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Head feedback: Related to and caused by the above, this happens when you try to bounce a signal onto the adjacent track, as you might if you were compiling vocal harmonies onto a single track.

Head feedback

Related to and caused by the above, this happens when you try to bounce a signal onto the adjacent track, as you might if you were compiling vocal harmonies onto a single track. Unless you are careful with the level you will get a high pitched whistle (potentially speaker blowing) which is caused by feedback within the head. Once again, it doesn’t happen with a digital multitrack.

Noise reduction problems

Noise reduction systems a great. No doubt about it, but they are not perfect and even if they can fool the ears of most of the people for most of the time, experienced engineers will still be able to hear their artifacts. 16 bit linear digital recording uses ‘brute force’ techniques to give a clean, quiet recording without any psychoacoustic trickery.

High frequency squash

Analogue tape isn’t very keen on recording high frequencies. As you try and put more level on the tape high frequencies become distorted before mid and low frequencies, which most people would say is not a good thing although it does contribute to the analogue ‘sound’ which is liked by some. Digital recording treats all frequencies equally so your lows, mids and highs will all be equally clean.

Threading and run-off

Yes there are reel-to-reel digital recorders, but eventually all recorders will use cassettes of some type. We thread tape now because we have to. In a few years time we’ll think of it as something from the dark ages as we put another cassette into the slot. And how much session time is wasted rethread tape that has accidentally come off the reel? There are ways and means of avoiding this, but they take up time too. It’ll never happen on an ADAT.

Counter slippage

“Let’s go back to the beginning of the first verse”, says the producer and you press the appropriate locate button which you had thoughtfully pre-programmed. Unfortunately, this was some time ago, and with all the shuttling of tape that has gone on the counter has shifted and the tape comes in halfway through the first line. This may seem a minor point, but many minor errors in location add up to a lot of wasted time. If the tape has a time reference recorded on it then location can be bar-accurate every time. You can use timecode on an analogue tape for this purpose, with the correct equipment, but a digital format can have this built in. ADAT has.

Cleaning?

Yes, cleaning analogue recorders is a chore, but it has to be done otherwise your recordings suffer. Cassette based digital recorders are a fairly new invention so there isn’t a lot of data available but it seems that we are going to have to consider what cleaning routines are necessary. I used my DAT machine for around three years, with regular applications of a cleaning cassette, before it developed a transport problem. I opened it up and oxide was caked around the pinch roller and on several of the guides, so obviously the cleaning cassette is only a partial solution. There is no advice in the ADAT manual other than to clean the external surfaces with a damp cloth, but I suspect that this is one area where digital multitracks will not have an advantage over analogue - we’ll still have to keep them clean.

By David Mellor Thursday January 1, 2004