Sony, which introduced digital audio tape decks to the United States, has just put out the first miniature portable in this country: the DAT Walkman recorder.
The Sony TCD-D3 ($850) is being hailed by electronics experts as a technological marvel and is focusing renewed attention on DAT that could help speed up a settlement of the class-action lawsuit filed against the Sony system.
Songwriters and publishers filed the action in federal court in July, charging Sony with copyright violation because they get no benefits from the new format, whose primary purpose at present is to copy CDs. Using a miniature cassette, which tapes two to four hours, you can make a perfect copy of a CD. The DATs deliver CD-like sound quality--far superior to that of a standard cassette.
In terms of playback and recording, TCD-D3, which weighs a bit over one pound, can do just about anything a basic home deck can do. With a battery pack, you get two hours of playing time from the DAT Walkman, which can be used with earphones or hooked up to a stereo system.
Just how good is the DAT Walkman?
Judging from this reporter's tests, the sound is remarkable for such a small unit. In dynamic range, clarity and purity of sound, it's far superior to a standard Walkman. And jumping around doesn't cause it to skip.
Scott Ikier, senior consultant for the DAT Store in Santa Monica, offered his opinion: "It sounds good--for a miniaturized portable. But the sound isn't as good as the sound you get from any (non-portable) DAT home deck. With any portable you'll sacrifice sound quality. You make certain sacrifices when you miniaturize."
Right now, only a limited number of these units is available. "There are only a few hundred in the country," said Mike Freedman, president of Affordable Portables, the chain that carries the TCD-D3 in Los Angeles and Orange counties. "We don't have a lot but they've been selling fast."
Sony, with three home decks (a new one is being announced at the current Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas), the DAT Walkman and a car unit, is the leading DAT manufacturer in this country. A few others, such as JVC, Denon and Technics, also market DAT decks.
The primary DAT drawback is still price: $800 to $1,200 for the decks, $11 to $17 for blank tapes and $29 for recorded tapes. Lack of recorded software is the other major problem.
Michael Vitelli, president of Sony's personal audio products division, argues that these negatives won't deter the clientele targeted for the DAT Walkman.
"The people who can afford this machine are the high-end audiophiles who'll want it because it's an impressive machine--a hot new toy," he said.
Vitelli said that about six companies, including Sony Classical and GRP, are marketing pre-recorded DAT titles, but only about 200 titles are available. Major record companies won't consider putting out recorded DAT music until after the lawsuit is settled.