How to Rewind Digitally
While most people associate tape with analog music, the truth is that there were no less than two digital cassette formats. Both aimed to bring ease of recording to a digital format.
Whats the Difference Between DAT and DCC?
The two digital cassette formats are Sonys DAT, for Digital Audio Tape, and DCC. While both used magnetic tape, they were otherwise very different and in no way interchangeable. The former proved common in the recording industry while the more consumer focused DCC format had a shorter lifespan, lasting only a few years. A comparison of the two shows more differences than similarities:
- DCC: Digital Compact Cassette was a drop-in replacement for analog tapes. Unfortunately, it failed to get traction in part because the heads required frequent cleaning due to oxide buildup, rendering it difficult to justify on a daily basis.
- DAT: DAT tapes provided clear digital recordings and were rapidly integrated into music production because they allowed for a completely digital production chain. The helical recording system resembled that in a videocassette and avoided the oxide buildup that crippled its competitor.
What Happened to DAT?
While the sound quality was excellent, there were a number of issues that prevented the format from gaining the same kind of widespread acceptance as the CD. It stayed popular in production and the small size of the tapes and recorders made it popular with both audiophiles and oral historians. In the end there were two main factors against the format spreading further:
- Music Availability: There were never a lot of prerecorded music albums released on DAT tapes. This made it hard for consumers to justify the format switch unless they were recording their own music.
- Industry Opposition: The bigger issue was that the format made quality recording too easy. The music industry was concerned that DAT recorders would lead to a rapid explosion of bootlegging and music piracy, and so they forced a number of restrictions on the system in order to attempt to limit copying.
The main advantage to using the format comes in the area of live audio recording. It was very commonly used both by historians and by people attending concerts prior to the development of pure digital recorders. Even so, blank Sony DAT tapes give a lot of flexibility for portable recording that can be immediately dropped into any production flow. The quality is just as good as a CD, but the format is far more compact. In fact, it can easily record CDs at exactly the same quality and just as quickly reproduce them. Its the final evolution of the cassette format.
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