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Aiwa to Market First Digital Tape Recorders

February 12, 1987

TOKYO (AP) _ Japan’s Aiwa Co. Ltd. Thursday became the first company to formally announce a marketing date for a consumer digital audio tape recorder - a controversial, high-fidelity product that could swing customers away from compact disks.

Aiwa will begin selling its digital audio tape recorder in Japan March 2, but has no plans at present for marketing overseas, spokesman Kazuhiro Hoshi said. The list price will be 188,000 yen, or $1,225.

The sound quality of DATs is as good as that of compact disk players. Both use digital signals to reproduce music. DATs, however, use magnetic tape instead of laser-etched platters and allow consumers to make their own recordings.

In digital recording, music and other sounds are ″sampled″ many times a second and converted into on-and-off pulses like those used by computers. The digital process results in low distortion, low noise and wide dynamic range.

Although Japanese electronic companies set a common standard more than a year ago for the new digital audio tape recorders, marketing has been delayed because of protests from compact disk makers and record companies that introduction of DATs would enable consumers to make nearly perfect copies of CDs, thereby cutting into sales of the young but booming CD industry.

Both U.S. and European record producers have called for steep import duties against DATs if they do not include special spoiler chips that would prevent recording from CDs.

The dispute has threatened to turn into a trade issue since Japan produces a large amount of the world’s advanced consumer electronics, while the United States and Europe hold the largest number of music copyrights.

Hoshi said Japan’s Ministry of International Trade and Industry recently notified Japanese electronic makers that they could proceed with DAT marketing if they follow the original DAT standard accepted by the industry.

Under the ministry standard, the machines will be built so they cannot record music from compact disks without an intermediate conversion to analog form, which would result in a slight deterioration in sound quality.

However, that is not considered sufficient by the Recording Industry Association of America, which demands the inclusion of the kind of spoiler chip that would prevent copying.

″We already lose $1.5 billion every year to home taping. The new configuration would offer a fresh incentive to tape at home. All we’re looking for is to protect our copyrights,″ Trish Heimers, spokeswoman for the trade group, said Thursday.

President Reagan recently proposed legislation that would ban digital audio tape players that allow easy copying from compact disks, calling it an issue of national competitiveness.

Digital audio tape players following the standard will be able to play back music recorded with sampling rates of 32, 44.1 and 48 kilohertz, or times per second, but will be able to record at only 32 and 48 kilohertz. Compact disk players have a sampling rate of 44.1 kilohertz.

Hoshi said Aiwa’s digital audio tape recorder will follow the ministry guideline.

″Not all of the controversy over the technology has been cleared away yet, but we can’t wait any longer,″ he said.

A number of other Japanese manufacturers, including Sony and Matsushita, are expected to follow Aiwa and announce DAT marketing plans soon.

The DAT machines can record for up to two hours on a small recording tape about two-thirds the size of a standard audio cassette.

At last fall’s Tokyo Electronics Show, several Japanese makers showed prototypes of DAT machines for cars, and DATs are widely expected to eventually become as small as pocket cassette tape players.

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