The DA-3000 is a high-quality, stereo, digital master recorder capable of both PCM (up to 24-bit, 192 kHz) and DSD (2.8 and 5.6 MHz) operation, and it can also function as a standalone A/D and D/A converter. It is an elegant 1RU-height unit with an intuitive, even enjoyable, interface that makes it easy to record to SD and CompactFlash cards, as well as USB drives. You can plug in a USB keyboard to facilitate typing in track names, but even without it, the unit is easy to get around. LED metering on the front panel is clear and very useful.

I was interested in this recorder because I am now recording, mixing, capturing, and archiving at higher sample rates in anticipation of the need to deliver these formats for market in the near future. The DA-3000 is a great unit for anyone who wants to record at any sample-rate without any detectable audio degradation and with very neutral conversion — which makes it a versatile machine within our newly-shifting digital landscape.

The more I experiment with higher sample-rates, the more I'm learning that different converters simply perform differently at different sample-rates, and — as might be expected — some begin to falter audibly up at 192 kHz. In my experience, the newer the design and the higher the price of a converter, the better it tends to perform at higher sample-rates. Given this discrepancy between converters, I was suspicious of the DA-3000 because it only costs $999. However, at all sample- rates and in both PCM and DSD modes, the DA-3000 sounds very neutral; what goes in comes back out relatively unchanged. I conducted my tests printing mixes directly from my console's output, and also while doing direct conversions to digital from 1/2'' master tapes. Set for 192 kHz PCM operation or at either of its DSD bit-rates, the DA-3000 is almost undetectable from the analog source. I can't stress enough how "faithful to source" the DA-3000 is, especially in DSD mode where I could not discern it from the analog source at all when listening to very familiar source material.

Also, over long stretches of time listening to the DA-3000, I didn't develop any annoyances or distastes, as I sometimes do once I've allowed myself deeper, more passive immersion in the sound of a piece of equipment. The DA-3000 is consistently neutral and easy on the ears.

Routing with the DA-3000 is exceptionally flexible. Analog I/O is available on balanced (+4 dBu) XLR connectors and unbalanced (-10 dBV) RCA. PCM digital I/O is on XLR for AES/EBU and RCA for S/PDIF. DSD is on BNC for SDIF-3. BNC connectors are also used for word clock in and thru/out. Multiple DA-3000s can be cascaded together for synchronized multitrack use.

Once you have your routing sorted out, setting up the DA-3000 is simply a matter of choosing your format, sample-rate, and bit-depth (in PCM modes); and setting your input reference level. Menu-accessible reference levels are extremely handy for calibrating the unit to work with the rest of your chain instantly, without fussy calibration screws and time-consuming twiddling. Reference levels are -20, -18, -16, -14, and -9 dB, which should cover most standard modern studio calibrations. Once your reference level is set, you can then tweak the individual input levels for left and right channels independently in 0.1 dB increments — very handy for subtle adjustments to stereo recording levels where other parts of the chain might be less than perfectly calibrated.

Once those settings are done, you just hit Record and off you go. When you press Stop, the file is stored on whichever memory option you've selected (SD, CompactFlash, or USB drive). Then you can take the file and do whatever you like with it, manipulating and renaming it in the DA-3000, or elsewhere. File management is all much simpler than I thought it would be, largely due to the portable memory cards eliminating the need to interface any computer with the DA-3000 directly.

The DA-3000 can also operate as a standalone ADDA converter. By simply entering this mode via the menu system, the unit bypasses its recording function. Selecting the analog inputs and digital inputs via the menu sets the routing up, and one can work in either PCM or DSD mode as needed. It was simple to get the DA-3000 into ADDA mode, set reference level, and start working with it via AES I/O in Pro Tools HD. Clocking the DA-3000 to my Crane Song HEDD [Tape Op #26] (which is the master clock in my studio) was easy enough, and once locked, it was rock solid. Sound-wise, again, the DA-3000 is very neutral and sounds great. It sounded slightly different clocked to my HEDD, and very well suited as a companion to my other converters.

The DA-3000 also has an onboard audio oscillator, which is handy in any number of situations, especially if you need to calibrate and align tape machines and/or other converters, but don't have a dedicated oscillator on hand. For now, the DA-3000 provides 10 kHz, 1 kHz, and 440 Hz tones, but TASCAM may consider adding 100 Hz and other tones for tape calibration purposes in future firmware upgrades.

There's an excellent sounding headphone amp on the front with an independent volume control on the front panel. If you consider the routing options and that you can set the DA-3000 to monitor input with near-zero latency, it's easy to see that this unit can stand in as a very useful headphone amp when needed.

There are so many uses for a small, affordable, excellent- sounding stereo master recorder that I won't even bother speculating on how folks might use this device, but I do want to address again my belief that the demand for masters delivered at higher sample-rates will continue to grow as we go forward. Among those who want to "future proof" their work, the DA-3000 provides an easy and affordable way to capture your work at the highest sample-rates in both PCM and DSD formats without any undesirable artifacts, and with sound nearly indistinguishable from the original master source, which — if we're lucky — may be just what people are looking for when they buy music in the future!

Tape Op is a bi-monthly magazine devoted to the art of record making.

Or Learn More