TASCAM 424 Mk3 Review
by Srikanth Narayanan
(NOTE: I received my 424 Mk3 as a free upgrade replacement for a "defective"
424 MkII than I bought in January 1999. I have not seen the Mk3 in stores
yet, so I do not know how much it will retail for.)
The first things I noticed: there are now six full function channels
on the mixer, and the top access to the inputs and outputs is gone, replaced
by rear access. The rest of the buttons on the MkII are still here, just
in different places. The PAUSE button is gone, and the LINE OUT monitor
has a new MONO setting to listen to bussed L or R tracks, instead of the
old separate L, R monitor switches. Also, the input for the punch-in/punch-out
foot switch is now on the rear of the machine.
New! Check out detailed photos of
the top and the back
of this unit.
How the 424 Mk3 compares to the 424 MkII
- channels 5 and 6 are now separate full function channels with individual
TRIM, input select, EQ, tape Cues, PAN and Channel fader controls.
- the Punch-in/Punch out performance on my Mk3 is quieter than that
of the MkII I had for a short while. No clicks or pops as it punches
in or punches out.
- The Mk3 is generally smaller and lighter than the MkII. But this came
at a cost. (See below: Tradeoffs).
- There is no wasted or unused space on the top surface of the Mk3 (unlike
the empty column under inputs 5/6 on the MkII).
- Counter does not automatically reset when I change tapes. Ive
already found this to be convenient when I was comparing different cassette
recordings and wanted to keep a fixed counter reference for easy shuttling.
- Top access to the inputs and outputs are gone. This makes
the volume of the Mk3 smaller, but I found the top access to be really
convenient, functional and ideal. The way the input/output section sloped
slightly backwards so that the cables gently curved behind the unit...perfect.
Now, to plug cables in or out of the Mk3, a user has to bend over the
unit to see its backside, or lift the whole thing up to ones face
to. (Not so difficult as the Mk3 by itself is comparatively light).
- The adapter is external again. This makes the Mk3 itself lighter,
but once again breaks the 424 into two pieces. At least this external
power adapter is well designed. It has a cable with a special plug that
connects to the Mk3 on one side, and a regular polarized two prong plug
to connect to the wall socket from its other side. This way, there is
no big mass hanging from a wall socket, ready to fall out.
The electronics of the Mk3s mixer section do not seem to be
as good as those on the MkII. At this moment, it is impossible for me
to objectively measure and compare them to each other, but my general
impression is that the Mk3 allows more signal bleed through where not
wanted than the MkII does. Very strong signals will be heard regardless
of the attempts to quiet them using individual channel trim, tape
cue or slider controls. Solution: dont use or record signals that
are strong enough to be heard as unwanted bleed through. A signal that
hot will actually still sound great, so be mindful about levels, cause
once recorded you wont be able to selectively shut them off. Having
said that, Im finding that with some care, Im having no problems
with bleed throughs or mixer noise. The unit works fine.
- The legs of the machine have no rubber on them, so the machine slides
around very easily when I plug and unplug cables from its back. (Anything
with horizontal connectors need legs with very good table grip!)
- No PAUSE button. Most likely eliminated because there was no width
for six shuttle buttons on the Mk3. Perhaps a PAUSE button is not necessary
since STOP works just as well, but still...
Just a change?
No spring loaded "push down click switch" for the cassette
compartment. Now there is just a hinged lid powered by human fingers.
(Less chance for a spring breakage?)
- Of the six MIC/LINE inputs, 1 to 4 have stereo 1/4" inputs, while
5 and 6 are mono (or left only) 1/4" inputs. As on the MkII, inputs
7 and 8 are two mono 1/4" inputs paired up together for stereo
sound, and the "Effect 1 Send" and "Effect 2 Send /Tape
Cue" are both mono 1/4" outputs.
- Channel 5 can accept signals from inputs 1, 3 and 5, while channel
6 can accept signals from inputs 2, 4 and 6. Signals from inputs 7 and
8 go straight to the master fader. To record any instruments plugged
into inputs 5-8, use the Buss L or Buss R record funtions.
- As far as the recording section is concerned, there is no difference
between the Mk3 and the MkII (except the previously mentioned better
"punch in /punch out" performance, which may or may not vary
from individual unit to unit). The sound quality is quite impressive,
and the dbx makes tape hiss hardly noticeable while keeping very good
sound definition and "liveness". While the dbx TYPE II noise
reduction is the same as that on the MkII, I find that the Mk3 I now
have, seems to work a bit better than the MkII I had briefly. (Again,
perhaps individual variation between specific units?)
- Like the MkII, the Mk3s routing is such that we can use it as
a mixer, bypass the recording section, and record 2 tracks straight
from the line outs onto a better quality /longer recording-time medium
like VCR, MD or DAT. (One can always record simultaneously on the 424's
cassette and the additional line out recorder. Get em both, a
multitrack, and an immediate rough mixdown). This is very practical
in making high quality recordings of long performances, improv sessions
and the like. With eight inputs, six of which have full channel controls,
this feature will come in handy for those inexpensive, high quality,
direct to 2 track recordings many of us will occasionally make. (Oh,
and that does take skill.)
Am I happy with my free upgrade, or do I want to re-exchange my Mk3 for
While I really liked the MkIIs top access to the inputs
and outputs, all the functional features of the MkII are on the Mk3. The
Mk3 however, has these two additional channels to play with and a slightly
smaller size that gently tilts my desires towards the Mk3. (It took me
a few days to figure out my preference).
While the 424 MkII was a direct improvement on the original 424 in just
about every way, the Mk3 is rather a "sideways evolution" of
the MkII. Different, but not necessarily better. Some design changes are
better, but some subjectively are not. Most changes, while good, came
with a price of compromise.
If that seems like lackluster support for the Mk3, please consider
my viewpoint. In my opinion, before the Mk3, the 424 MkII was clearly
the best cassette 4 track currently on the market. Nothing else could
withstand a direct comparison with its features, quality and "for
the $" value. The 424 Mk3 also blows away all the other 4 track units,
but at best, it can only "edge" the 424 MkII. Sure, the MkIIs
only real flaw was its size and weight, and TASCAM addressed these with
the 424 Mk3, but with trade offs: smaller size and less mass -> no top
access to inputs/outputs, and an external adapter. Are those improvements
or deteriorations? It depends, as each of us has our own preferences.
In one sentence:
If you are shopping around for a 4 track cassette recorder, I strongly
suggest you focus on the 424's both MkII and Mk3, they are the best currently
on the market.
There are important errors on page 18 in the Mk3 manual. They messed
up step 2, forgot a very important step (my step 3 below) and have two
steps in a less efficient order. Following the published manual exactly
will result in a lot of frustrated customers who wont understand
why they cant hear what they just recorded. To correct this, the
complete instructions for p. 18, titled "Track 1 Playback through
TAPE CUE", should read as follows: (Important changes are in boldface)
- Set the EFFECT 2/TAPE CUE selection switch located below the LEVEL
control to the right/TAPE CUE position.
- Slide the MONITOR SELECT LINE OUT switch to the right OFF position.
- Slide the MONITOR SELECT EFFECT/CUE switch to the center EFFECT
- Press the RTZ key. The tape will rewind, automatically stopping at
the zero counter point.
- Press PLAY.
- Locate the EFFECT 2/TAPE Cue level control on channel 1 and slowly
turn it to the right. Youll hear in center mono, what you recorded
on track 1
- Turn the MONITOR LEVEL control up or down to the desired listening
- Press STOP to stop play.
Country of Origin
The 424 MkII I got in January was made in Taiwan, the 424 Mk3 I now have
was made in China. China has lower wages so that will help to keep the
manufacturing costs down so that it can enter the market at an acceptable
price in 1999 (about 40% lower than the entry price of the MkII in 1996).
My experience with buying goods in Canada has been that stuff made in
China is the least expensive, but also the cheapest made.
I still like the unit I have a lot. I also buy lots of "Made in
China", but quality wise, made in Japan seems to be the best.
For more info about this review, or about my experiences using the 424
Mk3, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org