Digital Dream Baby
Casio DA2 DAT Recorder
Following hot on the heels of their DA1, Casio have now released the DA2 portable DAT recorder. Paul Ireson takes a look at what's new.
Not long ago I had the pleasure of reviewing the Casio DA1 DAT recorder: I swooned in its presence, I was speechless, in short I was very impressed. Consequently I was more than happy to cast a critical eye over the Casio DA2 when the opportunity arose. Like its predecessor, the DA2 is a portable DAT (digital audio tape) recorder, offering the same irresistible combination of quart-sized sound in a sub pint-sized bottle. The important differences between the two models are mechanical rather than electronic, and are aimed at making the DA2 altogether a more professional machine than the DA1.
The immediate appearance of the DA2 is a little sleeker than that of the DA1. It is also slightly larger, though somewhat smaller than the combination of the DA1 and its rechargeable battery pack; the DA2's battery pack loads into an internal compartment, and is about the size of four Walkman batteries. Controls and an LCD readout are arranged along one of the long edges of the DA2's case, and audio connections can be found on the right-hand side. The LCD provides bargraph metering of tape and recording levels, and has several display modes: absolute time elapsed since the tape start, time elapsed since the start of the current track, time remaining on the tape, or a tape counter readout. A Table Of Contents may also be available on pre-recorded cassettes, listing all the selections on a tape, which can be viewed in a further display mode.
The front panel controls comprise of a headphones volume level, separate left and right channel recording levels, and buttons for Mode selection, Time Mode selection, Counter Reset, Play, Record, Pause, Stop, Rewind, Fast Forward, and backwards and forwards Skip. The transport buttons are a good deal larger and easier to both see and operate than the rather fiddly ones on the DA1. Audio connections have also been improved: whereas the DA1 had stereo mini jacks for inputs and outputs, the DA2 has gold-plated phono sockets for Line In and Line Out, and two gold-plated ¼" jacks for stereo Mic inputs. A switch next to the Mic sockets allows you to alternate between Mic and Line inputs when recording.
The DAT format allows for the recording of both audio and subcode data on tape. Subcode allows the identification of different selections, or even track names on some DAT players. As far as audio recording goes, DAT is capable of recording slightly better than CD quality sound, with 16-bit 48kHz encoding. The DA2's recording and playback circuitry is the same as the DATs in that, although it employs 16-bit conversion on playback, it records with only 15-bit resolution. Now this seems a little odd to me, for I really can't believe that 15-bit A-to-D convertors are cheaper than 16-bit convertors.
16-bit is a standard, therefore a lot of equipment uses 16-bit convertors, therefore 16-bit convertors are bound to be cheaper than non-standard and less common 15-bit convertors. Perhaps the choice of 15-bits for recording has something to do with anticipating and defusing protest over the copyright implications of cheap domestic DAT recorders.
The important thing, of course, is how it sounds. I recorded material from several CDs on to the DA2, and listened to the results on one good and two excellent hi-fi systems, and in the SOS digital amp/Urei equipped studio, and frankly I found it very hard indeed to distinguish the sound of the Casio DAT from the original CD. At times I thought I could tell the difference, but it was sufficiently slight that I was never quite sure whether I imagined the differences in quality.
When recording audio on to a cassette for the first time, the DA2 automatically encodes two types of subcode. Firstly, the absolute playing time elapsed since the start of the tape, and secondly a Start ID for each new piece of music. Start IDs are automatically inserted after any silence of more than five seconds, and each Start ID is given a number as they are successively recorded. When making subsequent recordings over a tape which has already been recorded on, it is possible that the Start ID numbers may no longer correspond to the actual order of tracks on the tape (numbers might be duplicated). Fortunately, a re-number feature is available, whereby the DA2 automatically searches through the tape, changing all Start ID numbers so that they fall into numerical order. Start IDs can also be manually inserted or deleted.
So far this subcode aspect of the DA2 is the same as the DA1, but unfortunately one very useful facility has been left off the DA2 - the ability to encode a track name for each Start ID and also to search for track names automatically. This has obvious uses, particularly where DAT is being used as an archiving medium (to store sound samples perhaps).
Like the DA1, the DA2's price and portability make it a very good buy, and it can fulfill a number of roles with ease. Its most obvious application is as a portable recorder for roving sound effect or sample hunters, or even journalists. It has a very impressive tolerance of vibration and shock, its tapes and batteries give two hours of continuous operation, and the quality will beat that of any portable analogue machine hands down.
The DA2 could also be a good choice of mastering machine for small studios and home recordists. Although it is a little more expensive than its predecessor, it is still cheaper by far than any other DAT machine, and if your budget won't stretch any higher then you simply can't buy such high audio quality in any other format. Provided you don't need true 16-bit recording or the ability to edit, the DA2 fits the bill as a mastering recorder, and the improved connections make the DA2 a superior machine to the DA1.
Thanks to The Synthesizer Company for the loan of the review model.
£749 inc VAT.
Casio Electronics UK, (Contact Details).
Review by Paul Ireson