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“What Is The Best Way To Mixdown Hard Disk To DAT?”

From inSync reader David M: “What is the customary way of doing a mixdown from a digital hard drive recorder (mine is the Fostex DMT-8VL) to a DAT machine? If I go via an optical line, I must sacrifice any outboard effects such as compressor/limiter, because my effects loop is being used for a reverb unit. I could use the stereo out and go analog into the DAT, but is that good? What do you suggest?” Thanks for the questions David! Here are our thoughts:First of all: In general, dynamics processors like compressor/limiters are not very effective in effects loops or aux sends/returns. They are best applied either in line with the signal, or through insert points. You are probably best off leaving your reverb in the effects loop or aux send, and applying the compression elsewhere in the chain.Now to your main question(s): The most basic difference between using a digital connection, or using analog ins/outs on digital recorders is that the digital connections avoid going through extra D/A (digital to analog) and A/D (analog to digital) converters. Since converters are where most of the errors and distortions occur in the digital recording process, it is best to avoid them when possible. Having said that, given that the converters are of good quality (which the Fostex machine’s certainly are) one extra pass through is not going to degrade your signal by any significant amount. Many more passes might result in a small audible difference…On the other hand, some people LIKE the particular sound resulting from running through a given converter. We know one very tweaky engineer who runs every mix he does through a certain DAT machine’s converters TWICE. He feels it adds a certain “something” to his mixes.So, our suggestions: If you don’t need to apply any extra processing to the stereo mix, and can go digitally from machine to machine, by all means do so! This is probably the most “purist” way to do things.If you feel it is necessary to process the final mix as it goes to DAT, and the only way to do so is to use the analog connections, then go for it! You’ll have to weigh for yourself the benefits of the extra processing versus the coloration of the extra pass through the converters.Finally, if you want to really be aware of the sonic differences resulting from using digital or analog for transfers, take a few minutes and do one of each. Then compare the results in the best listening environment you can (be sure all levels are exactly equal when performing this type of comparison). If there is an appreciable difference, your ears will tell you!

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