Following his guide to using the B77, David Mellor offers some basic advice for newcomers to the Sony DTC1000ES.
As I said last month, the Revox B77 and the Sony DTC1000ES are almost certainly the world's two most popular master recorders. Considering all levels of studio activity, each of these models has probably recorded more masters in its respective format than any other. Last month we looked at the B77, and this month the spotlight falls on the DTC1000ES. The DTC1000ES isn't as common as the B77, and probably never will be due to the proliferation of new DAT models coming on to the market, but it has the distinction of having been accepted as the recording industry's favourite in these early days of DAT.
In looking at these two master recorders, the idea is to offer helpful advice for those who haven't had the pleasure of operating either of them, but would like to know what to do when the opportunity comes along. Although these articles are not intended to be reviews as such, if you are in the market for a stereo recorder you won't regret buying either of these machines — I can say that from my own experience since I'm lucky enough to have both in my personal studio.
When it came out, the Sony DTC1000ES was virtually the only choice for cost-effective digital recording other than the video-based Sony F1 system. When I first handled one (for my review in Sound On Sound, October 1987) I felt initially that it looked too much like a piece of hi-fi equipment to be of serious professional use. Nevertheless, the sound quality was not in question and I bought one.
After a lot of hard use, including frequent location recordings, it is a little battle scarred, but after its first service (for worn tape guides) it is still working solidly and reliably. The combination of reel-to-reel and DAT is for me ideal since I can master simple tracks directly on to DAT, and if editing is required I can go via the Revox with only a small quality loss. If by some misfortune it happened that I had to re-equip my personal studio, I would go straight out and buy the same machines again, so you can take that as a strong recommendation for both.
The Sony DTC1000ES is a domestic hi-fi type machine just like the Revox B77, but like the B77 it is also highly suitable for recording studio use. Its principal drawback is the design of the small fiddly controls with difficult-to-read legending. But once you have the hang of the machine, you can get superb results from it which will transfer directly on to compact disc and sound absolutely wonderful.
Most examples of the DTC1000ES have had a modification which allows them to record at the CD sampling frequency of 44.1kHz without the Serial Copy Management System (SCMS) that more recent machines have which discourages the serious recordist from making those all-important safety copies of vital tapes.
At first sight, it looks as easy to record on to DAT as on to ordinary cassettes, but since the quality level we are aiming at is so much higher there are a few points to which we must pay attention in order to ensure optimum results.
Let's assume that you have a DTC1000ES connected and ready to go in front of you. Inserting a DAT cassette is straightforward, and even if you do get it the wrong way round it will simply pop out again. The first thing you have to do is decide which sampling frequency you want. If you are mastering for CD then it has to be 44.1 kHz. If you are producing a TV soundtrack then 48kHz is probably a better option since the broadcast world is orientated around that sampling frequency. This machine, I have to say, is happier working at 48kHz. If you have the switch in the 44.1 kHz position then strange things sometimes happen when you operate the transport controls, especially when the Skip switch is set to 'On'. This is a nuisance that you get used to eventually, and if you are aware of what might happen then you will be able to work around it.
To set the levels, press the Record button only and the meters will become active, as will the through monitor path. One potential trap with digital machines is that you tend to think of the meters as indicating precise digital levels, and therefore assume that they must be absolutely accurate. This is not always the case, and I have found that it is possible for distortion to occur even when the meters say that all is well. However, this doesn't happen often so it's not a major worry.
On any digital machine the optimum recording level is right at the top of the meter scale, but go above this level even for an instant and you'll know about it! With live musicians, I like to peak at around -10dB so that I have a decent amount of headroom. If I have a controlled source like multitrack tape, I can see no reason not to go all the way to the last segment of the meter scale on peaks, whilst avoiding the red overload indicator.
The DTC1000ES will record Start ID codes automatically at the beginning of each track. Unfortunately, it actually tends to record them just after the start of the track, so I always erase the IDs and re-record them manually. Let's go through the procedure: after you have recorded a number of tracks with automatically generated IDs, go back to the start of the tape and press the right-pointing AMS (Automatic Music Search — actually the Start ID finder) button to go to the head of the first track.
When the track starts playing, press the Start ID Erase button. The machine will locate back to the start of the track and play it again while erasing the ID. When the erase button's light goes off, and while the track is still playing, hold the left-pointing Review button to reverse the tape back to before the start of the track. Release this button so that the machine plays again and as soon as you hear the start of the track, hit the Start ID Manual Write button, then press the Review button quickly four times and hit the Manual Write button again. This will place a Start ID code just before the actual beginning of the track. Refer to the manual for a more detailed explanation, but if you practise this procedure a few times you'll get the hang of it, and it is a useful thing to be able to do.
When you have accurate Start IDs on all the tracks on the tape, press the Renumber button and the machine will go through each track and give the IDs sequential numbers. These can be used with the locator pad next to the input level control, just key in the number of the track you want and press 'Start'.
As you can see, DAT is more complicated than standard cassettes, but it is definitely worth the extra trouble. I haven't actually mentioned everything you need to know about recording on DAT yet, so here are a couple more points...
Just as the Revox B77 takes a second or so to come up to full speed, the DAT machine takes about three seconds between pressing the record and play buttons and actually starting to record. Also, if you plan on making a digital copy of the tape at any stage then bear in mind that the machine you are recording on to will need time to sync with the digital output of the source machine. This typically adds a couple of seconds on to the margin you have to leave between hitting record and actually recording programme material. Some CD mastering studios recommend that a 30 second run up is advisable, so if you want to take things really seriously then follow their advice.
This short explanation doesn't cover everything that the DTC1000ES can do, but it will get you started, and guide you away from two potentially major pitfalls. Like the Revox B77, the Sony DTC1000ES is a good workhorse and it will give you recordings of very high quality. If you haven't had any hands on experience with either of them yet, then you have a lot of fun in store. With little or no experience with reel-to-reel or DAT it takes a bit of practice before you can get the best out of either medium, but hopefully with a bit of help from the Hands On series, you will be up and running in a very short time.
HHB Communications, (Contact Details).
Feature by David Mellor
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