The Definitive DTRS Guide, Chapter 2: The Day Before

Silent Way's Definitive Guide to the
DTRS Modular Digital Multitrack Recorder

Part of the tips and tricks public archive, courtesy of Silent Way Remote Audio Recording and Media Asset Management in San Francisco.

Copyright © 2010 Silent Way. Unauthorized reuse is prohibited.

Tape Formulation, Formatting, and Head Cleaning

Hi-8 tape formulation

VERY IMPORTANT: Only use professional grade Metal Particle "MP" type video HI-8 tapes with the "DTRS" logo. Metal Evaporated "ME" tapes will shed oxide particles and damage the heads, causing dropouts. ME tapes are also more expensive.

As of 2007, DTRS tape is much harder to find. Some companies have stopped making digital tape, others are making less. So don't wait until your gig to find it, stock up!

These tapes have been made specifically for DTRS recorders: the Fuji DPD-113MP, Ampex DA8 (by Quantegy), Sony DARS-MP, BASF DTRS, HHB DA-30 and Maxell HMBQ. There was also a tape made by 3M. Make sure the tape has the "DTRS" logo on it. The DA-78HR in particular should use the Fuji DPD-113MP for 24-bit mode recording if possible.

However, in Mid-2007 the Fuji DPD tape was discontinued by Fuji!

I advise clients to find a reliable tape and stick with it - this sidesteps a big troubleshooting variable. If you ever have a problem with your deck, it will then be much easier to isolate the real source. Measure tape reliability by using the "error rate display" modes detailed in Chapter 4.

You can use these formulations in two-hour length (which formats to about an hour and fifty minutes), but unless you really need that length, stick with the thicker and more durable 90 minute, 60 minute or shorter tapes. NEVER use consumer-grade tapes, regular 8mm (non "Hi-8") tapes, or any Hi-8 tape that has been previously used for video recording. The machine will not accept them.

Sony made an "Advanced Metal Evaporated" (DARS-AME) tape that was supposedly safe to use because it did not shed; It supposedly greatly reduced head wear (by a factor of 7) but was very expensive (by a factor of 3-4). As Sony made the DTRS compatible PCM-800, their claims might have been accurate. However, I sincerely doubt the worth of this.

Where to buy them? For mail-order via the web, try zZounds.com, tapewarehouse.com or Amazon.com. Immediate pickup/delivery in California try Media Distributors: in SF, (415) 321-5939, 1219 Folsom St.; Media Distributors also has offices in Los Angeles (Studio City), New York and Seattle. Also in San Francisco try ComTel: 415-357-1270, 1274 Folsom St.

For more places to buy tape, CDs, DVD-Rs and other media, see this section of the Silent Way Directory.

See the end of this page for example formatted lengths.

Cleaning the heads:


Cleaning the heads of DTRS machines improperly has turned out to be a significant factor when determining how long the heads last. Tascam's original cleaning recommendation in their manuals is potentially more damaging than helpful.

There is a wide range of reported DA-88 head life span, and a big factor is the date the deck was manufactured. There have been revisions to the design of the heads which improve the life span. Some earlier revision owners have had to replace the heads after less than 500 hours, but the newer machines with "22" series heads and later last much longer. To check the number of hours, hold down PLAY and STOP while powering up. (For more hidden functions, see "DA-88 Hidden Functions.") Head life is highly dependent upon cleaning methods and tape formulation.

Tascam offers (as of 2001, check if this is still true) to replace the whole transport assembly (including the heads) for about the same cost as the heads alone, provided you trade in your replaced parts, so ask for this deal! This includes the headstack, servo card and transport. With an hour of labor and tax, this cost me $828.62. The parts were $712. If you do not send the deck to Tascam, you pay the whole cost upfront and they refund the difference after receiving the old parts. If you get this done, MAKE SURE to ask to have the head hours counter reset.

The best way to clean the heads is the same method you would use to clean a DAT recorder or other helical scan recorders: with lint-free chamois such as M.G. Chemicals chamois swabs (years ago it was model #407, in 2012 it seems to be model #810) and 99+% pure isopropyl alcohol, avoiding any vertical movement of the swab with respect to the tape's path. Improper manual cleaning is potentially much more damaging than using a dry-cleaning tape. Replacing the heads is very expensive, so do it right or don't do it!

The dry cleaning tape that Tascam supplies with new decks (Tascam HC-8), and recommends using at least every fifty hours of operation, is extremely abrasive and accounts for between five and ten hours of head wear each time it is used (Another version is the Sony V8-25CLH). Don't use this method unless you are in an emergency situation. If you must, these dry tapes are used by putting the deck into a "cleaning mode." If you don't enter this mode, the tape will be automatically ejected, since it is not recognized as a proper tape. On the DA-88, hold down the "up" and "down" arrows while powering up to enter this mode. Newer decks have this function available as a menu option. The deck will automatically play the next tape you insert for five seconds and then eject it. You don't need to press "play." The 5 second pass was shortened in the first DA-88 software revision from a more damaging 10 seconds.

For the DA-78, Tascam recommends that you just insert the tape without entering cleaning mode. This will result in the tape briefly passing over the heads before being automatically ejected. Since the DA-78 needs cleaning more often, this causes less headwear.

It is worth it to have the deck professionally cleaned and checked if you're getting serious errors or dropouts. If you are getting serious errors that you must address immediately, first check the list of DA-88 errors before proceeding.

The DA-78HR is much more sensitive than previous models to dirt (and tape brand- use Fuji). The official recommendation form Tascam is to perform a "Quick-clean" method before every use. This involves the dreaded dry-cleaning tape. If the dry-cleaning tape is inserted WITHOUT putting the deck into it's "cleaning mode," it will briefly touch the heads before being automatically ejected. I have opened up the deck to confirm that this is true. This method will not create as much headwear as the usual 5-second pass when in "cleaning mode." Check error rates regularly in the error-rate window ("Maintenance"-->"Block Error").

Formatting tapes:


You must format tapes before recording on them, so leave plenty of time; this takes the "real-time" length of the tapes. It is possible to record while formatting, but this is not wise - if there is a problem during formatting, you'll never know until it's too late. You can only synchronize multiple decks while formatting if your system software is 3.01 or later. To check the system software version, hold down PLAY, STOP and RECORD while powering up. Formatting serves the purpose of laying down subcode data (absolute/ABS timecode, not SMPTE) which guides the synchronization of multiple machines. This also repacks the tape to ensure consistent tension.

Insert a fresh tape, fast forward it to the end and rewind to the beginning twice; This only takes a minute or two, ensures that the tape is packed evenly, and clears the tape of any loose particles or lubricant. (The display should briefly show " b o t " at the beginning of the tape.) If you want to hear audio through the recorder (or if you have no choice and must record while formatting), arm each track now. Most buttons are disabled once the recorder is in format mode, so set everything else before formatting.

For a DA-88 or PCM-800, press "FORMAT" twice, and select your SAMPLE RATE (Fs button), 44.1 or 48 kHz.

For other machines, it's similar. Note that machines retain the sample rate of the last tape which was in it, until a new tape is inserted or format mode is engaged. Here's the comparison:


Machine

Press the "format" button...

Notes

once:

twice:

thrice:

DA-88 "format light" flashes "format light" lights up. Pick sample rate (with Fs button) and start format.
-
Must eject to exit format mode.
Sony PCM-800 "format light" flashes "format light" lights up. Pick sample rate (with Fs button) and start format.
-
Must eject to exit format mode.
DA-38 red "format light" flashes "format light" lights up. ready to start format at present sample rate. ...to change sample rate Must eject to exit format mode.
DA-78HR the word "format.." flashes in display letter "f" flashes in display ...to change sample rate Pick HR mode (24 or 16 bit). Press "stop" to exit format mode.
DA-98 "format light" flashes "format light" lights up. ready to start format at present sample rate. ...to change sample rate Press "clear" to exit format mode.


Then, hold RECORD and press PLAY.

To keep everything consistent and to "fingerprint" your tapes, label them all with their formatted length and which machine they were formatted on (and thus designated for). Set up the rest of your recording while the decks format and then automatically rewind the tapes.

If possible, plan to start your recording after the first three minutes, because the deck shifts into a slower shuttle speed when rewinding across the 3 minute mark, and this can become annoying when mixing. Here is a table showing the various formatted lengths of some recommended tapes. It appears that the Sony tapes are now made slightly longer than they were a few years ago. Tapes formatted at 48k have different average length than tapes formatted at 44.1.


Tape

Sample rate

Formatted length (examples)

Fuji DPD 113MP (my usual tape) 44.1 1:57:03, 1:56:23, 1:56:14
Fuji DPD 113MP 48 1:56:16
Sony DARS-113MP 44.1 1:56:50, 1:56:52, 1:56:54, 1:56:31
Sony DARS-113MP 48
Sony DARS-60MP 44.1
Sony DARS-60MP 48 1:03:40
Sony DARS-30MP 44.1
Sony DARS-30MP 48 33:21
Fuji M221MP 120 44.1 1:50:00
Fuji M221MP 120 48
Fuji M221MP 60 44.1 55:00
Fuji M221MP 60 48
BASF DTRS Master 936 DA113MP 44.1 1:59:08
BASF DA60MP 44.1 1:03:00
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