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Listen to DAT tape yourself

technofile  by al fasoldt

Columns and commentaries in a life-long dance with technology

Simple gray rule

Listen to DAT tape yourself on these new CDs

By Al Fasoldt

Copyright © 1988, The Syracuse Newspapers

When compact discs were introduced a half-dozen years ago, they were a hit with the public. But audiophiles, those sound lovers who sometimes spend thousands of dollars on each component in their hi-fi systems, were not so sure that CDs were better than regular records.

Many audiophiles hear harshness in compact discs that they don't hear in the best vinyl analog discs, and many of them have assumed that the culprit is the digital recording process itself.

But this is clearly not the case. The latest digital technique for making consumer tapes combines the best qualities of both analog and digital. Recordings made using the new system sound better than records and better than CDs.

You may be able to hear this for yourself before long. But it will only happen when the Japanese companies that make the new system decide to sell it here. It's been available in Japan for two years, and is beginning to sell in Europe. I am referring to the digital audio tape (DAT) recording format, in which a tiny cassette can record and play for two hours on special machines that look and act much the same as regular cassette recorders. Last week I reported on a DAT recorder that I borrowed from an American recording company. It was the first DAT machine I'd had a chance to test. The recorder, Sony's TCD-D10, sounded better than any other consumer tape recorder I've reviewed, and it even outperformed a professional digital tape system that I use regularly.

Making my own tapes on the Sony DAT recorder was thrilling, but what was even more exciting was the chance to listen to direct copies of studio master tapes. They were sent to me by Craig Dory, founder of Dorian Recordings, 17 State St., Troy, N.Y. (telephone 518 274-5475).

Dory mailed eight DAT cassettes duplicated from some of the masters used to create Dorian's compact discs. I did not have the CDs on hand for direct comparison, since they are just now reaching the stores. But it was immediately obvious that the DAT tapes set a new standard for audio fidelity. They also may set a new acoustic standard as well. All of Dorian's home-location recordings are made in the century-old Troy Music Hall, which some of the biggest stars in classical music have called the best-sounding concert hall in the United States. (It may even be the third-best concert hall in the world, after two sites in Europe.)

What's more, Dorian refuses to use current digital recording techniques to create master tapes. The big digital recorders used by other studios don't sound good to Craig Dory, so he makes his masters on customized professional DAT recorders. As far as I can tell, Dorian Recordings is the only company that sells CDs mastered by this superior medium.

Perhaps s "superior" is too mild a word. The direct copies I listened to were extraordinary. They were amazing.

Perhaps most astonishing is a performance of works by Stravinsky and Mussorgsky on a giant pipe organ in Zurich, Switzerland (catalog number DOR-90117). I have collected audiophile organ discs and tapes for 32 years, and have heard nothing that approaches this recording in both the power of its pedal bass and the bright, singing quality of its higher pipes. It is also noiseless, save for the whisper of the organ's blower. Dorian's Music Hall recordings include "Tchaikovsky: The Seasons" (catalog DOR-90110), a solo piano work in which the space around the instrument seems as much a part of the performance as the piano itself, and "The English Lute Song" (catalog DOR-90109), which presents one of the most delicate and haunting female voices ever recorded.

Another Dorian release, "Solid Brass at the Opera" (catalog DOR-90108), rises to the top of my list of the best brass-ensemble recordings ever issued. The 10-piece Solid Brass group has a tighter sound than the ranking champ, the Canadian Brass, does, and Dorian's effortless sonics make everything seem real. That is, after all, the point of all this technology. Flashier recordings can be bought from a dozen other companies, but you'll have to search long and hard to find discs that come close to matching the realism of Dorian's DAT-based compact discs.

Dorian recordings are available at many record shops. If you have trouble locating any in your area, call Dorian at the number listed above.

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