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Thread: Tascam 388 Prices?

  1. #21
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    My 2 pence as somebody who has owned three 388s, and done a complete tear-down refurb on one, and also have experience with the 1/2" 8-track format (Tascam 48 and 58) as well as a wide format 1"-2" Ampex machine...

    I think the draw to the 388 is:

    1. There is nothing else like it...exclusivity often breeds magic rainbow unicorn lore
    2. It does look cool...Tascam made some handsome equipment in the early to late 80s IMO
    3. Certain artists/bands with a something of a cult following have used them on their recordings...I think Black Keys was the first band I heard about that used a 388...

    So, to recap, it looks cool, its unique, and that band that sounds cool used one and therefore it *must* be the reason the band sounds cool, even though it probably has very little to do with the end product. I'd wager much of the "sound" associated with the 388 is attributable to the recording process...the mics, the room...people having to beg/borrow/scratch/claw for mics and space to rehearse/record, and to be brutally honest I'd also wager much of the time the recordings are being done on a 388 that's not properly setup, particularly with the bias. A lot of people don't even know what bias is and even less how to set it, and not just in a factory sense but even creatively to take advantage of the format and the tape being used. And to make matters worse the 388 manual doesn't present a feedback methodology for setting the bias...it simply directs the operator/tech to set the bias amp output for each track to a fixed voltage. That doesn't take into account different tape brands and formulations and yes it matters. For instance LPR35 requires about 2/3 the bias level than 457. So most people, unless they've read my posts on this, will set the bias amps to 150mVAC regardless of the tape, and if they are using LPR35 that will be a significantly over biased situation which equals what? Diminished HF response..."lo-fi"...cooooooool. This can also be jacked up pretty good when you load some +9 tape or ATR tape on the 388, which a lot of people do thinking they'll get that phat bitchin' tape compression not realizing they are actually setting bar further away from saturating the tape, the 388 amps can't really drive super high output tape to saturation before they start breaking up (but maybe that's part of the "sound"), and you wouldn't want to hit it hard anyway because then you're going to have tracking issues with the dbx...but...maybe that's yet another factor in the "sound". If people want to run their 388 that way more power to them, I think where I take exception is they often don't understand what it means to or how to dial the machine in to factory spec, which then gives you a reference point for deviation and experimentation, but I think a lot of operators don't really know what they are doing, or how far off-track they are from maximizing the 388 toward their sort of intangible subjective goal. And their ears will believe anything, even if what sounds good is, at least in part, the results of overbias, line amps clipping and dbx mis-tracking. And it accentuates the issue that the 388 runs at 7.5ips and so has some pretty decent LF response for such a narrow format...the decent LF response accentuates, for instance, the poor HF response of an overbias situation. I wish I had the opportunity to step into a situation where a 388 is being used and run tone ladders and see where the response is. I bet in a number of cases the curve would be face-ditching at 12-14kHz. But the LF response may also be part of the "sound" people talk about, which, as has been pointed out, may be achievable in 1/2" 8-track format at 7.5ips, but that's maybe a bit of a generalization, because its also about the head coil profile and where the head bump sits in the response curve, so maybe there is actually a "sound" to the 388, but that sound is fidelity limited by the format and how I believe a lot of 388s are being setup...and that's the lo-fi sound. My personal experience? When setup to factory spec and setting the bias appropriately to the tape being used? The 388 does have a nice sound, decent HF response and good LF response, but I'm speaking relative to what you might expect from a machine that has the same track width as 4-track cassette...yes...the 388 is essentially a double 4-track cassette machine running at 7.5ips with a better mixing section than most cassette multitrack machines, but honestly the signal path is very garden variety on the 388 mixing section. It sounds better than 4-track cassette, but that's because its running at 7.5ips as opposed to the typical 3.75ips...its not the mixing section...the 246 is comparable. Its mostly TL072 based. I'm not knocking that, it is just very straight-forward, nothing remarkable happening circuit-wise in the 388. The M-300 series consoles were discussed above...they are actually significantly different from the 388 mixing section...lots of 5532s in the M-300 mixers. I like their sound much better than the 388 mixing section, but for vastly overgrown cassette multitrack the 388 is comparably better than its cassette-based cousins. But yes...you are going to have much more freedom to achieve different results with a standalone mixer and a 1/2" 8-track machine. You want lo-fi on a 388 or a 1/2" 8-track machine? Forget +9 tape or even +6 tape...I'd try calibrating it at 250mWb/m but use a +3 tape...now you'll get some saturation but have a much better chance at letting the dbx do its thing...and I'd mess with the bias, even setting it up differently for different tracks depending on the source.

    Anyway...I digress.

    So I've owned three of them...the first one was the one that got the full tear-down refurb...and I sold it without a second thought. Why? The 388 is not a robust machine physically. You have to take some care when moving it. You have to take great care when plugging or unplugging module bay cards to avoid breaking/bending card edge connector pins or connector housings themselves...they are prone to solder joint failures. They are prone to a couple logic system failures. I've seen a fair amount with transport logic issues and all the guts are intertwined...its a challenge to suss problems out on them because they are a physical PITA to work on if you've got to do anything beyond basic maintenance stuff...and they DO go bad...but the biggest reason? Replacement record/play heads are unobtanium. All of that put together, my *personal* experience, leaves me scratching my head at what people are paying for these things these days...388s are NOT getting more reliable with age...but I get it...they really are cool looking and they are unique...nothing else exactly like them...so I get it. But they are not a secret sonic treasure trove...they are limited...they sound nice...but you can get "nice" in a lot of ways, and I prefer using equipment that isn't fragile and on its way to extinction eventually. Consider this...there are LOTS of bands...LOTS and LOTS of them with an indie sound, and only a few call out using the 388. Do I sound like I'm being disparaging toward the 388? I'm sorry...I don't intend to...I really like a lot of Tascam stuff from the 1980s, and I do think the 388 is cool, but its because it has a visual allure and is unique...I respect that...and Teac did a nice job with it, but at 30+ years old they are not aging well. I would take an M-308 with a 38 and pair of DX-4Ds all day long over a 388...save my money and have a more reliable setup with a broader range of possibilities.

    And if you're wondering why I'm saying all these things and yet have owned three 388s? I got #2 and #3 on the cheap...non-functioning with issues, put some love into them in order to flip them and help pay some bills...and I enjoyed working on them and bringing back their luster...putting some bills in my pocket while offering a happy buyer a good deal.
    Last edited by sweetbeats; 5 Days Ago at 02:28.

  2. #22
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    I'm glad you chimed in, I know you had some experience with the 388...and you pretty much confirmed the things I was talking about.
    It's just not something I would ever put in the "sought after" column AFA a tape recorder goes...because of serviceability, tape length limitations and overall sound quality...but yeah on the whole it's a cool looking device, with the all-in-one design...it that's why people really buy them now.

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  4. #23
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    I re-read my post and maybe I sound like a snob or something...but I can’t help coming at this subject from a practical and pragmatic standpoint...and I’m speaking of my personal opinions and it’s based on my personal experience which doesn’t always mean a lot, but I think it does in this case because I not only have the experience using the 388, have worked on three of them, and did a complete tear-down on one of them. I would have something a little different to say if they were still $300-$500 like they were some years ago. So my post is really couched in my experiences weighed against the $1500-$2500 prices we see today. It just doesn’t make sense. Super cool device and totally unique, but just doesn’t make sense at those prices. The market has gone all weird again...I mean, I see 244 and 246 cassette multitrack units prices at $800-$1000...I mean, really? A 238 on eBay right now is priced at $900. It does come with the RC-88 full function remote which is cool, but have you ever tried calibrating a 238? The edge tracks are rough to dial in...so narrow. I also think the 238 is a cool machine...I’ve owned two of them. But between the narrow track challenges and the whole capstan servo debacle, not for me. And I don’t think you can get the new servo/motor assemblies anymore. That is the right way to repair the “jet-engine” capstan motor issue. But if you can’t get the new assemblies anymore? And they were $150-$200 when you could get them? I tried recapping the one I had that had that issue and the repair failed...and I’m no slouch with a soldering iron...all said, if I need 8 tracks it’s a 1/2” machine...much easier to work on generally speaking, and if you look at the Teac/Tascam machines the ALL used the same heads from the early 80s onward...may still be able to find them new for a reasonable price. Setting the azimuth on an 8-track cassette machine...oy. And if you need to adjust the head height? You need special gauges you’ll find nowhere. Anyway, sorry for the rant...no disrespect to anybody for going after their passion...gear is emotional too...it’s just I believe you can get “that sound” out of higher fidelity formats...you’ve got so much more wiggle room to explore finding your sound by experimenting with the tape type and machine setup, and MORE IMPORTANTLY with the room, mics, effects, etc.

  5. #24
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    Quote Originally Posted by sweetbeats View Post
    I re-read my post and maybe I sound like a snob or something...but I can’t help coming at this subject from a practical and pragmatic standpoint...and I’m speaking of my personal opinions and it’s based on my personal experience which doesn’t always mean a lot, but I think it does in this case because I not only have the experience using the 388, have worked on three of them, and did a complete tear-down on one of them. I would have something a little different to say if they were still $300-$500 like they were some years ago. So my post is really couched in my experiences weighed against the $1500-$2500 prices we see today. It just doesn’t make sense. Super cool device and totally unique, but just doesn’t make sense at those prices. The market has gone all weird again...I mean, I see 244 and 246 cassette multitrack units prices at $800-$1000...I mean, really? A 238 on eBay right now is priced at $900. It does come with the RC-88 full function remote which is cool, but have you ever tried calibrating a 238? The edge tracks are rough to dial in...so narrow. I also think the 238 is a cool machine...I’ve owned two of them. But between the narrow track challenges and the whole capstan servo debacle, not for me. And I don’t think you can get the new servo/motor assemblies anymore. That is the right way to repair the “jet-engine” capstan motor issue. But if you can’t get the new assemblies anymore? And they were $150-$200 when you could get them? I tried recapping the one I had that had that issue and the repair failed...and I’m no slouch with a soldering iron...all said, if I need 8 tracks it’s a 1/2” machine...much easier to work on generally speaking, and if you look at the Teac/Tascam machines the ALL used the same heads from the early 80s onward...may still be able to find them new for a reasonable price. Setting the azimuth on an 8-track cassette machine...oy. And if you need to adjust the head height? You need special gauges you’ll find nowhere. Anyway, sorry for the rant...no disrespect to anybody for going after their passion...gear is emotional too...it’s just I believe you can get “that sound” out of higher fidelity formats...you’ve got so much more wiggle room to explore finding your sound by experimenting with the tape type and machine setup, and MORE IMPORTANTLY with the room, mics, effects, etc.
    Funny how much of what you say about the 388 resonates with what a Tascam audio tech here in Melbourne was saying about the 388 as well.

    His name is Zoran and he worked as an employee for Teac's professional division (TASCAM) as the head tech up until they closed up shop then was continued to be hired as a contractor specializing in repair of Tascam equipment. Nowadays he is retired but still works out of his shed fixing up everyone's old Tascam gear.

    I brought over a very rough Teac 80-8 to him that had worn heads and he had about half a dozen spare, brand new Teac 1/2" 8 track heads which he uses to replace on all Tascam 1/2" 8 track machines (note that the heads on the 80-8 are interchangeable with 38/48/58/TSR8 heads just that they are not socketed so you have so solder each wire which he did).

    He had all the original Teac test tapes from cassette format to 2", had all the cassette deck alignment gauges as you mentioned above and literally could open a museum of original Teac/Tascam test gear and spare parts.

    Anyway he had a 388 opened up and in repair on his work bench and made similar remarks about the 1/2" 8 track format @ 15ips being such a big improvement over the 388 in terms of sound and robustness. Funny actually that he sells fully re-furbed machines (with warranty) sometimes as well and prices the 1/2" 8 track ones higher than the 388 (as you would expect). I think he said a fully refurbed 80-8 he sells for about $3000AUD, obviously not eBay prices.

  6. #25
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    I just wonder if the OP dropped the $2600 on the 388...or did we scare him off.

  7. #26
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    Quote Originally Posted by miroslav View Post
    I just wonder if the OP dropped the $2600 on the 388...or did we scare him off.
    Hahaha, no to either, I'm just catching up with everything you guys have to say, it's all so new!!! Kind of a non-sequitur, I see some nice and affordable two track tape machines. Are those generally used for mastering? Or live bands? The more traditional approach would call for at least 4-tracks but likely more, correct?

  8. #27
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    Not sure what you mean by “traditional approach”? But yes a two track “halftrack” machine (two tracks spread across the entire tape width) is used for mastering. There is also the consumer stereo format where two tracks are spread across half the tape width in one direction, then you flip the tape and the two tracks are spread across the the other half of the tape.

  9. #28
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    Quote Originally Posted by gobbltygoop View Post
    Hahaha, no to either, I'm just catching up with everything you guys have to say, it's all so new!!! Kind of a non-sequitur, I see some nice and affordable two track tape machines. Are those generally used for mastering? Or live bands? The more traditional approach would call for at least 4-tracks but likely more, correct?
    You can get extremely high fidelity with a 2 track tape deck (1/2 track) running at 15ips. I have an Otari MX5050 but even the Tascam and Fostex decks are very high fidelity in this format, noise reduction is optional.

    You can't really do multi-track recording though but you can do live to two track recording which is a lot of fun, just get a mixer with as many inputs as you like route all your effects, set up your levels and EQs then record just the stereo buss. Sounds great but you can't adjust individual signals after recording as they are all summed together before hitting the tape.

    Of course, if you combine the 2 track tape recorder with a DAW then you get the benefits of 'infinite' digital track count and editing capabilities but the sonic characters of tape. I have recorded like this in the past and it works great, no synchronizing needed - you just need a 3 head tape recorder (which all the 1/2 track ones would be anyway).

  10. #29
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    When I worked at Teac in Chicago no one liked to work on that deck as it was usually nothing but lots of trouble and also very heavy to work on. They then sent a metal frame device that probably cost over $1000 so that it could be rotated around. Still no on liked to work on it. The small track format is asking for trouble and as the heads disappear there will be no new ones. It is possible to get a bunch of stuff recorded on that format and then have a break down and have no way to reclaim you music. When people call me for service on 38's and 48's and 58's I take them in and wrestle with them but can repair them. The 388 like Akai decks are not even taken in as there is no bench size here to work on such a monstrosity. Some concepts would have been better served to have a removable transport or mixer as this thing is a bear to work on in consideration that most good Technician that work on them are now in the 60's and some in the 80's and ready to retire.

    The term lapping heads and relapping heads needs to be paid attention to- first there is rarely a reason to lap a head- the first time. To do it a second time is simply ridiculous and also adds all kind of cost to the project and these heads were never made that deep that they could be recovered that easily. A second lapping (relap) will probably be very close to open gaps. It is dangerous to do this to a head that you can not replace. Personally for that amount of money a Tascam 58 is a much better choice in that you can keep those going. You need to find a special person to work on the 388 with a large shop and a Hulk Hogan build to deal with these decks- that is half the battle there.
    It is not as bad a design as the Teac 5300 or 5500 decks but it is down there at the lower area of designs.
    Best regards,
    Skywave Tape Deck Repair, Chicago area

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