Test Drive: Panasonic SV-3800 Digital Tape Recorder

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Panasonic DAT machines have always showed their "oneupsmanship" in the recording IDs department and the tradition continues with the their newest entry. Ever get a DAT tape from a client without absolute time, or Start IDs without numbers? Like the 3700, the 3800 can record absolute time and/or Start IDs on a tape that already has recorded audio. You can also Renumber a tape's prerecorded Start IDs. During recording, automatic Start IDs will be written when the audio stops for at least two seconds. In addition, the detection level for "silence" is adjustable in 10dB increments between -20 and -60dB in the System Menu. When in the manual mode, a Start ID is placed where the recording begins. A recorded Skip ID (that is one second long) will cause the deck to skip to the next Start ID on playback. Skip Play Cancel will ignore prerecorded Skip IDs on playback. End Search finds a prerecorded End ID and stops, or where the recorded absolute time stops. During digital cloning, all IDs are automatically transferred from the source tape.

The Counter Mode and Reset buttons toggle between absolute time, program time, program time remaining, a counter (how quaint!), and a number readout of the peak margin (the amount of headroom between the peak-hold display of the meter and digital no-mans land, Over). When the headroom is less than 3 dB, the readout displays in increments of tenths of a dB, just to let you know how close you came to starting over!

Music Scan plays the first 15 seconds of a PNO (program number/Start ID), then jumps to the next PNO—perfect for hearing what's on one of those tapes you didn't bother to log. What's that? You say you have hundreds of them? So do I.

During playback, pressing the Rewind/Review or FastForward/Cue buttons makes the transport go about 3 times normal speed with attenuated audio to save your speakers, or your ears when wearing headphones. From Stop the tape travels about 250 times normal speed.

The Shuttle/Search wheel increases the tape speed in four steps, each way. Although there are markings on the front panel to show these different speeds, there is no detent to "feel your way." No matter; the learning curve is literally seconds of experience. In Play, the Shuttle wheel ramps up 3, 5, 9, and 15 times normal speed in each direction. In Pause, the ramp factors are 1/2, 1, 2, and 3 times normal speed.

All of the functions of the front panel are duplicated on the infrared remote, except the Shuttle Wheel's and the System Display Mode's, as well as a few that aren't on the front panel—Repeat the whole tape or programmed cuts up to 16 times, Memory Play up to 32 cuts in any order, and a 0-9 Number Pad to enter cut numbers directly.

Rotate the pod, please HAL

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