[ProAudio] DAT Transfers

Kevin P. Mostyn lists at mostyn.com
Tue Apr 6 08:10:51 PDT 2021

I’m transferring all my DATs to hard drives. I have about 3,000 DATs, all classical music. Approximately half were direct copies of master tapes. These were made in the 1990s. I have not played them in the nearly 30 years since.

I bought a MOTU UltraLite MK4 interface. It has been quite reliable. The process is all digital all the time, no resampling. I just needed a device to convert the DAT digital output to USB audio stream format. My DATs are 16/48.

The main problem I’ve had is with the DATs themselves. The format was not meant to be elitist. There’s quite a lot of data on that tiny strip of thin tape.

I have about a dozen professional decks. Tascam, Sony, Panasonic. It’s impossible to predict which machine will play a DAT without errors. The difference among them can be astonishing. A DAT can be unplayable on one, yet perfect on another. And this is not a consistent result. Some days the Tascams are great, then the next tape will play only on a Sony or a Panasonic. The unfortunate thing is that the errors cannot be seen using spectral analysis unless one zooms in quite closely to the affected section. But the error is quite audible. I had considered doing the project using a data DAT machine at high speed, but decided that I couldn’t be certain that all audible errors would be corrected by that process. So I’m doing this real-time.

Since the pandemic started, I’ve been under effective “house arrest.” It seemed that this would be a good time for this project. I’m nearing 1,000 completed transfers. I estimate that more than 98% have been successfully transferred, although many have required multiple attempts using my various decks. In some cases I’ve had to edit parts of different passes to assemble a usable whole.

As for your approaching 80 and your project being a one-off, I’m 75 and my project is definitely a one-off. I hope I live to finish it!


On Apr 5, 2021, at 11:04 PM, Jim Brown via ProAudio <proaudio at bach.pgm.com> wrote:

I need to transfer a few dozen DATs to a hard drive for archiving before it's too late to find hardware on which to do it. 20-25 years ago when I was recording this material, I had a tower machine set up as a DAW with all the interfaces needed to do the transfers. It's been 15 years since that machine was booted, and it was more than ten years old then. And I don't remember the logon. :)

So I need advice about hardware. I still have the Tascam DA-P1 on which they were recorded, but I'm not sure it will live long enough. I'll try it first. It outputs S/PDIF, so I need an interface to get into my Windoze machines. All use USB, but I think I might have one with Firewire.

I found a MOTU 8D with USB 2.0 and S/PDIF I/O. David Josephson has cautioned me that some interfaces may not sync well enough to the stream for a clean transfer. Can anyone advise about this particular product? The material is all acoustic jazz with important artists, so quality is paramount. Most if not all of the masters are 44.1.

Can anyone suggest another interface? Also suggestions of a source for a good used DAT if mine doesn't make it through the process? I'll be 80 in the fall, my last recording was 12 years ago, this project is going to be a one-off, so I don't want to spend big bucks if I don't need to.

Thanks, Jim Brown
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