Beginner/Entry-Level Options

elbandito

potential lunch winner
I've been recording music for years now. I started on a 2 track cassette recorder, moved up to 4 and then 8 track and then graduated to digital recording in the early aughts.

These days, I feel that I'd like to take a few steps backward and get back to using tapes and analog equipment. A big part of the reason I've been considering this is that as I age, computer screens and other backcloths monitors have begun to seriously hurt my eyes after as little as 20 minutes, which really isn't a lot of time in which to get things done. Another reason is that I'd really like to see how much I've learned and how well I've trained my ears and I figure that by removing the visual component of modern recording, I'll be able to rely solely on my ears, which would be awesome and challenging.

My question to you all is, what might you recommend for someone who has experience in recording but only rudimentary experience with analog gear? Obviously, there may be a learning curve, as far as setup and maintenance and this, I don't mind. I would, however, not be upset with sacrificing a little quality for ease of use. I've got outboard pres and comps, I'm pretty much strictly interested in hardware recording equipment.

Thanks in advance for your advice and opinions.
 

jpmorris

Tape Wolf
I'm quite partial to the TASCAM TSR-8 as a starting machine. It uses 1/2" tape so the running costs will be a little high. However, it has a lot of automation and the built-in DBX works very well. It's 8-track and with the right hardware can be slaved to a computer or another deck (though you lose track 8 to timecode).

Its main rival was the Fostex R8, which was similar but uses 1/4" tape on 7" spools.

The next step up would be the Fostex E16/G16 and its TASCAM counterpart, the MSR-16.
There are also a bunch of 1" 16-track machines like the TASCAM MS16, but those are moving away from entry level.

For an absolute beginner, something like the 424 (cassette multitracker) might be a better start, but it looks like you've already been there.
 
B

Beck

Guest
Yep, and with the Tascam TSR-8 you'll probably find back a little quality that you've been missing. I second the TSR-8. It was Tascam's last and best (IMO) 8-track on 1/2" tape, and the 8 on 1/2" format gives you a track width equivalent to 24-track on 2" tape, with less tracks obviously, but similar performance when looking at track width alone.
 

WarmJetGuitar

New member
I might say this every time the subject of purchasing an 8-track pops up, but I'll say it again never the less:
The R8 was mentioned - and you might find many of these machine and they're the newest of the Fostex 8-tracks (1990-1996). But their transport is really crappy with lots of plastic parts. The Fostex 8-tracks from before was built better and while they might be older they're better machines if you can find one in good condition. My Model 80 has never failed me apart from a sloppy old belt and it sounds great! The E8 is similar but does also take 10,5" reels.
They sound fine and the tape cost is 1/3 of a Tascam.

Never tried a Tascam except for a 38 I failed to repair, but great recordings have been made on these too and the sound might be slightly "fatter" and you can relax a bit more with the levels if you prefer to use it without the noise reduction. Personally I've always disliked the sound of noise reduction, at least the dolby C on our uncalibrated M80 and G16's.
 

elbandito

potential lunch winner
Thanks for your responses so far. A question, though: "Why would Fostex tape cost less than Tascam tape?" I'm assuming it's tape width?

Turns out there's an MS16 nearby for $2000 but I think I'll keep an eye out for one of the 8 tracks that you all have recommended. As far as tape width, where is the cost vs quality line? That is to say, in your opinion, what is the best tape width that I should look at getting into with the least amount of quality degradation at a reasonable price? As I mentioned, I'm not overly concerned with achieving the pinnacle of quality (at least for now) - I'm just interested in getting started with analog recording. I suppose another way to put it would be: "What is the most readily available tape widths, in your experience"? I am assuming basic economics here - that whichever is the most plentiful would also be the cheapest.
 

fgonza2

New member
in my opinion, for 8 track, 1/2" is the way to go. I personally don't like the 1/4" - 8 track fromat and machines which is basically the tascam 388 and the fostex machines. If you really want to go that way, i'd go with the 388. The 1/2" machines are superior in anyway that you can think of, sound quality, reliability, etc, And the price of the machine is very close to the 1/4" - 8 track. New tape is around 2x the price. Parts are widely available for those decks too, more than their 1/4" counterparts. THis is just my personal preference.
 

jpmorris

Tape Wolf
Thanks for your responses so far. A question, though: "Why would Fostex tape cost less than Tascam tape?" I'm assuming it's tape width?

Yes. The 8-track Fostex decks use 1/4" tape on 7" spools, you get about 24 minutes per spool with 1.0mil long-play tape, or 16 minutes with regular thickness (supposedly the Fostexes prefer the thinner tape).

The TASCAMs (except the 388) and the 16-track Fostexes use 1/2" tape on 10.5" spools, which normally gives you about 33 minutes (48 with long-play, but I believe that's out of production now).

The MS-16, MSR-24, Fostex G24 and so on use 1" tape which also comes on 10.5" spools so the recording lengths will be the same.

Turns out there's an MS16 nearby for $2000 but I think I'll keep an eye out for one of the 8 tracks that you all have recommended. As far as tape width, where is the cost vs quality line? That is to say, in your opinion, what is the best tape width that I should look at getting into with the least amount of quality degradation at a reasonable price? As I mentioned, I'm not overly concerned with achieving the pinnacle of quality (at least for now) - I'm just interested in getting started with analog recording. I suppose another way to put it would be: "What is the most readily available tape widths, in your experience"? I am assuming basic economics here - that whichever is the most plentiful would also be the cheapest.

It roughly doubles with each step up, so a 10.5" spool of 1/2" would cost double that of 10.5" spool of 1/4", and the 1" spool is about twice as much again.

With quality, the noise reduction factors in a lot. On the 1/4" 8-tracks, and the 1/2" 16-track decks, you need noise reduction or it will not really give you acceptable quality.
With the 1/2" 8-tracks and the 1" 16-track machines, you get best results with NR, but they are usable without.

The 1"-24 track machines are somewhere in between - personally I run mine with DBX enabled, but interestingly the recordings that I got with the machine were made without.

Oh, avoid anything with Dolby-S in it - the codec chips die and cannot AFAIK be repaired or replaced. Dolby C is fine, DBX is fine, but Dolby S (MSR-24S, Fostex G24 and I think some of the later G16s) can be a problem.
 

fgonza2

New member
The TASCAMs (except the 388) and the 16-track Fostexes use 1/2" tape on 10.5" spools, which normally gives you about 33 minutes (48 with long-play, but I believe that's out of production now).

RMG and ATR make new 1/2" tape to this day.
 

jpmorris

Tape Wolf
RMG and ATR make new 1/2" tape to this day.
Not in long-play format, they don't. The last 1.0mil tape I've seen in 1/2" format was Quantegy 407.

ATR's stuff is all 2400ft (33 minutes), and while RMG does make 3600ft tapes (48 minutes), I think you'll find those only come in 1/4" format. But yes, both companies make 2400ft tape in 1/2" format.
 

wkrbee

Member
Both the RMGI and the ATR tapes are good.I prefer the ATR,(MSR 16), but my clients have gotten excellent results with the RMGI SM 900 and 911 with the machine correctly set up for them.Either way, the machine you are buying/using should be re-biased for the tape you decide to use,(and a complete recal. including tape tensions be done if buying used).One advantage the MSR 16 has is a direct drive capstan motor-no belt,while the TSR-8 has a belt that periodically needs replacement.Just make sure whoever you take it to has a good relatively new playback alignment tape-and the experience to set up multitrack recorders-a lot don't.Or buy the alignment tape,(MRL), and learn to do it yourself.
 

fgonza2

New member
Not in long-play format, they don't. The last 1.0mil tape I've seen in 1/2" format was Quantegy 407.

ATR's stuff is all 2400ft (33 minutes), and while RMG does make 3600ft tapes (48 minutes), I think you'll find those only come in 1/4" format. But yes, both companies make 2400ft tape in 1/2" format.

you are right, i misread
 

elbandito

potential lunch winner
Update: I'm ready to make a purchase. :)

Two 8-track tape machines came my way: A Fostex R8 ($400) and a Tascam 388 ($300). They both take the same 1/4" 467-type tape and I've sourced a place locally to purchase new, unused RMGI-EMTEC spools and reels. I'm inclined to purchase the 388 because of it's integrated mixer, which would save me some cable running and the demos I've listened to sound pretty good; The R8 definitely seems to have a higher-fidelity sound, though. At this point, I think the one thing that would make me sway one way or the other would the availability of replacement parts for the machine, should something fail in the future.

To those of you that have or had either of these machines, have you had success in finding replacement parts? If so, did you source them locally or did you have to have them imported from somewhere?
 
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elbandito

potential lunch winner
Both the RMGI and the ATR tapes are good.I prefer the ATR,(MSR 16), but my clients have gotten excellent results with the RMGI SM 900 and 911 with the machine correctly set up for them.Either way, the machine you are buying/using should be re-biased for the tape you decide to use,(and a complete recal. including tape tensions be done if buying used).One advantage the MSR 16 has is a direct drive capstan motor-no belt,while the TSR-8 has a belt that periodically needs replacement.Just make sure whoever you take it to has a good relatively new playback alignment tape-and the experience to set up multitrack recorders-a lot don't.Or buy the alignment tape,(MRL), and learn to do it yourself.

I always prefer to learn how to maintain my equipment myself, even if later on I decide to take it to a professional. In this way, I can be sure that I'm not being hosed or up-sold in the moment with the stress of trying to get my gear fixed. Thanks for the tips! :)
 

wkrbee

Member
One thing to be aware of with the 388,(don't know about the R8),is the high end rolls off pretty steeply above 15KHZ due to excessive cross talk in the narrow.25" format, which gets worse the higher in frequency you go.But most of us probably can't here above that anyway-for me too many years next to a Leslie and the drummer's crash cymbal onstage...
 

elbandito

potential lunch winner
One thing to be aware of with the 388,(don't know about the R8),is the high end rolls off pretty steeply above 15KHZ due to excessive cross talk in the narrow.25" format, which gets worse the higher in frequency you go.But most of us probably can't here above that anyway-for me too many years next to a Leslie and the drummer's crash cymbal onstage...

I've actually low-passed quite a few mixes from around 10-12k because my ears don't like the super high stuff on cymbals and the like, so I don't think that'll be a huge deal for me. Thanks for the heads up, though!
 

jpmorris

Tape Wolf
Update: I'm ready to make a purchase. :)
Two 8-track tape machines came my way: A Fostex R8 ($400) and a Tascam 388 ($300). They both take the same 1/4" 467-type tape and I've sourced a place locally to purchase new, unused RMGI-EMTEC spools and reels.

That'd be 456/457 (467 was a digital tape, I don't believe there's a compatible replacement). IIRC LPR35 is the best stuff for those machines nowadays.

The 388 is not a machine I've used myself, but it's thought of quite highly here. IIRC the 388 does have the drawback that it runs at 7.5IPS which likely accounts for the audible difference in quality.

I did have an A8 for a bit (still have it somewhere) and the narrow tracks gave me a lot of problems when I was trying to sync the sequencer with it (that and some issues with my machine made me get the TSR-8) but that may not be an issue for you.

The R8 does have a lot of plastic in it and a common failure mode is for the capstan belt pulley to come off the shaft. You may need to glue it back on. AFAIK new heads are basically unobtainable for both types of machine, but there are likely more A8/M80/R8s to cannibalise than there are 388s. On the flipside, I believe the 388 has better build quality.
 
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