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  • CASSETTES CASSETTES AND MORE CASSETTES

    I recently bought a Tascam Portastudio 4 track tape recorder and I love it; however, I'm using Maxell tapes that I bought from the pharmacy that hiss excessively and sound like mudbutt. Are there more high quality cassettes on the market that I should be using?

    PS I'm starting to like this thing more than my 2488neo

  • #2
    ... hiss excessively and sound like mudbutt.
    That's "analog warmth", you're just not used to it because you were probably born after 1985. :thu:

    But seriously, you'll want to get the best quality cassettes you can find. Maxell or TDK high-bias or "type II" (sometimes called "chrome" or CrO2 tape). Use C-60 or C-90 cassettes only, and I suggest using the dolby or DBX noise reduction, it only works properly when it's activated during both recording and playback. Use the 3 3/4 ips setting for best quality, but realize that means you get 22 minutes out of a C-90 cassette. Even with all that, a cassette will never ever have the crisp highs or deep lows possible with the cheapest digital recording setup. Watch your recording levels - if they're too low you'll get tape hiss, if they're too high you'll kill your treble.

    If you're willing to accept their limitations they are cool, easy-to-use machines for songwriting, improvised jams or making demos.

    Here's a link to a suitable cassette for multitracking: TDK SA90
    This space left intentionally blank.

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    • #3
      Great reply by Mr.Grumpy! hil:

      I used to use TDK SA-60 and SA-90 tape in my old Fostex and Tascam two and four track cassette decks back in the late 70s and 80s. Maxell is also a good brand IMO. Stick with the name brands and the high bias (Type II / CrO2 or "chrome") tapes. If you're using Type I tapes, that is probably contributing to your issues, but cassette tape isn't the most high fidelity medium on the planet... you're always going to have some distortion and noise. Running the machine at double speed (3 3/4 IPS vs 1 7/8 IPS) and using the deck's noise reduction can help, but as Mr.Grumpy said, it's never going to sound like a higher-end recorder.

      However, there are other tricks you can sometimes use. Plan your tracking carefully. Get multiple players and mix them on a single track vs doing multiple overdubs whenever possible. The fewer bounces you do (ping-ponging or submixing tracks to make room for more recordings) the less noise and degradation you'll have to deal with. And if you do have to bounce, try to bounce less critical tracks and not stuff like lead vocals.

      Also, try tracking with the treble artificially boosted. In other words, goose the treble knob on the mixer when you're recording so that the sound is "printed" overly bright. When you go to mix, make a similar cut to the high frequencies. This emphasis / de-emphasis is similar to how parts of some noise reduction circuits work, and this can sometimes further reduce the tape hiss and noise, which tend to be most obviously audible in the high frequency range.

      Levels are also crucial with analog. Cassette can be overloaded easily - there's only so many domains (individual tiny pieces of magnetized iron oxide) on that small piece of tape, so watch how hot you record. Don't believe your meters either. Some things won't register on the meters (fast transients) but are still incredibly "hot" signals anyway. Some drums, tambourine, hi hats... you have to listen and trust your ears. You have to learn the machine and how much you can turn it up before it starts to squish and distort with certain sources. One instrument might sound great at -0 on the meters, while -20 may be distorting with something else. Sometimes squish and distort are exactly what you want though, so keep that in mind too. IMHO, it's better to be able to get it when you want it than to get stuck with it when you didn't.

      Outside of doing things for "effect", the usual goal is to record things as hot as you need to for a good strong signal to noise level, but not so hot that they audibly distort. Track too soft and the noise that is coming from the tape deck and mixer electronics, as well as from the tape itself rubbing over the surface of the heads becomes much more audible. The amount of noise relative to the signal we want increases. Optimizing your signal path gain staging and your recording levels at all times allows you to minimize the audibility of the noise. So does muting unused channels whenever possible. But if you're trying to track something with a lot of dynamic range (really quiet one second, really loud the next), you're going to have issues. It's just the limitations of the cassette format. You can use a bit of compression to help reduce the dynamic range of the signal a bit, but compression itself also tends to bring up noise levels, so it brings its own noise issues.

      I may be way overstating it for you, but you really do have to become noise conscious when working with narrow gauge analog tape decks.

      What specific machine did you get?
      **********

      "Look at it this way: think of how stupid the average person is, and then realize half of 'em are stupider than that."

      - George Carlin

      "It shouldn't be expected that people are necessarily doing what they appear to be doing on records."

      - Sir George Martin, All You Need Is Ears

      "The music business will be revitalized by musicians, not the labels or Live Nation. When the musicians decide to put music first, instead of money, the public will flock to the fruits and the scene will be healthy again."

      - Bob Lefsetz, The Lefsetz Letter

      Comment


      • #4
        Holy hell. I didn't expect the true experts to reply!

        Mr. Grumpy: Thanks for the recommendation! I've been using type ones and that's why there is so much hiss.

        Sir O'Keefe: I'm blown away by your extensive tips and knowledge, but I'm only using a Tascam Porta02 and won't be able implement them on it :/; however, your insight has got me going in the right direction. Is there a way I could possibly hook a mixer up to the Porta02?

        Comment


        • #5
          Holy hell. I didn't expect the true experts to reply!

          Mr. Grumpy: Thanks for the recommendation! I've been using type ones and that's why there is so much hiss.

          Sir O'Keefe: I'm blown away by your extensive tips and knowledge, but I'm only using a Tascam Porta02 and won't be able implement them on it :/; however, your insight has got me going in the right direction.

          Secondly, is there a way I could possibly hook a mixer up to the Porta02? I found one of these in the attic: http://www.ebay.com/itm/Tascam-M-208-8-Channel-Analog-Mixer-Vintage-Broadcast-Quality-Preamps-Eq-/170742532294?pt=LH_DefaultDomain_0&hash=item27c10c 48c6#ht_560wt_939

          Comment


          • #6
            If you
            "Everybody loves you when you're six foot in the ground."
            ~John Lennon

            Comment


            • #7
              I loved my old Tascam 244. TDK SA60!
              ___

              Comment


              • #8


                Also, try tracking with the treble artificially boosted. In other words, goose the treble knob on the mixer when you're recording so that the sound is "printed" overly bright. When you go to mix, make a similar cut to the high frequencies. This emphasis / de-emphasis is similar to how parts of some noise reduction circuits work, and this can sometimes further reduce the tape hiss and noise, which tend to be most obviously audible in the high frequency range.


                The EQ section is bypassed on multitrack cassette recorders. The only thing you have is gain fro tracking "and" Bouncing I believe.
                The only time the EQ works is on playback.

                You have to use an external hardware solution if you want to pre EQ the signal using an external mixer, EQ or just select
                mics that have boosted EQ if thats what you're needing. Most cases with good mics and micing techniques should give you
                good enough tracks to where the EQ can do its job when playing back and mixing down.

                You can add EQ between the recorder and mixdown deck if you need that extra boost, but chances are, you'll
                want to record the decks playback into a computer and record the stereo track direct and skip the mixdown to cassette
                all together plus skip the losses that occur.

                I did that for a few years mixing down from my 8 track cassette recorder (which I still have)
                i mixed down directly to the computer through my line input of a sound blaster card. I'd then use
                Cool edit and add some mastering plugins to make it sound better. In fact I still have a tune on line
                that you could take a listen to. If you notice, there is no Frequency responce above 18K so and very little
                above 15K so it sounds a bit dull. Boosting those frequencies will only bring up tape hiss, so you have to
                mix in a way that give the illusion you have good frequency responce.

                Heres a few I recorded on a Teac Cassette recorder and it might give you an idea of what can be done with them.
                I have the grey teac that was 8 channels before they went to the ones with the low Z inputs.
                My buddy playes it on his radio show every so often.
                It didnt sound bad on the radio with all of its additional compression they add broadcasting.


                http://dl.dropbox.com/u/1682170/Jazz%20Master%20-%20Will%20Rogers%20Gary.mp3

                He uses this one as bumper music every so often too. Both were recorded on cassette tapes.
                http://dl.dropbox.com/u/1682170/Cuba%20Radio%20Broadcast.mp3

                Comment


                • #9
                  You can get a copy of your unit's manual online for free from Tascam:

                  http://tascam.com/product/porta02mkii/downloads/

                  As far as connecting a external mixer to it, sure. Just take a pair of 1/4" cables, connect them to the mixer's main L/R outputs, and then connect the other ends to the two Mic / Line inputs on the Tascam. Set the input level ("Trim") knobs all the way counter-clockwise so they're on the "Line" setting - otherwise the mixer will overload the inputs on the Tascam.

                  With it connected like that, the panning on the mixer becomes important. Anything you pan hard left will get recorded only on track 1 (or 3, depending on which one you have selected) of the Tascam. Anything panned hard right will only be recorded on track 2 (or 4) of the Tascam. Anything panned in the middle will be recorded on both tracks. You can use something like a 8:2 mixer (8 inputs / 2 outputs) to "submix" a greater number of microphones down to those two inputs / tracks. For example, if you want to mic a drum kit with 4 mics, then record them to one track on the Tascam, mic up the kit, plug the mikes into the submixer, pan everything either hard left or right (depending on whether you want to record to an odd or even numbered track), adjust the balance and EQ of the submixer until you have a drum mix that sounds good to you, then hit record on the Tascam.

                  Let's assume you have the drum channels panned hard left on the submixer. You can simultaneously record something else by panning it hard right. For example, suppose you want to also record a guitar and bass on to track 2 simultaneously along with the drums that you're recording to track 1. Plug in the output of both mikes (or mic & direct box, if you're running the bass direct) into the submixer, pan both hard RIGHT (remember, the drums are panned hard left so they'll be routed to track 1) and record that on to track 2 of the recorder.

                  The Porta 02 is a pretty limited four track. It was designed more as an idea sketchpad and songwriting type tool, not really as a super high-fidelity demo or production tool. Still, with careful attention to your levels, you can get some pretty decent recordings. The slow tape speed and lack of noise reduction are probably its biggest drawbacks. It also lacks EQ.

                  However, there are some advantages to a multitrack tape deck that runs at 1 7/8 IPS. If you have a second stereo cassette machine, you can "mix down" all four tracks on the Tascam to the second machine as a submix, then physically remove the tape from the stereo machine, put it into the Tascam and record two more tracks on it.
                  **********

                  "Look at it this way: think of how stupid the average person is, and then realize half of 'em are stupider than that."

                  - George Carlin

                  "It shouldn't be expected that people are necessarily doing what they appear to be doing on records."

                  - Sir George Martin, All You Need Is Ears

                  "The music business will be revitalized by musicians, not the labels or Live Nation. When the musicians decide to put music first, instead of money, the public will flock to the fruits and the scene will be healthy again."

                  - Bob Lefsetz, The Lefsetz Letter

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    The EQ section is bypassed on multitrack cassette recorders.

                    Do you mean when recording? That depends entirely on which unit we're talking about. It doesn't apply to the Fostex 250 or Tascam 246 - both have their EQ sections active when tracking and mixing.
                    **********

                    "Look at it this way: think of how stupid the average person is, and then realize half of 'em are stupider than that."

                    - George Carlin

                    "It shouldn't be expected that people are necessarily doing what they appear to be doing on records."

                    - Sir George Martin, All You Need Is Ears

                    "The music business will be revitalized by musicians, not the labels or Live Nation. When the musicians decide to put music first, instead of money, the public will flock to the fruits and the scene will be healthy again."

                    - Bob Lefsetz, The Lefsetz Letter

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      ^^ Hum. The Tascams I owned would let you hear the difference monitoring,
                      but had one effect on what was actually being tracked. It would be there if you bounced,
                      but straight to mtrack it came directly from the mic.

                      Comment


                      • #12

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