Technics SV-DA10 DAT Tape Deck Reviewed

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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
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.

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