbing keys are also brought to the remote.

A set of keys at the top of the remote provide full access to the menu functions. The ID Mode and Auto ID keys are available on the remote as are the Margin Reset and Select 1/2 keys. A numeric keypad and two Start keys (DAT 1 and DAT 2) provide access to programs without pressing the Skip key twenty times to get to program #20. Press 2, 0, and the Start key for whichever deck has the DAT. For this reason, the remote is necessary as there is no keypad on the front panel. One advantage of the remote being wired is that, if you prefer a keypad on the front panel, the remote can be mounted next to the front panel with two-sided tape, Velcro, or some other means. Since there’s no infrared receptor to aim at, the remote can be mounted without concern for which way it’s pointing.

Summary

I’ve used nothing but dual-deck cassettes for at least the past ten years. I like the convenience of making two dubs at once and dubbing from one deck to the other, especially at high speed. The DA-302 is the DAT counterpart to its analog cousin. It’s easy to use, and a brief visit with the manual will have you familiar with all of its functions in no time. If your studio uses DAT a lot, the DA-302 will certainly come in handy. If you need high quality, extended recording, like recording entire shows for air-check purposes, two DATs in Long Play mode provide eight hours of continuous recording.

On the downside, there is little to mention about the DA-302. There is a rather long delay between hitting Play and getting audio. Most DAT decks tend to begin playback a second or two after Play is pressed (when cued to a Start ID). The DA-302 takes about three seconds to output the audio. Also, when recording, and you make a mistake and want to go back and re-record a program, the DA-302 doesn’t reset its Start ID auto-number register. If you’re recording program 3, for example, and press Stop during the recording and want to re-record that program at the point of the original Start ID, you must first press the Standby key (to enter Play-Pause mode) then the backward Skip key to cue to the original Start ID for program 3. When it gets there, the unit enters the Play-Pause mode. To enter the Record-Pause mode, you must press Stop, then the Record key. When you press Record and Play to begin recording and input the source audio, the auto-number function writes ID #4 instead of 3. The workaround is to use the Renumber function (which is time consuming, especially if you’re into high program numbers). Or, you must go back to the Start ID for program #2, let the unit register that ID, then go to the end of program 2 and begin recording program 3 as if from scratch.

The DA-302 feels sturdy. Eject buttons for each deck open the doors without much delay, and once a DAT is inserted, the doors can be quickly and firmly shut with your hand, as opposed to dealing with an Open/Close function. The transport mechanism was surprisingly quiet and smooth, though sluggish at times. For example, after recording, I often press Stop and backward Skip to quickly audition or cue up to the recording. The DA-302 takes a couple of seconds to get out of the Record mode after Stop is pressed. If you press the backward Skip button during those two seconds, the unit will not store that key-press and execute it when ready. Instead, you must wait until the unit is fully out of the Record mode before pressing that key.

Specs on the DA-302 include an S/N ratio >89dB, THD <0.007%, channel separation >85dB, and a typical frequency response of 20Hz-20kHz at 44.1kHz and 48kHz sampling, and 20Hz-14.5kHz at 32kHz sampling. Quantization is 16-bit linear in Standard Play mode and 12-bit non-linear in Long Play mode.

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