Test Drive: The Teac DA-P20 Portable DAT Recorder

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Teac-DA-P20by Jerry Vigil

A couple of years ago, we reviewed a portable DAT player from Panasonic, the SV-250. We talked about the many features found on such a small box, and we talked about the unit's $2,700 price tag. Time rolled on, and the cost of many electronic products dropped considerably. Today, you can pick up the Teac DA-P20, which has essentially the same features as the Panasonic unit, for almost one-third the price -- $999 list. Now there's a price tag that can put the power of portable digital recording in the hands of many!

Why consider getting a portable DAT? Here are a few good reasons:

1) Think about those promos you've cut with "on-site" listener clips recorded with a portable cassette deck and its built-in condenser mike. Replace that clip with a quality digital recording, made with good mikes plugged into a stereo DAT recorder. The difference is tremendous, and the stereo effects can add a lot to the clip.

2) Having a stereo, digital recorder under your arms makes it possible to begin collecting your own sound effects, custom made to order.

3) How many times have people at your station had to wait around for a studio to become available to do simple voice work or interviews? With a portable DAT machine and a good mike, studio quality interviews and voice tracks can be done in any relatively sound proof room at your station. When your main studio is avail-able, you can then add any voice processing to the tracks.

4) Take a portable DAT to a client's place of business to get customer testimonials. Back at the station, your finished spot is going to sound incredibly clean. Even if you don't have a DAT machine in the studio, you can still reap the benefits of a portable DAT. Once you're back at the studio, simply patch the unit into your console to retrieve your recordings.

The portable DA-P20 gets its power from a rechargeable battery, or the unit can be powered with an A/C adaptor (both included). This stereo recorder accommodates both analog and digital inputs. The XLR analog inputs accept both balanced and unbalanced signals as well as mike or line level inputs. If you're familiar with DAT operation, you'll find nothing difficult about using the DA-P20.

Front panel controls, starting at the far left, include a headphone jack and headphone level control. There is no internal speaker on the unit, so headphones are necessary. To the right of the LCD display are the COUNTER MODE, RESET, and ID SELECT buttons. Pressing the COUNTER MODE button selects display of Absolute Time, Program Time, Remaining Time on the tape, or the Tape Counter. The RESET button resets the Tape Counter.


The ID SELECT button combines several buttons found on other DAT machines. When the unit is in the record mode, pressing the ID SELECT button alternates between automatic Start ID writing and manual Start ID writing. "Auto ID" is indicated on the display when automatic writing is enabled. When "Auto ID" is off, manual writing of Start ID's is executed by pressing the PLAY button during recording.

When the unit is in the playback mode, pressing the ID SELECT button alternates between the Start ID Write, Start ID Delete, and Renumber functions. When Start ID Write is enabled, "Start ID Wrt" appears on the display, and Start ID's can be written during playback by pressing the PLAY button. When Start ID Delete is enabled, "Start ID Del" appears in the display and previously recorded Start ID's can be erased. Pressing the ID SELECT button a third time enables the Renumber function which is then activated by pressing PLAY. The tape is rewound, and all Start ID's are renumbered starting with number "1."

The DA-P20 does not offer the Skip ID function, a function which has little use in radio production anyway. However, it does provide and End ID function which lets you use pre-recorded DATs without losing the last point of your new recording. Writing the End ID is done by holding the ID SELECT button down for two seconds while in the Record/Pause mode. When PLAY is pressed, the End ID is written, and the LCD display provides an "EE-END" message.

The front panel also includes the usual transport buttons: STOP, PLAY, PAUSE, REW, F/FWD, REC/MUTE, and left and right SKIP buttons. A red LED next to the REC/MUTE button lights up when in the record mode. The only unusual aspect of the transport buttons is that while you do get a Review/Cue mode, you can't hear the audio. During playback, pressing REW or F/FWD will shift the tape speed to ten times normal speed. Though you can't hear the audio at ten times normal speed, you can watch the tape time pass by on the display.

There is no numeric keypad on the unit, so selecting, let's say, program 22 from the beginning of a tape requires pressing the forward SKIP button twenty-two times. The number of "skips" in either direction is indicated on the LCD display.

The input level controls are on the far right of the front panel. There are separate controls for both inputs. Below these is the Power On/Off switch. The DA-P20 employs an Auto Power Off function which automatically shuts the unit off six minutes after the last operation of the unit. This is especially useful to save battery power, but it can be a nuisance if you want the unit to remain on. Fortunately, the Auto Power Off function can be disabled by press-ing the STOP button while turning the unit on.

The LCD display provides all necessary information including input and playback levels, program numbers, and time and counter indications. The display also shows which function of the tape transport is engaged. When the unit is turned on, the display reads "OP--S" if there is a tape in the unit. If there is no tape, the display reads "OP--L." If moisture is detected due to condensation, the display flashes "OP--d" and the unit will not operate until the moisture has evaporated. A Battery Warning Indicator on the display flashes when the battery power is low. The unit will run for about two hours on a fully charged battery.

The input and output jacks are on the right side of the unit. A PAD switch selects unbalanced inputs, or balanced inputs with a choice of a 20dB or 0dB pad. As mentioned, the MIC/LINE inputs are XLR type. The digital input and output, as well as the line outs, require standard RCA phono plugs. The back panel provides a jack for the A/C power adaptor. There's also a switch to select the power source -A/C adaptor or internal battery.

An INPUT switch on the top of the unit selects Digital, Mic, or Line inputs. The EJECT button opens the tape tray. You have to press on the tray to close it. Inserting tapes in some DAT machines feels like a very delicate procedure. Not so with the DA-P20. You get the sense of solid, sturdy construction when inserting a tape and closing the tray.

The sleek looking DA-P20 weighs in at just over three pounds. It is 1¾ inches high, about 9½ inches wide, and 6¼ inches deep. Reported specs include frequency response at 20-20kHz, S/N ratio at better than 90dB, and THD at less than .008% at 1kHz. The record sampling frequency is 48kHz (44.1kHz on the digital input - S/PDIF). Playback is at 48kHz and 44.1kHz. Quantization is 16-bit linear.

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