The most unusual of the DAT machines I bought off Craigslist is a TASCAM with dual tape mechanisms. It can dub tapes or record or play two tapes in sequence.

The control panel has a number of unique features related to controlling the two decks. The Common Mode switch sets both decks to operate simultaneously, as in making a master tape and a back-up tape at once (1&2). The 1->2 setting causes deck 1 to record or play first and when it reaches the end of tape, deck 2 takes over. The OFF position lets the decks operate independently, except that there is only one set of inputs, so you can’t record two different programs at once.

In DUB MODE, the DA-302 can copy from DAT1 to DAT2 either at normal or double speed. The deck controls are slaved together so you only need to press one button. Up to 10 DA-302s can be slaved together to duplicate tapes. It’s a unique and versatile machine which was popular with Grateful Dead tape collectors for copying DATs to trade with fellow tapers.

Since the Youtube video linked above shows the repair process pretty well, and how to replace the belt which by now is bad on nearly all of these TASCAM decks, I won’t go over that here. All models of TASCAM and a few other brands used this same tape transport which was made by Alps. It’s pretty reliable except for that belt. If someone has been messing around and bent or misadjusted any DAT mechanism, it can be very time-consuming to get it working properly again.

Replacing belts and cleaning the tape path with alcohol will often get one working again. Be careful cleaning the head drum. Use a chamois or some cloth that won’t leave fibers on the heads. The heads are sharp-edged ferrite material, and are brittle. Put pressure only in the direction of drum rotation. Up or down wiping can snap a head off. If you don’t have a proper chamois cleaning stick, a dry piece of typing paper held against the head as the drum is rotated will clean it fairly well.

The most critical adjustment is the height of the guides next to the head drum. You need an oscilloscope to adjust these. Leave them alone unless you have a manual and proper equipment, because you can’t really get it right “by ear”. The manuals for most of these obsolete machines can be found online, and a read-through of the alignment procedure before beginning will save time in the end unless you’re an old hand at fixing these.

When it came back to life, this machine showed zero hours on the heads. It looks pretty well thrashed, so I can’t guess how many hours are really on it. The manuals say head drums should be replaced every 1000 hours, but I haven’t yet seen a worn-out head, and some have thousands of hours on them. That’s good because parts for these machines are no longer made, and head drums are model-specific. A drum from another model won’t fit. If parts are needed, they have to come from a spare machine, or you have to make them.

The electronic parts of a DAT machine are usually OK except for the surface mount aluminum electrolytic capacitors, which are as bad as the ones in computers from the same era. You can figure on at least partially recapping most DATs these days. The A-D and D-A converters in most DATs are excellent. The troublesome bits are due to the complex, tiny, and delicate tape mechanism. Recording to a flash memory chip has replaced tape today. Today’s recorders ought to last longer than these, but they don’t necessarily sound any better.

They might fit other eject mechanisms in DVD players, etc. I thought I might have to visit a dentist to get some tiny rubber bands, but the women’s hair style counter has the solution. It turns out the hair bands are thin enough to stretch if the mechanism is changing gears a lot. Putting two of the bands on at once cures that.

They’re so thin that 3 or more could fit into the groove of the pulleys.

While you’re there, pick up some elastic bands for your shock mounts, too.