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Vintage Tape (Audio), Cassette, Wire and Magnetic Disc Recorders and Players Open-reel tape recorders, cassette recorders, 8-track players etc.

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Old 15th Apr 2021, 12:02 am   #1
knobtwiddler
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Default The Rise and Fall of Audio Tape at the BBC, by Ian Astbury

http://www.orbem.co.uk/tapes/media.htm

There are some real gems here, including this:

Quote:
My recollection of DAT's launch is that a delegation of senior staff from Sony visited the BBC in 1986 to demonstrate their DTC-1000 DAT recorder. The sample they brought with them from Japan was a 100 Volt version that lacked a voltage selector to allow connection to our 240 Volt mains supply. In their haste to test the recorder before their meeting at Broadcasting House, they had used some sort of crude voltage step-down device and had blown the fusible link in the transformer! Luckily, the ever helpful staff in BH Mechanical Workshop saved the day by carefully drilling away the transformer's potting compound and repairing the fusible link so that the demonstration could go ahead as planned.


Great article. Thank you, Mr Astbury!
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Old 15th Apr 2021, 8:09 am   #2
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Default Re: The Rise and Fall of Audio Tape at the BBC, by Ian Astbury

Did DAT ever really catch on or was it a bit like minidisc and overtaken by hard-disk and semicon memory?
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Old 15th Apr 2021, 9:13 am   #3
knobtwiddler
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Default Re: The Rise and Fall of Audio Tape at the BBC, by Ian Astbury

DAT was ubiquitous in the 90s. As someone who spent a lot of time around studios and mastering rooms in this period, I'd say that it was the dominant pro mastering format for the 90s. By the 00s, recordable CD had come along (as well as solid state formats), and DAT was quickly superceded. Most of the machines from Tascam and Sony had great converters in them, and as standalone converters, they still stand up pretty well today (Tascam advertised the 'Burr Brown' converters on their last models).

In the same way that vinyl looks to be outliving CD as a consumer format, analogue tape has seen a resurgence in studios, and DAT has been regarded as a relic for some time now. When I last got a disc cut in a previous career in 2001, it was froM 1/2". This was at one of London's trendiest mastering facilities. They told me that I was the first person to use the A80 in a year... I doubt that's the case now - I'd wager the A80 is back in use several times a week. It's the DAT machine that gets used once a year!

(I'm scared to turn my DAT on...suspect it'll need a service before any media of value goes near it)
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Old 15th Apr 2021, 9:16 am   #4
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Default Re: The Rise and Fall of Audio Tape at the BBC, by Ian Astbury

I think ‘Techmoan’ on you tube has made a video about DAT, he mentions that more or less came to market too late as the technology was moving on to semiconductors by then.
I know David (radio wrangler), on here also has stated about that now it’s only really enthusiasts or novelty value if you’re interested.
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Old 15th Apr 2021, 9:26 am   #5
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Default Re: The Rise and Fall of Audio Tape at the BBC, by Ian Astbury

Speaking as someone with a DAT machine and a pile of precious DATs, I have to be honest and say that, unlike analogue tape - which has unique sonic properties (distortion and compression) - a DAT machine in 2021 is about as pointless as it gets. You have the sound of digital (which can be had in SS recorders), but with the risk of tape. You might as well sleep on a ned of nails! My DAT has lovely big alloy knobs, and a nice VFD display. It's got that going for it!
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Old 15th Apr 2021, 9:38 am   #6
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Default Re: The Rise and Fall of Audio Tape at the BBC, by Ian Astbury

I always understood DAT got killed by the US record business desperate to stop it becoming a consumer format. With Senate hearings and inquiries by the time it was agreed to sell consumer models with copy protection built in the boat had sailed and MP3 took off and rendered the whole thing redundant. They probably never reached a price point attractive to consumers. The exception as mentioned above was it briefly became the dominant format for professional recording until computers took over.
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Old 15th Apr 2021, 9:47 am   #7
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Default Re: The Rise and Fall of Audio Tape at the BBC, by Ian Astbury

As said, DAT was a successful professional format for about a decade, but it never succeeded in the consumer market as Sony hoped. Analogue cassette recording had become very good by then, and another division of Sony was pushing Minidisc hard (even the BBC went straight from Uher Reports to Minidisc for interview recording, despite the lossy compression). DAT was rapidly replaced in the pro studio world as hard disc recording became practical, with CD-Rs being used to make short run copies.

DAT had a second life as a computer backup tape technology, as did 8mm Video 8 videotape.
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Old 15th Apr 2021, 9:56 am   #8
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Default Re: The Rise and Fall of Audio Tape at the BBC, by Ian Astbury

Quote:
Originally Posted by chriswood1900 View Post
I always understood DAT got killed by the US record business desperate to stop it becoming a consumer format. With Senate hearings and inquiries by the time it was agreed to sell consumer models with copy protection built in the boat had sailed and MP3 took off and rendered the whole thing redundant. They probably never reached a price point attractive to consumers. The exception as mentioned above was it briefly became the dominant format for professional recording until computers took over.
Consumer DAT machines were hobbled with 'SCMS' because of this. Did it prevent piracy? What do you think? What it did do, was to prevent home studios from making digital copies, unless they paid out for a pro machine. You could buy SCMS 'strippers', which were about 50 from memory. I cannot recall any instance of anyone offering me a pirate copy of a CD on DAT.... A fresh DAT cost about 2/3 of what the legit CD cost.

It was around 2001 that I realised the music industry (the 90s was the most profitable on decade) was doomed, on a visit to a recording studio. The woman at the desk was boasting to me that she'd discovered a website called 'Limewire' and was downloading all the latest releases for free... And she expected to be paid by the studio!

What grabs me about Mr Astbury's article is how concise the chronology is. The Sony DTC-1000 machine was originally marketed as consumer, but there was a 19" rack ear kit that was made for it. I'm wondering if the rack ears came along after it'd been out for a while, or at the same time?

I have a soft spot for DAT. But I like anything that makes a satisfying thunk. I would add a solenoid to a solid-state recorder
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Old 15th Apr 2021, 11:27 am   #9
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Default Re: The Rise and Fall of Audio Tape at the BBC, by Ian Astbury

DAT was a great tool in its day, and I still have too much material on DAT to abandon it - fortunately I possess sufficient head hours to copy my holdings to a server. Undoubtedly one of the reasons for its demise was the fact that it's such a to fix compared to the alternatives, and of course finding any spares apart from belts is now a matter of luck - but as a bridge between the F1 and hard disc recording, it was invaluable.
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Old 15th Apr 2021, 12:49 pm   #10
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Default Re: The Rise and Fall of Audio Tape at the BBC, by Ian Astbury

The local radio station used to send its reporters out with sony DAT recorders for doing vox pops for broadcast.
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Old 15th Apr 2021, 8:59 pm   #11
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Default Re: The Rise and Fall of Audio Tape at the BBC, by Ian Astbury

Quote:
Originally Posted by knobtwiddler View Post
What grabs me about Mr Astbury's article is how concise the chronology is. The Sony DTC-1000 machine was originally marketed as consumer, but there was a 19" rack ear kit that was made for it. I'm wondering if the rack ears came along after it'd been out for a while, or at the same time?
Didn't someone like Audio and Design bring out a professional version of the DTC-1000 with balanced audio connections and rack mounting? I think HHB may have done something similar with Pioneer's 96kHz DAT machine - at least mine has a little HHB logo on the rack mount tray.
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Old 16th Apr 2021, 2:15 pm   #12
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Default Re: The Rise and Fall of Audio Tape at the BBC, by Ian Astbury

A quick truffle around on t'interweb revealed a conversion kit by 'radio systems inc' for the DTC-1000. It offered auxiliary transport controls (brightly coloured plastic buttons), as well as rack ears. One wonders how many other OEMs offered similar kits? Maybe A+D did, as you suggest. That might have explained the ones I saw in the UK.

I tend to think of HHB as re-badging Marantz CD recorders (in the same way that Marantz re-badged Philips players a few years earlier). I often drive past the firm, Harlesden way.
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Old 16th Apr 2021, 2:18 pm   #13
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Default Re: The Rise and Fall of Audio Tape at the BBC, by Ian Astbury

Oh - and a quick search around auction sites suggests that DAT machines are creeping up in value... Why settle for maintenance-free, when you can have the same sound, with vastly more maintenance aggro, at a greatly inflated price?
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Old 18th Apr 2021, 11:56 am   #14
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Default Re: The Rise and Fall of Audio Tape at the BBC, by Ian Astbury

Quote:
Originally Posted by knobtwiddler View Post
http://www.orbem.co.uk/tapes/media.htm

There are some real gems here,
Yes very interesting indeed.

David
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Old 18th Apr 2021, 5:55 pm   #15
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Default Re: The Rise and Fall of Audio Tape at the BBC, by Ian Astbury

I found this overview and technical description very interesting and readable. Mr Astbury has gone to a lot of trouble to describe a period of audio history as he experienced it with the BBC. The main focus [understandably given his professional background] is on testing and evaluation and he reports that early tape machines achieved a good recording standard. They were large and expensive though and seen as not quite having the "edge" by comparison with Disc Recording so the BBC stuck with what was tried and trusted until [probably] quite late in the day. This could be seen as appropriate of course [ie the maintaining of standards] or perhaps a degree of resistance to change [eg even crucial news film had to reach a certain standard or it wouldn't be transmitted]

I was hoping to learn more about what reel to reel equipment/tape was used during the transitional period of the 60's and into the 70's. Tape seemed to be standardised [at Type 100] in 1969. I discovered back then that Film crews also used 16mm audio tape with film sprockets, for example, so everything could be "synched up" later and I wondered about it's origin and development as a tape. Ian wasn't around until the 80's of course so he couldn't cover everything! There is a famous scene in "Don't Look Back [the film of Dylan's 1965 Tour]. He's interviewed by a BBC Reporter using the classic "portable" with twin 5" Reels...not the acetates used by war-time reporters like Richard Dimbleby. Only a small section devoted to MD's which were used for inserts apparently but one or two have come my way . These are special "professional quality" made for the Beeb products. I looked up the price and it was a bit eye-watering by comparison with the regular version. The ones I had were originally used to monitor a well known daily news news program in case the content was later disputed. You could get 2.5 hours on LP or 5 in mono!

Dave Walsh

Last edited by dave walsh; 18th Apr 2021 at 6:04 pm.
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Old 18th Apr 2021, 6:24 pm   #16
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Default Re: The Rise and Fall of Audio Tape at the BBC, by Ian Astbury

Interesting they loaded their own NAB carts with tape. LBC just bought off the shelf
brands, as did the advertisers.
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Old 23rd Apr 2021, 12:42 pm   #17
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Default Re: The Rise and Fall of Audio Tape at the BBC, by Ian Astbury

In the '90s we made local TV ads, and used a nearby studio for the V/Os. They were well equipped, and we could tweak a take, debreath and quantise as necessary before laying it to DAT.
One time the studio was unavailable so I went to the BBC in Bangor with the V/O artist. The recording was done on an old Studer 1/4" with no possibility for error. Fortunately the artist was a professional and we soon had the desired 27" without fuss. They eventually managed to find a DAT machine for us to take the recording away on!
I think the engineers were a bit embarrassed about their lack of modern equipment and we were never charged...
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Old 23rd Apr 2021, 1:39 pm   #18
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Default Re: The Rise and Fall of Audio Tape at the BBC, by Ian Astbury

What a fantastic article. Easy to read and lots of detail without baffling laymen like me.

Thank you for highlighting it.
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Old 26th Apr 2021, 11:20 am   #19
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Default Re: The Rise and Fall of Audio Tape at the BBC, by Ian Astbury

Indeed a most interesting, and detailed article.
However Ian seemed to imply that only EMI tape was used prior to 1969. I started working for Zonal Films in 1964, they were manufacturers of both magnetic tape, 16mm, 17.5mm and 35mm film. this was used in both the broadcast and film industry. One of the main products was a 1/4" PVC based tape which was supplied to the BBC on 10.5" NAB metal spools. These spools were 'second hand', and sent to us empty from the BBC, new tape would be wound onto them, and tested before dispatch. Most of our other customers specified a polyester base material which was far superior to PVC which suffered badly from "pin holes" the BBC contract was for huge quantities. The other thing I remember about it was that the PVC base material was dyed a BBC olive colour, presumably to prevent it being stolen.
Our magnetic film was also supplied to both BBC and independent TV companies.
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Old 27th Apr 2021, 12:47 pm   #20
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Default Re: The Rise and Fall of Audio Tape at the BBC, by Ian Astbury

Zonal tape was certainly used at Bush House (overseas service) before 1969 but my understanding was that the BBC used 3M 202 for Broadcasting House (internal services), from some time well before 1969. I could easily be wrong about that.

Central Office of Information also used Zonal tape on refilled reels. Government funded organisations such as COI and BBC Bush House were obliged to use British products unless none was available.
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