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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Home Recording Review/BenchTest!
TASCAM DA-3000 PCM/DSD Recorder:
Perfect For Studio Pros And Audiophiles


Brevis...
Price: $1,399
Likes: DSD/PCM recording/play
Dislikes: No 352.8 or 384 sample rate
Wow Factor: number one rec/play deck
More info: TASCAM DA-3000

by John Gatski

  In January 2014, I published a first impression review of the TASCAM DA-3000 master recorder/player, the replacement for the magnificent DVRA-1000HD, the company’s previous high-end master deck with DSD and PCM recording capability. With my initial impressions’ review, I could tell that the DA-3000 offered as good, or even better, sound quality, than the DVRA-1000HD, but added more features and convenience — at a whole lot less money, ($2,099 retail vs $1,399).
  Since I have had three more months to use it, I dug in a bit deeper with this installment. Plus, my go-to bench tester, Bascom King, put the unit through a battery of tests to see if it measured up to the excellent objective parameters established by the DVRA-1000HD. (See EAN Spec-Check sidebar).

Features
  The DA-3000 is a one rack-space, Compact Flash (CF) recorder/player that supports 24-bit, up to 192 kHz PCM, and DSD at the standard 2.8 MHz (64X) and “double speed” 5.6 MHz (128X). It utilizes Burr-Brown A/D-D/A converters (same A/D as DVRA-1000HD) and sports a full array of connections — including unbalanced and balanced analog I/O, SPDIF and balanced AES/EBU PCM jacks and an optical TOSLink port. Like the DVRA-1000HD, it can also be connected to   external DSD A/D and D/A converters.
  With the trend toward SSD media, the unit eschews the DVD data recorder function of its DVRA-1000/DVRA-1000HD forbearers with CF and SD slots for recording and playback. You can even plug-in a USB drive for copying your recorded tracks for backup, or transfer to your computer for editing.
  With its smaller proportions compared to the DVRA-1000HD’s two RU size, I was worried that the DA-3000 would have tiny controls and a minuscule meter. In fact, the DA’s meter is as big, and the controls present no problem — with numerous easy-to-operate front-panel pots and buttons populating the recorder.


Recording media choices: SD and Compact Flash

  The front panel is logically laid out in its control architecture and is not over populated with knobs and buttons. From left to right are: on/off button, USB keyboard input and a USB drive port. Behind a lift down door are the CF and SD slots; you can record onto one media at a time. The 24-segment LED meter cascades its light in green, orange and red LEDS, starting at -60 dB. The main display consists of white LEDS with large characters, providing info — such as track time time remaining sample rate, word length, input gain, all easy to read. An “Info” button push, gives you track status and input output data.
  As with the DVRA-1000HD, the transport buttons make the DA-3000 as easy to use as a tape deck. Stop, Play, Pause, Record and Track Forward and Track Back set the deck in motion, so to speak. The Track Forward/Back keys also double as track search — forward or backward — when you hold either button.
  The DA-3000 also includes an excellent headphone amplifier, which I believe is smoother sounding than the DVRA-1000 HD — without losing any detail. If you are recording and or playing back hi-res audio, the headphone amp and the line outs are indeed audiophile quality.
  Around back are a plethora of connections including analog balanced and unbalanced I/0, digital AES/EBU balanced XLR I/O and SPDIF RCA I/O. The DA-3000 also sports SDIFF DSD digital input/output via BNC, as well as synch clock BNC I/O.


                                                DA-3000 I/O

  One major connection advantage of the DA-3000, vs. the DVRA-1000HD, is the new deck’s ability to make a D-D connection on a single wire with 176-kHz and 192-kHz sample rates. The DA-3000 can digitally connect via SPDIF or AES/EBU to another recorder or player, A/D or D/A — at those sample rate frequencies. The old DVRA-1000HD would transmit up to 24/96 via one wire on either AES/EBU or SPDIF, but required a two-wire AES/EBU balanced cable hook up for 176/192. It was a pro audio connection scheme that never really caught on, and was my biggest gripe about the DVRA-1000. It frustrated me to no end when I could not dub 24/192 audio from another source with the DVRA, or use an external A/D or D/A. Not so with the DA-3000. I can link it with any 24/192 device.
  Though it is significantly less money than the old DVRA-1000HD, which sold for about $1,600, the DA-3000‘s design and parts selection are still first rate — with Burr-Brown converters (PCM4202 A/D and PCM1795 D/A), and JRC NJM2114 and TI NE5532 op-amps in the audio path. The DA-3000 utilizes a EI core transformer with separate sections for analog and digital. TASCAM points out that the DA-3000 is fan-less to prevent potential noise in the audio band, and, of course, the annoying external fan whoosh that accompanies forced cooling.
  The DA-3000 also includes an IR remote to also operate the basic record and play functions.

Operation Feature
  Via the OS software and a push of the function button, the DA-3000 is chock full of setup parameters, including A/D-D/A direct (converter only), input gain adjustment, input selection, PCM word length/sample rate, mono/stereo, DSD recording (2.8 MHz/5.6MHz), cascade function for simultaneously recording more than two tracks via multiple DA-3000s, sync recording, media format, track delete, track rename, oscillator tone for ref level, ref level adjust, and internal/external clock. Other control functions include keyboard setup (Japan or USA), and media copy (CF to SD, SD to CF, CF/SD to USB drive).

Easy to read LED meter

  The track names, by default, are automatically generated based on a number and the date. You can also use the track rename mode and overwrite the default date/track name after you record the track by going through the rename function. The rename is enabled by turning the function button and then pushing it when the desired letter, or number, is selected. However, since one knob is used to select a letter, one at a time, with a push of the control button, it’s like texting from a flip phone; it take a bit of time, I quickly learned to create track names via an external keyboard connected through the designated USB port on the front panel.
  Once you have the desired input selected and connection routing, you are ready to record. Though there are a lot adjustments you can make, just setting the PCM/DSD format, input, and input gain, gets you going in a hurry.

The audition
  I am such a fan of TASCAM recorders that I never doubted that the DA-3000 would be something special. Luckily, I had my trusty DVRA-1000HD for comparison. I also own numerous A/D and D/A converters. Thus, I was able to quickly get a read on its audio caliber.
  My first test was a PCM A/D dub at 24/192 of the Tom Jung recorded Warren BernhardtSo Real jazz SACD from the early 1990s. This live-to-two-track recording projects a great sense of space — with a lot of transient energy in the piano and drum cymbals. Lesser recorder A/Ds often notch down the space and make the treble bits a little more hidden. The DVRA-1000HD always did a good job dubbing this recording, and I expected the same with the new deck.
  As with the DVRA-1000HD, the DA-3000 captured every little bit of nuance: reverb tails, room sound, and that Steinway piano upper-register complexity that I hear on the source SACD. The PCM conversion process did not add any appreciable artifacts or harshness. Via the headphone amp, the DA-3000 sounded smoother in the midrange and low-treble than the DVRA-1000HD’s HP output; I could monitor via the cans for more extended sessions than with the DVRA-1000HD.

DA-3000 uses Burr-Brown A/D-D/A converters

  Next up, I recorded my Martin J40 acoustic with a Shure KSM-141 stereo pair of microphones through a True System P2 mic preamp (one of the best ever made, in my opinion) to 24/192. I then recorded the same music sample in DSD — at both speeds.
  The PCM's sonic result was excellent. Lots of width and space in the imaging and the pick/string reverb tails and woody tones were very accurate. Not a bit of hard edge. The PCM A/D has a neutral accuracy that is demonstrated through the internal DAC, as well as playback through several external DACS, such as the Benchmark DAC2-D, Mytek Stereo 192-DSD and TASCAM’s, consumer sibling TEAC UD-501 D/A.
  Since I ran the first review in January, numerous audio pros and audiophiles have asked me about the DA-3000’s DAC quality, via the XLR analog outputs. After repeated listening sessions, I would say that a top-tier separate DAC might net you a subtle amount of increased stereo space, detail and smoothness on some recordings, but the difference is not night and day. And remember, some standalone DACs sell for 2x-3x the price of the all-in-one DA-3000. This is not a low-end, compromised recorder/player rig. It is the real deal.

All this and DSD, too
  The DSD-direct recordings I made of the same guitar sample were high caliber as well. The difference between 2.8 MHz and 5.6 MHz oversampling was difficult to hear on acoustic guitar. DSD’s smooth, analog-like texture were obvious in both modes. But with other kinds of instruments, the 5.6 MHz recorded sample seemed slightly tighter in the bass. On dubbed pop recordings, I thought the 5.6 MHz DSD kick drum and electric bass were tighter as well, and I ended up preferring the higher speed for that reason. But in other recordings— violin, cello and piano — I could not tell a difference.
  Either way, though if you want to use DSD for original direct-to-stereo recordings, archiving, making DSD downmixs of analog multitracks, the TASCAM DA-3000 is one of the few DSD recorders available. Korg no longer makes a standalone DSD recorder, and the new handheld Sony PCM-D100 it is more of a field recorder with fewer connection options.

A fine audiophile player
  Home audio recordists and audiophile will love this deck, too. You can use it to archive your cherished vinyl, copy your SACDs and DVD-As, or use it to play your high-res download tracks. It will play up to 192 kHz PCM and discrete DSD (no DoP).
  To reveal its LP-recording versatility, I made a nice DSD dub of Wes Montgomery — Full House audiophile LP, played via a Clear Audio turntable, by feeding a Rogue Model 99 Magnum tube preamp’s fixed analog output into the DA-3000, which was set to record at DSD double speed, 5.6MHz oversampling. The live feel of the jazz guitar and the drum cymbals were captured clearly by the DA-3000, as played through the internal DAC.

The standalone stereo deck’s ease of operation, excellent converters, good-sounding headphone amp and the ability to record and play high-resolution PCM and dual-speed DSD, just can’t be beat.

  The quality of the TASCAM’s DSD A/D was also confirmed by playback through the Mytek Stereo 192-DSD DAC, which relays a smidgen more openness than the TASCAM. Still, the TASCAM DSD internal DAC is first rate — especially when you consider this baby sells at $999 street price and the Mytek DAC is $1,600.
  I also made a killer digital 24/192 dub of Isao Suzuki Trio / QuartetBlow Up LP, the original record from 1973. This one of my favorite vinyl LPs, sonically, and the jazz recording’s dynamic range was translated perfectly by the TASCAM. (I made the recording even better, once I got the tracks into my workstation. I deleted all the surface noise from the record’s track gaps. All the wonderful vinyl sound preserved, and no audible surface noise. Yay!)

Play those computer tracks
  I found the DA-3000 a fine, capable audiophile player for all my computer download music from HD Tracks, Acoustic Sounds, 2L, Blue Coast, etc. Just drag the tracks on to a SD, CF or USB. Pop the media into the DA-3000, and sit back and listen to native DSD and PCM.
  On the Jason MarazLove is A Four Letter Word album projects a much wider image in in 24/96 with a juicy bass signature on nearly every cut. Through the unbalanced or balanced XLRS outputs, the DA-3000‘s sonics were clean and noise free. Fleetwood Mac’s 24/96 HD Tracks transfer of Rumours was just as good played from the DA-3000 as the original DVD-A version played from my Oppo BDP-95 and an external DAC. The DA-3000 did a fine job of conveying the wide spread of instrument and vocal layers in this classic recording

Dislikes?
No major major criticisms with the DA-3000; it exceeded my expectation considering how much less it costs and mow much more you get in the feature set versus its predecessor, the DVRA-1000HD. The only niggle I have against the DA-3000 is that TASCAM should have gone the extra step of adding sample rate support for up to 384 kHz. Their consumer company TEAC, had a fantastic DAC the UD-501 that goes out to 384 kHz. I think that 352.8 kHz (DXD) and 384 kHz sample rate audio is PCM with the a smoothness a DSD, but with all the detail PCM is known for. It is not widely used, though 2L records natively at DXD and makes those albums available online. I would like to see TASCAM give the DA-3000 the option to record and playback with the ultra-high sample rates. We’ll just go through the CFs a bit faster; 10 minutes of DXD is over 1 GB of drive space.

  As with the DVRA-1000HD, the DA-3000 captured every little bit of nuance: reverb tails room sound, and that Steinway piano upper-register complexity that I hear on the source SACD.

  Speaking of CF, it might seem a bit old school, but TASCAM selected it as the primary media for the DA-3000 because of its robustness. Many broadcast- and cinema-sound audio recordists still use CF-based recorders, which TASCAM makes as well. The SD option is there, but TASCAM pro audio products spokesman Dan Montecalvo said CF is less likely to fail than other portable media. I have been using CF recorders — since 2005 when I obtained a TASCAM HDP2 portable 24/192 CF recorder. Only had one CF glitch in the nine years of constant use.
  I have used standalone stereo digital recorders since the early 2000‘s from the original DVRA-1000, two models from Korg, and now the DA-3000 and they have always performed without any operational glitches. Since 2006, my two DVRA-1000s have been 100 percent reliable. They always record when I hit the buttons, and the audio is always there when push play. I expect the same from the DA-3000.

The verdict
  I can’t say enough good things about the TASCAM DA-3000. Since I am always recording or dubbing in some fashion — whether dubbing other media, backing up or live recording — the DA-3000 has quickly become my primary recorder in the home studio. The standalone stereo deck’s ease of operation, excellent converters, good-sounding headphone amp and the ability to record and play high-resolution PCM and dual-speed DSD, just can’t be beat. Every audio enthusiast ought to own one of these.
  Pros will like it, no doubt, but the home audio recording enthusiast will likely want one a DA-3000 as well. For $1,000, you get an easy-to-operate, tape deck-like functionality — with all that quality recording flexibility. Imagine making your own DSD recording of your fancy Steinway. Plus the DA-3000 is a dam good hi-res music player. Play your favorite PCM and DSD downloads, or the music you have recorded or dubbed.
  After much use, it is our opinion, that no product deserves an Everything Audio Network Stellar Sound Award more than the DA-3000. It is that good. I plan to buy two. One for the audiophile rack and one for the recording rig.

  John Gatski is publisher/owner of the Everything Audio Network©Articles on this site are the copyright of the Everything Audio NetworkAny unauthorized use, via print or Internet, without written permission is prohibited.



EAN SpecCheck!
TASCAM DA-3000
BHK Labs

  The TASCAM DV-3000 is a versatile CF/SD card based recorder with additional A/D and D/A I/O capability. PCM sample rates and resolutions up to 24/192 and DSD files at 64X and 128X are supported.
  As my Audio Precision SYS 2722 measuring machine doesn’t generate or receive DSD files, most measurements were made in the A/A (Analog in/Analog out) mode as this allows the overall results of recording and playing back in the DSD mode to be most easily seen.
  Frequency response at 0 dBFS input signal level at sample rates of 44.1, 96.0, and 192.0 kHz and emphasizing the HF rolloff characteristic is shown plotted in Figure 1. The response in the 5.6 mHz (128X) DSD mode has less attenuation than the 24/192 PCM response above about 80 kHz. When the DSD mode is set for the 2.8 MHz mode, the HF response is different and this comparison is shown in Figure 1A. Low frequency response was the same between the DSD and PCM modes — down about 0.3 dB at 10 Hz. The exception was at the 44.1 kHz PCM sample rate where the LF response was down about 0.8 dB at 10 Hz.
  A representative measurement of 1 kHz THD+N vs. decreasing input level for the DSD mode is plotted in Figure 2. The results with the PCM mode were about the same. There is a significant difference between the channels but in the 22 kHz measurement bandwidth, the noise floor is quite good – being that this is the combined response of the A/D and D/A process.
  The THD+N vs. frequency and level were measured in a 22 kHz measurement bandwidth at a PCM sample rate and bit density of 24/192. If the measurement bandwidth was opened up, out of audio band noise raises the readings and obscures the distortion. This is shown in Figure 3. The same kind of measurement in the A/D mode is plotted in Figure 3A.
  Adjacent channel separation was quite good (but not quite as good as I have seen with some other digital devices) and was essentially the same in both directions. The results for the A/A mode and the A/D mode were similar with amount of separation reducing to about 94 dB at 20 kHz. This is plotted in Figure 4 for 24/192 PCM mode. Not surprising as the analog signal path was not involved, the separation in the D/A mode was somewhat better — about 110 dB at 20 kHz. Deviation from linearity was measured in all three modes. In the A/A mode, it was within 1 dB — down to -120 dBFS in both 24/192 PCM and the DSD 5.6 modes. In the both the A/D and D/A modes, it was within 1 dB down to – 130 dBFS.
  In the A/A mode, dynamic range and signal to noise in a 22 kHz bandwidth in both the DSD and PCM modes were about 110 dB. In the A/D mode, the dynamic range and signal to noise ratios were 114 dB. In the D/A mode, numbers were better, closer to 118 dB.
  Overall, the DA-3000 bench result indicate very good record and playback performance in PCM and both speeds of DSD. It is more impressive when you consider the price point and features — all contained in one machine.

                                                                                       —Bascom King


Figure 1
 A/A frequency response in PCM and DSD modes - DBFS:
Magenta = DSD 5.6 MHz; Red = PCM 24/192; Blue = PCM 24/96;
 Cyan = 24/44.1


Figure 1A

A/A frequency response in DSD mode: 2.8, 5.6 mHz at DBFS:
 Magenta = 2.8 mHz, Red = 5.6 mHz

 Figure 2
A/A frequency response:
 1 kHz THD+N vs. Decreasing input signal,
 DSD mode: 5.6 MHz. R/L Ch. measured, Red = L, Blue = R.

Figure 3
A/A THD+N vs. frequency and level in 24/192 PCM  mode:
  Red = 0 dBFS; Magenta = -5 dBFS; Blue =-10 dBFS

Figure 3A
A/D THD+N vs. frequency and level in 24/192 PCM mode:
  Red = 0 dBFS; Magenta = -5 dBFS; Blue =-10 dBFS; -20 dBFS

Figure 4
A/A Channel separation vs. frequency in both directions
 PCM 24/192 mode:
  Red – L > R and Magenta = R < L directions







  

2 comments:

tompat said...

Hi John,

Thanks so much for your very detailed and insightful review of the Tascam DA 3000 !
I just got my DA 3000 a few weeks ago, and I can only share your observations on the amazing DAC and general audio quality…
I actually bought the DA after using a high end Sony MD player as my recording tool for more than 10 years.)) Currently, my digital file player is the Bryston BDP 2, in connection with the Bryston DAC “BDA2”…
I basically wanted a machine which allows me to archive some of my vinyl records, DVD Audio as well as SACDs, as well as for recording from selected internet Jazz channels…WhenI first played the scam via theRCA outputs i.e. using its internal DAC), it was blown away
by the gutsy and dimensional sound, compared to my Bryston standalone DAC…The BDA seems maybe a little wider in the soundstage, but I love the bass quality and punch of the scam DAC…Even when I use the SPDIF out tom the Tascam into the BDA,
the ascam seems to have a bit more character, compared to paling the same rule from the BDP to the sae Dac….very addictive…))

What is your experience with “recording” Dvd Audio Vinyl or even Blueray soundtrack to the Tascam sir..? I somehow didn’t get the punch and imaging which I was hoping form , especially when recording fro Blueray via SPDIF from my Opp 105.. Would you prefer SPDIF,
or maybe better balanced analogue output from the Opps into the Tascam..? I always thought its better to have as little conversion as possible, i.e. direct digital stream is the best….and I guess to select “Stereo PCM” on the Blueray player and not the surround or DTS master modes.?
Do you like to record in 96 khz or even higher, or even in DSD ? I don’t always hear the major advantage of anything higher than 96 kHz honestly… but I am not such a big expert….IS it worthwhile to use so uch discspace for formats which were actually not recorded in such high
rex formats in the first place.?

The biggest drawback of the Tascam is in my view the data management, i.e. it is not network enabled….and theres no web inter face….IT also doesn’t have shuffle play, and no auto fader function.. Also, the remote feels cheap and crappy…. agree.?:))

Thanks very much for your thought and recommendations !

Cheers and kind regards from Singapore,


Thomas Forster

John Gatski said...

A letter from a reader via everything.audio@verizon.net:

Hi John: 
Just purchased the TASCAM DA-3000 to a great extent based on your 4/16/14 review as it was great to hear your comparisons to the TASCAM DV RA 1000s.  Also have owned the Alesis Masterlink and currently have a TASCAM DV RA-1000 HD.  Thought your review was well written, entertaining, and objective.  Still playing with/learning about the DA-3000 and having a ball!  Keep those reviews coming and thank you!
 
Bob Edwards
Manchester-by-the-Sea, MA