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Tascam DV-RA1000 High-Resolution Audio/DSD Master Recorder
Review by John Scrip of Massive Mastering

I burned up a few favors to get my hands on one of the first DV-RA1000's available and immediately went to work with it. The deck is a 2-space rack-mount unit with a built-in DVD+RW drive. No hard drive, but that's not what counts. Feel free to download the manual and specs to find out all the nifty stuff about this box and its capabilities. But I assume that if you're reading this, you're interested in stereo Direct Stream Digital (DSD) recording.

The DV-RA1000 is the first box of its kind anywhere near this price point. DSD recording technology has been prohibitively expensive to get into for any type of home or project studio use. With the current situation of analog tape and tape decks in general becoming more rare, the modestly priced DV-RA1000 couldn't have hit at a better time. DSD isn't really anything new — It's simply a different way of sampling a signal. While a CD utilizes a 16-bit signal sampled at 44.1 thousand times per second, the DV-RA1000 samples a simple one-bit signal at a mind-bending 2.822 million samples per second. The result is believed by many to be more "true" to the original signal than any other format — digital or analog. No tape saturation, no analog modeling. This box is made to reproduce exactly what goes into it.

So, here's the experiment: A well-recorded, unmastered modern "acoustic/jazz/funk/rock" recording came in for mastering. 24-bit PCM files. Loaded them up in Samplitude. Output to Lavry Blue Series D-A into a premium analog chain consisting of (A) GML 8200 EQ, (B) Manley Variable-MU compressor (C) Crane Song STC-8M compressor/limiter. Tweaked away until everything was wonderful, then sent the signal back into the Lavry A-D and the DV-RA1000's analog inputs simultaneously. The return into the DAW was 24-bit, 44.1kHz, later dithered to another file at 16-bit. Monitoring was a basically mint pair of B&W M802-SIII's powered by a Bryston 4B amplifier. Mogami and Cobalt connections.

In the end I wound up with 3 mastered versions: (A) the 24-bit / 44.1kHz, (B) a 16-bit / 44.1kHz file and (C) the DSD file on the DV-RA1000.

First, the easy one: Bouncing back and forth between the 16-bit and the analog chain. Not much of a contest there. The analog chain sounded more open, airy, etc. Could I have walked in the room and told you which one was playing? Honestly? Maybe not. It sounded very good even at 16-bit.

Next was the 24-bit vs. the analog chain. I could hear something in the imaging change. Again, barely, but something was different. I didn't really even expect to hear what I did. I patted myself on the back for choosing the Lavry converters while my assistant tried to trick me a few times by switching twice or not at all.

Last, of course, was the analog chain vs. the DV-RA1000. The deck plays from DVD+RW discs, so syncing the two was a bit of a hassle but once it was ready, it was "go" time. After a few clicks back and forth, I had my assistant leave the room and just sat there going back and forth between the two sources. I couldn't hear a difference. Even with me switching the controls.

Anyone can fool themselves into thinking that they're hearing a difference where they're doing the switching. It's happened to all of us at one time or another when you swear that you could hear the difference between A and B only to find out that A was accidentally bypassed anyway. This time I was actually trying to hear a difference. The lows, the highs, the imaging all sounded wonderful. The DSD version, at least in this case, was indistinguishable from the analog chain. I'm about as impressed as I can be.

A perfect experiment? Certainly not. But anyone looking for a mixdown option other than standard PCM files should seriously consider the DV-RA1000. You can still record to regular PCM (up to 192kHz!) files and the unit also burns Red Book 16-bit CD-R's. A typical array of on-board DSP (that I didn't bother trying at this point), USB connectivity and a full-function wired remote are the icing on Tascam's new digital cake. But in my opinion, the DSD recording capabilities alone should put this box in every serious project studio's rack. And read up on the available literature and manuals. This review hardly touches on the capabilities of this box.

PROS: Great...make that amazing sounding and totally affordable high-resolution stereo recording deck for mixdown or live-to-two-track recording. Built-in converters seem up to the task. Inexpensive DVD+RW media can be used over and over.

CONS: Otherwise excellent menu functions can be a bit of a pain to navigate. Understandable for space-saving though. A hard drive would put it over the top.

For more information visit http://www.tascam.com/Products/dvra1000.html

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