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Thread: 4-track cassette setup for acoustic guitar and vocals?

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    4-track cassette setup for acoustic guitar and vocals?

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    I've been writing some acoustic songs that I want to start getting down on tape. I'm completely new to recording. I could probably just buy some sort of USB mic and use GarageBand, but what's the fun in that?

    What would cost me for a 4-track tape recording setup on a tight budget? How much should I spend on the recorder? I have a Blue Encore 100 dynamic mic lying around, but would I need some sort of expensive preamp for it? Also, how much should I spend on the actual cassette?

    For now, I just want to record songs with 1-2 acoustic guitar tracks and 1-2 vocal tracks (just 1 at a time). I'm not too picky about sound quality, but I do want it to sound decent. Mostly I want to learn a new craft, and I'm excited at the kind of rawness of making something semi-performative in analog, imperfections and all, which I think will fit the songs I'm writing.

    I'm new here and appreciate any help you could offer. Thanks a ton!

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    You will need a 4-track recorder and a good stereo cassette deck to mix onto.

    Look for what's available from Tascam or Yamaha. You can find possibilities on ebay.

    Best results are obtained with C90 Type II cassettes.

    Most cassette recorders will accept a 6.5mm jack from a microphone. You may need an XLR to 6.5mm jack lead

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    I would recommend a Tascam 244. It has quiet preamps for dynamic mics and sound quality in my opinion when well set up with a decent tape is indistinguishable from reel.

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    Do you want to be able to share the results without having to dub cassettes to pass out? If so then you're going to need to record into a computer anyway. You might just skip a step and mix into the computer. You may find it's possible to capture your mixes with acceptable quality using the built in audio card in your computer, or you may want to get a basic 2-channel interface.

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    I'm with Boulder and OldePro on this one.

    I get the attraction of doing it "old school". At one point, I thought about taking my Dokoder 8140 to a local shop that specializes in tape recorders and old gear.

    The more I thought about it, the more I realized that I would just be tossing money at a 40 year old tape deck that never gave me as good a result as my Zoom H4n gives me, at 1/3 the price (and the 8140 was bought in 1980 dollars!). Getting the Dokorder into shape would probably cost as much as I spent when I bought it new. Then you need to buy tapes, which are less and less available.

    The Zoom is convenient for on the fly recording, and with the case I picked up, I would throw it in the car when I traveled for work. A pair of earbuds and a guitar cable were all I needed. Your Encore will plug right in, or you can use the internal mics if you are just fleshing out ideas. You can buy MicroSD cards for $5 at any office supply or Walmart that will give you 6 hours of recording time.

    Its like classic cars... I would LOVE to have a '60 or '61 Vette. Its my dream car... always loved them. But for a 600 mile trip to the coast, its not the car I would take. My Taurus will haul me there and when I get out, I don't feel like I've been beaten up. If money and practicality were no object, there would probably be a car like that in the garage. Unfortunately, those things are always a consideration, at least until my Powerball ticket hits!

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    There are plenty of good tapes still to be found. There's tons of NOS on ebay, and there are still one or two companies that make decent new chrome tape. The prices of NOS tape are a bit ridiculous nowadays. They generally go for about $8 to $10 each on ebay if you buy them one at a time. You can get them for a little cheaper if you buy several.

    However, I've used tape from this place before, and they sell 60-minute cassettes for $2 each (plus shipping).

    Blank Audio Cassettes Custom-Loaded With Chrome High Bias Tape In Your Choice Of Color - Custom-Loaded Chrome Audio Cassettes - Audio Cassettes - duplication.ca (Analogue Media Technologies Inc.)

    They worked fine. In fact, I recorded the song that I posted in this forum on one of these cassettes.
    New tune recorded with Tascam 688


    Cassette 4-tracks, though, are a bit of a crap shoot. You can find a ton of them on eBay, Reverb, etc., but many times they're not fully tested, even though the auctions say they are. Over the past ten years, I've probably bought 10 or more cassette 4-tracks online, and I think only two of them worked 100% right off the bat the way they were supposed to. Many of them I returned, and some of them (the ones that refunded my money and told me to keep them) I was able to repair and get them working.

    So, unless you're good at repair and/or you want to do that, you may want to limit your search to local stuff on Craigslist, FB marketplace, etc., so you can test the machine out before you buy it.

    Good models to look for include:

    Tascam 424
    Tascam 414
    Tascam 244
    Tascam 246

    The latter two will generally be considerably more expensive than the first two. The first two can usually be had for around $150 - $200 used.

    There are also some Yamahas that are nice, such as:

    MT50
    MT400
    MT4x

    And these Fostex units aren't too shabby either:
    260
    X-55
    XR-7


    You won't need a preamp for your dynamic mic. The cassette 4 track will have preamps built in. However, it will not have phantom power (very few models do, anyway), so if you want to use a condenser mic, you'll need to either get a phantom power supply (maybe $30 used) or use an external preamp, like an ART Tube MP or M-Audio DMP3, which will have phantom power.

    Good luck
    famous beagle

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    I was suggesting the idea of using the computer as a mixdown deck for for four-track cassette recorder. That way you can have all the fun of using tape but skip the step of mixing to another cassette deck and take your stereo mix right into the computer for mastering and sharing.

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    Quote Originally Posted by bouldersoundguy View Post
    I was suggesting the idea of using the computer as a mixdown deck for for four-track cassette recorder. That way you can have all the fun of using tape but skip the step of mixing to another cassette deck and take your stereo mix right into the computer for mastering and sharing.
    This is exactly what I usually do.

    I do have a cassette mixdown deck, but I'm the only one I know who has a cassette player. So, unless I want to make a cassette just for myself, I just go ahead and mix to the computer.

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    I've still got a cassette deck (Harmon Kardon from a while back). It worked a few months ago when I played some old tapes but the rewind was slipping.

    The thing that I'm running into is that when they go down, its tough to recover the "data". I ran into this recently with video tapes. My dad had transfered his 8mm films of his "adorable children" to VHS many years ago. These dated back to the mid 50s. He even made copies for all of us kids. Now, some 15 years later, all the VCRs are dying. Between his VHS and Hi8 movies, I had over 30 tapes with old videos. I went through 3 VHS decks and 2 Hi8 cameras to find one of each that still worked.

    All those films have been dumped down to DVD and then converted to MP4 video files. I gave my siblings a stack of DVDs fpr Christmas and a couple of USB flash drives with the MP4 versions. Its a simple matter to move them around or share with the grandkids, etc. I'm sure one of them will end up putting them in the "cloud" for safe keeping.

    Those things drove home two things... 1 How fragile old tape media can be, and 2. How important it is to have multiple backup copies.

    That's just easier with a computer.

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    Weirdly, you can get cheap 8mm scanners these days, e.g. the Wolverine. They'll accept 8mm or super8, and spit out an MP4 file on SD card. The quality's not going to be on par with a professional scanner costing several grand, but it works pretty well for what it is.
    If such a thing is viable to mass-produce it does make me wonder about making cheap reel-to-reel machines. The head is going to be the tricky part, but clearly it's possible to produce a cheap film transport and making it work with tape instead isn't too much of a stretch.

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