TASCAM’s DA-45HR “Powerhouse” 24-bit Digital Recorder

TASCAM’s DA-45HR “Powerhouse” 24-bit Digital Recorder
A Pro’s Point of View
Jim Merod
6 November 2000


24-bit, 48 Hz digital tape recorder.
3U rackmount, AES-EBU + S/PDIF digital I/O,
Balanced XLR + unbalanced RCA I/O;
self-terminating word clock in/
through with an optional RC-D45 wired remote control
+15-pin serial input for attachment to video editing control.
Retail Price: $2350.

TASCAM/Teac America:
7733 Telegraph Road,
Montebello, CA 90640.
Telephone: 323/726-0303;
fax: 800/827-2268.
Web: www.tascam.com

When Teac’s ace facilitator of sonic bliss, Roscoe Anthony, put the state-of-the-art 24-bit two-track TASCAM digital recorder in my hands for a serious (and sustained) work out, my expectation of its musical virtues was at an unruly maximum. Seldom do I assume right off the starting line that a new whiz-bang boffo piece of gear is going to perform Olympian sonic gymnastics. This box was an exception.

Two concrete reasons oriented my high expectation. First, the Tascam division of Teac of America, Inc. has blazed the way over the last few years with a long series of remarkable recording products. It may have been the case, years ago, that Tascam was one among many striving companies eagerly competing in the tough high-end audio recording market. Not so over a span of time that has found the company consistently racking up production triumphs, one after another. Tascam stands now among the small group of industry leaders so that comparison to a champion athlete, such as Tiger Woods, is not out of reach.

In a word, Tascam has assembled a team of design and implementation engineers whose achievement of down to earth innovation and exceptional product development is distinguished. Second, the time for digital recording to move with commitment toward the DVD-standard had arrived. Any user-friendly, bulletproof and well-tested recorder working at the 24-bit data rate takes on location recordings steadfastly in that direction. There is a simple marketing rule for success. When the appropriate moment for a product arrives, and the right manufacturer delivers it with practical craft and strong value, then any red blooded recording engineer’s appetite will be aroused.

At stake here is the price/performance ratio. Meeting that ratio on the sane side of studio budgets, several pertinent questions emerge. Is this new beast built for the long haul ? How does its performance stand up to already proven industry stalwarts? Is it practical, easy to use . . . and, most important of all, essentially foolproof and fail-proof?

At this point in my relentless series of test drives with the DA-45, I suspect that there are few if any who have put this glorious, unflappable machine through its paces as frequently or as ferociously. The last four “live” in performance albums that I have recorded for BluePort have been made direct-to-two track on the Tascam box. A good portion of the mastering work on six other projects has taken place with the DA-45 in the middle of the action. In all, more than two dozen professional recordings have been created start to finish, or a significant portion, through this stoic little monster’s circuit logic.

I have hauled the machine up and down California. It has been on and off airplanes, in and out of carrying cases, ferried by car, bus, truck, train, and shoulder harness. The Tascam DA-45 is not only built to last. It executes its job with unblinking savoirfaire. If it were a person, you’d say it is a glutton for punishment. We remember the famous words of praise granted Lord Halifax, England’s foreign minister, after a trip to post-war Germany. He was dubbed a man with “infinite capacity for being trodden on without complaint.”

The DA-45 does not complain . . . or stick or burp or blink with uncomprehending gaze. You never feel that it intends to stare you into a stupor of frustration. It seems designed to be your friend, especially under the most unwelcome, and challenging on location recording conditions. I think it is common recognition, to all but the stubborn and deaf, that recording live to two-track is daunting and precarious work. No studio engineer faces, moment by moment, week after week, seizures of surprise to rival the promised interference — PA feedback, cables tripped over, monitor bleeds, stage chatter, audience noise, and more difficult technical troubles too numerous to list — that any on location engineer deals with.

The point here is not to solicit sympathy but to praise equipment that subtracts difficulty. The DA-45 is just such a piece of gear. In literally hundreds of hours of recording under threatening circumstances, it has not let me down even once. Not for one mili-second. Amazing. Almost unheard of. Surely, by saying this, I’ve cooked my audio goose. I am knocking on wood.

But the DA-45 gives someone a great deal of comfort because of its reliability. I will assume that a good many prospects for purchase of this Rolls Royce box already know that 24-bit master tapes, inscribed at a 48 Hz sampling rate, more than double the amount of audio data captured on 16-bit (44.1)media. What those who have not worked at this higher data rate may not fully appreciate is how much easier it is to master a tape with more than twice the digital information.

Why easier? Because you need to go back and recraft your mastering work all over again when you discover unwelcome results that creep into the final project . . . results that can often be avoided when you have greater sonic resolution to manipulate in mastering.

The DA-45 gives you scads of sonic detail you just do not hear, or capture, with a 16-bit deck. Of course, the down side to the TASCAM’s 24-bit resolution is obvious. In order to step up from 16 to 24-bits, the DA-45 throws a digital tape across the recording heads at twice the “normal” tape speed. A 60-minute tape will give you 30 minutes of recording time.

This halving of tape time is the only down side I can point to. The sonic benefit more than exceeds the cost or vigilance needed in order to achieve the DA-45s greater resolution. Better yet, the design structure that confronts you here is not merely user friendly. It conforms to a number of personal modes of professional use.

A front panel jog shuttle allows you to choose an appropriate dither setting each time you use the machine. You have both balanced and unbalanced analog in and out. You may choose, as I often have, to over-ride the unit’s very fine internal A/D conversion and send your tape either a coaxial or AES-EBU digital feed from an outboard A/D box. The wonderful Crane Song “HEDD” (harmonically-enhanced digital device) has made a splendid partner with the DA-45. So has a two-channel Apogee A/D.

I am surprised quite often to find that many well-regarded recording studios still rely upon 16-bit digital recorders either as a primary or a back up device. As a secondary tape that insures a margin of safety for a reel-to-reel analog recording, I can understand the persistence of such use. Many studios have still fully functional Panasonic 3700 and/or 3800 16-bit decks on hand. Why not put them to work?

Of course. And yet, when a 16-bit box is put at the forefront , I have difficulty understanding why so much is left to so few digital bits when, now with the proven ‘work horse’ reliability of the DA-45 within financial reach of any self-respecting studio, a solution is near at hand. In fact, the Tascam DA-45 is more than a “solution” for back up or front line recording needs. It represents a leap of quality in a world in which the only product that an engineer can sell his customers is just that: quality.

The Tascam does, in truth, enhance what is captured . . . what can be heard and enjoyed and, finally, felt on the final music published in any format. It is, at the same time, a silent partner as a mastering unit. Who is not now either working straight to 24-bit mastering (via software or tape) or contemplating the need?

As an old fashioned cat who likes ease-of-use, I gravitate to a machine that works with me – – a piece of hard core, kick-butt, take-no-prisoners gear that is, literally, on my side. My projects demand that I learn new tricks. They also throw curves my way and too many hours of constant stress and obligation. Anything – – I mean just that, any thing — that helps me (a) get through my workload with (b) greater musical performance so that the musicians and producers I work with are (c) happy, pleased (sometimes stark raving amazed at the end result), (d) makes my professional recording and mastering life more successful . . . and more enjoyable.

More lucrative, too, if money is the object. But, wait. Don’t we record the best music possible, and work long hours in strange conditions, sometimes much too late, because we are gluttons for the abuse that our long dead British aristocrat predecessor gave us with his own infinite (and infinitely stupid) example? Do we really think of this work as anything other than art?

I’ll let you answer that. My praise here for TASCAM’s remarkable (for me, indispensable) DA -45HR is to call attention to a unit that does everything it was designed to accomplish . . . and perhaps a tad more, if by “more” we count the sparkling shimmer of a cymbal or the husky throated eccentricity of a vocalist that appear, as never previously on less “open” recording media, in their absolute perfection as just that precise cymbal splash, this one exact note well-uttered, with all their transient decay and ambient information preserved vividly on your tape master.

I love such details. The joy of music is the seduction of a million sonic parts yoked effortlessly together as songs that touch your mind and heart . . . even when you do not know that. The truth of our work as recording engineers is just this insinuation of beauty into others’ lives. With the Tascam DA-45HR 24-bit monster machine, your chances of surprising your audience, and startling yourself in the interim, are improved by light years.

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