DAT defies Death Row!

It’s tragic that so many tape recorders are scrapped when there’s something relatively minor wrong with them. Heads can be cleaned – or even relapped – belts replaced and dry solder joints refreshed, restoring them to their former glory, yet few people bother. Because there are now so few competent repair services, the easy option is either to sell them on eBay for ‘spares or repair’, or just head down to the local recycling centre with the rest of your household waste…

The situation is even more acute with tape decks of the digital variety. DAT is about the least cool format on the planet right now, but still capable of excellent sound. So when my much-loved Sony DTC-P7 DAT recorder gave up the ghost, I feared I would be making that pilgrimage of shame to the dump. I’d rung around a few specialists and had been greeted by a combination of puzzlement (“what’s a DAT”?) and disinterest; one place that did say that it still fixed these ageing machines wanted to charge several hundred pounds, making repair completely uneconomic.

In a last-ditch attempt to save my Sony, I turned to Paul Carrington. He seemed relatively unfazed by the fact that my deck was well past its prime. It had just stopped loading tapes – and previously when it could perform this essential trick it was struggling to play them back, especially 120 minute types. It was clear that the wee Sony was what Cumbrians would call “jiggered”, or as Cockneys say, “cream crackered”.

The Sony went off to Paul and a week or so later I got an email announcing that it was fixed. Really? Was it that simple? Perhaps a belt had come off, or a fuse had gone, because there was no fuss or drama or emails asking me for additional funds to clear the incredible expense of the repair? As it transpired, the DTC-P7 got the DAT machine equivalent of a week at a health farm and twenty four hour access to a personal physician!

The deck was diligently disassembled, only to find that the exit and entry loading arms were missing their nylon clips; Paul explained that they’re prone to splitting. They were duly replaced, and then the surgeon moved on to the mechanism’s take up and supply tables; on mine the pressure pad had worked free from the back tension lever. The lack of back tension was causing tape path instability, so it was duly remedied.

Paul then took time to look at the condition of the RF waveform; he initially got no audio when playing a tape. He explained that the most common causes of this are dirty or worn heads, tape path misalignment or an RF modulator fault. In my deck the RF modulator had a failed electrolytic capacitor; this is an inevitable age-related issue and so he duly replaced all of them as a matter of routine. The RF board was put back and he was now able to set-up the tape path. The areas circled red and yellow are the entry and exit tape guides respectively. Each must be adjusted separately to achieve the correct waveform; it’s critical and can only be achieved using an oscilloscope.

Back together, the Sony is now singing. It’s working pretty much as I remember it back in the mid nineties, when it was a cutting-edge piece of kit. It’s a surprisingly nice performer, especially when plumbed though a serious DAC. Even using its own converter, the many compilation recordings I made back in the early nineties, using my Michell Orbe/SME Series V and Ortofon MC30 Supreme turntable at 16-bit, 48kHz still sound great. It’s an amazing time capsule, and the Sony plays my tapes without a glitch, all these years later.

Paul’s website lists the various technical services he offers, plus other aspects of his varied broadcasting career. His standard charge is £49.95, and he can fix most digital or analogue tape recorders providing the parts are still available. If you’ve got an old DAT machine sitting on Death Row, just days from the skip, then better call Paul!

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