Tascam 244 Story…


Reel deep thoughts...
So this “Story” actually goes back a year or two…maybe three…it’s not an exciting story. So back out now if you like. But I promise, for you fellow geeky types will get to some nitty-gritty stuff…guts and whatnot.

Ever since my eyes were opened to the reality one could create and record their own multitrack mastered music on a machine that was portable, relatively affordable and relatively straight-forward to operate, I’ve had a “thing” for the cassette 4-track format. For context keep in mind this enlightenment happened over 30 years ago…and at the time computer-based DAWs weren’t a thing yet, and stand-alone hardware-based digital multitrack systems were neither yet as portable or certainly not affordable. As a child of the early 1970s, cassette was the bomb…record, re-record, put it in your pocket, pretty much every car had a tape deck, your bedroom had a tape deck, the living room had a tape deck, your backpack had a cassette Walkman in it, and your buddy had all the same stuff. You could listen to your music anywhere, and in a pre-iPod/portable media player/smartphone world, cassette was as close as you could come to the current portability of music. Yes we had CDs…in the car…in the bedroom/living room and in the backpack, and yes in your buddy’s basement too. But from a portability standpoint it didn’t feel as solid as cassette. Sometimes they skipped in the car…or when using the player in your backpack. And you couldn’t throw them across the room to your friend to pop in the player…I mean you could, but the jewel case might shatter if your friend was a crappy catch or if you just threw the disc like a Chinese throwing star it might get scratched and then you were done for. Cassette? Huck that puppy. Slide it across the floor. Hell go ahead and drop-kick it to your buddy…it is allllll good. And the biggest problem with CDs? At that time there was no way to record on them; no way to make a mix CD. Worthless. So when the band I was in put together it’s first full-length release in 1991, an album that was only released on cassette, we used a cassette multitrack machine. Up to that point I was recording some of my own music but didn’t know about multitracking, so I was using my Onkyo three-head consumer format cassette deck, and I don’t recall exactly how, but was doing some sort of destructive sound-on-sound thing to layer at least two tracks using the playback head, but recording the second track with the first track out of time or something like that because of the delay between the play and record heads…no sync capability. Anyway, so day one of tracking in our band leader’s basement…many of you have been there…blankets on the walls and egg cartons on the ceiling for sound deadening…and borrowed and rented equipment because nobody could afford to buy anything. We knew we needed more than four tracks, so we rented a first-generation Tascam 488 from a music store…submixed drums using an EV live console…mastered the thing to DAT, had a Quadraverb and some other effects box with analog delay IIRC…anyway, the Tascam is sitting there and I quickly figured out that thing, instead of two buckets for tracks that weren’t really independent of each other, had eight buckets that could be managed independently and play and record signals were in sync…mind blowing…I was totally hooked. We had problems with the Tascam though…there was a horrible wow and flutter issue…I recall we traded it for another one which was better, but every now and then there was a hint of the issue that would crop up and sometimes ruin a take or force us to do additional mixdowns. In spite of that I was just completely taken with how the thing shuttled tape, and that it actually sounded pretty good. And…I loved the process. Here’s me in the background and the band leader in the midst of a mixdown doing something in the production that required three hands at once:


So anyway, I had to have one, or something that had the functionality of the Tascam. I strayed away from the 488 and cassette I think because of the price of admission at the time for a cassette 8-track Portastudio, and I believe the wow and flutter issues we had sent me looking for other options. I’ll spare you the details of the different kludge solutions I had over the next many years and the path I took…it’s long and peppered with a diverse array of devices, systems, media and machines, but sometime in the early to mid 2000s I go to my Dad’s for a visit. I’m up in his music room, and by that point I’m pretty well familiar with a lot of devices and have some mixing and recording engineering experience under my belt, and I immediately spot this Tascam 424mkII. It’s just sitting there and I don’t know what my Dad is doing with it, but he was getting into recording at that point, and he tells me he got it at a garage sale. He then tells me he doesn’t use it, and asks me if I’d like to keep it at my house. I remember feeling this spark of inspiration. I guess it was probably some nostalgia, but I think also at that point I’d been having frustrations around too many bells and whistles in my computer-based DAW environment, and also frustrated by having to work around some element of the medium sucking some of the life out of my program material…which admittedly could have everything to do with my gear and my skills, but something was missing. So I jump at the chance to take it home…a healthy distraction maybe. It was so simple and familiar and easy to use…and tactile. It resurrected a fundamental level of fun in recording for me, and solidified for me I always wanted to have a cassette 4-track Portastudio around…breath of fresh air. I did a lot of little things with the 424mkII over a period of years, and exposed some of my kids to concepts in multitracking and mixing…the recording process…it’s a really great teaching tool on top of being fun, and I’ve said this in a number of places on this forum but a good cassette 4-track machine is not a toy. You can stick your nose up if you want, but a good 4-track cassette setup with good talent and good engineering can easily bring deceiving results, and I typically refer to this contribution by @famous beagle and his wife: https://soundclick.com/share.cfm?id=7774583. This was done on a Tascam 414 by…the…way. Yep. The 4-track format seemed so much more reliable or stable compared to my experience many years prior with the 488. So that 424mkII hung around for many, many years. But during those years I became increasingly interested in how things were built under the skin…and also learned and became interested in electronic circuits, circuit topology, etc. And then one day I’m on the forum here and somebody is having an issue with their 244 and I decide to help.

All those years and I’d never really paid close attention to the 244 because I had the 424mkII and…I dunno…just never gave it a look? So I track down PDFs of the operation and maintenance manuals…the schematics too…and I’m helping this guy and reading the manuals in the process…studying the schematics and exploded views…and I was, like, completely taken by how much more robust a design the 244 was compared to the 424 series…a lot more metal to the chassis, separate vertical channel PCBs vs monolithic horizontal PCB…bigger pots nutted to steel sub-chassis…real switches (large toggles instead of little slide switches…the toggles can actually be disassembled for servicing)…real VU meters…the 244 is considerably heavier as a result, but it really is a compact package overall…maybe a bit dense inside but it is pretty easy to get to everything. I’d work on a 244 any day over a 424, 464, 488, 644 or 688. All those next generation machines are comparatively fragile. So, you know where this is heading…I ended up selling the 424mkII outright, and traded some gear for a decent condition 244 that I knew needed some work. It turned out, surprisingly, two of the coils on the R/P head were non-functional. The transaction was still an A-OK deal for all involved, and the guy I got the 244 from didn’t know it was head coils. He just knew two tracks didn’t work but didn’t and couldn’t have known why and I knew from the get-go two tracks weren’t working. So, all good, and I had a box of 644 parts at the time which uses the same R/P head, so I figured eventually I’d swap the head out. Well…once I had the 244 here and had dug around it I was really smitten with it. So when I saw a pair of semi-basket-case 244s on eBay I snapped them up…there’s my parts donors I thought, and maybe enough I could even get a spare up and running, sell it and make some money back. So I bought them. $150 shipped IIRC. I set it all aside, and then in the meantime, maybe a year, 18 months ago…something like that…I see on eBay a minty condition 244 in original box for $200 shipped…transport not working. I figure it needs all new rubber, but it had the box and was in REALLY nice condition. So I got it. So there I was quite fully invested in 244s. I really like them…clearly. I did a little collaborating with a couple friends and analyzed the signal path, identified areas of potential improvement and got this idea of building the ultimate 244…bought a crap-ton of components to do this. And then as a part of that I knew all the transport rubber needed replaced and at that time I stumbled on the fact Athan was making device-specific replacement pinch rollers for cassette-based machines…so I thought I had to have one of those for the “ultimate 244”. So I got one.

So that brings us up to current…four 244s on-hand in various states of disrepair and/or disassembly, a new Athan pinch roller, and as of last week a couple sets of new reel table drive tires, capstan and control belts…a small area on a table, and some tools. Let’s dig in.

To be continued…
Here is the 244 that came in the OEM box…very clean overall, looks to be low hours…really clean inside, corrosion-free, hasn’t been messed with, like, it’s all there and really straight:



The pinch roller and reel table drive tires are absolute goo:


Hmmm which pinch roller should I use??


The original capstan belt turned to goo too. How do I know? You know how I know…sections of it are scattered around inside the unit stuck to stuff. I think the control belt is original…dried out and slick. Here’s the back of the transport:


The currently installed capstan belt is aged too.

So…based on what I see in there, it wasn’t used much…sat a lot and in its box and out of the sun and wasn’t smoked around I think because the button caps on the control surface aren’t really yellowed at all, and the capstan belt degraded. They pulled it out after a long time to use it, turned it on, capstan belt went everywhere. Nothing else was goo at that point. They replaced just the gooey belt…didn’t bother to remove the remains…used it a bit with the new capstan belt, back in the box it went. Couple years ago they pull it out again, go to play a tape and nothing works because the pinch roller mushes all over their cassette, and nothing else moves either because the reel drive tires mush all over everything. Ew. They put it back in the box muttering “I’m done with this thing” and sell it to me. That’s my forensic evaluation.

While things are a bit cozy inside a 244, the bottom cover comes off with nine screws. The input section PCBs are covered by the dbx PCB, BUT…remove these two screws:


Slide it toward the front of the unit and you can flip it down to expose the input PCB assemblies…looks like this:


Then each input PCB comes out by removing this little connector plug:


And these two connector plugs:


And then there are three screws for each module that fasten the module chassis to the main chassis. Channel 1 is a little more tricky to remove because of the headphone jacks…I find it makes it easier if you remove the knob caps including the toggle switch caps, and also remove two screws that hold the jack chassis to the main chassis so you can tip those up a bit. Outside of that, once unplugged and screws removed each module just lifts out. They look like this:


Nice, simple, easy to work on design.

Anyway, I’m going to get to work on cleaning up the rubber goo carnage and start getting the transport overhauled.

To be continued…
Thanks for the shoutout, Cory.
Considering the 244's popularity on this site, I'm sure this thread is going to be of enormous help to many people for a long time. I've never gone down the 244 tunnel myself (had the 246 for a while), but knowing this thread is here will certainly make me feel more at ease if I ever choose to do so! 🙂