Other Recording Formats
Many tape traders have made the switch from analogue cassettes to Digital
Audio Tape (DAT). One major advantage to the DAT trader is no signal
degradation through multiple generations. And to this die-hard analogue
fan, DAT does offer in many ways significant sonic advantages over
cassettes. The medium is still very expensive though. Blank tapes are now
very inexpensive, but a good machine is going to cost over $1000. Units
under $1000 are going to be unreliable and are not going to sound quite as
good as the better ones. All digital is not the same! Even the more
expensive machines need a certain amount of pampering and servicing as the
format in general can be very temperamental. At this point the life span
of DAT tapes does not look good either. 15-20 years is about all you can
expect at the most.
You can make very high quality audio recordings with a Hi-Fi VHS VCR even
at the slowest speed. The higher speeds are only necessary with video.
With this you can put 6 hours of music on one circa $3 VHS tape.
Theoretically a Hi-Fi VHS VCR should sound better than just about any
cassette deck, but my ears tend to tell me otherwise. I have not
experimented much though with it. Besides, you can't play VHS tapes in
your car or walkman. The timer function on VCRs can be very useful in
taping radio broadcasts like the Grateful Dead Hour.
Mini-Disc and DCC
Don't bother. The standard for these digital formats is too low for
acceptable sound quality. Generational loses are far worse than cassettes
but in a different way. Neither of these formats if very likely to last
very long anyway. Some tapers find the Mini-Disc easy to use in stealth
Good quality reel-to-reel decks will beat the pants off of just about any
cassette recorder. The machines are large, heavy and clunky and the tape
is very expensive compared to other formats. Even if you can get a machine
for cheap or even free, it is probably not worth messing with for purposes
of tape collecting or trading. Several old time traders do have many hours
of live music on reel-to-reel since it was a major format in the 1970s. It
is not unusual for someone to transfer his reels to DAT and then sell,
trade or give away his reels. Good reel-to-reel machines to look for used
include Teac, Revox and Ampex.
What About the Magazines and Specifications?
After the first edition of this Guide several people contacted me and said
Consumer Reports recommends cassette decks that are not mentioned in the
guide. What's up? Well, CR does a great job with most things. They do a
horrible disservice to audio. All they do is measure the equipment and add
up the features. They do not do any serious listening tests. This is also
true of other magazines such as Stereo Review. They also do not bother
with some of the more expensive equipment. Their general attitude is that
it all pretty much sounds the same.
Specifications really do not tell you very much about how a piece of audio
equipment will sound. They can also easily be reported in a way that is
deceiving. Trust your ears. You can probably hear more differences than
you think. Always try to listen thoroughly to a piece of equipment before
you buy it. Make sure it sounds good to you and feels comfortable to
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