This History Of The Digital Audio Tape (DAT) – Music School
Digital Audio Tape (DAT or R-DAT) is a signal recording and playback medium developed by Sony and introduced in 1987. In appearance it is similar to a Compact Cassette, using 4 mm magnetic tape enclosed in a protective shell, but is roughly half the size at 73 mm × 54 mm × 10.5 mm. As the name suggests, the recording is digital rather than analog. DAT has the ability to record at higher, equal or lower sampling rates than a CD (48, 44.1 or 32 kHz sampling rate respectively) at 16 bits quantization. If a digital source is copied then the DAT will produce an exact clone, unlike other digital media such as Digital Compact Cassette or non-Hi-MD MiniDisc, both of which use a lossy data reduction system.
Like most formats of videocassette, a DAT cassette may only be recorded and played in one direction, unlike an analog compact audio cassette.
Although intended as a replacement for audio cassettes, the format was never widely adopted by consumers because of issues of expense and concerns from the music industry about unauthorized digital quality copies. The format saw moderate success in professional markets and as a computer storage medium. As Sony has ceased production of new recorders, it will become more difficult to play archived recordings in this format unless they are copied to other formats or hard drives.
The technology of DAT is closely based on that of video recorders, using a rotating head and helical scan to record data. This prevents DATs from being physically edited in the cut-and-splice manner of analog tapes, or open-reel digital tapes like ProDigi or DASH.
The DAT standard allows for four sampling modes: 32 kHz at 12 bits, and 32 kHz, 44.1 kHz or 48 kHz at 16 bits. Certain recorders operate outside the specification, allowing recording at 96 kHz and 24 bits (HHS). Some early machines aimed at the consumer market did not operate at 44.1 kHz when recording so they could not be used to ‘clone’ a compact disc. Since each recording standard uses the same tape, the quality of the sampling has a direct relation to the duration of the recording – 32 kHz at 12 bits will allow six hours of recording onto a three-hour tape while HHS will only give 90 minutes from the same tape. Included in the signal data are subcodes to indicate the start and end of tracks or to skip a section entirely; this allows for indexing and fast seeking. Two-channel stereo recording is supported under all sampling rates and bit depths, but the R-DAT standard does support 4-channel recording at 32 kHz.
DAT tapes are between 15 and 180 minutes in length, a 120-minute tape being 60 meters in length. DAT tapes longer than 60 meters tend to be problematic in DAT recorders due to the thinner media. DAT machines running at 48 kHz and 44.1 kHz sample rates transport the tape at 8.15 mm/s. DAT machines running at 32 kHz sample rate transport the tape at 4.075 mm/s.