Life beyond the DAW... Cassette 4-track questions.

Discussion in 'Recording/Live Sound' started by G'OlPeachPhan, Mar 7, 2006.

  1. G'OlPeachPhan

    G'OlPeachPhan Member

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    I've got a ProTools LE rig, but I'm looking to pick up an inexpensive cassette 4-track to use for tracking to analog tape.

    I'm strongly considering the Tascam 424 series... What are the differences between the MKI, MKII, and MKIII models?

    Even though this is just a cassette 4-track, the best sound quality possible is paramount, so if one has better preamps than another, or if one has greater simplicity in it's design that leads to better sound quality, that would be my preference... Obviously the 2x tape speed is very important as well, but I think all the 424's have that, right?

    Also important as far as features goes would be I/O options... Do the input/output features differ on any of the versions?

    Any other extra features really take a back seat for me given that I'll be doing all mixing/editing, etc. in the Pro Tools realm... I just want decent preamps, and good analog sound quality.

    In that light, the older MKI units look like the most straight-forward...

    Any other recommendations?
     
  2. G'OlPeachPhan

    G'OlPeachPhan Member

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    Oh, and one more question... Any suggestions on the best type/brand of cassette tapes to use?

    Any good places to buy them in bulk?
     
  3. G'OlPeachPhan

    G'OlPeachPhan Member

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    That's very cool man! Exactly what I want to do... No fuss interface, and that nice, warm, natural analog saturation and compression. Just what the doctor ordered! I realize maybe my thinking is a little backwards, but sometimes I wonder why people spend so much money on really pricey outboard gear and plug-ins to make their digital recordings sound more analog, when all you really have to do is record to analog to begin with, then bounce it to digital for editing and mix down.

    I realize that a cassette ain't no 2" tape, but hey, it's my project studio and I'm on a budget here! ;)

    So never being the patient person, I just found a used 424 MKIII in excellent condition for $150! It was used in limited capacity at a church by the reverend's daughter, so I'm pretty sure it has been taken good care of.

    I also just found a good source for bulk type II cassettes, given that there are definite advantages to tracking to virgin tape, rather than using them over and over again... here's the link: http://www.tape.com/cgi-bin/SoftCart.exe/cgi-bin/pagegennew.pl?U+cassette+ujfv8584+Type%20II%20-%20Bulk%20Loaded

    They come in quanties of 100, and you can get them in any length from 1 to 97 minutes... $50 for 100 60-minute tapes seems like a pretty fair deal to me!
     
  4. TAVD

    TAVD Guitar Player Gold Supporting Member

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    I've made recordings that still stand up using both a Tascam porta02 and a Yamaha mt100mk2. The Yamaha had a more hi-fi sound but the Tascam had more headroom, fatter bass and the inputs would clip like a nice OD pedal. I think either one can be found for $50. In addition to the 2 speeds, I'd look for one with direct outs for each track. I think Vestax (Vesta) made some cool rackmount 4 & 6 track cassette multi-trackers back in the day.
     
  5. LSchefman

    LSchefman Member

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    In all honesty, you'd be better off with an inexpensive used mic preamp and a half inch open reel 8 track machine like an old Otari or Tascam that will actually sound stellar.

    I've seen them for as low as $300 on ebay.
     
  6. G'OlPeachPhan

    G'OlPeachPhan Member

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    This is where I'd like to be in the not-too-distant future actually... I just decided to start with the 424 MKIII to get back into analog in the most simple possible way.

    Do you have recommendations as to which models of Otari or Tascam 1/2" 8 track machines I should look for?

    My ultimate goal is to get as far away from the DAW-world when tracking as possible... I don't mind the extra fuss after the tracking has been done to sync everything up, but I find it really invasive to have to use a computer while recording.

    Guys, thanks for the recommendations on the Portastudios... It sounds like Tascam makes some great bang-for-the-buck cassette units.
     
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  7. TAVD

    TAVD Guitar Player Gold Supporting Member

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    I had a Tascam 38 and didn't care for it at all. You might be able to find an Otari MX70 or even a short loaded MCI with a 1" head for next to nothing. Problem is that these things were never high end to begin with so the chances of them having been well maintained aren't as good as a A820 for example. If you can tech it yourself then it's not an issue. Parts for the Tascam x8 might be tough.
     
  8. G'OlPeachPhan

    G'OlPeachPhan Member

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    That's kind of why I opted to spring for the cassette deck right away... It will let me take my time seeking out a more pro-quality used deck in good condition at a good price... Plus as a relative home recording amatuer (aren't all home studio guys considered amatuers?), I can't really even push something like a Tascam 424 cassette multi-track past it's sonic limitations without getting stone-walled by my own limitations first. Just being realistic...

    Thinking that eventually 1" 8-track would be nice if I can come away with something in really good condition for $500 or less... Maybe kind of a pipe dream in that price range.
     
  9. sears

    sears Member

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    They don't offer phantom power. 2x tape speed is necessary and don't use more than 60 minute tape. That will give you 15 minutes per tape. tape.com are good folks.

    I loved my 424 mk ii. My myspace page is rotating some four-track stuff from 1996 done with a mic, a 424ii, a Peavey Classic 20, a bass and a guitar.
     
  10. G'OlPeachPhan

    G'OlPeachPhan Member

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    I ordered the 66 minute tapes... I hope the extra 6 minutes doesn't prove to be a problem... 6 is my lucky number, so that's why I went with that...

    Why do you want to stick to 60 minute tapes?

    I'll make sure to use the 2x speed. Thanks for the tip!

    As for phantom power, I've got a couple tube preamps that have it, as well as a mackie 1604 mixer that has phantom, so I'm all set for the condensors already!

    Thanks for the tips!
     
  11. loudboy

    loudboy Member

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    I'd try to find an Otari or Tascam 1/4" 4-track, if you're after that "analog" sound...

    Probably about the same price as a cassete unit and it may actually sound good, if it was taken care of.

    The best cassette deck made is not gonna get you there.

    Loudboy
     
  12. G'OlPeachPhan

    G'OlPeachPhan Member

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    Loudboy, any good suggestions on 1/4" models? That may be a good next step if the prices are affordable on 1/4" units. They really offer that much better sound quality than cassette?

    What are the prices like on 1/4" tape?
     
  13. loudboy

    loudboy Member

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    Check here for tape:

    http://www.usrecordingmedia.com/1oprereta1.html

    I'd probably try and find an Otari 5050 4-track. Also the Tascam 40-4 and 34, 44 Models are OK.

    Head wear is always an issue, as are pinch rollers, relays, etc.

    If working properly, sound quality is a magnitude better. Instead of hiss and distortion (the hallmarks of cassette) you'll get a taste of the clarity and that elusive analog "warmth." You'll also need to get really good at maintenance, tracking down parts and adhering to a rigid cleaning/demag regimen.

    Are you planning on dumping this to your DAW, or will this be the finished product? What will you mix to and what console/outboard will you use?

    I get this question a lot over on my recording forum at H-C, and generally the advice from most everyone is that it's more hassle than it's worth. Even analog 2" (the Holy Grail) is being used less and less, simply because good converters, at 24-bit, are sounding pretty darned good. At this point, it's just a choice more for color, rather than superior fidelity. If you like the artifacts, you'll use it for certain things. We've got a well-maintained MCI JH-24 at the studio and I've used it 3x in the past 6 years.

    That said, IMHO even a 1/4" open reel machine isn't going to do what you're looking for, in regards to PITA/mojo ratio. If you just like to play around w/old stuff for fun, by all means, knock yourself out... <g>

    With the right choice of mics, good engineering chops and most importantly, great players, you can make great sounding records, digitally. Check out Buddy Miller's stuff - he's all about ProTools, yet his records drip "vibe."

    Good Luck,

    Loudboy
     
  14. LSchefman

    LSchefman Member

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    >>I'd try to find an Otari or Tascam 1/4" 4-track, if you're after that "analog" sound...

    Probably about the same price as a cassete unit and it may actually sound good, if it was taken care of.

    The best cassette deck made is not gonna get you there.

    Loudboy
    _________<<

    I agree with this as well. It's all a matter of the # of tracks you want, and the analog sound coloration you're after.

    I don't know if you've considered this, but something like a DA-88 or ADAT digital machine can sound very good (I preferred the converters on the DA-88) and can be had VERY inexpensively. The machines wind faster than the older analog machines, and you can also get very inexpensive remotes with autolocators for them, used. The good part is that tape is more readily available, they're easily repaired, parts are available, and there are lots of them out there that got light use.
     
  15. G'OlPeachPhan

    G'OlPeachPhan Member

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    Do the DA-88 and ADAT machines feature the analog sound to the same extent as regular analog tape? I am after that analog coloration...
     
  16. neve1073

    neve1073 Member

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    I agree that a cassette 4 track is not gonna get you the analog sound you are probably after, if that is why you want a cassette 4 track. There are a few things that seperate classic analog tape fidelity from crap sounding tape. One of them is the size of the track on tape. For instance, a 2 inch 16 track is a more robust medium, all things considered, than a 2 inch 24 track (tho 2 inch 24 is great too and became ind standard).

    The portastudios were great and I used a few of them to death in the 80s. But great sounding they werent.
     
  17. loudboy

    loudboy Member

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    Nope, they're digital. They just use tape as a storage medium. Your PT rig sounds better and is more convenient.

    Narrow format analog isn't gonna give you what you're looking for. The die-hard analog guys are talking about 1" 8- or 2" 16/24-track, when they're pining for the old days, not cassette decks.

    Those big machines are not practical for the home recordist, unless you're the type who likes fixing/tinkering more than you like making music. And you have no problem paying $150+ for 16 minutes of recording time.

    I'd put my $ in good mics and outboard - a Royer R-121 thru a TAB Funkenwerks V-78 pre into your PT rig wil give yu a sound so thick you can chew it... <g>

    Good luck,

    Loudboy
     
  18. neve1073

    neve1073 Member

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    Avoid da88 and adats at all costs. They sounded horrible--at least the ones i used in the early mid 90s. **HORRIBLE**. NOT ANALOG!!!! Digital at its absolute harshest. Sorry for shouting. I just don't want you to miss that important info. ;)
     
  19. G'OlPeachPhan

    G'OlPeachPhan Member

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    OK, will avoid the ADAT DA-88 stuff... that really doesn't sound like what I'm looking for anyways.

    I don't mind if the cassette recorders like the 424 MKIII are dirty and limited... If it's a dirty analog sound, I'm OK with that for now... I'm also seeking something that provides the kind of utter simplicity that the 424 series provides, just to record some music... Just demos. I want to develop my recording abilities further, and once I feel that my abilities stretch beyond this 424, I'll move into some better analog equipment.

    I certainly don't want an old piece of gear to maintain just for the hobby of it... I want reliable analog gear for making music.

    As for ways to sound better recording in the digital/pc domain, a $2k+ mic and preamp setup isn't practical for my budget at this point, nor do my current abilities or applications require gear like that... But I appreciate the suggestion, and I'm going to file it away for use later in life! ;)

    I do appreciate all the help and suggestions guys... I think I'm going to take this 424 and use it to make music until I wear it out! The physical and even sonic limitations are welcome at this point, as I need to take a more basic, roots approach to recording for while... I can certainly work just fine in Pro Tools, and will undoubtedly return to it maybe exclusively down the road, but I think my 'reel' need (pun intended ;) ) is to develop my recording chops before going back to doing everything on the DAW. I think that's a pretty honest conclusion to come to here... :D

    Thanks again for all the contributions!
     
  20. G'OlPeachPhan

    G'OlPeachPhan Member

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    After doing some further research, I've decided I'd like to buy a Tascam 388... If anyone has one they'd like to part with, please send me an e-mail!

    Thank you!
     

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