Test Drive: Otari DTR-8 Digital Audio Tape Recorder

It's a Button World

If there's one thing about Otari that makes me smile every time, it's their buttons. Hey, let's face it; it's a button world. And Otari is good with buttons. DTR-8's transport control buttons sit at an upward angle, logically arranged with the thumb on Stop, index on Rewind/CueBack, middle on Play, and ring finger on FastForward/CueForward. There's a space between Stop and Rewind/CueBack, just like your hand has (sorry, lefties!). Directly below, half-height buttons for Tray/Eject, Record, Pause, and Record/Muted (4 seconds). Below them, SkipBack, SkipForward, ID Mode, and Enter.

If you like a Jog/Shuttle wheel, I'm sorry to say you won't find one on this unit. However—and I stress however—the CueBack and CueForward functions are smooooth. Tap the Rewind/CueBack button while in Play and you're going backwards about twice normal speed. FastForward/CueForward is similar. Holding the button down, about three times normal speed. While in Pause, there is movement of the tape with a tap of the CueBack or CueForward buttons, but no audio. Holding the button down sends the deck into great slow motion audio. It's digital; the pitch remains the same.

Other controls include Counter Mode and Reset, Peak Display Reset, Error rate measurement, and the Auto Start ID with a 2 second silence trigger. No Start IDs are written when Auto is off. During a digital clone/dub the Start IDs are keyed from the source—another DAT tape's PNOs or the Q code of compact disk. There are options for CD players that do not transmit the Q code in the digital linkup. There is a TOC (Table of Contents) Renumber button to put existing Start IDs in sequence. If a tape has no Start IDs, they must be placed manually. Then, Renumber will assign them sequential Start ID numbers. More on the TOC later.

The Input level and Balance knobs are on the right side of the rack mountable DTR-8 (shipped with removable ears attached—see picture).

Upgrade Time

Otari is using DAT standard Characters in the coding of the Start IDs. A good answer to the challenge of DAT's direct competitor, the MiniDisc, the DTR-8 will remember sixty characters that you associate with each Start ID. Naming the individual tracks can be made from the front panel, but it is easier on the infrared remote. Stopping the tape anywhere on the track you want to name, pressing the Character button on the panel or remote, entering your info, then Enter sends the machine looking for that track's PNO. Each time the Start ID is read, the information you entered is scrolled across the display. I do believe that information is written while the tape is running slowly backwards!

TOC is a welcome addition to DAT. When a tape is recorded with Absolute Time, Start IDs, and an End ID, the TOC Renumber button will scan the tape and store the number of cuts, their Program Length, and where they are in relation to Absolute Time on cut 1's Start ID. When a tape is inserted, and the first Start ID is read, the DTR-8 will show you how many cuts are on the tape, how long each one is, and where it is. Pressing Play while in this mode will send the deck to the displayed cut at 300 times normal speed. TOC can hold up to fifty programs. And no, the text information stored by the user on the Start IDs is not stored in TOC. Maybe next year!

Writing any type of ID manually is a simple matter of scrolling through the display's options LEDs and pressing Enter, the button right next door.

Other features include a front panel headphone amp with a bat-handled gain knob, dip-switch selectable +4dB/-10dB Input and Output (separate controls), 8 function wired remote parallel DIN, no SCMS copy protection, hours of use meter, infrared remote disable, and get this, the infrared remote has a button that will turn the display off. Something for the intern to figure out!

One more "must mention" feature is the display, in dBs, of the headroom at any given moment during a recording where the PNO number is usually displayed. (A new cut number is displayed when the Start ID is writing, then returns to the 2-digit dB display.) Although the meter is showing the signal, the readout in numbers is very appealing.

Specifications are 20Hz-22kHz/0.5dB at 48kHz, 20Hz-20kHz/0.5dB at 44.1kHz, and 20Hz-14.5kHz/0.5dB at 32kHz. Dynamic of 90dB min., S/N at 90dB min., THD 0.007% at 48kHz, with a min. 80dB of crosstalk (at 1K). VU metering is a 16-segment display with a peak hold indicator (and a reset button). Analog audio is transformerless with +26dB of headroom. The S/PDIF digital interface is an RCA pin. The DTR-8 takes three rack spaces.

Otari has another, affordably priced, little workhorse here, with the listed price of about $2000. As always, go for the best deal on the street.

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