I'm sick of hearing from people who are actually considering buying a DAT deck for their home recording studios, just because they want to make CDs, and they "know that CD production houses will only accept DAT masters"..or even worse, tell me that they just scraped together every last cent they had to buy this DAT, and where will they get the money for a better microphone than an SM-57?
It's not that these folks make me sick themselves...it's just that it bothers me how the industry standards for CD production from just a few years ago have become so ingrained that people are now afraid to use their own brains. Part of it, I suppose, is a healthy fear of the unknown, especially where digital is concerned. But as I said, I'm not blaming the folks or their lack of knowledge...it's just frustrating for me to hear this stuff.
Listen up, people, read my lips, and all that.
The reason CD production houses "only accepted DAT" a few years ago was simple. There was no other reliable, portable, standardized recording medium.
Actually, there is something else that production houses would accept. It's an all-but-obsolete 3/4" analog video tape format called Umatic 1610/1630 that was used as the common format for CD masters (I used to have one of these decks, and believe me, I'm glad I no longer do. For one thing, now there's room in my garage for my truck!). And guess what...Umatic is on its way to being phased out because of the universal availability of relatively inexpensive digital equipment...specifically, CD-Rs.
So Why Might You Want a DAT Deck?
There are a number of good reasons to buy a DAT. If you're running a real recording studio where clients come in, it's a no-brainer...they want a DAT tape to take away. If you want to record live bands in pristine digital stereo, rather than multitracking, DAT is terrific.
I just ran out of reasons right there. And BTW, it's true people like DATs from recording studios, but with little additional trouble, you could give them a CD-R instead. I guarantee that more people can relate to a CD than a DAT tape. And if you were to ask me to record a live band in digital stereo, I'd buy a Minidisc recorder before I'd spring for a DAT any day...they're about 1/2 to 1/3 the price. But again, I'm not in the recording business full-time...are you?
And if you're not, learn from one of the folks on our BBS. He wanted to record on DAT at 44.1 KHz to eventually make CDs himself...but guess what? Consumer DATs aren't allowed to record analog material at 44.1 (check the FAQ), so he'll have to record at 48 KHz and go through a sample rate conversion. While that service is generally included whenever you master a CD or have one professionally duplicated, it's just one more limitation of DATs.
Buy a Damn Computer Already
You want to make CDs, make CDs. A good DAT deck (not a battery portable) costs between $700 and $1000 or so. For about that price, I could put together a computer with a serious sound card that would take analog stereo input and burn excellent CD-Rs from it. You could send those CD-Rs to any mastering or CD manufacturing house in the country. And if it did nothing else (like that DAT deck you were considering, that would sit on the shelf 362 days a year), it would still be better than a DAT deck for most people...imagine giving someone a DAT tape and telling them to listen to it in their car!
Could you think of a few other things to do with a computer, while you're at it? Maybe you could use it to record your music on, surf the Web, design your CD inserts. A bit more useful than a DAT deck, yes?
Don't want to mess with computers? OK, I won't ask you how you're reading this, but let's continue. Minidiscs (and here I'm talking stereo minidisc recorders, not multitrack which are a whole different ballgame and even use different discs) aren't as perfect a medium as CD-Rs or DATs, but they're a heck of a lot better than anything else for the price; they're removable, small, portable, and re-recordable. And tape is more fragile than minidisc or CD-R.
If you really don't want to mess with computers for audio, Minidiscs are probably the best thing to mix down to. You can make a submix from your 4-track, record it to minidisc and send it back to the 4-track, and not lose anything audible in the process, the way you would by bouncing tracks on cassette. Did I mention that it's easy to make a CD from minidisc?
Of course, you could do this with that theoretical computer, too. And
if you already happened to have a computer, even a 133 Pentium or so,
all you would need would be some inexpensive software and a good sound
card...less than $300 would cover it. Add another $300 or so for a CD-R
and you have a basic DAW (Digital Audio Workstation).