The onslaught of digital audio workstations and dedicated hard disk recorders has tape-based digital formats on the run. Their usefulness is not to be overlooked, however. Portability and reliability persist as their major assets. The TASCAM DA-78HR ($3,299) ups the ante and gives new life to the DTRS format.
Product PointsApplications: Studio; post production; broadcast production
Key Features: Eight-track digital 8mm DTRS recorder; MIDI and SMPTE sync; 16- and 24-bit recording at 44.1 or 48 kHz; sample accurate sync with other DTRS recorders
Contact: 323-726-0303; www.tascam.com
New features include an internal digital patch bay that allows input-to-track assignment and the selection of digital, analog and off-tape sources without the use of external switching or routing equipment. Built into the DA-78HR is an internal 8 x 2 mixer, with level and panning adjustments that allows the machine’s tracks to be mixed and output through outputs 7 and 8 of the analog outputs, the TDIF outputs or the S/PDIF output, without any additional mixing equipment.
The rear panel of the 17.8 lb. 3U DA-78HR is covered with every connector one could want, except the Sony 9-pin (RS232/422) remote control connector.
An IEC connector provides AC power. Three MIDI jacks (in/out/thru) carry MTC (MIDI time code) and MMC (MIDI machine control) commands, as well as MIDI system exclusive messages. The remote in connector allows the optional RC-808 remote control unit to be connected to the box. The 1/4-inch remote punch I/O jack allows an external footswitch to control punch operations to be connected.
Two RCA connectors handle SMPTE in and out. Three BNC connectors provide word sync in, out and through. The machine supports SMPTE and MIDI timecode with a full range of chase and synchronization modes. All major timecode formats are supported (30 drop, 30 nondrop, 29.97 drop, 29.97 nondrop, 25 and 24 fps). A remote in/sync connector and a sync out connector allow the unit to be connected to other DTRS machines and/or to a remote. Up to 16 DTRS machines can be linked together, providing a total of 128 sample-accurate synchronized tracks.
The TDIF connector allows eight channels of digital information to be carried to and from the DA-78HR. Two coaxial S/PDIF connectors provide output from the internal submixer and accept input for recording from a S/PDIF source. The S/PDIF input can be routed to any pair of tracks by using the internal patch bay.
Analog input and output are accessed through 16 RCA jacks for unbalanced signal (eight in; eight out) or through two D-sub connectors for balanced operation (one for input; one for output). Analog-to-digital conversion is 24-bit resolution via 128X oversampling delta-sigma A/D and D/A circuitry. The A/D section has switchable dithering to 16 bits with either rectangular or triangular distribution.
All functions are accessed through the front panel via eight menu pages, each containing several subpages. The main menu pages are System, Audio 1, Audio 2, Timecode, TC Chase, TC Generator, MIDI and Maintenance. A little confusing at first, the menus quickly become second nature.
Much like the original DA-88 and the DA-38, the DA-78HR’s menus and their options are displayed using the time counter. Since the display is composed of seven-segment LED counters, a special alphabet is used to show the actual letters of the alphabet. TASCAM provides a key on page 20 of the owner’s manual to clear up any confusion this might cause.
The internal patch bay allows extensive input-to-track assignment. Any analog or digital input can be allocated to any track. The internal 8:2 digital monitoring mixer has adjustable level and pan for each track and can be controlled by MIDI.
The HR LED informs the user that the machine is recording in high resolution (24-bit); sample rate LEDs confirm the machine is recording at either a 44.1 kHz or 48 kHz sampling rate. There is an ABS LED and a TC LED so you can always tell which timing reference you are using. The Offset LED confirms that the machine or timecode offset is in operation.
There are three clock settings on the DA-78HR. If both the word and digital in LEDs are lit, the machine is using internal word sync. If only the word LED is lit, the word sync is being received through the word sync BNC connector or the TDIF connector. If only the digital LED is lit, sync is being received through the S/PDIF input. If the DA-78HR is not the first DTRS machine in a multi-DTRS system, it will receive clock from the master DTRS machine via the DTRS sync bus.
The 78HR uses the same 15-segment meters as the DA-38. The meters have a 40 dB range, and adjustable ballistics can be set to fast, medium or slow release times. Peak hold times can be adjusted from 0 to 9 seconds or continuous. The rec function buttons below the respective track meters also act as channel selectors for track delay, input patching and submixer functions.
Crossfade time is adjustable from 10 ms to 200 ms in 10-ms increments. Track delay is adjustable from -200 to +7,200 samples (-4 to +150 ms). Track delay is adjustable in single unit increments and can be set in either samples or ms.
The DA-78HR sounds and works great. As an owner of six DA-88s, I still do quite a bit of work with the DTRS format and I have been able to integrate the DA-78HR into several projects over the last couple of months and have always been pleased.
The first 24-bit recording I made with the box was a cello piece performed by Matt Slocum of Sixpence None the Richer. The depth of the recording was spectacular, and the resolution was precise. I experimented with mono (using an AEA R44C mic) and stereo (using an AEA R44C and an Earthworks SR77 mic), and in both instances had fabulous results.
The converters sound great and the sonic step up to 24-bit is substantial. I also made use of the 78 in High Resolution (HR) mode to record artist/songwriter Jeremy Casella. This time I used the Brauner VM-1KHE microphone (see PAR 10/00, p. 22), and once again I had superb results. The Brauner is said to be the quietest tube microphone ever made, so it was a perfect testing companion to the extremely quiet DA-78HR.
My complaints with the DA-78HR are minor. The meters on the 78 are not as bright as those on the DA-88, and on occasion I found reading them in a bright control room rather difficult. I also miss the activity lights on the rewind, fast forward and stop buttons that are found on the older DTRS models. There is actually no way to tell by looking at the machine if an unformatted tape is in rewind, fast forward or stop.
Cosmetics aside, DA-78HR sounds excellent, especially in the high-resolution 24-bit mode. Even tracks that were recorded on a DA-88 sound substantially better when played back on the 78.
The DA-78HR manual is well-written and the handy Operational Quick Reference Guide answers most questions in seconds.
TASCAM’s DA-78HR rules the DTRS world. It is both sonically and mechanically superior to any of the earlier DTRS machines. With the industry’s move toward hard disk recording, my only question is how much longer do we spend improving the horse and buggy before we just buy a car?