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Thread: Audio adventures in SCSI DAT

  1. #1
    Join Date: Dec 2009

    Location: Hadrians Wall

    Posts: 313

    Default Audio adventures in SCSI DAT

    I've always wanted to audio enable a SCSI DDS drive but it was always one of those 'maybe one day' projects until Nick (Beechwoods) reinvigorated my desire towards the end of last year. I've always been worried about buying a second hand thrashed DDS drive, and that's put me off a little. However, one fortuitous ebay purchase later, I was the proud owner of a brand new Sony SDT-9000 DDS-3 drive.

    .


    Cost? 99p Yes, that's under a pound, and even with postage, it still came to under £8.00

    Although it would have been a lot easier to mount this internally, I wanted it as an external drive. Fleebay to the rescue again with a brand new self-powered SCSI external enclosure, and a new mounting kit.

    .


    And an Adaptec 2940 SCSI PCI card.

    And this is where I had to put my thinking cap on. The Sony DDS drive is 50 pin, the SCSI enclosure has Centronics connectors and the SCSI card has a 68 pin external connector. So what I did was buy a 68 pin to 50 pin adaptor and a two meter 68 pin cable. The cable plugs into the SCSI card at one end, and into the adapter at the other. The adapter plugs into the back of the Sony drive. The only problem with this is that there isn't enough room in the enclosure behind the drive to plug in the cable and adapter. So I had to move the power supply in the enclosure, loose the back panel and hard wire a mains lead in, with a flying mains switch wired into the cable to turn the unit on and off.


    I also installed some 12V blue LEDS into the drive which light up when the power is on. Not that I particularly like Blue LEDS, but it does match the LEDs in my External Hard drives. Oh, don't forget to say hello to Spongebobs friend Gary the snail


    That was the easy bit. Now to get it working! Three things are needed software wise. Drivers, firmware, and software to read the audio off the DAT tapes.

    DDS drives, although they use the same (similar) tape and mechanisms as DAT drives, are not audio capable out of the box. Not all DDS drives can be turned into audio drives, and even those that can, it's a bit hit and miss and there's no guarantees. Although the Sony SDT-9000 can be audio enabled, apparently there's 4 versions of this drive, not all can be audio enabled, and you don't know which version it is until you buy it. Good luck!

    Thankfully, I bought a good 'un

    I installed the Adaptec ASPI drivers. But even this wasn't straightforward. The latest drivers (V4.8)didn't want to play ball, and neither did the previous version (4.71). 4.6 did though and it's quite stable (in my Xp SP3).


    Some people can't get any of the standard ASPI drivers to work, in which case there's FrogASPI. It's all trial and error!

    I then upgraded the standard Microsoft DDS driver with the Sony Version.


    One quick mention about SCSI. It isn't plug and play like USB. Each connected device has an id which must be set manually. The SCSI card is usually id7 and my DDS drive is id0, and it's on bus 6. Also, each connected device needs to be electrically terminated. Thankfully though my SCSI card is self terminating. Anyway, on with the show. . . .

    At the back of the DDS drive there's various jumpers that need setting, and on the bottom there's 4 dip switches. It took me some investigation & web searching to find which settings to use . . . If you use the wrong ones you risk blowing the drive up, so it's important to get it right!

    The standard DDS firmware (mine was 6.01) doesn't work with audio DAT. So the drive has to be flashed. So using the Sony Tape Tool I flashed the drive to audio firmware 12.2. It worked. If you get this far then the DDS drive will probably work as an audio drive, but remember, there's no guarantees, even if you do get this far! Also once you have flashed the drive with the audio firmware, it's no longer a data drive. By-by DDS, hello DAT [edit: apparently the drive is still data capable, see Nicks post below]

    Software. You need this to be able to play and save the tracks on your DAT tape! Now because audio DAT from DDS drives was never supported, there's no official software out there. But there is a fair amount of freeware, alpha and beta, and there's even a prog still in development (windat). because I have a windows PC I don't know about what MAC software there is, but there are some progs written for Mac OS.

    For windows there's 4 progs. Dat2Wav, the most common, is a command line prog that will let you play, record to and transfer audio from DAT onto your PC as .wav files. vdat is an elusive windows UI prog which is usually only available in the trial version, however there's now a fully functioning version of VDAT available free. DAT Deck is the third windows prog. It's an alpha build and development ceased years ago, so most of the functions don't work, but it's ok if you only want to play DAT tapes that were recorded in 48kHz.

    The fourth Prog is also a windows UI prog, and it's a new one that's still in part-time development. It's called WinDAT and allows you to save the contents of a DAT tape to .wav

    Here's a screenshot of all four progs in action:








    Actually, I'm very lucky because all four progs work fine for me. There's no guarantees in this game and some progs work for some people, some for others. Again, this is all trial and error. It depends on your drive and SCSI card. One problem I have found is that sometimes if you put in a tape that's been fully rewound the drive won't recognise it. This is because DDS tapes have a special leader tape at the start which DDS drives recognise. Ordinary DAT tapes don't have this special leader tape. So I just fast forward the tape past the leader

    Because Dat2Wav is a command line prog, and the one I'm using most, I've written some batch files, with links on my desktop so two clicks and it opens the prog and does what I want it to, either play a tape or save the contents as individual tracks or as one complete .wav file.


    If anyone wants the Audio DAT icons, or details on how to make the batch files, just pm me.

    But how does it sound?

    I have compared the sound from the computer DAT drive with my Sony DTC-77ES Dat recorder. Using the coax out from my motherboard into the 77ES, I can make a direct comparison. But there's 7 or so metres of 75ohm coax to take into account between my pc and the 77ES.

    I'm afraid I'm still in the WOW! stage. I've wanted a SCSI DAT drive for years and I'm still like someone let loose in a sweet shop with it all. I think this is maybe affecting my perception of the sound quality.

    Listening both through headphones and the speakers, and trying to match the levels as much as possible, I think the SCSI DAT drive sounds more immediate, more up front. It appears to have more sparkle, deeper bass, and clearer mids. Comparing the two DAT transports (which is in effect what I'm doing), the SCSI DAT drive sounds better. However, I'm also aware that the sound is akin to a slight 'loudness' curve/button. Because I'm still in the WOW! phase, at this point I don't feel I can make an objective comparison.

    Overall though, it's been a very exciting and fruitful project for me, and I can at last transfer DATs directly to my PC at 4x speed. All for a total cost (including postage) of £38.36. I'm aware that I've been very lucky in the fact that it works, and works as well as it does. Not everyone is so lucky! And I'm very grateful to Nick (Beechwoods) for inspiring me to do this.

    The software, including the elusive VDAT prog and the new WinDAT prog is available from http://tech.groups.yahoo.com/group/datheads2wav/ which is a technical group for those trying to audio enable DDS drives.

    Kris.
    Last edited by Kris; 01-02-2010 at 13:14. Reason: Spelling mistakes etc

  2. #2
    Join Date: May 2008

    Location: Bristol, UK

    Posts: 9,815
    I'm Nick.

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    Well done Kris! Getting a DDS drive working as an audio-DAT playback device can be a real head-scratcher so full marks for tenacity! I hope your write up might inspire others who want to get their audio-DATs onto their PCs without any intermediate steps. The key thing is that a DDS drive lets you 'rip' the data directly to WAV or AIFF - no jitter or whatever caused by conversion to SPDIF etc. DDS drives also have a different approach to error correction, allowing you to set the software to retry frame errors to attempt a good read. Because they're designed to do this faster than real time it could account for why you perceieve an audible difference on playback.

    Interestingly, I've had people comment at how good my DAT transfers are. People who have heard numerous digital transfers of the same source. They describe the difference in the same way you have. I find it intriguing because this method of ripping a DAT should be the 'shortest path' approach with least potential for imposing anything additional onto the signal. I think it really does get you closer the the music

    I've got an SDT-9000 hooked up to my Mac running OX 10.5 at the moment. I use a SCSI to Firewire adapter and the Mac sees it as a Firewire drive. On the Mac I use DATXtract, which is a great GUI frontend which reads the DAT to an AIFF file. No realtime playback or record functionality, though that may come later. I used to use it on a PC with DAT2WAV and created some little BAT files to play, read, record files. The record functionality in DAT2WAV is excellent - and it writes at 2x realtime

    The only other thing I'd add is that Firmware 12.2 audio-enables an SDT-9000 but it still allows the machine to be used as a standard DAT drive. I've played around using Dantz Retrospect OSX backup software to backup data to DDS3 tape using my SDT-9000 and it's worked fine. The audio software you use tells the drive to switch to 'audio mode' but it's naturally left in 'data mode'.

    DATMan who created DAT2WAV also did some software for Windows which allows you to mount your DDS drive as a normal 'drive' in Windows. It also allows non-linear as well as sequential read/write. Can't remember the name of the proggy but it'll be free on their site these days. I had it working with a bit of sweat some years ago!

    Cheers
    Nick
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  3. #3
    Join Date: Feb 2009

    Location: Bristol, UK

    Posts: 669
    I'm Peter.

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    Hmmm. Looks complicated. But, maybe I should think a bit more seriously about going down this route. I love using my TASCAM to do transfers of my DATs. But, if a SCSI drive will do better transfers, then I need to put some serious thought in engaging in battle with one!
    Peter

  4. #4
    Join Date: Dec 2009

    Location: Hadrians Wall

    Posts: 313

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    Thanks for that Nick. I stand corrected on the ability for an audio firmware flashed drive to still function as a data drive, I had read that it was not.

    DDS drives also have a different approach to error correction, allowing you to set the software to retry frame errors to attempt a good read. Because they're designed to do this faster than real time it could account for why you perceieve an audible difference on playback.
    Yes, could well be. Using the /errorcorrect switch in dat2wav, it's interesting to see the messages show that when errors are found, the tape will rewind a frame or so and reread it multiple times with different error correction flags until it gets a clean read or corrects the error. I suppose that because these are primarily data drives, the error correction is far superior to ordinary DAT recorders.

    Although it is complicated Peter, it may well be worth your while to go down this route. And there's always people willing to help if you get stuck along the way! As Nick says, it's a direct (and therefore better) approach to transferring DAT tapes, especially with the more advanced error correction.

    Kris.
    Last edited by Kris; 01-02-2010 at 13:23.

  5. #5
    Join Date: Feb 2009

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    I'm Peter.

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    Yes, I think you are right. Nick's endorsement also carries a lot of weight.

    Was there a particular reason why you bought that drive? Were you looking specifically for that make, or was it the price that swung it?

    Or, to put it another way, what should I be looking for? I think I would put it straight into my PC, rather than convert it to an external drive, so that might make things a bit easier (?)
    Peter

  6. #6
    Join Date: Dec 2009

    Location: Hadrians Wall

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    The Sony SDT-9000 DDS-3 is one of the few drives that is known to work (the other is the Conner/Seagate CTD-8000/4326NT). So I was on the lookout for the Sony. There's always quite a few on ebay. It was a no-brainer to buy the NOS one. These very rarely come to market as NOS! Buy the newest one you can find, preferably with low head hours and in excellent condition. The older ones have the Conectronics connectors (give them a miss), the newest ones 50 pin connectors, so you can just connect it straight to a newish SCSI card with a standard 50 pin internal SCSI cable. Again you need to find a late generation SCSI card. The Adaptec 2940 is fine and others have got it to work no problem and is self-terminating, which is important as it means you don't need to bother with active terminators.

    There's two different chips in the Sony drives, and there's no way to check which you've got until you open it up or plug it in. One chip works better as an audio drive than the other apparently. (My drive is Revision A3, Rev A2 works as well apparently, so try and find out which revision your drive is before you buy it, as it'll increase your chances of it working as an audio DAT drive. That said the A0 with the AHA-chip works as well. It's all trial and error, there's no guarantees, so be prepared for failure in case the worse happens!).

    I've got the details of the jumper and dip switch settings if you need them, as I say I did a lot of research into that.

    Good luck! Shout if you get stuck, Nick and I will help you. The datheads2wav technical group is a good place to go for info and downloads as well. There's an informative video of one of the group trying to get a Connor drive working at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9nuDQc05wz8

    Kris.
    Last edited by Kris; 01-02-2010 at 14:34.

  7. #7
    Join Date: Jan 2008

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    I'm AudioAl'sArbiterForPISHANTO.

    Thumbs up Fabulous work!

    Hi Kris,

    I'd just like to thank and congratulate you for taking the time to compile such a well-written, superbly laid-out, and highly informative article for the forum (even though I didn't understand a bloody word of it, as this isn't by any stretch of the imagination, my area of expertise )

    Anyway, respect, and well done!

    Marco.
    "A man is a success if he gets up in the morning and gets to bed at night, and in between he does what he wants to do". - Milan Kundera.

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  8. #8
    Join Date: Feb 2009

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    I'm Peter.

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    Thanks Kris. However, the idea of getting an extra card to go with the drive is already taking me beyond my comfort zone with regards to fiddling with computers!
    Last edited by symon; 01-02-2010 at 16:22. Reason: Stupid name mix up. Sorry
    Peter

  9. #9
    Join Date: Sep 2009

    Location: London, UK

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    Gawd, I thought my days of seeing "ASPI" mentioned were long gone. Please prtect me!

    (I am talking about original AHB-1542 and later AHC-1542 cards and AT slots and... it hurts!)

  10. #10
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    Thank God I haven't got any DATs! Seriously, +1 to what Marco said, thanks for taking the time to post, very interesting read.
    Alex

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