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What is Digital Audio Tape?

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  • Written By: J. Martucci
  • Edited By: J.T. Gale
  • Last Modified Date: 31 October 2016
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Digital audio tape (DAT) is a type of media similar in appearance to the cassette tape. Introduced in 1987, the digital audio tape was designed to replace the cassette tape as the primary media for recording and playing audio. DAT is a digital medium, unlike cassettes, which are analog. Digital audio differs from analog audio in that instead of recording a continuous wavelength, digital audio records the analog wavelength of sound and converts it into a numeric equivalent for storage and playback.

Generally, digital audio is easier to edit than analog audio, as all points of sound are discrete and defined in time, unlike analog. While both analog and digital audio record the same sound, because of its storage mechanism, creating exact replicas of a digital recording is possible. Analog audio will often degrade over time as it is copied from one piece of media to another. Because DAT records in an uncompressed, digital format, exact replicas can be made from a DAT. This is not the case with other digital media formats that use compression.

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Digital audio tape never gained a foothold in the consumer market, as it competed commercially against the compact disc (CD), and most major labels did not release music in the DAT format. It did gain popularity in professional and home audio recording, as it was the easiest way to create a master digital copy of many analog sources in the studio, or of a live recording. The digital audio tape standard allowed for four sampling modes: 32 kHz at 12 bits; and 32 kHz, 44.1 kHz, or 48 kHz at 16 bits. Adjusting the sampling rate allowed more or less audio information to be recorded onto the same tape.

Tapes came in lengths from 15 minutes to 180 minutes. Digital audio tape was also used for computer backups. A format was designed to be computer-specific, called Digital Data Storage (DDS). While computer tapes and audio tapes are a physically similar format, most DDS drives are incompatible with DAT audio tapes.

Digital audio tape has fallen out of favor in most recording environments as hard drive storage costs have decreased. Since hard drives allow for digital recording with virtually limitless length and quality, there no longer is an advantage to recording on digital audio tape. As such, there are few companies still producing DAT players and tapes, and many older recordings on DAT must be converted to newer formats or transferred to hard drives for storage.

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anon971393
Post 4

I do not think I ever used DATs when I was a kid. I remember using audio cassettes, which looked like DATs, before CDs came out, but hear DATs had better quality.

strawCake
Post 3

I've never heard of this, and I'm not surprised digital audio tape never got popular with most consumers! I remember when CD's came out they were extremely convenient and most music was available on them.

I don't see how digital audio tapes could have competed if a lot of music wasn't even released on them. Maybe if they were much lower in price-maybe!

lighth0se33
Post 2

I recorded myself singing on digital audio tapes. It was the easiest way for me to hear what I sounded like, and these tapes seemed to yield a higher quality of sound than analog tapes.

As a teenager, I knew I had a good voice, but I also knew that it needed work. I would listen to my favorite singers and memorize their songs and the things they did with their voices. Then, I would try to duplicate that while singing into a microphone plugged into a tape recorder.

Playing these tapes back was the best way for me to know what areas needed improvement. I could better hear my mistakes when they were played back to me than while I was making them.

shell4life
Post 1

I used to buy blank digital audio tapes for recording songs and programs that came on the radio back in the early nineties. I didn’t really know what I was buying. I only knew that it could hold a lot of minutes worth of sound, and that was what I needed.

I had a combination radio and tape player. I kept a blank tape in it. When I heard one of my favorite songs coming on the radio, I would run and push record. The first few seconds of the song would be missing, but I would have the majority of it.

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