Q: Dragon, I read your FAQ. Good job. But I'd like to know how to set
up my TASCAM 424 for minimum noise. I'm a DJ that's making mix tapes and
I'm recording onto a Type II chrome tape (that's what the manual said
would give best results) with the dbx on. Then I'm mixing down to a Type
IV metal tape on a Sony deck with Dolby C. That's my master tape. Then
I record from the metal tape onto chrome tapes, and the chrome tapes are
the ones that I shop around. The sound is good but I've heard other DJ's
tapes that sound hella cleaner. What am I doing wrong or what can I do
better? I really appreciate any reply, cause I can't come up with anything
else to do other than get a DAT deck or a HiFi VCR or something like that.
A: Well. OK, first off, on paper it sounds like you're doing the best
possible thing with what you have. And in fact, that's exactly
what I was doing before I started using a HiFi VHS deck (don't buy one
just for mixing! I just happened to have one around. DAT's still the best
to use if you can if you like tape, at 44.1 KHz if you're going to CD,
anyway see this). But since I don't know
what your mixing process or equipment list is, you have to listen to the
results at each stage, for instance:
- How is the noise when you monitor directly off the TASCAM?
- How does your metal tape mixdown sound?
If those are OK, then your problem is probably that your release tapes
are third-generation cassettes, and cassettes are of course not the best
possible format. So the trick is to use every ounce of signal-to-noise
boosting tricks you can. In no particular order:
- The multitrack must be set on the highest possible speed (i.e. 2X
normal cassette speed). Although other people don't recommend the following
procedure, I've found that when I also set the speed control to the
highest position, I get enough extra S/N and treble that I can even
turn off noise reduction and be happy with the results. Try this yourself
at least once to see if you like it. The possible disadvantage is that
it's a non-standard speed, and if your recorder poops out, you might
have trouble playing your tapes on another machine.
- Also try just turning off the dbx once as a test and see what happens.
You may find that by the time you've gone through your recording chain,
the end results sound better than with it on. Same with your Dolby.
- Plan ahead. Bouncing tracks gives you a far muddier result than if
- Use virtual tracks (i.e. MIDI) whenever possible.
- I've done extensive testing on output and response with test CDs and
oscilloscopes and things, and have settled on using only TDK SAX-60
tapes with my TASCAM 424/488. Your mileage may vary. Maxell XLS-II/60s
came in a pretty close second. Don't use longer than 60 minute tapes;
they're more subject to stretch and print-through. Also, my tests showed
that the outside tracks (1 and 4 on 4-tracks) have lower output than
the inside ones. However, since you mentioned metal tapes, let me give
you this friendly warning:
Never use metal tapes in a multitrack cassette recorder!!!
The reason is simple: they have metal in them (d-oh!) and the
little metal particles will make short work of your heads, grinding
them down like high-speed sandpaper. Not only that, but they won't even
work properly...cassette decks need special erase and bias circuitry
to write on metal tapes and 4- and 8-tracks don't have this.
- Use the highest (reasonable!) level input to the multitrack as possible,
so you won't be picking up noise from the relatively poor-quality preamps
in the multitrack (compared to an external mixer such as a Mackie).
In other words, the input faders should be more to the "line"
side than the "mic" side.
- If your problem is muddy sound, try a BBE 462 and you won't believe
- If your problem is hiss or the kind of noise you get from guitar amps,
try a Hush II CX or similar. Be careful how you set the controls or
you'll wipe out all your high frequencies.
- If you can afford to, perhaps rent a DAT for a day and do a day's
worth of mixdowns and tape duping. If the results make a big difference,
you know what to save for next...
The ultimate rule is to do what sounds best, even if it means only mixing
on nights with a full moon. Don't be afraid to break the rules. Have