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Jeff and Deva II


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Having been the first to use the DAT format in production on feature films, I was pleased to be a pioneer of digital recording but never fell in love with the format. I saw the original Deva I at an AES show, it was not a shipping product (was actually almost a year before it shipped) and I thought it was very intriguing and a glimpse into what might be the future of production recording. As part of the original small group of production sound mixers willing to use this new recorder, I was convinced almost immediately that this was the way everyone would be doing sound  -- it was only a matter of time. I remember showing the original Deva at a Union seminar on multi-track recording (mostly discussing the use of Tascam DA-88/98 recorders) and declaring that this is the way ALL sound will be done  --  multi-track, non-linear file-based. Once we got the post-production facilities open to the idea of files instead of linear tape, just about everyone got a Deva and started recording files. It certainly did spell the death of DAT (and I don't think anyone missed that miserable format).

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45 minutes ago, Philip Perkins said:

Not "kind of"!  And none too soon, sez me!

For perspective, I was 11 in 1999 and didn't find out what DAT was till by accident a few years later when I found a "funny looking cassette tape that seemed different".  To this day, I've never used DAT but sounds like I didn't miss anything!

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Funny that in 1999, my friend and I were discussing ideas that would make DAT (RIP) obsolete.  We had ideas, did we ever.  

 

Ended up with a Fostex DV824 (remember those?) that served it's purpose well.

 

Now, it's JoeCo recorders.  Life goes on, ob-la-di.

 

D.

 

And for what it's worth, my HHB DAT never disappointed me in all the years, and many shows, that we did together.  Just sayin'.

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4 hours ago, Jeff Wexler said:

Having been the first to use the DAT format in production on feature films, I was pleased to be a pioneer of digital recording but never fell in love with the format. I saw the original Deva I at an AES show, it was not a shipping product (was actually almost a year before it shipped) and I thought it was very intriguing and a glimpse into what might be the future of production recording. As part of the original small group of production sound mixers willing to use this new recorder, I was convinced almost immediately that this was the way everyone would be doing sound  -- it was only a matter of time. I remember showing the original Deva at a Union seminar on multi-track recording (mostly discussing the use of Tascam DA-88/98 recorders) and declaring that this is the way ALL sound will be done  --  multi-track, non-linear file-based. Once we got the post-production facilities open to the idea of files instead of linear tape, just about everyone got a Deva and started recording files. It certainly did spell the death of DAT (and I don't think anyone missed that miserable format).

Hi Jeff,

Out of curiosity what was the first production you used a DAT on? What was the discussion like with post-production sound and editing regarding this workflow, were they keen to use it?

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11 hours ago, tourtelot said:

And for what it's worth, my HHB DAT never disappointed me in all the years, and many shows, that we did together.  Just sayin'.

When I finally wound up with HHB PortaDAT it was rock solid, never really had any significant problems. It was all the other so-called professional machines that made me hate the format (StellaDAT, Foster, etc.).

10 hours ago, sciproductions said:

Hi Jeff,

Out of curiosity what was the first production you used a DAT on? What was the discussion like with post-production sound and editing regarding this workflow, were they keen to use it?

The first movie was the Los Angeles portion of Ed Zwick's movie "The Siege" in 1998. The majority of the movie was shot in New York but Don and I did 4 or 5 weeks in L.A. on the movie. I was determined to use the Deva on the production and the post people were in favor of trying it but the studio, Twentieth Century Fox, was adamantlty against it, refusing at first to do the transfers. My first meeting with the people at Fox was pretty rough, they all said "don't try anything new, just hand in a DAT tape like everyone else does" which is somewhat ironic considering my past history with Fox. In 1990 after having done three movies with DAT and doing the transfers at Northstar Media (a post facility I co-owned), I had a movie at Fox where they were insisting on doing the transfers. When I told them I was using DAT, they literally said "What's DAT?"  ---  just hand in the ¼" tape like everybody else, don't try anything new. I did convince them they could easily do the transfers off DAT, all they would need is a DAT machine in place of the ¼" tape machine, play it out to mag for delivery to Editorial. They said they didn't have any DAT machines.  --  I told them to go over the Music Department and see if you can borrow one of the 6 Panasonic 3900 DAT machines they had there. It all worked out, eventually, and as I was saying, years later they were resistant to doing something new. 

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At one point I owned and was using 7 DAT machines at the same time.  All were bought new.  All eventually developed "personalities", not a good thing for a pro-use device.   This group included expensive studio-type machines, more expensive portable TC type units, and cheaper simpler recorders for travel and "combat" use.  At the same time I was also renting the most complex and expensive DATs available (Sony and Otari studio decks) for some jobs.  By far the most reliable DATs were the cheap ones, go figure.  It seemed like the more money I spent on them the less reliable they were.  I was not sorry to see the format of choice change, finally, despite having made a considerable investment in that technology.   With both the machines and particularly with the tape cassettes, it was just a matter of WHEN they were going to bite you, not if.

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Philip, I think I knew you would have had experience with a wide variety of DAT machines but it does not surprise me that the more expensive "professional" machines were far less reliable than the others. When I first used DAT I was using a consumer SONY D-10 (not even the D-10 Pro) which I purchased at the DAT Store in Santa Monica. This was a place that specialized in bringing in DAT machines when they were really not available easily (constrained, in part, by pending litigation in Congress similar to the famous Betamax ordeal). My first machine came with an owners manual all in Japanese but it wasn't too difficult to figure out how to make it work. I did 2 full feature films with that machine, did all the transfers to mag at my facility, Northstar Media Sound Services. No one else in production or editorial even had to know what I was doing with this grand experiment. The early SONY machines worked just fine. I will add that when I started this adventure I ran in parallel my Nagra 4.2 (as a safety in case this new format didn't work). I never had to send in the ¼" tapes.

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The lack of reliability of DAT format (intrinsically, not only the machines), was the reason why Nagra never embraced it.

Instead, they created the 4 tracks open reel Nagra D.
I had the chance at that time to make some classical music recordings with one and this machine was a piece of art, like exceptional watches.

Unfortunately it was too expensive, bulky and certainly not practical to use on set.

It’s weird when you remember that Kudelski was the first to build a portable recorder that changed the industry…

Fortunately today we can rely on SSD and cards and I certainly not regret tape, even if these machines are so beautifully build like old cars. 

 

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I was a very early adopter of DAT, starting in 1991. Despite a great many stories of unreliability from many folks on both sides of the pond, I never once had an issue in the 10 years I used DAT. In  2001 I changed to the NAGRA V. A beautiful machine, but it suffered from their  choice  of the awful ORB drive, which took unreliability to a whole new level. A colleague who bought his at the same time, eventually sent it back to Nagra and got a refund. They later fitted a proper hard drive and I used it until 2004, when I went Zaxcom and never looked back

 

I used most types of DAT recorder, from Panasonic SV260, through Stelladat, Sony TC-D10 and finally HHB. Never tried Fostex. I always backed up on a second machine, initially  a Nagra 4S and then another DAT. Not because of worries about reliability of recording, but more about a whole days rushes being on one tiny cassette, which could fall down a drain on wrap on a dark night..

 

Roger Slater

Malvern Wells UK

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I almost always ran a backup DAT when I could (ie when on a cart, not in verite mode).  That happened due to numerous machine and tape failures, and several times having to take DAT cassettes apart, remove the tiny tape, smooth it and then put it in a new housing with all the magnifying-glass-requiring other parts of that silly format.   A lot of the travelling jobs I was doing starting in 1988 were made far easier by having a recorder and media that were so much smaller than my Nagra and reels of 1/4" tape, and oddly enough it was not the rainy-jungle+frozen-mountain-top sort of gigs that seemed to provoke DAT failures, but local high pressure gigs like big commercials and movies.  Weird, I know, but that's how it went. 

 

I WAS glad when I could move from DAT to file based recorders, but don't forget the years in which we had to burn our non-linear recorder files to DVDs or DVD-RAMS every day at wrap (or earlier if there was a film break), while enduring threats from production about getting out of a location and off the clock.   The early technology for "real time" or simultaneous DVD-RAM burning (or various "mirror-when-not-recording" schemes) were pretty fraught and unreliable.   I rejoiced in the passing of DVD-RAM as a delivery format as much as I did the passing of DAT before it.

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Tinkering with reel to reel and cassette tape formats during my middle and high school years, and being very interested in computers, I taught myself how to use early DAW programs to track demos at home. By the time I went to audio school, they had us learn initially on a Nagra 4.2, then a Tascam DA-P1 DAT machine, as well as Tascam DA-98s in the studio. When I saw the process of transferring the DATs on school projects, I decided I’d “invent” a better system, not currently aware of any file based field recorders. So I brought my laptop to set with an audio interface, and recorded into Pro-Tools. Post was amazed that I was handing them a thumb drive with the daily tapes on them already named by scene and take. 
 

I took that system with me onto my first few “professional” film sets, just some short films, and everybody seemed quite satisfied. But eventually I needed to be more mobile, and after about a year or so experimenting with an M-Audio Microtrack II, and then the Tascam DR-680, I was able to save up and get myself a Sound Devices 788T, along with the DVD burner, CL-8, and all the cables and accessories, including some NP1s and a charger. It was quite a jump, and I always thought the DVD burner to be entirely impractical, since I was always operating out of a bag, so I never once used it. 
 

I guess the moral of the story is that file based recording certainly was the way to go, and nobody really misses DAT. Although I am in need of a DAT machine for some transfers…

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