Test Drive: Technics RS-DC10 Digital Compact Cassette Deck

Before recording to a blank tape, the "Lead In" portion of the tape must first be written. This takes about ten seconds and, more or less, "initializes" that tape. When a new tape is inserted, simply press the RECord button. The display shows "LEAD IN" and the information is written to the tape. Thereafter, when the tape is inserted again the deck "reads" this information to ensure proper playback. The procedure for recording analog sources and digital sources is basically the same with the exception that input levels don't need to be set for digital inputs.

As mentioned, the back panel offers Variable Analog outputs as well as Fixed Analog outputs. Of course you get analog inputs as well. All are RCA phono jacks. Digital ins and outs are coaxial and optical. Reported specs for digital recording/playback include a frequency response of 10Hz to 20kHz at 44.1kHz sampling. THD is .003% or less. Dynamic range is 92dB or more, and the SN ratio is 92dB or more (record/playback, A-weighted).

Analog cassette playback specs include a frequency response of 30Hz to 16kHz for chrome tape without Dolby. This is significantly less than a good analog cassette deck provides. For example, Technics' own RS-TR555 analog cassette deck has a frequency response on chrome tape of 20Hz to 18kHz. If you've gone through the trouble and expense of recording some of your favorite CDs to chrome or even metal tape in a high-end cassette deck, you may want to play them back on that same deck. The RS-DC10 was apparently not designed to provide the playback quality of a high-end analog cassette deck. Mechanically, the RS-DC10 offers a 20-channel thin film head, a single capstan drive, and a fast-forward/rewind time of about 100 seconds for a sixty minute tape.

All things considered, the DCC format should do much better than DAT in the consumer market, but there is hardly a guarantee of that. Consumers have embraced the CD so firmly that the Sony MiniDisc might have a good chance of getting a bigger piece of the pie. Then again, there's something about the familiar look and feel of the DCC cassette that might put more consumers at ease with this digital format. And why not? Look how difficult it is for our own industry of professional audio types to let go of tape. We don't seem to mind the ones and zeros as long as they're on tape.

Look for an assault of different models in the new year, from home decks, to portables, to car units. As with the Optimus model mentioned earlier, some models will obviously offer features the others don't. From a consumer standpoint, I certainly would look for a model that will let me search tracks by number on my own recordings. The Skip ID function I can live without. I would also like to see a model that comes with a keyboard and the necessary electronics to let me record text information to the tape, be it lyrics, artist name, song title, year the song came out, whatever. And this takes us to one final thought....

What about DCC in radio production? This Test Drive is a little different in that we're checking out a piece of gear that is not designed for radio production or anything close to it. In fact, DCC may never have a place in the production room, but we did want to give you a look at this new format. Still, with a few alterations and added features, there's no reason why DCC can't end up in our studios. (For all we know, this may already be in the works.) An "instant start" feature would be a must; you've got to be able to cue things up. Another must is the ability to access tracks by number. Also, the RS-DC10 doesn't have a fast-forward "cue" or "review" mode which is handy in our business. What would really be nice is the ability to assign text information to a track -- date of production, producer's name, client name, music and sound effects used, voice-over talent names, the actual script, etc.. Now there's a handy radio production tool. One thing is certain: if DCC does capture the consumer market like the analog cassette did, your clients will eventually trash their old cassette decks for DCC. Then, when they ask for a copy of their spot on DCC, your GM will jump to sign the dotted line!

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