Hands On - Portastudios and Multitrackers (part 2)
I dont want to tell you cassette multitrack you should buy if you dont have one already, but I do want to reassure you that you cant go wrong. Any of the currently available machines from Fostex, Tascam or Yamaha - who seem to be the main players in the game - has sufficient facilities for you to learn multitrack recording. You may be in the position where you have a cassette multitrack available for your use, either at school, college or round at a friends place, in which case you dont have a choice of model. I just want to confirm that when you have a cassette multitrack available to you, of any variety in good working order, then you have no excuses for not learning how to produce a good recording, given time. I have chosen to illustrate my article with the Fostex X18, which is their cheapest model, and the Tascam 464, which is their best four track model (discounting the 644 which has a lot of facilities for a cassette multitrack but is very complex). I could equally well have chosen a basic Tascam and top-of-the-range Fostex so dont assume from this that Fostex make good cheap machines and Tascam make good expensive ones. Both companies are very experienced in the field and produce good machines at all levels (I have a personal preference but Im trying not to let on).
You wouldnt get far in a car without an engine, but you need a lot of other mechanical bits and pieces to get from A to B. The cassette multitrack will be at the centre of your studio, but you will need some other equipment to make a recording. Imagining a typical situation, and trying to keep costs down, the list could run like this:
- Cassette multitrack
- Microphone and stand
- Drum machine
- Effects unit
- Stereo cassette recorder
- Stereo amplifier
This little set up will do for practice, but when you can afford it the first improvement would be to substitute a DAT recorder for the stereo cassette. The standard cassette would be the weak link in the chain and would set a limit on your achievements. Although music recorded in a professional studio sounds more or less OK on cassette this is because the engineers already have the skill - and the equipment - to produce a good result. You need to be able to refer back to your past mixes at CD-equivalent quality so that you can chart your progress and spot things that, in the light of experience gained, could stand improvement. And if you do produce a really good recording of a simply arranged piece, which as I said before is quite possible, then you have a stereo master from which a CD could be made.
Figure 1 shows a fully operational set up for the Tascam 464. Since the 464 has the complete set of features appropriate to its status in the recording world its possible to show how things should be done. With a basic machine such as the Fostex X18 you would have to adapt slightly, but I dont intend to mention anything here that you cant achieve with the simple X18.