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Digital Audio

Filed under: — 2006-03-19 by Richard L. Hess — Last Edit 2016-10-21 by Richard L. Hess

2016-10-20 update:
—United Archiving in Hollywood was able to confirm that the digital tape I recently received was a Mitshubishi X80 tape, as I suspected after careful analysis.
—The former shop manager at TASCAM who ran the tape recovery operation is now doing it on his own–see below.
2016-10-18 update:
—New resource for DASH (Sony & Mitsubishi) transfers
—Added information about stereo DASH formats
—TASCAM has closed its facility for DTRS transfers
2012-04-26 update: New resource confirmed for 32-track 3M Digital playback…see below.

There have been a number of dedicated digital audio formats, with most of them introduced between 1978-1990. This page addresses one-piece dedicated machines, whether or not they use video tape. If the format used an analog VCR and a digital audio adapter, it is listed here. If the tape is used for voice logging, we have that listed here.

Stereo Formats

You may notice a reduction of my listings in this section. That is intentional. DATs appear to becoming more problematic and I cannot focus on both digital and analog.

DAT: 4mm helical scan tape shared with DDS data tapes. Later, higher-density DDS tapes do not work in DAT machines. Caution: This is an end-of-life format with some interchange problems. Last decade was a good time to think about migrating DATs to more stable media. Few machines remained in production as of early 2006 and none are now available (2016).

Resources for standard DAT transfer: Richard L. Hess, Aurora, Ontario; Please also review this note for a special technique for important master recordingsUnited Archiving, Hollywood, California – Masterdigital, Covington, Louisiana – Bluefield Mastering, North Carolina – Dreamhire, New York – Berkeley Language Center (510) 642-0767

Resources for problematic DAT/DTRS (DA-88)/ADAT transfer: Many problematic DAT and related tapes were recorded on machines that were out of alignment. The only way to reliably transfer tapes that were made on mis-adjusted machines is to mis-adjust a working machine to match the record machine. We have found two new sources for this:
Manhattan Sound Technicians in Minneapolis, Minnesota, contact Eddie Ciletti at (651) 554-0304
Chace Audio in Burbank, California, contact Todd Gruber at (818) 842-8346
Safe Sound Archive/George Blood in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

DCC: This 0.150-inch serpentine-track consumer format was brought out by Philips and gained more traction in Europe than in the Americas or Japan, although it was never a major contender. The positive aspect of the format is the players were designed to record and play digital compact cassettes and could also reproduce analog compact cassettes. This is essentially a dead format and is seriously at-risk.

Sony DASH: This 1/4-inch format was developed by Sony and Studer made a machine for it as well. Tapes made on any of the following machines should all play on any of the other machines: Sony PCM-3202, Sony PCM-3402, andStuder D820X. This is essentially a dead format and is seriously at-risk. Resources for transfer: Richard L. Hess, Aurora, Ontario – United Archiving, Hollywood, California – Dreamhire, New York – Chicago Audio Works (312) 337 8282

Mitsubishi Pro-Digi: This digital audio stationary head format – or should I say formats – has severe interchangeability issues among the different versions and even among different machines. It was introduced early and saw a significant amount of use. These are dead formats and are some of the most at-risk formats today. Resources for transfer: United Archiving, Hollywood, California – Dreamhire, New York – Chicago Audio Works (312) 337 8282 – Benny at Masterfonics, Nashville – Sterling Sound, New York – Holland Audio Service, Holland

Here is an attempt to summarize the various versions and their (in)compatibility:

  • The original X-80 machine had a 50 kHz sample rate. It’s tapes will play back properly on a 50 ks/s X-80, or 4% slow on a 48 ks/s X-80 or an X-86C.
  • Later X-80 machines had a 48 kHz sample rate. It’s tapes will play back properly on a 48 ks/s X-80 or an X-86C. Presumably they will also play 4% fast on an original, 50 kHz X-80.
  • The switchable 44.1/48 ks/s X-86 tapes will play on an X-86, X-86C, and X-86HS.
  • The high-resolution (88.2/96 ks/s) X-86HS tapes will only play on that machine.
  • The “radio-station” 7.5 in/s tapes made on the X-86LT will only play on that machine.

In 2016 I had the pleasure of attempting to coax digital audio from a 1/4-inch stereo DASH tape. The client was fairly certain that it was a Sony DASH tape. It has been confirmed by United Archiving in Hollywood that it is a Mitsubishi X-80 tape.

The first item to consider is that both the Sony DASH and the Mitsubishi 1/4-inch formats are 12-track formats. There are two utility tracks on each edge and eight main digital tracks in the centre. The positioning of the tracks appears similar in both the DASH and the X-86 format with stereo analog audio at the top. The bottom two tracks are slightly different, with the Sony DASH using the inner of that group as a control track and the outer for timecode. The Mitsubishi X-86 format is not as closely specified for the two bottom aux tracks. Here is a tape that plays well on the Sony 3402 DASH machine–please forgive the sloppiness of the Kyread spray.

Sony DASH tape format 1/4-inch two channels Closest (top) Stereo analog, 8 digital audio tracks, CTL track, timecode track

Sony DASH tape format 1/4-inch two channels
Closest (top) Stereo analog, 8 digital audio tracks, CTL track, timecode track

In this image, the top of the tape is closest to the viewer. It is pretty easy to see the stereo audio aux track at the top, the eight digital tracks and the slightly wider control track and then a timecode track.

Mitsubishi X-80 format DASH tape Closest (top) blank, 8 digital audio tracks, mono analog cue track (bottom)

Mitsubishi X-80 format DASH tape
Closest (top) blank, 8 digital audio tracks, mono analog cue track (bottom)

This was the tape that will not play on a Sony DASH machine. It did play on a Mitsubishi X80 machine at United Archiving in Hollywood. This is the same orientation, so the top of the tape is closest to the viewer. Note that the top area is not coherently filled with anything. The eight data tracks are clearly visible, and then at the bottom, the best I could say that a single mono cue track sometimes is visible.

The big key here is that the cue audio is at the bottom instead of the top. The difference between cue (analog) track visibility in the two recordings is that the DASH recording is a fairly hard driving pop/soft rock recording while the X80 recording is a theatre organ with wide dynamics.

Soundstream:

This system was normally leased. It was a pioneering system. Contact me and I will put you in touch with someone who may be able to get your tapes transferred.

8-Track Modular Multi-track Formats:

In video production, the Tascam DTRS system was widely used in the 1990s. These machines, such as the DA-88, DA-98, DA-38, and others placed 8 digital audio channels on a Hi-8 video cassette. Resources for transfer: Ed Greene in Burbank can do this, please contact me and I’ll put you in touch – United Archiving, Hollywood, California – Dreamhire, New York – Live Wire Remote Recorders, Toronto (many machines) – Chace Audio in Burbank, California

The other competing system is the Alesis ADAT. Alesis went to 20 bits while maintaining 8 tracks before Tascam came out with higher-resolution machines. These use an S-VHS video cassette. Studer’s entry into this field is in this format. Resources for transfer: United Archiving, Hollywood, California – Jim Finch, Former TASCAM Service Manager, Los Angeles, California – Dreamhire, New York – Chace Audio in Burbank, California – Crowtown Productions, Edmonton, Alberta

In either system, the machines were locked together to provide 24, 32, or more tracks for recording. A multi-part set can be transferred to files using one machine and re-syncing the passes in a variety of ways, or by using as many machines as was originally used for recording.

Reel-to-Reel Digital Multi-track Formats:

Sony, Tascam, and Studer all used a common multi-track DASH format. The Sony 3348HR will play all the formats. All use 1/2-inch tape at 30 in/s. I believe that the 24-track machines can play the first 24 tracks of the 48-track tapes. Resources for transfer: United Archiving, Hollywood, California – Les Studios Piccolo, Montreal – Chace Audio, Burbank, California – Quad Studios, Nashville (Mark Greenwood) – Dreamhire, New York

Otari and Mitsubishi used a common 1″ 30 in/s 32-track format that soon went away when Sony offered 48 tracks. Resources for transfer:United Archiving, Hollywood, California – Live Wire Remote Recorders, Toronto – Quad Studios, Nashville (Mark Greenwood) – Dreamhire, New York

Mitsubishi had an earlier 16-track 1/2″ 30 in/s format.

3M had two digital formats 32-track 1″ and 4-track 1/2″. These ran at 45 in/s! Resources for 32-track transfer: As of 2012-04, Randy Alpert from LA found that Iron Mountain on Highland has a working 32 track 3M digital machine. Most of the others he found had bad power supplies, and I suggested that making up the required supply from an array of off-the-shelf supplies might be a solution. – River Sound, New York City – Arvato Digital Services, Germany (possibly the only all-digital transfer chain available).

Machines are out there, and the Hollywood studios used 3348 Sony machines in film production and archiving. Let’s hope these machines are available. If you have any of these formats, I would strongly suggest transferring them while you can. The existing machines don’t get better with age.

Related Pages: Digital Audio on Video Cassettes, Digital Audio-Disks



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