's unofficial Tascam DA-88/38/98 web page...

...will hopefully mainly be a user-supported effort. (That means you!) Many times, field data is very interesting. You can add your own comments, use this link to skip directly to the "added comments" section. Or you can just keep reading.

Periodically, but not very often at all, I plan go thru the comments and incorporate them into the main document. (NB, I haven't had much time to do this, so many times you'll find more up-to-date information in the "comments" (user discussion) section!) Also note, the "maintainer" is not affiliated with Tascam in any way. So far this is just information that I've been able to glean during my couple of years or so working with these machines.

This file was last updated on Wednesday, 13-Jan-1999 12:43:49 EST. Some of this info may well be wrong, if so, please correct me, either by adding a comment or by mail. (

The design philosophy here is a) enhanced for Lynx (no silly graphics), and b) "one big page", so it can be saved (or dare I say printed?) easily. I hate these structured multi-level web sites where you have to go back and forth and save 8 different files.. what's the point.. ;)

The DA-88

What is it?

A helical scan digital 8-track audio recorder. That works great! In addition to the DA-88, Tascam is now also marketing the DA-38 and the DA-98.

essentially a DA-88 (same transport), without the capability to add the SY-88 synchronizer board. Is smaller, cheaper and has enhanced track-bouncing capabilities.
essentially a DA-88 (same transport), with synchronization built-in. "Confidence monitoring" (read-after-write). A LCD display makes setting the various parameters a lot easier. Also has some new, enhanced functions.
All information in this document concern the DA-88, unless otherwise noted. (Firmware version numbers, for instance, are different from the three machine types.)

Related links

Tascam multitrack FAQ's

What's the pin-out of the digital TDIF interface?

What tape brands are good?

In my opinion: Sony tapes. That's the brand I've had the least amount of problems with. Tapes tried at one time or another: Maxell, TDK, Fuji, BASF, Ampex. Of course I have no hard statistical data to back this up, just a hunch from talking to other DA-88 users, including the techs at the Swedish national broadcasting company (they selected Sony as well as their DA-88 standard.) "The inside scoop" from a few other service technicians weighs heavily in my mind as well.

We've used Sony HMP-X's. They're supposedly actually for vertical Hi8 video machines and are thus a bit more lubricated, but I've had good results so far. I think HMP has less lubrication and thus would dirty the heads a little less.

Legend has it that with all helical scan machines you get better results if you fast forward to the end and then rewind before formatting. Supposedly the tape is packed properly on the spools (in relation to the minuscule differences of hardware alignment in that particular recorder.) I always do this, I figure it certainly can't hurt.. YMMV. You may also want to avoid recording on the first 1-2 minutes of tape as the stress probably will be a bit greater on this part if you rewind after use. Who knows..

Regarding this, Eddie Ciletti wrote: Any tape with the DTRS logo is good. These include BASF and AMPEX. ALL tape manufacturers have good days and bad. Maxell Broadcast (BQ) tape has also been successfully used, most notably by Kooster McAllister at Record Plant Remote. Fuji M221MP tape, however, presents a challenge to the DA-88 because its formulation distorts the relationship detween the Automatic Tracking (ATF) signals and the modulated digital audio. This makes it difficult for the DA-88's servo to lock to the signal.

What is a DA-88 "frame"??

It appears to be 0.03 seconds. One frame is 1440 samples at 48 kHz, and 1323 samples at 44.1 kHz.

Thus, 100 frames fit exactly over 3 seconds. This explains the strangeness of there sometimes being 32 frames to a second, and sometimes 33. But someone correct me if I'm wrong! I've made an Excel spreadsheet that explores the relationship between DA-88 frames and other TC standards, including the DA-88 "sample numbers".

Cleaning tape.

Do not use the cleaning tape! Unless it's an extreme emergency (i.e., you get a bunch of read errors, you're sure it's the head that's all clogged up, you're recording live and you have to have the machine working in five seconds. Supposedly, the tape heads are only guaranteed to work if cleaned 25 times, or used 1000 hours, whichever is less. So that "clean every 50 hours" instruction in the manual is no joke.

If you enter "cleaning mode" (up and down arrow keys held at power up) and, instead of popping in a cleaning cassette, press "up" and "down" again, you will see the number of times the heads have been cleaned. (When you get your DA-88 from the store, this is a simple way of finding out if it's been cleaned. A new DA-88 should of course give the display "0" unless it's a floor demo. See below for how to get more head drum usage stats from the DA-88) The cleaning tape pretty much acts like sand paper on your heads, taking away any dirt and some of the head as well. 40-50 cleanings and the heads are gone. Be careful! In Europe the cost to replace a head is about $1000, but one reader, Tom Lewis (, has the following to report: I replaced a head in September. It costs nowhere NEAR $1000. The invoice shows: unit price of drum assembly is $314.08, and the labor is $180. There you go...$494.08 total.

Regarding this, Eddie C wrote: The American user price for the DA-88 head assembly is between $450 and $475. Labor costs vary from area to area. I wish I could get heads for $314.00 !

Anyway, (and I refuse to be held responsible if you screw up your drum head), the preferred way of cleaning seems to be with deerskin cloth and isopropyl (isopropanol alcohol), like on any helical scan video machine, but you'd have to open the machine and know what you're doing. (Basically, you dampen the cloth with the isopropyl, hold it against the drum head surface, and rotate the head counter-clockwise using a finger inside a rubber glove. It's very important not to rub the head in the axial direction, i.e., do not move the cloth "up and/or down". The "circular" or "tangential" cleaning direction caused by rotating the drum is the only one allowed. Pay special attention to the heads and the "windows" around the heads -- dirt is bound to accumulate there.

The "rabbet" is the ledge that guides the tape around the head and just a little clog, especially at the entrance (left side) will foul things up. Always check the error rate via the "channel 1 and 2 meter" procedure described below. By the way, if any rubber parts need to be cleaned, do not use isopropyl! Ever, on any tape recorder!)

Tascam has a document on this that you maybe can request from them if you feel up to it, I'm too lazy to type in the thing.

Different versions, and hardware upgrades

The transport has been improved over the years. Regarding this, Eddie Ciletti, who services these machines in New York, wrote:

There is a new supply side "slant block" assembly. I just got them in and it may help extend the useful life of the head assembly.

THere is a resistor change that -- on some machines that have not been fully modified -- will improve record playback performance. Basically, machines that had a tape "preference" will now not be so "picky."

For picky machines, the DTRS tape by sony and basf is an improvement. I haven't tried the ampex/quantegy yet.

It is really important to reverse fan direction and install the filter as per my modification because you would not believe how dirty the machine can get. Even with Tascam's plastic guard, dirt accumulates in the reel clutches, under the mechanism and can contribute to head wear.

I have never had trouble with the slip rings.

Tascam changed head assemblies somewhere around serial numbers 200000.. A newer head will have a number (20, 21, 22, 23) stamped on the top.  ALL DA-88 heads have slip rings (under a protective cover) that connect the record amplifier to the record heads. (The DA-38 transport is identical EXCEPT for the head, which has no slip rings. (Rotary transformers are used for record and playback.))

In addition, the "mods" tascam has made include a protective plastic "shield" for the transport, a tape scraper and a head wiper. These are installed free of charge by service centers. The reel table clutches and brake cam have been modified. There was also a period when a cam tolerance fell out of spec causing premature failure of the threading mechanism. The servo board and microcontroller have also been changed and one trim pot was removed.

Latest ROM versions (Jan 12, 1999

DA-88: 4.01
SY-88: 4.01

What do I do if I get a "digital click noise" (or drop-out)?

Some people have reported some luck doing an auto-punch in/punch-out consisting of one frame (ie, in one frame and out the next). Experiment using different crossfade times. Ideally, you should feed the analog inputs something that resembles the signal that's already on the track.

But make a back-up first and try it on that. :) Or even better, have a back-up already when you get the drop-out! Remember, these things aren't using sturdy 2" analog tape, they're essentially computer storage devices, and we all know what computer storage devices do -- lose data!

Hidden display modes

("UP" and "DOWN" denotes the "arrow" data entry keys.)
Power up while holding keys:
Keys:           Display mode:
=====           =============
FFWD/STOP       Display drum search time
STOP/PLAY       Display total drum time
STOP/PLAY/REC   Display SYS software version
REW/FFWD/STOP   Display Servo software version
FFWD/PLAY/REC   Display SY-88 software version
FFWD/STOP/PLAY  Enter "greeting reprogram" mode
                [press STOP before text begins scrolling to enter TEST mode.
                Display will show TEST. In sequence, press and hold the
                keys DISPLAY/UP/DOWN/REMOTE. Display should read 'A'.
                Change letter with UP DOWN. Move to next letter with
                DISPLAY. When done press UP/DOWN to enter. Power off.]
UP/DOWN         Enter Cleaning mode
                [press UP/DOWN again to display the cleaning count]

Error codes

Code            Meaning
""""            """""""
ERR 01          Mechanical defect (Clear tape path, guides or drum)
ERR 02          Improper drum speed (Defective drum motor, dirty drive)
ERR 04          Capstan problem (Capstan motor spin not detected)
ERR 08          Reel problem (Either or both reels are not turning)
ERR 03-15       "Sum" of the above errors (example: ERR 13 = ERR 8 + 4 + 1)

ERR 21          Tape slack (Tape is not retracting before an eject)
ERR 31          Tape binding (Speed of the reels and capstan/pinch roller do not match)
ERR 41          No FF or RW (Solenoid not ingaged for FF/RW mode)
ERR 59          Eject failure (Reels inop prior to eject)
ERR 68          Play failure (Reels do not turn in play mode)
E. CLOC         No data or clock at set address 
E. t.cut        Broken tape
E. dio          Digital I/O error
E. dE           Moisture has been detected on drum, let warm up
E. HI-8.t       Tape not Hi-8
E. thin.t       Tape too thin (Use correct 90 or 120 min tape)

Error counter

This enables you to see the error rates for the two read heads graphically on the level meters for channel 1 and 2. Go into test mode as per above (power up while holding FFWD/STOP/PLAY, press STOP before text begins scrolling). Press "remote". The machine will function as usual, but meter 1 and 2 are now showing the error rates for head A and B.

Other stuff

What are some other countries' distributor information?

Teac USA are usually very helpful.. The phone number is +1 213 726 0303. I have found found a good contact for service in Scandinavia: "Almstok Radio & Service, Sallingvej 61, 2720 Vanlose, Denmark". Vanlose is a suburb of Copenhagen (about a 10 minute cab ride away from downtown Copenhagen, or freom Flyvebaderne if you're coming from Sweden). Phone +45 / 38 74 00 21, Fax +45 / 38 74 00 31. Talk to Lars Gregersen.

The Tascam web page mentioned above has a list of service centers world wide!

Some tips from Wolf Seeberg

...per email:

-- Wolf Seeberg, Video Services: consulting + rental to Hollywood industry.

Comments added by readers:

I've changed this to use a separate page, so this page doesn't get so huge, and take so long to load. Also the messages will be threaded by subject, which is a lot nicer and a lot more useful. You can access the new comments/discussion section here.

The "old" discussion list was a bit clunky to use, but I put the text here if you need to refer to it. To reply to any of those old posts, just choose "open in a new browser window" (right mouse button) if you have a graphical browser and reply away, in the new area.