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The End of Analogue - Is analogue multitrack recording dead? (part 1)

Now that affordable digital multitrack recording is available, does it mean that your analogue machine is now fit only for the museum? David Mellor asks, and attempts to answer this question.

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Now that affordable digital multitrack recording is available, does it mean that your analogue machine is now fit only for the museum? David Mellor asks, and attempts to answer this question.

Have you ever seen that programme ‘Troubleshooter’, currently reincarnated as ‘Troubleshooter 2’, in which ex-chairman of ICI Sir John Harvey-Jones visits a company in difficulties and invents a package of rescue measures over a pint of beer in the local? Actually, he came round to see my modest recording establishment recently. As is his way, he gave my factory and plant the once over and said something to the tune of, “I haven’t seen anything as antiquated as this since I last visited Eastern Europe. If you are to compete with the best in the world then you have to have the best equipment.” And the worst of it was, he was looking at equipment only four years old which I felt at the time I bought it had cost me an arm and the best part of a leg. By the way, he also criticised my project management and the flow of materials across my factory floor, but he always does that anyway so I wasn’t too upset, in fact I was very happy to be getting his advice for free. (I suppose I ought to explain that this was only a dream, but Sir John’s tie was just as vivid as real life!).

I’ll assume, as I always do, that my readers in Sound on Sound are serious about their music and if they are not making money out of it already then they one day hope to, perhaps as a career or perhaps simply as an absorbing hobby that pays for itself. Although the ‘Troubleshooter 2’ series will be nearly over by the time this magazine has popped through subscribers’ letterboxes, the inevitable repeat will make seriously good viewing for anyone who wants to get the best out of any activity. For all his eccentricities, Mr. Harvey-Jones has a knack of hacking his way through to the central issue in the situation, cutting out any dead wood and making sensible plans for the future. Anyone with a personal recording studio would be well advised to consider what his or her objects and ambitions are, and to tailor the production facilities accordingly. I can imagine three possible scenarios (there may be more):

• You want to succeed in music. You decide that a personal studio would help you practise your art and provide the means to produce demo tapes of acceptable quality.

• You have already achieved a degree of personal musical success. You have projects planned and you must have the capability of fulfilling these projects.

• You operate a studio for hire and want to attract the best quality talent.

I would say that the scenario that fits you best should be the starting point for any decisions you may make about equipment and facilities. I don’t think it would be productive in terms of cash or personal satisfaction to start from the point of view of acquiring the equipment for its own sake and then deciding what to do with it. I could apply my arguments to any of the equipment in the studio, even to the building of the studio and whether it should have its own coffee making facilities, but here I am going to consider only the multitrack recorder.

Since the invention of multitrack recording we have had, through necessity, to use analogue machines. Now there is one affordable digital multitrack available, the Alesis ADAT, and soon there will be another from Tascam. Later on we will see Fostex entering the fray. If you have an analogue machine, should you trade it it now, even though it is still working well? If you don’t have an existing multitrack to worry about, should you invest in digital equipment, or an analogue machine with more tracks for the same price? Let me help you decide…

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By David Mellor Thursday January 1, 2004
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