Published On: February 13, 1991

Technics SV-DA10 DAT Tape Deck Reviewed

Published On: February 13, 1991

Technics SV-DA10 DAT Tape Deck Reviewed

Digital Audio Tape freaked out every pony-tailed record executive like it was the end of the world but they were wrong (of course). DAT allowed for neatly master quality tape playback for the consumer in its day but CD-R replaced it pretty quickly. Read this classic DAT deck review here.

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Schlepping 19 journalists half-way around the globe is not a task to be taken lightly. Would you want to baby-sit for nearly a score of barbarians? Neither should the reason for this exodus be trivial, as most journalists hate PR exercises. But Technics'
annual seminar in Sendai and Osaka didn't disappoint, as the company had enough new developments on hand to keep a dozen smaller companies working at full tilt.

Whether or not it was planned this way, digital tape was the hottest topic. Technics had just released a gorgeous domestic
player, the SV-DA10, which is priced to aggravate the competition
and is loaded with neat details like seven scanning speeds, MASH
A/D converters with 64x oversampling, 400x search speed,
one-touch fade-in/fade-out and...SCMS. Amusingly, Technics showed
us the two pro-sector models, the SV-3700 and SV-3900, which
offer a host of facilities like XLR connectors, advanced remote
control operation (on the SV-3900), computer interfacing and...no
SCMS. When it was pointed out that the relatively low cost for
the pro models would attract all manner of 'civilians' eager to
own a DAT deck which could copy in the digital domain, Technics
spokespersons referred to an understanding with the pro dealers,
who should restrict their sales to genuine professionals. I
wondered if anyone from Technics had ever been down the Charing
Cross Road on a slow weekday.

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With at least a half-dozen or so ultra-pro-Philips Eurobods in

the group, the Q&A session kicked off with questions about
Philips' DCC (Digital Compact Cassette), which many believe will
drive DAT into the ground. Much to the surprise of the Teutonic
scribblers, Technics not only showed detailed knowledge of the
product, they also revealed that they've been in close
co-operation with Philips on other projects (eg a home-automation
system which carries control signals via the mains). Rather than
show any signs of worry, the panellists coolly referred to both
the technical problems which have yet to be surmounted, and the
stay of execution for DAT as DCC won't be in the shops for at
least a year and probably two.

It was pointed out that DAT's success in the domestic sector
depends on pre-recorded software which doesn't look likely to
appear. Even the Sony-owned CBS has yet to release pre-recorded
DATs. But Technics spent as much time familiarizing us with the
professional models as it did with the home deck, which suggests
that DAT manufacturers are just as happy to have DAT as a studio
model as much as a hi-fi model. After all, open-reel tape
(digital and analogue), mixing desks, equalizers, outboard Dolby
units, MIDI systems and countless other products are studio-only
devices which have few if any domestic sales and they've all
managed to be viable. DAT is already established in the pro
sector, so its future is secure on at least one level. Either
way, it will not follow the path of Betamax or 8-track.

Next in prominence came the new CD players, the most impressive
being the world's thinnest portable. The SL-XP700, due out in the
first half of 1991, is only 17.9mm thick -- two CD jewel boxes
span 20mm across the edges. The downsizing was accomplished
through some clever redesigning which reduced the size of the
optical pick-up by 60%. The meant completely redesigning the
optical system to shorten the optical path, resulting in a
pick-up with a height of only 8.7mm versus 13.4mm in current
models. The photo diode, too, has been reduced in size, from
5x4mm to 4x3mm, with half the volume of its predecessor. The
drive system has been condensed as well -- Honey, I shrunk the CD
player -- yet reliability is said to have increased. One thing
which has been extended is playing time, which is up to seven
hours when using both the on-board NiCad and a tiny clip-on
AA-battery pack.

Other details which could make it the portable to own include an
aluminium/stainless steel two layer dust cover fixed to the
laminated plastic bottom plate for added durability, improved
heat resistance (important if the player is to double as an
in-car unit) and sandwich construction to keep out dust and grit.

The next series of mid-priced separates CD players will feature
digital rather than analogue servo control for controlling the
movement of the laser, which Technics unashamedly admitted is a
cost-effective way of improving performance. After all, the
flagship 1000 Series two-box player uses analogue servo control,
and the digital servo is unlikely to be retrofitted. To show how
this improves the way the player reads the disc, minimising the
need for error correction and rendering kitter to insignificant
levels, a Technics player with the new technology was demo'ed
alongside a player from a competitor.

They showed us a disc which had been scratched, maltreated and
mishandled. Fair enough. But to make matters worse, the disc bore
three or four strips of 2mm wide tape running across it radially.
The Technics player handled the disc with aplomb; the competitor
failed. But one journalist asked to see how the 1000 Series
flagship would handle the rogue CD, and Technics obliged. Sure
enough, the disc played perfectly. But it was again pointed out
that an analogue servo with the same effectiveness as the new
digital servo costs far too much to produce and it would not be
viable in a mass market product.

Another benefit derived from the new servo saves time and
therefore cost in the manufacturing stage and improves
unit-to-unit consistency. This is the single-point adjustment for
setting up the system, versus six adjustment points for the
conventional servo mechanism.

TECHNICS-SV-DA10.gif

So far, so good, but it was mainly high-tech this and novelty
that. What about audiophilia? An amplifier was set up which was
modified so we could listen to the company's new aluminium
electrolytic capacitors. Yes, you read that correctly. Technics
demo'ed capacitors , and the difference was audible enough even to
impress what looked like a couple of Euro Baxandalls. The new
capacitors would appear in forthcoming models, but that wasn't
all. The demonstration included an A/B of some 'trick' prototype
resistors which was even more drastic, but those are still 'in
the research and development' stage.

This quality parts fetish, which five years ago meant 'high end
weirdos', extends throughout the amp circuitry, with liberal use
of OFC wiring (including the transformer) and resistors bearing
copper terminal caps and OFC leads as well as 'small grooves for
improvement of high freqency response'. But the tweakiest thing
we saw was a massive loudspeaker which may or may not reach the
shops.

This wouldn't be Matsushita's first high end design, and we were
all suitably impressed by an existing modular panel system which
seems to be available only for commercial installations. It
consisted of flat bass panels and sections housing mid and treble
drivers which are permanently fitted in installations such as the
company's own technological museum. But the one which we
auditioned which looked almost shop-ready resembled an overweight
Mk 1 KEF 105 or a B&W 801, as it consisted of separate modules
for each driver, stacked in a Dalek-like form. Called the
SB-M3000, this prototype featured four drivers including a 15in
woofer and it offered the kind of dynamics you only expect to get
out of a Duntech or a huge Infinity system. While response was
mixed, depending on the material we auditioned, all agreed that
the speaker was promising; deep sighs of relief from a company
about to introduce a series of domestic speakers designed
exclusively for Euro-ears.

The new SB-EX Series speakers will feature pure mica diaphragms,
including a 25mm dome tweeter good for 30kHz, a 100mm midrange
driver which works well up to 7kHz and a 250mm woofer worth
1.5kHz. Why mica? According to the comparison charts, this
material combines the best features of the various types current
use, being ultra-rigid and light. While the models we heard still
need some fine-tuning, they exhibited excellent transient attack
and control, attesting to the properties associated with the new
drivers.

Still with speakers, we were shown the first fruits of the
company's support of THX, the Lucasfilm system for improving
sound in cinemas. This works in addition to Dolby Surround/Pro
Logic. In a small cinema, which one might find in a domestic home
with a spare room and a videophile as an owner, we were given a
demonstration of the company's THX-equipped pre-amp and
surround-sound speakers. Although rear-channel effects were not
demonstrated, the demo did feature these side-mounted speaker
arrays for a sound stage which covered the front half of the
room. The speakers were had drivers facing front and back and
driven in opposite phase, and the enclosures were mounted with
the front panels aimed toward a point at the back wall. Let's see
if Bose kicks up a stink over this one.

Anyway, the benefits of THX include exceptionally precise sound
location to the front, including convincing stage depth, width
and height, but it would have been nice to hear a complete
surround system to hear the benefits of THX when used with Dolby
Surround. Matsushita is entering this field with upmarket models,
but less-expensive units are planned. For the time being, the
range consists of the SH-TX100 pre-amp with full THX and Dolby
Pro-Logic circuitry as well as other surround effects, the
SE-TX100 2x100W power amplifier and three speaker systems. For
the main, front signals, the company is offering the
floor-standing, sloped SB-TF100, which can be augmented by the
SB-TW100 subwoofer. The aforementioned side speaker is the
SB-TS100.

Funnily enough, the launch which had most of the journalists
thinking 'I gotta have it' was a 'lifestyle' system called
'Imagine'. Consisting of a tuner-amp, a cassette deck and a CD
player with DAT to follow, all three components looked exactly
the same. The styling was clean and totally modern, and you'd
have to show them to somebody like the curtain runner lady from
Twin Peaks if you wanted to elicit a complaint. All of us, having
lived lives where our homes have been turned into poor facsimiles
of hi-fi warehouses, were lustful enough when we saw how clean
and compact a full-function system could be, but it was the
two-way remote control panel which closed the deal. It covered
every function and featured an LCD panel to confirm everything.
As a sop to the audiophiles, the volume control on the remote was
of the rotary type, and you could watch its motorized equivalent
rotate on the tuner-amp's front panel when it was activated.

Apparently, the moving force behind this system was the UK
operation, and I think they have a winner whether the audiophiles
like it or not. It's a sensible reply to real-world needs, and it
could do more to win sales than any button-laden system which
spreads techno-fear like a virus.

And there was more, like a prototype voice-activated VCR
controller, into which you dictated your programming commands.
The prototype only understood Japanese, but I was coached with a
few words and it even understood the language when butchered by
an American accent. Then there was a working CD-I system which
won't be launched until there's a big enough software base to
support it, a portable CD-ROM system with keyboard and screen,
some gorgeous LCD TV sets a lot larger than postage stamps,
laptop computers, high-definition TV monitors and more.

No, it most certainly wasn't just a 'Look how wonderful we are'
trip, despite the visit to a factory which pumps out 1,000,000
cassette mechanisms per year. We found loads of clever new
goodies and some serious attempts at proving that Technics hasn't
forgotten that it was once a high-end brand name. After all, the
company is still producing the SL1200 turntable, the DJ's
delight, and to the tune of 10,000 every month. Or 120,000 per
year. And it will keep on doing it.

The last thing I expected of a visit to Matsushita was proof that
analogue lives.

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