Test Drive: Panasonic SV-3800 Digital Tape Recorder

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As long as a microprocessor is controlling everything inside the machine, why not make those controls accessible to the user? That's just what Panasonic did with the 3800. They call it the System Display Mode, accessed by pressing the counter's Mode and Reset buttons, along with the Pause button. The PNO display shows which menu item you're in, with the time display indicating the settings.

Choose your weapon here—you can select which digital input and output you're using when the front panel Input switch is set to digital. Digital connections on the back panel include AES/EBU XLR-type, IEC-C RCA coaxial, and IEC-0 optical terminals. The choices should cover you for the next few years, no matter what you decide about digital ins and outs in the future (should you actually convince management to buy an all-digital console!).

Check your head's wear and tear individually or together by monitoring the error rate in the Error Rate Display. You can also take a look at the time your deck has been in use with the Head Cylinder Rotation Time display (on the 3700, this was displayed on a mechanical "odometer" on the back panel—hard to get to, harder to read).

Single Play Mode sets the deck to play PNOs one-at-a-time. When the next ID is sensed, the 3800 will "park" in Pause so the next cut is cued and ready to roll.

Blank Skip Mode detects a silence of 2 seconds, then cues up the next PNO.

Peak Level Mode lets you adjust the Peak Level readout.

The analog Output Level is set here as well. It's adjustable over a 14 dB range. If you've got problems with levels in your studio, dis is da box for you.

And last but certainly not least, the SCMS is determined by you. You decide whether your tapes are copy-free, copy-restricted, or copy-prohibited. Panasonic? I love you, man.

Zounds!

The press releases for the SV-3800 tout its new 20-bit ladder-type DACs and its linearity, improved grounding layout (better RF rejection), wider dynamic range, and lower noise. All the technical jargon aside, the second I plugged it in, it was clear—the 3800 sounds better than the 3700, or the 3900 for that matter. It was obvious, and worth hearing for yourself, if you can. I found myself pulling out tapes recorded by other machines, just to hear them. One word: wow. If this is the sound of the digital future, sign me up. For the techies, frequency response is 10-22kHz/0.5dB at 48, 10-20kHz/0.5dB at 44.1. Dynamic of 92dB plus, S/N at 92dB plus, THD less than .007% (+22dBu, 1kHz). In my humble opinion, it's the dual DACs Panasonic is using to process the left and right channel data separately that makes it sound so good.

The unit is shipped with a rack-mount drawer, the remote, and is list-priced at $1695. Street prices will be lower, so shop around.

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