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  #1  
Old 03-03-2002, 04:25 PM
W5BLT W5BLT is offline
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Question Tascam Portastudio 424 MKII Question

I'm considering getting a Tascam Portastudio 424 MKII. If you have one of these or have worked with one, I can use your help. To start with, I just want to be able to record my music so I have a historical "audio log" of my progression. Maybe later on, I'll use it to it's full potential.

I have downloaded the manual for it, but, there are a couple of thing that I have questions on. I have some mic's, so, getting the audio to the recorder is not a problem. I also have head phones, so, playback shouldn't be a problem either. However, in the manual, it says that a "2 track recorder" would be needed. What's this for? Do I really need this right now for the application that I'm going to use it for?

Lastly, would I need a special cassette or will a standard cassette work? And, can it be used on a standard cassette player?

I suppose that's all the dumb questions that I can think of for now.

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Old 03-04-2002, 05:30 AM
rubberdog rubberdog is offline
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I have a Tascam (it's at my bass players house, can't remember model number). Is yours digital or analog? I'll assume it is analog cassette.

They probably recommend a 2 track to mix whatever you do down to stereo, for several reasons.

The 4 track cassette format will not play correctly on a normal tape player. You would hear either of two things: Two tracks of four playing forward, or two of four playing backward.

Yours, like mine, may record at twice normal speed, which makes better quality recordings. We're talking chipmunks at normal speed.

You don't want to play your master 4 tracks over and over, you'll want copies for playing in the car, impressing your friends, demo's, etc. If you keep playing them, they wear out. (I have this problem when I leave my gear at my bass guy's house, but that's the price I pay to not lug it back and forth.)
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Old 03-04-2002, 07:37 AM
david_m david_m is offline
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W5BLT,

Rubberdog got everything correct. However, given the price of current digital machines I would STRONGLY recommend AGAINST buying any casette based recorder. The little digital machines are infinitely superior in recording quality.

I would definitely recommend shopping around for something digital. The tape based machines just can't make the grade any longer.

I started out with 424MKII that I bought new about two years ago. I kept it for two days and returned it. I picked up a little Fostex FD-4 (hard disc recorder) and I was THRILLED by the quality of the recording compared to the tape based unit. I can't stress enough the quality improvement in recording quality when moving to a digital unit.

Good luck,

David
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Old 03-04-2002, 07:56 AM
W5BLT W5BLT is offline
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OK, I'm nearly convinced to go digital. However, I would still have a couple of questions.

1) With the MKII, if you can't play the master on a standard tape player, how would you transfer it to a cassette that can play it?

2) Assuming that I went digital, I have the same question.

3) In either case, what type of "cheap and dirty" recorder could be used with either system?

Thanks
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Old 03-04-2002, 11:58 AM
david_m david_m is offline
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W5BLT,

You wrote:

1) With the MKII, if you can't play the master on a standard tape player, how would you transfer it to a cassette that can play it?

When you record something on a four track you place each part on a different track. What this means is you record a guitar part, then go back and record a bass part on a different track while listening to the guitar part, then you can go back and add a vocal part on a different track while listening to the guitar and bass parts. So, now you have three tracks. A standard casette player plays only two tracks (left and right), so if you were to play your three tracks on a conventional tape player you would hear two of your tracks regularly, but you wouldn't hear the third track. So, what you have to do is mix down your raw tracks to a two track master. That's why you need a regular cassette deck along with the multitrack recorder. You mix the three tracks you recorded together into a stereo pair (two tracks), and then you record that stereo pair onto a regular casette using the standard casette deck mentioned earlier. If you want any of your friends to hear your music you'll have to mix everything down to a two track master so it can be played on any tape player. Basically, you wire up a standard casette deck to your multitrack device the same way you would hook up a casette deck to your stereo (using RCA plugs). You push play on the multitrack and record on the casette deck, and voila, you have a two track master.

If you record with a tape based 4 track the first thing you're going to notice is that there is a LOT of tape hiss in your recording, and the overall sound is very "muddy" and unclear. If you record with an inexpensive digital unit you will be AMAZED at how much better everything sounds. The hiss will almost completely disappear, and the clarity of the recording will drastically improve.

Regardless if you record digital or analog you're still going to have to master down to two tracks. Most folks these days are mastering down to CD (still two tracks). You're going to have to have a two track mastering device of some sort.

My personal preference is to use a hard disk recorder for multitracking. There are several out there. Check out Ebay and get a feel for pricing on the following units:

Fostex VF-08
Fostex VF-16
Fostex VF-80
Fostex VF-160

Roland VS-840
Roland VS-880
Roland VS-890

Tascam 788

There's a LOT more out there, but I'm doing this from memory.

All of these are going to be more expensive than a 424MKII, but the improved sound quality will be worth it. Plus any of these units can be resold without too much (if any) loss in value when you want to upgrade.

If the above units are too far out of your budget you can try a search on the following:

Fostex FD-4
Fostex FD-8

Tascam 564

Yamaha MD-4
Yamaha MD-8

The Fostex units above are hard disk recorders, but usually don't have hard drives installed as standard equipment. Usually you end up using zip disks or a Jaz drive for storage. The rest of the units use minidiscs for storage.

I had a FD-4 about two years ago, and I absolutely loved it. It was a great little machine, and I learned a lot about multitrack recording. I eventually sold it because I wanted to have more track space. Four tracks fills up pretty quick, but from a features stand point and a price stand point it's hard to beat the FD-4. In fact you should be able to pick up an FD-4 for about the same price as the 424MKII, and the FD-4 is INFINITELY SUPERIOR.

A lot of folks on the TGF have said very nice things about the Boss BR-532. This is a very complete multi tracker that records to smart media cards. The only downside I can think of is the smart media card size limitation. Other than that the 532 is supposed to be a great little device.

This is getting long, but there's more

Whether you go tape or digital you're also going to need some effects. You will certainly need reverb, and you're probably going to want compression. For starting units I would highly recommend the Alesis Nanoverb and Nanocomp. Both units are sturdy, reliable, pretty quiet, pretty full featured (for the price) and can be had for less than $100 each used. I think the 532 has built in effects (but I'm not sure), so that's a BIG plus.

Another option is to use your PC as a multitrack machine. You can get software that will multitrack record, add effects and master down to a stereo pair. I would recommend getting a multitrack sound card if you go this route. You can make your little soundblaster soundcard used for games work, but a dedictaed multitrack sound card would be a lot better.

I tried to go this route about a year ago, but I was sorely disappointed. Others have had success using thier computer as a multitrack machine, but for me it was a complete disaster. That doesn't mean others haven't had complete success. However, I'm guessing that if you're considering an 424MKII that means your budget is pretty limited. My finding is that using the PC requires some decent software, and good recording software isn't cheap. However, you might have more success than I did.

So here's a recap. If you're starting from ground zero I would recommend getting something that's easy to use, won't break the bank and produces good sound. You will need (at a minimum):

Multitrack recorder
Microphone
Mastering device
Reverb unit (and an insert cable)
Compressor (and an insert cable)

I highly recommend the FD-4, the Nanoverb and the Nanocomp. If you find a cheap FD-4 (or even better an FD-8) with a small drive or no drive let me know. I have a Jaz drive left over from my FD-4 days that wouldn't be very expensive.

Good luck, and I hope I didn't bore you to tears with such a long post.

David
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Old 03-04-2002, 02:50 PM
W5BLT W5BLT is offline
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David,

You've definately helped clear up things for me.

However, I noticed that you left one unit out that I've also been considering. It's the Boss BR-8 MultiTk Digital Recorder. From what I've read, it has almost all the features that you've described and a few more.

I'd value your opinion as well as that of others on this unit.
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Old 03-04-2002, 03:14 PM
PaulLePine PaulLePine is offline
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I'll second that "thanks." I've been casually looking at the BR-8 and BR-532; not sure since I don't have funds for either yet! But the explanation will help me make a more informed decision.

One clarification: in your "recap" paragraph, you mentioned a mastering device. Does that mean the "regular" 2-track tape deck that you described earlier, or is that some other specialty item?

Thanks again...
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Old 03-04-2002, 04:33 PM
rubberdog rubberdog is offline
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I agree to go digital instead of analog. I've had my analog unit since before digital came out.

Hey, David M, in your experience with the digital units, are you able to collapse several tracks down to one? For instance, It has been our practice to get bass, drums, guitar on 3 tracks, then collapse them to one track, and then add parts to the remaining three (or two collapsing to one, etc) to build up layers. Are the digital units capable of this?
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Old 03-05-2002, 08:44 AM
david_m david_m is offline
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I didn't mean to skip the BR-8. I was listing units from memory, and for some reason the BR-8 just wasn't rattling around in my big, empty head. There are many more units available than I mentioned, and a lot of them are great. I just listed what I could come up with off the top of my head.

PaulLepine wrote:
One clarification: in your "recap" paragraph, you mentioned a mastering device. Does that mean the "regular" 2-track tape deck that you described earlier, or is that some other specialty item?

Paul,
Yes, by mastering device I meant the regular two track tape deck. You could also use a minidisc recorder, a CDR, a DAT or any other "regular" two track recorder. All I'm referring to is getting the multiple tracks down to the stereo pair of a finished product.

I should probably be careful with the word mastering because in high end recording it has a very definite meaning that is much more involved than simply getting your multiple tracks down to a stereo pair, but for these purposes mastering means getting the multiple parts down to stereo so your friends can listen to your work.

Rubberdog wrote:
Hey, David M, in your experience with the digital units, are you able to collapse several tracks down to one? For instance, It has been our practice to get bass, drums, guitar on 3 tracks, then collapse them to one track, and then add parts to the remaining three (or two collapsing to one, etc) to build up layers. Are the digital units capable of this?

The answer is yes. In fact when you start collapsing from multiple tracks down to one (or two) on a digital machine the first thing you will notice is that with each instance of collapsing there is no loss in sound quality! Usually on a casette based machine when you bounce down to one track from many there is a loss of fidelity. If you bounce down multiple times the end result can sound awful. This does not happen on digital machines.

Here's a benefit of many digital machines that casette based machines simply can not do. In your example you mention bringing the bass and drums and a guitar track down to one track so you have track space available to add more parts. This works well in creating track space, but it means that those parts are now in mono (only one track). Several digital machines have "virtual tracks". For example, my Roland unit will play back a maximum of eight tracks at a time, but it can store 128 separate tracks!. What this means is I could record 6 separtate tracks, collapse them down to a stereo pair, and them place these two tracks on a virtual track so they don't take any space and now I have all of my tracks open and available for more recording. Since I'm doing everything digital there's no loss of sound quality when I collpase tracks, and I can keep everything in stereo for enhanced sound.

Some of the features now available in these little digital machines is just amazing. The BR-532 has a built in drum machine, guitar amp and microphone models and it will run off batteries. My only complaint is that it uses smart media cards rather than a hard drive. But the features list is pretty cool.

One other quick note. It's not hard to start looking at machines and suddenly decide you MUST have the better technology for better sound. Suddenly your $300 investment is looking like a $3,000 hole. Before you decide which machine to buy think about what you're going to use it for. Here are things to look out for:

1. How many tracks do you want to record at once? Are you going to try to record a full band all at once, or are you going to do things one part at a time. The machines that record a lot of tracks simutaneously are more expensive.

2. What type of music are you playing? The specs required for a beautiful classical guitar or solo fingerstyle recording are very different than those required to get a great sounding rock or country song recorded.

All digital machines will list their sampling rate and bit rate as part of their specs. For baseline comparison note that CDs are recorded at a 44.1KHz (kilohertz) sampling rate and 16 bit. So, no matter what sampling rate and bit rate you use to record on your multitrack machine, it's going to end up as 44.1KHz and 16 bit if it goes on a CD.

First of all, if anyone out there is an electrical engineer than I apologize in advance for anything I might get wrong in this next section.

Okay, the sampling rate refers to how often the recorder writes information to storage. Think of it like a movie. When you go see a movie what you are actually seeing is a whole bunch of still photographs taken in rapid sequence and then played in front of you at a high rate of speed. It looks like motion, but what you are really seeing are still photographs being projected at 30 frames per second. That's exactly what a digital recorder does. It takes a bunch of audio "photographs" in rapid sequence and then plays them back to make it sound like you're hearing everything. What you're actually hearing are a whole bunch of little pieces played back quickly (remember the movie analogy). A sampling frequency of 44.1KHz means that the recorder is taking 44,100 little audio photographs per second. Higher sampling rates mean the recorder is taking more "photographs" and results in a smoother sound. There are a lot of recorders that sample at 48KHz, and a lot of the new high end and expensive recorders sample at 96KHz. Higher sample rates will result in smoother sound. Without getting too technical the higher sample rates capture a lot of harmonics that add depth and beauty to recorded sound, but it's not obvious that you actually hear it. The big question is can YOU hear the difference using different sampling rates? Especially knowing that if your recording gets on a CD it's going to be 44.1KHz no matter how it was originally recorded.

The bit rate basically gives an indication of how much dynamic response your recording will have. If you're recording solo fingerstyle guitar with a lot of subtle quiet parts you're going to want a high bit rate recording to capture the nuances. If you're recording a rock and roll song where the amps are cranked and it's going to be loud at the start of the song and loud at the end of the song and loud in the middle of the song, high bit rates are not as important.

Digital multitrackers that record at 44.1KHz and 16 bit are a lot cheaper than 96KHz 24 bit machines. Think about your application before you buy. There's ALWAYS another piece of recording equipment to purchase, and if you spend the whole budget on a great recorder all your going to get is a very accurate representation of a bad signal.

I am NOT a recording expert. However, I've spent a lot of time trying to get a decent sound out of the equipment I have, but I'm still learning. I record solo fingerstyle guitar almost exclusively. I usually record to four tracks simultaneously (two microphones and stero out from the guitar) at 24 bit and 44.1KHz. I record with a Roland VS-890 hard disk recorder. Right now I'm using AKG C1000S mics (which are only okay but not good for recording acoustic guitar). My next purchase will probably be a couple of decent mic preamps and a couple of nice mics. I was thinking about a pair of matched KM184 Neumanns, but that's kind of expensive. I might get two Oktava 012's instead. They're cheap and I've read good things about them.

I started to write a quick reply, and this is what happened. Sorry if this is too long, but I hope it helps.

David
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Old 03-05-2002, 04:30 PM
W5BLT W5BLT is offline
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David,

Don't worry about the length of your response. I find it VERY interesting as well as educational. You're helping me to make an informed decision as to what to buy. Everytime you write, you save me $$$.

Thanks,
Bob
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Old 03-06-2002, 07:27 AM
david_m david_m is offline
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Make those checks payable to:

David Moore



I enjoy "talking" about this stuff. However, remember there are others on the forum who have a LOT more knowledge than I do about recording. Make sure to pick their brains also.

Definitely post about what you eventually buy. I'm curious to see how this ends up.
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Old 03-06-2002, 07:55 AM
david_m david_m is offline
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One other quick note that might influence your buying decision.

I have a Roland VS-890 that I use for recording. All of the Roland units are very similar, so this probably applies to the VS-840, VS-880 , VS-1680 etc. The documentation for Roland is not very good. There are a LOT of complaints about the Roland manuals, and after buying a Roland machine I can see why. There is a pretty steep learning curve involved with the VS recorders. If I had bought the VS-890 as my first mutitrack recorder I probably would have been very upset. There were a lot of things that I learned to do by trial and error because the manuals were not clear. If I hadn't had some experience with a simple recorder (FD-4) I would have been totally lost.

After spending about 18 months with my VS-890 I really like the machine. It's a great recorder for my purposes. However, the first couple of months I had it were kind of confusing.

I have no idea how the Boss documentation is, but since Boss and Roland are the same company I would definitely ask around about the usefulness of the manuals that come with the Boss machines.

Good luck

David
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Old 03-06-2002, 07:19 PM
RDuke RDuke is offline
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What David wrote about the user manuals on these digital recorders is pretty standard across the board. Even if they're written well, they assume a lot of knowledge about recording on your part...mostly the terminology. I have a Tascam 788 and was heavily influenced in my purchase decision by their strong user forum presence. It's an information goldmine. Just hold something like that in high regard no matter what brand you think you might purchase. Given what's available now for the cost, 24 bit digital recorders are the only way to go.

Rick
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Old 03-07-2002, 06:38 AM
Lonesome Picker Lonesome Picker is offline
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Hey Rick,


I think David_M would be a great addition to the "technical discussion" time slot. We should take advantage of his knowledge and willingness to share it. Great post(s) David M.

<><
Ron
Lonesome Picker (NC)
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Old 03-07-2002, 07:12 AM
rubberdog rubberdog is offline
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I agree - thanks, David
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