Test Drive: The Technics SV-DA10 DAT Deck

At the bottom of the front panel we find the remote control sensor and the timer switch for automatic record and playback using any AC on/off timer. A "PNO/start ID auto" switch enables and disables automatic start ID recording. A "skip play cancel" button turns the skip function on and off. The "music scan" button starts the program scan feature which plays fifteen seconds of a program then goes on to the next. The "input" button selects between analog and digital. On the bottom right of the panel is the input level control and a balance control. Unlike most balance controls you're used to, when turned to full left channel, it only cuts the input of the right channel by about 6dB -- no problem as long as you're not trying to balance some totally wacked out input.

Last on the "button" segment of our tour, we have "fade in" and "fade out" buttons on the bottom of the panel. Again, this is another consumer feature. If you've ever recorded from the radio, you know you can never start recording exactly when the song begins. You always manage to start recording a few seconds into the intro after you've recognized the song as one you like. When in the record/pause mode, hitting "fade in" mutes the input, starts the tape rolling, and increases the input to full volume in 2.5 seconds. When the song nears its end and that jock starts talking, hitting "fade out" begins a five second fade out after which the unit records four seconds of silence then enters the "record/pause" mode.

Protruding outward from the front panel is a large, hard to miss "shuttle" wheel. Here's something both consumer and production guru will appreciate. The rewind and fast forward buttons on most DAT machines also function as "review/cue" buttons when in the playback mode, but you can only review the audio at one speed with these buttons. Using the shuttle wheel, the unit can search audio at one of seven different speeds in either forward or reverse depend-ing upon how far you turn the wheel in each direction and whether the unit is in "play" or "pause" mode. In "play" mode, the wheel allows cuing at three, five, nine, and fifteen times normal play speed. In the "pause" mode, the speed is reduced to half normal speed, normal speed, twice normal, and three times normal tape speed. Once a cue point is found and the wheel is returned to the center position, the audio mutes and the unit returns to the pause mode. Because of this, cuing is not as precise as it is on some CD players where the audio stays on while in the pause/search mode, but you can get to within a second of where you want to be. The wheel is most handy because you can zip through audio much faster than if you just used the "review/cue" buttons.

Moving on to the display we find indicators for sampling rates: 48kHz, 44.1kHz, and 32kHz. The unit defaults to a 48kHz sampling rate when recording unless the digital inputs are used. In this case, sampling frequency automatically switches to match that of the incoming digital signal. Similarly, the unit automatically switches to the proper sampling frequency of pre-recorded tapes during playback. There is a "repeat" indicator on the display to let you know if the unit's repeat function is enabled. When enabled, the tape will play from beginning to end sixteen times before it automatically stops. Programmed play is possible with the SV-DA10, and, when used with the repeat function, all cuts that are pre-programmed will play in the order which they are programmed, then the order will be repeated sixteen times before the unit automatically stops. Up to thirty-two steps can be programmed into the unit's memory.

This is a good time to point out that programmed play is only possible with the SV-DA10's wireless remote control. You may have noticed that there is no number keypad on the front panel. Selecting several cuts for programmed play must be done from the remote control's key pad. Likewise, if you plug in a tape and just want to hear cut twenty-three, you must use the remote to punch in 2-3, then hit play. Otherwise, selecting cut twenty-three from the front panel would involve hitting the forward skip button twenty-three times assuming you are at the beginning of the tape.

The next stop on our tour of the display brings us to indicators for "start ID," "skip ID," and "end." These flash to indicate which ID will be recorded when "ID write" is pressed. They turn on but don't flash when the ID's are encountered or are being recorded. Skip and start ID's can be erased without affecting the recorded audio, and an "erase" indicator illuminates when the "ID erase" function is being used.

Two more indicators on the display are "cleaning," and "dew." Sorry. When the "cleaning" light comes on, it doesn't mean the unit is cleaning itself. An optional "cleaning tape" can be purchased which cleans the heads and transport. The indicator just tells you that the unit detects dust or dirt on the heads. The "dew" indicator comes on when moisture is detected in the unit. This can occur when the unit is transferred from a cold place to a warm room or if it is placed in front of an air conditioner. When the "dew" light comes on, the unit won't function. The unit must be left on until the light goes out, then all functions return.

Finally, on the display tour, we find a bar graph for record/playback levels (with peak level indicators), the program number indicator, and the counter display. The counter display has five modes selected with the "mode" button. The counter displays "absolute time," "program time," and "remaining time" and functions as a standard tape counter. A fifth mode is the "Table of Contents" mode which displays the number of programs on a tape along with total "playing" time. This is the same information many CD players provide, but the SV-DA10 can only display this information if it exists on a commercially pre-recorded tape to begin with.

The rear panel offers unbalanced analog inputs and outputs using standard phono plugs. There are two digital inputs and two digital outputs with a switch to select between "optical" and "coaxial." Specs on the unit provided by the factory include a frequency response of 2Hz to 22kHz. The signal-to-noise ratio is greater than 90dB. THD is less than .007%. The search speed is up to four hundred times normal. The unit takes about a half a minute to rewind a two hour tape.

SCMS stands for Serial Copy Management System. For those who don't understand what you can and can't do with SCMS, here's the scoop. You can make a digital copy of a CD, but you can't use the copy as a master to make other digital copies with. The same goes for pre-recorded commercial DAT tapes coded with the SCMS information. You can make an analog recording of a CD then make a digital recording of that; but the digital recording can't be used as a master for another digital recording. Confused yet? Okay, here's the easy one: You can make analog recordings and copies until you're blue in the face.

Unless you have the most incredible sound system and the most incredible ears, keeping things totally in the digital domain might very well end up being more of a pain than it is worth because of the SCMS. If you only use DAT for broadcast purposes, the analog ins and outs will most definitely suffice, and you won't have to worry about SCMS. An analog recording on DAT is still cleaner than any recording on reel-to-reel, and THAT difference you CAN hear.

Should you buy a consumer deck like the Technics SV-DA10 for radio production? We can't think of any reason not to except for the fact that you have to have the remote control to access random program numbers. (Imagine being at the beginning of the tape, wanting to get to cut 99, and not being able to find the remote control. #$*%!) Other than that, there is the consideration of the durability of the unit under extreme usage. Only time will tell the story on that factor, but we can't imagine that these early leaders in consumer DAT machines would risk future success by turning out fragile machines for their debut. Besides, these DAT machines have been around for years, plenty of time to work the bugs out. It is the SCMS issue that has kept them from the American consumer for so long. Now, if you're one of those that still thinks DAT is just a fad, wake up. This fast growing fad is about five years old now, and you're still waiting for it to be proven.

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