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Level Headed

Nominal Level (explained) plus an SV-3700 modification By Eddie Ciletti
Interfacing a DAT recorder with a mixer, a piece of outboard gear or a cassette deck isn’t always quite as easy as it should be. In the analog-only daze, it was simply a question of "plus4," "minus10" and 0VU. This month, a gain structure modification for the Panasonic SV-3700 (post D-to-A converter) will help you understand — and manipulate — the "nominal" operating level. But first, a word from our sponsor…

Why are there so many different reference levels? Quite simply, it's a matter of juice. If a device runs from a 1.5 volt battery it can only deliver a maximum level of not-quite 1.5 volts peak-to-peak and that's with lots of distortion. But assuming 1.5vp-p, that turns into a half a volt RMS which is about -8dBu, max. You'll need 14 or so dB of headroom, now the nominal operating level is down around -22 dBu, which is in the neighborhood of a passive guitar or bass. What's dBm? Think of the "m" as the "meat" factor. A device so specified can deliver its juice into a 600 ohm load. The "u" in dBu implies that the load impedance is unspecified and is likely to be high, around 10k-ohms.

Level Headed
MeterWhen the analog meter in Figure-1 indicates 0VU, the device to which it is connected will output its standard (nominal) operating level. For professional and consumer recording equipment, the standards are +4dBu and –10dBV, respectively. But what about the bar graph display above? On a stock SV-3700, Panasonic chose a point 18 dB below Full Scale (fs) as their reference. That it’s not the same on every brand and model of DAT machine can cause problems when interfacing with analog equipment. On the DA-98, Tascam allows the user three choices: -20 dB, -18dB and -16dB.

The "location" of the reference level determines headroom — the distance in dB before clipping (0dBFS) needs no translation. From the reference level to the noise floor is another story based on the number of bits, quality of D-to-A converter, circuit design and printed circuit board (PCB) layout. A tone recorded at the reference level will generate the "nominal" output.

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Related Keywords:DAT recorder, mixer, outboard gear, cassette deck, analog, gain structure modification, nominal operating level

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