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Thread: Tascam 388: First impressions and n00b questions

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    Tascam 388: First impressions and n00b questions

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    After about 3 months, I finally got tape and a demagnetizer for my Tascam 388, and have started trying to learn the thing! I've recorded some test stuff, and so far everything seems to be working. The "feature set" on here is making me really, really appreciate my 488 mkII; Things like 2 memory points and the overall ease of use and monitor routing are making the 488 feel like a Cadillac in comparison. The idea of "PGM" and "CUE" on the 388 are confusing me, and I feel a little stupid because of it. I think my brain wants one to be playback and one to be through-the-board signal, but I THINK it depends more on what's being routed through certain busses... but I really have no solid description of what's what. Someone should really spell that out for me- I'm plenty competent when it comes to digital recording, but I have ZERO experience with tape outside of the 488mkII!

    Has anyone else noticed how many typos are in the manual for the 388? I don't mean they say "Recod" instead of "Record"... I mean important stuff, like saying "Put the so-and-so switch in the CUE position (up)" when in reality, the CUE position for that switch is DOWN, so which do they mean? This isn't a specific example because I can't think of one off the top of my head, but reading the manual, I've come across a ton of things like that that's making it extremely difficult for me to learn what the hell I'm supposed to be doing. Lots of elements simply aren't explained well enough for me to understand what's going on. In contrast, the 488mkII manual is so well written that I straight-up enjoyed reading it. Every element of everything was so clearly overly explained that I had no problem understanding every aspect of that machine.

    I'm a little confused about how to route things through the monitor mix all the time, but can usually figure out how to make it do what i want it to after flipping switches a few times. One problem specifically: I have my monitors plugged into the Stereo Outs on the back of the 388. When I'm overdubbing, say, acoustic guitar through an LDC, I'd love to be able to turn down the speakers and up the headphones. When i turn down the master LR fader, it kills my headphone volume too. Aaagh. How do I send the tape signal from track one and the the live signal passing through channel 1 on the board and being routed to track 2 to headphones but not speakers? Are they expecting me to have passive speakers and an amplifier between the Tascam and the monitors that could control their volume? ...Because that isn't the case.

    Also, when i hit play or stop, it makes a slightly jarring CHUNK noise that I'm not used to hearing. I'm pretty sure it's normal, but since I've never had a tape machine before and have absolutely no idea if it's functioning at 100% or not, it's worth asking

    Thanks!

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    I'm plenty competent when it comes to digital recording, but I have ZERO experience with tape outside of the 488mkII!
    Eaaasy there big fella......just want to be clear that what you are struggling with is not necessarily an issue with "tape", it is with the differences in the mixers between the 488 and the 388...Its possible to have the same kinds of struggles with a standalone mixer as well too so let's have a look at that.

    The 388 features a more full-function mixer than the 488 line. Plus, Tascam developed some labels and conventions for their cassette Portastudios that were relatively unique to that family of products which can make it hard when working with a bigger format. I agree that the 388 can be a little daunting to get your head around after working with a cassette Portastudio. I have a 424mkII that is really nice because the mixer is very focused on serving the recorder. The 388 is too but its mixer can also serve pretty nicely as a standalone 8 x 8 x 2 mixer whereas the 488 line is more limited there. Not a problem when using the 488 as intended. It is a really fantastic setup.

    Part of the confusion with the 388 comes (IMHO) with the automatic monitor switching feature. The advantages to this is that there are less controls to crowd the control surface and one less switch to have to think about when moving through the different phases of the recording process. It also offers a potentially cleaner signal path since that part of the audio path doesn't have to go through mechanical switches.

    "PGM" and "CUE"...

    "PGM" refers to the 8 PGM group busses; all the signals that you have routed to the PGM groups 1~8 (via the 1-2, 3-4, 5-6 and 7-8 buttons on the channels strips along with the PAN knobs). When the PGM/CUE switch is down (latched) the source of the monitor mixer (the 8 GAIN and PAN knobs above the BUSS L and BUSS R master faders) will always be the PGM groups. This is typically the setting for mixdown or if you are using the mixer as an independent mixer. The only way to monitor tape tracks in PGM mode is if a channel strip source is set to RMX...and this may help you: "RMX" means "remix" which really could say "TAPE". That's how you mix down on the 488mkII right? You switch each channel to TAPE, press PLAY, set your EQ's, send, PAN's etc. and mixdown to your stereo recorder. Same on the 388 only you want to latch the PGM/CUE switch down to the PGM position first.

    The 488mkII has switches so you can monitor the 1-2 buss, 3-4 buss etc. right? The 388 has a whole 8-channel submixer for that (the monitor mixer) and its channels 1~8 get its signals from PGM groups 1~8, or a mix of PGM groups and tape tracks and you have independent control over the level of each of the 8 monitor mixer channels (via the GAIN knobs) and the placement of those channels in the stereo monitor field (via the PAN knobs).

    Now...you have a switch on the 488mkII to switch one of your EFF sends to be a TAPE CUE right? The 388 has a tape cue too and you use it by leaving the PGM/CUE switch in the up position (which is the CUE position). Let's leave the INSERT switch in the up position for now (because the down or latched position has to do with punch-in recording and we're not there yet...) Now the 8 monitor mixer channels are monitoring tape tracks. How do you monitor your mixer channels too? The assumption is that you want to monitor mixer channels to record to blank tracks or to punch in. When in CUE mode you can monitor PGM groups (which tie back to the mixer channels right? Via the 1-2, 3-4 etc. assign buttons...) by latching the REC FUNCTION switch of any track or tracks to which you want to record. So if you latch the REC FUNCTION switch for track 1 and leave all the others off (up), you can now hear all signals routed to the PGM group 1 buss (i.e. any mixer channels with the 1-2 button depressed and the PAN knob panned to the left). Now you press PLAY and you can still hear PGM group 1 and anything recorded on tape tracks 2~8. So in CUE mode with the INSERT switch up, the monitor mixer channels 1~8 source the tape tracks 1~8 unless a REC FUNCTION switch or switches are down/on/latched. Than those corresponding monitor mixer channels will be sourcing those corresponding PGM groups (i.e. latch REC FUNCTION switches 2, 5 and 8, now monitor mixer channels 2, 5 and 8 are sourcing PGM groups 2, 5 and 8).

    Now for the bit about punch-in recording. Its really handy to have your monitor source switch from a section of tape to your input source when you punch-in right? And to have it switch back to the tape when you punch out, yes? That's what the INSERT switch does. "INSERT" means punch. So...PGM/CUE switch in the up "CUE" position, INSERT in the down/on position. This is similar to the last bit only NOW the monitor mixer source is always tape tracks until the transport is put into REC+PLAY mode and at that point the source for any monitor mixer channels for any tape tracks with their REC FUNCTION switches on/down/latched will switch from tape to PGM group (i.e. PGM/CUE switch up, INSERT switch down, let's say REC FUNCTION switches 2, 5, and 8 are down/on/latched and you press PLAY...all you'll hear will be tape tracks 1~8 in monitor mixer channels 1~8...NOW hit REC+PLAY, the punch-in, and now monitor mixer channels 2, 5 and 8 are auto-switched to sourcing PGM groups 2, 5 and 8 until you punch out...then it auto-switches back to just monitoring tape tracks.

    I'm sorry...this probably isn't helping. I'll stop there for now and let that soak in a bit.

    Manual errors...

    I have yet to find a manual for Tascam product from the 80's that didn't have errors and unfortunately there are lots of errors or at least missing information in the parts lists and schematics. It is pretty rare though in my experience for those non schematical errors to be operational misdirections. Can you point to one specific in the 388 manual? It would be good to know about.

    And to put things in perspective, Tascam manuals from that era are very complete and full volumes of information and products got updated and changed and the manual didn't always follow all those little changes and it kind of comes with the territory of that era IMO. The Portastudios manuals are a love-hate family of documents. Some can't stand that they leave out all the reference info and theory stuff...a full 388 manual pretty much has everything you need to keep it going and to fully utilize all its features and in some regards it assumes you have some background knowledge, and yet they made efforts to include teaching information. Then there are those that get overwhelmed by all the information and the 388 manual is not as well geared for those that want to just get going...the "quick-start" part of the manual is spread out and not very well laid out, but its there along with everything else. They really tried to format things in a way so it would help people understand the flow and features, even to the point of developing their pictogram flow diagrams as well as including standard block diagrams...they really covered things from about 3 vantage points and THAT can get overwhelming if you aren't sure what you are looking at.

    Monitor speakers and headphones...

    You should have your monitor speakers plugged into the MONITOR OUT jacks, and your stereo mixdown deck to the STEREO OUT jacks, but in the end its no different than your 488mkII which ALSO shares the MONITOR LEVEL knob between the monitor out jacks and headphones right? So you'll have to have some way to cut off signal to the monitor speakers. Not sure why they did that, but I think the assumption was that you would be using one or the other. How do you handle this with your 488mkII?

    The "CHUNK" noise...

    You're talking about a mechanical noise from the transport? Any time you hit STOP or PLAY there are three solenoids that kick in or out with associated linkages and such, and they are indeed "chunky" devices considering the size of the transport so all is good if they go "CHUNK". Enjoy the positive mechanical action of your 388...mmmmmmm.

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    I love my 388--love the CHUNK!

    I would love it even more if it had phase flip and a pad, however. this really bums me out! I did buy a UA solo 610 preamp which I am really digging and adds real versatility.

    I'm also trying to get a 38 deck going to run with it (I want more highs and lows!) question---can I somehow use the 388 monitor section coming back from the 38 while I'm running my mic's through the channels? it doesn't seem likely...

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    Holy cow!!! Thanks for such a patient, wordy reply!

    When I said I was confused with issues pertaining to "tape," what I really should've said was "entirely analog systems." I have about 10 years of experience with recording, but I'm entirely self-taught, and started (like many others, I'm sure) doing it the completely wrong way on the computer, and gradually worked my way into a smarter setup. Over time I worked slightly more into the analog world, owning a surprising number of boards (starting with Behringer and ending, currently, with a wonderful lush Toft), but for the most part used the boards for their preamps and channel strips, and then mixed in the box. 4-ish years ago, when I was re-reading the Beatles Recording Sessions book, I decided to get a 424mkII to try to expand my mind a little (and to get to pretend I was George Martin while I was at it) and before I had much time to get my feet wet with that, I had the opportunity to buy a near mint 488mkII which I quickly fell in love with. Then, for about 2 years, I spent little to no time working on my own music and instead was recording everyone else back in the digital domain... Now, after doing some demos of my new material on the computer and being able to put my finger on exactly what needed to change, I went back to the 488 and got some results I was very happy with. After doing a little reading, I stumbled onto the magical wonder that is the 388 and fell in love. I scoured Craigslist, read every thread on here and the Tape Op forums that I could, drove 5 hours to St Louis and picked up a fantastically clean specimen.

    SO anyway, there's a really long winded explanation for where I'm coming from exactly. Concepts are pretty easy for me to grasp, but specific terminology for me is pretty limited to what equipment I've owned and worked with, not to mention the vastly different workflow I'm used to, coming from what is essentially a mostly digital setup. The 488 is the only fully analog system that I know in and out. I feel confident that learning the 388 will help me to understand the Toft in a way that I currently don't, and it'll probably wind up changing the whole way I have my studio set up. I like that.

    Your explanation of the PGM/CUE stuff all made perfect sense, and I only had to re-read a few spots to get it to sink in The concept of that Insert switch had always made sense to me, but now that I can better grasp the PGM/CUE switch it comes full circle for me and I get how to use it now. It'll take some getting used to, but I've got the idea now.

    Specific errors in the manual? I'll let you know once I'm reading again and notice something. There's also a chance that in my confusion I misunderstood something... but it seems like I found a few of them on several different occasions. I'll be sure to let you know if I spot anything again.

    Glad to know I don't need to worry about the chunk. Thanks again for all your help, you've made my life considerably easier!

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    Oh, also, about the monitoring:

    How do I make it work on my 488? Well, for one, I plug it in correctly instead of the way I did it on the 388

    If I plug my speaks into the monitor out, I have to turn the monitor volume knob all the way up to bring it up to 0db. If my headphones are plugged in, they are plenty loud when i have the volume at about 20%, which is quiet enough out of the monitors that it doesn't screw with the mics. Lo and behold... the same is true on the big ol' 388. Just as long as I don't forget to unplug my headphones when it's time to use the speakers! Whew...

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    question---can I somehow use the 388 monitor section coming back from the 38 while I'm running my mic's through the channels? it doesn't seem likely...
    You mean you want to use the 388 mixer as the front end to the 38?

    Mr. Cosby, thanks for the rundown on your path thus far. That helps me understand where you are coming from.

    Best wishes with the 388 and post back as needed as you get acclimated. Your questions actually helped me get a better grip on the operations, and inspired me to get mine back together and "finished".

    BTW, that Toft board is very well-reputed. Let us know how that progresses.

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    sorry, don't want to steer this conversation off course, but it all relates, doesn't it! yes, I want to use the 388 mixer in front of the 38 recorder. I figure it's program outs to the recorder, and then recorder outputs to line in on the mixer for mix down. mostly I record as a writing tool, playing drums, guitar, bass, and vocals--that's why I got the solo 610 preamp. so I figure i can generally run from the 610 straight to tape, then monitor back thru the 388 board--cool. but I also bring folks in to record live in the room, so I need to use the 388 preamps. I am thinking I'll need a line mixer to create a monitor mix, unless I'm missing something, which is very possible!! should I just get a better, stand alone mixer?

    ...I've only been recording for about a year--it's an awesome new world, and I am going to stay analog come hell or high water!! why doesn't my computer have rca's to plug into my hifi??? (doesn't matter, I have a sony cd player/burner, so I burn my LP's and keep the hifi pure and far far away from the computer!!) no ipod, no itunes, no regrets!

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    I'm also trying to get a 38 deck going to run with it (I want more highs and lows!) question---can I somehow use the 388 monitor section coming back from the 38 while I'm running my mic's through the channels? it doesn't seem likely...
    You certainly CAN but there are limitations/caviats/risks.

    There are access jacks for the PGM groups...the PGM BUSS IN jacks, and there are direct outs for the PGM groups (the PGM OUT jacks). The danger is that if you set the 38 to monitor the input you'll setup an electronic feedback loop that will fry something unless you catch it really quickly. You can use the PGM OUT jacks to the 38 inputs, and return the 38 tracks to the LINE IN jacks but you wonzt be able to monitor the playback during tracking if ou do any overdubbing. So it can be done but there are limitations and risks.

    The BEST thing to do is as you thought...get an 8 x 2 line mixer. The Teac Model 1/Tascam M-1/Tascam M-1B are nice options because all theline inputs have foldback jacks (FLB) so you donzt have to repatch when it comes time for mixdown. You would mix the 38 outs on the line mixer and take the stereo out of that to the STEREO BUSS IN jacks.

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