Pioneer, as its name implies, has often been at the forefront of innovative formats and technologies. It produced various excellent turntables in the 1970s, ranging from the PL-12D budget deck in 1974 to the PL-L1000 high-end parallel tracker in 1978. It was a big shot in cassette, too, making decks that pushed the format to the limit and gave it that all-important audiophile respectability. Its open reel tape decks (RT-707, RT-909) led the way in user-friendliness thanks to superb quartz-locked, direct drive auto-reverse transports, and it was a big shot in cassette too, making decks that pushed the format to the limit and gave it that all-important audiophile respectability (CTF-950, CTF-1000). Then there came the LaserDisc, which Pioneer almost created on its own.
When Digital Audio Tape was introduced in 1987, it came as no surprise that the corporation was enthusiastic about the new format. In April of that year, the business released its first product, the D-1000. It looked and sounded the part, built like a lead-clad brick outhouse and finished in traditional eighties black with rosewood side-cheeks. Pioneer followed up with the D-900, then the D-50 and D-80, all of which featured more slimline nineties style and sleeker ergonomics. All of these were successful, but Pioneer’s first genuine foray into the big league came in October 1992, when the business came up with a brilliant notion…
The D-07 was inspired by analogue tape’s early days. Marantz introduced a cassette deck in the late 1970s that allowed users to choose between two speeds: 4.75cm/s or 9.5cm/s. Double speed obviously utilized the tape twice as fast, but it provided incredible sound quality, especially with the (at the time) new metal tape formulations. Pioneer did the same with the D-07, which corresponded to increasing the sampling frequency from DAT’s normal 48kHz to 96kHz in the digital world. As a result, the first ‘Super DAT’ recorder was born.
Bit depth and sample frequency are the two factors that influence the quality of a digital recording. The former controls the frequency response and – indirectly – high frequency distortion, while the latter determines the dynamic range and resolution of the sound. Raising the sample rate shifts the upper end of the frequency range (where PCM is most ragged and prone to distortion) away from the audio band, resulting in a smoother, more natural, and atmospheric sound. While Pioneer couldn’t extend DAT’s bit depth beyond sixteen bits without voiding its warranty, adding a front-panel button that allowed customers to increase the sampling frequency to 96kHz was a brilliant ruse. Users may choose 48kHz (or 44.1kHz or 32kHz) in accordance with DAT’s existing requirements, but they could even double the data rate for exceptionally high-quality recordings. The trade-off was that the tape’s playing length was cut in half, but a 120-minute DAT tape would still provide an hour of continuous recording, so it wasn’t all bad.
S-DAT wasn’t compatible with all DAT machines, unlike Sony’s Super Bit Mapping (SBM) technology, which dithered the least significant bit to squeeze a little more out of DAT’s 16bit digital word, but it delivered considerably better results. The flat frequency curve from 25 to 44,000Hz produced a remarkably smooth and open sound — considerably superior to Compact Disc and any competing DAT machine.
You’ll have to look hard these days to find a D-07. Although the majority of them remain in Japan, they do occasionally appear in Europe and the United States as recording studios or home musicians sell their equipment. When it was new, it was a large (440x141x375mm), hefty (8kg), and expensive (£1,500) equipment, so don’t expect to obtain it for free. If you can find a good one for under £200, you’ll have a fantastically effective way of recording analogue music as well as a nostalgic curio.