TASCAM DS-D98 DSD DTRS Recorder

TASCAM continues the evolution of its line of rack-mounted digital recorders with the DS-D98, priced at $9,500, which is the first and only Direct Stream Digital (DSD) machine that records directly to DTRS/Hi8 tape. In this world of disk-based recording systems, there is still a valid place for tape-based recording. It makes good sense to record directly to low-cost removable media then transfer digitally to a disk-based system for editing and mastering.
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TASCAM continues the evolution of its line of rack-mounted digital recorders with the DS-D98, priced at $9,500, which is the first and only Direct Stream Digital (DSD) machine that records directly to DTRS/Hi8 tape. In this world of disk-based recording systems, there is still a valid place for tape-based recording. It makes good sense to record directly to low-cost removable media then transfer digitally to a disk-based system for editing and mastering.
Product PointsApplications: High-end mastering

Key Features: DTRS format, two channels of DSD, up to eight channels of 24-bit PCM from 44.1 to 192 kHz sample rates, DSD and PCM outputs

Price: $9,500

Contact: TASCAM at 323-726-0303, Web Site
Features

The DS-D98 is basically a DA-98HR eight-channel 24-bit PCM recorder with the optional DSD plug-in board and required firmware. Direct Stream Digital processing, developed by Sony and Philips, is an proprietary advanced, high data rate, 1-bit digital recording system that is claimed to offer analog-like sound performance with theoretical frequency response out to 100 kHz and dynamic range of 124 dB. Super Audio CD (SACD) is the playback medium for DSD on the consumer side. (See Ed Foster's feature in PAR 8/00 and 9/00 for more technical information on DSD).

Because of the huge amount of data that needs to be dealt with in real time with DSD, (2.8224 MHz/second) only two channels of DSD can be recorded on the DS-D98, for a total of 150 minutes (See Extra DSD Tracks sidebar for configuring multiple tracks). Even though the DS-D98 is capable of only two DSD channels, it is a perfectly suited as a DSD mix down machine for use with analog consoles and multitrack.

If used in the 24-bit, PCM mode, the DS-D98 can record eight channels at a sample rate of 44.1 kHz or 48 kHz, four channels at 88.2 kHz or 96 kHz or two channels at 176.4 kHz or 192 kHz.

Connection-wise, standard line level balanced analog inputs and outputs are available on XLR connectors while the DSD digital inputs and outputs are SDIF-3, which is the Sony Digital Interface Format reworked for DSD. This interface uses separate BNC connectors for left channel, right channel & Word sync for a total of six BNCs, input and output.

An XLRM labeled monitor out jack provides an AES/EBU, 44.1 kHz, PCM signal which is useful for converting DSD to PCM so that reference DATs or CD-Rs can be made directly from the DSD format. Unfortunately, the DS-D98 has no headphone output.

Internal jumpers allow for changing reference levels from -16 dBFS to -20 dBFS in 2 dB steps. The TASCAM default is -16 dBFS with a nominal level of +4 dBu and a maximum of +20 dBu. This of course is balanced. Eight channels of both AES/EBU and TDIF digital interfaces are also supported.

The front panel of the DS-D98 is almost identical to the DA-98HR - with the exception of the lighted DSD indicator and some silk screening. Whenever a tape is formatted in DSD mode or a tape previously formatted in the DSD mode is inserted, the machine enters the DSD mode, and the blue DSD indicator illuminates.

In Use

For this review, I focused only on the DSD functions. After formatting the first tape for DSD, (PCM-formatted tape won't record DSD), I connected the balanced outputs of an EMM Labs DA8 digital-to-analog converter to the balanced analog inputs of the DS-D98. The source material was Warren Bernhardt's jazz piano album, So Real, which I recorded in DSD on the Sony Sonoma DSD hard disk system. I wanted to hear the quality of the TASCAM's A/D and D/A converters.

Since I am intimately familiar with the Bernhardt recording, it did not take long to realize that the DS-D98 was not your ordinary digital tape recorder. The sound qualities of DSD were definitely there. In my opinion, DSD sounds like great analog - no digital harshness or ear unfriendly upper-harmonic abnormalities commonly associated with PCM.

As good as the monitored sound was, however, there was a clear difference between the analog output of the DS-D98 when comparing it to the analog output of the EMM Labs D/A. When I connected the DSD output of the TASCAM to the EMM Labs D/A, the sound was almost identical to its input. What this tells me is that the DS-D98's internal A/D converter is excellent, but the D/A is not quite as good.

However, the D/A is not a big problem since the information recorded on the DS-D98 will most likely be transferred digitally to a DSD workstation for editing, thus, bypassing the TASCAM's D/A converter.

For several weeks, on several sessions, I also used the DS-D98 as a stereo recorder in different setups. On the first session, I used two Shure KSM 32 microphones with a pair of Sequerra 1070A microphone preamplifiers, which fed the analog inputs of the DS-D98. The project was a fantastic gospel choir I recorded at Clinton Recording in NYC. The 42-member Broadway Inspirational Voices group had the dynamic range and acoustic output on an energy level of a big band. I have never heard human voices with so much power and authority.

The DS-D98 sounded very good with transparency very similar to my reference EMM Labs ADC-8 DSD A/D converter (PAR 12/01). These recordings further showcased the quality of the DS-D98's on-board A/D converters; they are about as clean as anything I've heard - with an openness comparable with the best converters available.

I also tested the DS-D98 by recording the DSD output of the Sony Sonoma workstation mixer. The project was a new SACD with the Bob Mintzer Big Band at Ambient Recording in Stamford, Conn. Connection between the Sonoma and DS-D98 was easy by using the three BNCs. The DS-D98 locked up to the incoming clock and worked great.

The only glitch was what seemed to be a light logic problem; while in record, the play and record light went out and the stop button lit. This glitch occurred while the tape was still rolling and the machine was still recording! When I rewound the tape and played it back, the audio was there and it sounded fine. (Editor's Note: a TASCAM spokesman said that the company has received no reports from other users about this glitch. PAR asked for a second unit, and it worked fine with no faulty indications.)

Summary

Overall, the TASCAM DS-D98 is a clear winner. Recording an hour and fifty minutes of two-channel DSD on low-cost media is very handy. If you like what the buss sounds like from your analog console, you will love what comes back from the DS-D98; it is virtually the same. You cannot say that about most tape-based recording system (and not many hard disk-based systems).

With DSD workstations from Merging Technologies, SADiE and Sonic Solutions available now, the DS-D98 can be the perfect DSD front end to any one of these systems.