TASCAM DV-RA1000 - EMusician

TASCAM DV-RA1000

The Tascam DV-RA1000 is a high-definition 2-track mastering deck that offers more than four hours of 24-bit stereo recording, USB 2.0 compatibility, dynamics
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FIG 1: The DV-RA1000 front panel has programmable function keys for accessing frequently used menu items.

The Tascam DV-RA1000 is a high-definition 2-track mastering deck that offers more than four hours of 24-bit stereo recording, USB 2.0 compatibility, dynamics and EQ effects, and editing and project management functions. With a complete selection of analog and digital I/O, the DV-RA1000 can also perform onboard conversion between all current PCM sampling rates as high as 192 kHz and record to CD-R/CD-RW media (44.1 kHz, 16-bit AIFF only) and DVD+RW media (24-bit Broadcast WAV files at all sampling rates).

The DV-RA1000 also records Direct Stream Digital (DSD), which is a high-definition format developed by Sony for Super Audio CD (SACD) releases. DSD is a 1-bit digital recording scheme, which is clocked at 2.822 MHz, stored in DSDIFF file format, and incompatible with conventional PCM recorders or players. Tascam offers DSD software (see the sidebar “Minnetonka Discwelder Bronze 1000”), which points the way toward SACD and DVD-Audio authoring for personal studios.

Form and Function

The Tascam DV-RA1000's sleek 2U front panel has a headphone jack and level control, a timer control, a power switch, and transport control (see Fig. 1). The open/close selector for the disc drawer doubles as a shut-down button for DVD recording. Above that button is a disc status light and two LEDs that indicate either PCM or DSD recording modes.

A few features require further explanation. When the Ready button, which doubles as a pause key, is simultaneously engaged with Play, the data wheel can be used to scrub the audio for editing purposes when you're in PCM mode. Mute is a smart key that latches when engaged quickly, or you can hold it down for a longer period of time and then release it in a nonlatching mode; that option mutes the sound during recording or playback. The track-skip reverse and forward keys also double as 10X search controls when continuously depressed.

The spacious LCD screen displays a dBfs level meter, input and clock assignments, media type, sampling rate, bit rate, total tracks, and current track number and time.The function keys below the screen can be programmed as shortcut keys to common menu-accessed operations. The front panel also has a jog/data wheel and a mini-DIN jack for a PS/2 keyboard.

From the home screen, the Enter key opens the Virtual Front Panel (VFP), which is a collection of software controls (some of which are duplicated on the remote) that cover standard functions such as playback and track programming, disc finalizing and rewriting, pitch control, and 16-bit dithering. The VFP also has an output oscillator for calibration purposes. The DV-RA1000 arrives ready for mounting with rack ears.

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FIG 2: In addition to the conventional analog and digital I/O, the DV-RA1000 includes a USB 2.0 port.

On the back of the unit, analog inputs and outputs are available as either RCA (-10 dBV) or XLR (balanced +4 dBu) pairs (see Fig. 2). S/PDIF and AES/EBU are available as digital I/O, including two AES/EBU I/O jacks for double-wire formats (88.2 kHz and above). The recorder also supports double-speed, single-wire connections at 88.2- and 96 kHz.

Two pairs of BNC jacks — one for SDIF-3 and one for DSD-raw signals — are dedicated to the I/O requirements of digital DSD recording. The USB 2.0 jack lets the DV-RA1000 operate as a data drive on any personal computer, reading from all recordable CD and DVD media and recording to DVD+R single- and dual-layer discs. The rear panel also offers word-clock in, out, and thru, as well as a 9-pin RS-232C — compatible jack that functions as a control port for systems such as those from Crestron and AMX.

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FIG 3: The DV-RA1000''s wired remote gives you instant access to deeper editing functions.

The included RC-RA1000 remote control offers one-touch accessibility to many functions that are otherwise found in onscreen menus (see Fig. 3). The remote connects to the recorder with a detachable 12-foot cable and needs no batteries.

Notably, the DV-RA1000 has one of the clearest and most comprehensive manuals that I've seen in a long time. And it should be comprehensive, given the wide range of features offered.

Working with CD-Rs

I was able to burn CDs easily (without referring to the manual) using the analog inputs. The DV-RA1000's display acknowledged that I had selected CD-R recording, and the unit auto-selected 44.1 kHz, 16-bit mode after I loaded a blank disc. During test recording, the HHB 24X, Apogee Gold, and generic Office Depot 52X CDs all worked fine with the DV-RA1000.

Digital recording (using Apogee PSX-100 and Waves L2 converters) was almost as easy, although the DV-RA1000 didn't prompt me to switch its clock source from internal to digital when I used an external digital converter. The recorder warns you, however, when a digital clock signal is missing or doesn't match the set sampling rate, and it notifies you when a proper clock signal has been restored.

I used the DV-RA1000 and an HHB CDR-830 Burn-It Plus to record mixes of a current project that had drums, acoustic bass, electric guitar, tuba, trombones, and trumpets. Then I lined up the tracks in Digidesign Pro Tools LE for comparison. Playback auditioning was done through the Apogee PSX-100 converter. With analog input and onboard conversion, the Tascam produced a warmer mix than the HHB, with noticeably clearer low-end resolution of kick drum and bass. The reproduction of percussive transients was also more pronounced and lifelike on the Tascam CD.

A more dramatic increase in overall quality was audible on the 44.1 kHz, 16-bit mixes when they were converted from analog to digital through the Apogee PSX-100 and the Waves L2 Ultramaximizer. Those mastering-quality converters, both of which cost more than the Tascam device, preserved more of the airy high-end details of the analog multitrack. Dynamics were also heightened, giving more immediacy and depth to the mix.

During the 44.1 kHz, 16-bit mixing session, I also checked out the differences in quality between the analog master and the Tascam's D/A output. The DV-RA1000's -10 dBV output showed minor high-end coloration and a subtle veiling of high frequencies. The acoustic bass seemed less clearly resolved, and its transients receded back into the mix.

After the first CD was burned, there was one thing that threw me for a loop — finding the finalize button. The absence of a finalizing switch on the front panel puzzled me, but I did find such a switch on the remote.

The alternative to using that one-touch remote-based button is to access a software switch within the VFP menu. You can do that by pressing the enter button and then scrolling through a number of software switches (11 clicks with the jog wheel, 6 clicks using the direction buttons). It's hard to imagine why anyone with a working remote control would want to go through that complicated procedure.

Because of the above-average converters inside, the DV-RA1000 is also a great-sounding unit for basic CD playback. Compared with an assortment of consumer CD players, the Tascam yields all the expected benefits of improved resolution and superior D/A conversion: smoother and warmer sound, less listening fatigue, and improved depth and subtlety from any 16-bit recording.

DVD+RW or Bust

The DV-RA1000 records to only DVD+RW. DVD+R, DVD-R, DVD-RW, and DVD-RAM discs are not supported. Tascam cautions against using printable discs.

Before recording begins, the DVDs need to be fully formatted, and the entire process takes about 35 minutes. Recording prematurely risks RAM buffer overruns and potential disc errors.

Using mixes from a recent project, I tried transfers from a ½-inch tape master to DVD at high-resolution rates. In addition to the Tascam's onboard conversion, I tested the Apogee (double-wire) and Waves L2 (single-wire, double-speed) converters at 24-bit, 96 kHz resolution. The Apogee didn't work with the DV-RA1000 in single-wire, double-speed input mode.

The results were consistent with what I had come to expect from the unit. Judging from the analog output, Tascam's conversion was close but not equal to that of the dedicated converters or source tape, having slightly less high-end gloss and a softened edge on some transients.

Predictably, 192 kHz recording conveyed the best fidelity among the PCM modes with analog input. At that rate, differences in the overall tonality would be indistinguishable to most listeners. But after repeated listenings, transients and subtle details in the rhythm guitar and vocal echo seemed to be pushed back into the mix, making the end result of Tascam's conversion scheme a bit flatter and less dimensional. After a brief period of familiarization, the DVD recording process became as intuitive as it had been with CD.

Working with DSD

My original assumption was that recording DSD with the DV-RA1000 required a pricey external DSD processor. That misconception was bolstered by the following statement in the manual: “If you are recording to a DSD DVD, the signals will always be input and output through the BNC connectors.” Tascam Product Manager Jeff Laity cleared up the confusion by informing me that the DV-RA1000 also converts and records DSD signals through the analog inputs.

When comparing ½-inch source tapes with DSD transfers over mastering speakers, I was impressed at how close the DSD tracks sounded to the original. On a heavy rock mix, the DSD recording sounded a little less smooth than the original, bringing out some edginess in the guitar and female lead vocal. Subtle details in imaging and room sound were conveyed without noticeable coloration.

The DSD process also came close to the original on an Afro-pop mix, but differences in the high-end were apparent, especially on a crucial triangle part, which seemed to lose realism and prominence in the DSD transfer. The low-end drums and acoustic bass were indistinguishable from the analog source mix.

Effects and Editing

Tascam's onboard effects — multiband expansion and compression and 3-band EQ — can be made active during recording or playback, but they can't be used in quad-speed modes (for example, 176.4- and 192 kHz PCM or DSD). Beyond the gentlest of settings, the compressor was not particularly transparent or preferable to the average dynamics programs offered in DAW software. Whether in single or multiband compression mode, as soon as gain reduction registered on the small meter, the signal was being squeezed too much. The multiband expansion mode is useful for reducing noise during quiet passages, but it requires some patience to get the settings just right.

Tascam's EQ program consists of low and high shelves with gentle 6 dB/octave slopes, as well as one parametric midrange band with an extremely wide Q range of 0.25 to 16. Even when boosting radical amounts of midrange, the easy-to-use EQ was sweet sounding and free of distortion. Under normal use, it exhibited warm lows, musical mids, and smooth highs without harshness. It is particularly nice to be able to use that feature on 16-bit CDs.

Another worthwhile feature is the output level control at the end of the effects chain. That trim control adjusts gain downward from 0 dBfs in 0.5 dB increments to -10 dB and in 1 dB increments from -10 to -72 dB. That makes it possible to sculpt smooth fades with no quantization or zipper noise.

Editing within the DV-RA1000 is accomplished by scrubbing the audio (there is no waveform display), putting markers within a file, and then dividing, recombining, or deleting files in menus one at a time. Tracks cannot be copied for safety purposes, and only one level of undo is available.

If you're used to waveform editing, you will find this menu-based process time-consuming and probably too inefficient for anything other than trimming noise at the beginning or end of a file. But it will work for those who are willing to spend the time navigating the multiple menus. Editing operations are not supported in DSD mode.

It's the Little Things

A few of this recorder's less noticeable features are worthy of comment and praise. As a USB device, the DV-RA1000 interfaced perfectly with my Apple Mac G4. And the audio from the headphone jack is of sufficient quality to make some of the A/B judgments called for in this review.

Monitor (input/playback) is a helpful feature that I wish more manufacturers would implement on digital gear. Switching the monitor modes makes it possible to A/B an incoming signal against prerecorded audio without going into record mode. But that switch does not make confidence monitoring possible during recording.

Finally, rewriteable computer media technology has improved considerably. Despite valid concerns about the erratic nature of CD-RW discs, writing to DVD+RW using the DV-RA1000 worked flawlessly. No one likes having to wait for formatting, but anyone who made it through the era of the Alesis ADAT and the Tascam DA-88 will find this process to be painless with the DV-RA1000.

Bells and Whistles

In terms of its versatility and compatibility, the Tascam DV-RA1000 is an outstanding value. The bountiful feature set, which includes more options than I can cover thoroughly in this review, seems tailored to the needs of personal and professional studios. Although the onboard effects and editing options are limited and probably won't appeal much to anyone using a DAW, those functions are well implemented and easy to use for a quick fix or in the absence of a computer workstation.

The DV-RA1000's high-resolution sampling rates certainly grab your attention, but the real-world benefits of double- and quadruple-speed sampling are always subservient to converter quality. After spending hours listening on studio and mastering monitors, I'd rate Tascam's onboard converters as good but not great. Compared with the analog sources from which I transferred data, slight compromises in the DV-RA1000's audio were evident — most notably a reduction of high-end air and loss of subtle transients — even at 192 kHz and DSD resolution.

Converting high-resolution data streams is tricky, and there are reasons why the top converters cost thousands of dollars. Fortunately, Tascam's foresight in adding single- and double-wire capability makes the DV-RA1000 an ideal mate for a top-dollar converter at a high-sampling rate.

Still, considering its price is less than a high-end A/D/A converter alone, the DV-RA1000 is a remarkable deal. Not only is it loaded with goodies, the DV-RA1000 is also an important leap forward in technical achievement that fits within the budget of the most modest studio.

Myles Boisen hunkers over computers and mixing boards late into the night at Guerrilla Recording in Oakland, California.

DV-RA1000 SPECIFICATIONS Analog Inputs (2) XLR +4 dBu, (2) RCA -10 dBV unbalanced Analog Outputs (2) XLR +4 dBu balanced, (2) RCA -10 dBV unbalanced Digital Inputs (2) AES/EBU and (2) S/PDIF for PCM,
(2) SDIF-3/DSD BNC for DSD Digital Outputs (2) AES/EBU and (2) S/PDIF for PCM,
(2) SDIF-3/DSD BNC for DSD Other I/O (1) USB 2.0; word-clock in, out, thru;
(1) 9-pin control I/O A/D/A converters 24-bit Sampling Rates 44.1-, 48-, 88.2-, 96-, 176.4-, and 192 kHz Record Resolution 16- and 24-bit Frequency Response 20 Hz-20 kHz (±0.5 dB) Signal-to-Noise Ratio DVD+RW recording >103 dB (A-weighted),
CD-R recording >94 dB (A-weighted) THD+N PCM <0.005%, DSD <0.007% Size 19" (W) 5 3.75" (H) 5 14.1" (D) Weight 15 lbs.

PRODUCT SUMMARY

TASCAM
DV-RA1000

mastering recorder
$1,499

PROS: Supports wide range of PCM sampling rates. Has DSD recording without costly external processor. Compatible with 16-bit CDs. Project text stored with mixes. Has onboard EQ and dynamics, USB capability, wired remote control, and a large range of pro I/O options. Uses rewriteable DVD+RW discs. Comprehensive manual. Well-designed LCD screen.

CONS: Onboard dynamics program offers no improvements over average DAW plug-ins. Editing is limited and cumbersome. Some editing, text, and effects features not available on all types of media or recording modes. A/D/A conversion not competitive with top-dollar converters. DVD+RW discs must be formatted before use.

EASE OF USE
FEATURES
AUDIO QUALITY
VALUE

MANUFACTURER

Tascam
www.tascam.com

SIDEBAR
MINNETONKA DISCWELDER BRONZE 1000

Discwelder Bronze 1000 converts DSD audio to PCM WAV files, at any resolution, which can then be imported into a DAW or burned to DVD-Audio. (According to Tascam, the only DAW platforms that currently support the DSDIFF file format are mastering systems from Genex, Pyramix, Sadie, and Sony.) The software also includes tools to create a hybrid DVD disc with two volumes, so the disc will play on any DVD player. One section of the disc is in DVD-Audio format, which allows you to create a high-resolution release that will play up to 24-bit, 192 kHz stereo files. The second section of the disc is compatible with standard DVD-Video players.