Tascam 688 MIDISTUDIO Story...

sweetbeats

Reel deep thoughts...
So with a recent bargain acquisition of a 488 mkI in need of repair (that ended up being pretty easy to fix), I’d been watching the market to gauge a reasonable price to ask for the 488 and along came a 688...these have always been a curiousity for me...never seen one in the flesh...certainly the absolute pinnacle of the 8-track cassette “portastudio”...anyway, one came along that appeared to be in good cosmetic shape, with no telltale signs of high-mileage and likely only needing a new capstan belt. It remains to be seen if there are other functional issues, but it arrived yesterday, does appear straight and pretty clean...will clean up nicely to an 8/10 condition I believe, powers up, LCD screens are good, I can hear the capstan motor spinning at proper speed but the capstan shaft does not spin (bad belt) but all other transport functions work...the price was right. Again, we’ll as I test things more deeply, but so far so good. It was well packed. Here it is fresh out of the box:

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This thing is a beast. Heavier than you might expect for a cassette machine. And it verily dwarfs the 488. I think of it like the 488 is the regular Imperial cassette 8-track machine, and the 688 is Darth Vader’s cassette 8-track machine:

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Hoping to get to opening it up and verifying the capstan issue is the belt and starting in on cleaning it up sometime in the next couple weeks.
 

rob aylestone

Well-known member
I had one of these in the late 90's and it was solid and dependable and actually sounded damn good. Used it as a mixer too. Remember it fondly.
 

sweetbeats

Reel deep thoughts...
The I/O and routing options on the mixer side of the equation are pretty impressive. And the meter bridge is nice. Basically the king-daddy of cassette multitrackers. But I can see getting lost in all the bells and whistles and longing for a 414 you know? But there is little this thing couldn’t do routing and sync-wise. I didn’t realize it has the transport shuttle feature like the 238 too. And the capstan motor and servo are different than the 238/112/122 direct-drive decks with the runaway “jet-engine” capstan problem...thinking there is less likelihood of having servo issues with the 688. The motor is actually identical to the 488 mkI...who knows...maybe the 424 series too...have to check my service manuals. Anyway...I’ve read through the manuals but haven’t yet tried applying real-world scenarios in my mind to see how well the logic-based routing works...I do like me a rack of switches for buss assignments, and hardware switches for mute and solo are nice, especially when doing dub-style mixes...so that may be a downside but I’m not sure yet. The up-side of the logic-based switching is there are no switches to get crunchy with time. I have the 688 sitting up on a table now...can’t stop looking at it. It’s like Teac let the engineers have a field day on a cassette multitrack machine.
 

RFR

Well-known member
Well, you're a brave man. I looked at those in the 90s but it was too complicated for my tastes. So I got a 238 and a 16 channel mixer.
And you, sir, are going to actually dig into one. Quite an impressive machine.
My hats off to you.
:D.
 

famous beagle

Well-known member
My guitar-playing friend from high school had one of these. He originally had a Porta One, but after he inherited some money (around $150K I think, and this was in 1990), he soon upgraded to the 688. (He also bought one of those GMC Syclone trucks ... anyone remember those?)

We had a routine where I would go over to his place around dinner time, we'd go get some Taco Cabana or something, eat that, and then get at it. We would write a guitar instrumental and stay up all night recording it (I'd stay over). He would program drums in his Boss drum machine (can't remember the exact model) and he'd usually play bass. He did all the engineering pretty much at that point. I did most of the writing. It was always guitar harmony hell, pretty much, and it always had a sense of humor. :)

We must have recorded 30 songs over a period of a couple years. Most of them were done on his Porta One, but the last 10 or so were probably done on the 688.

I probably have at least some of them on a CD-R somewhere. I'll have to try to dig it up.

I do remember the 688 looking very formidable with regards to the mixer complexity. He'd worked it out, but I had no idea what he was doing. I'm sure I could figure it out now, but back then, since he always handled the engineering, I didn't need to.

Actually, he still has the 688 and told me that I could have it if I wanted. He hasn't used it in probably 20 years---it's just sat boxed up somewhere---so it's not guaranteed that it would work. But it's certainly worth a shot. He's still in the Houston area (where I grew up), and I'm a little north of Dallas, so it's a good 4-hour drive down there. If I still had family down there, I'd have snagged it long ago I'm sure, but they all moved away a while back, so there's nothing that takes me down to Houston on a regular basis. Still, I have a few friends down there, so maybe I'll try to get down there for a bit.

I'll see if I can round up any of those old recordings. :)
 

sweetbeats

Reel deep thoughts...
Well, you're a brave man. I looked at those in the 90s but it was too complicated for my tastes. So I got a 238 and a 16 channel mixer.
And you, sir, are going to actually dig into one. Quite an impressive machine.
My hats off to you.
:D.

Brave enough to be dangerous...or curious like a cat who gets into trouble. I think ya a little of both.
 

sweetbeats

Reel deep thoughts...
[MENTION=15168]famous beagle[/MENTION]: that is a really, really cool story. If you dig up any of those 688 projects you should post something. And...free 688? Single trusted known owner? Time to fuel up, man.
 

j.harv

@#$%
Very nice acquisition there SB. I just stumbled across a video of someones track they laid down on one and it sounds really good and punchy for a cassette.

 

famous beagle

Well-known member
Hey Sweetbeats,

I've talked to Steve (my friend with the 688), and he says he still has it (it's been stored in a nice flight case, too), and it's still mine if I want it. As fate would have it, I'm going down to Houston in two weeks because my wife's band has a gig there. I've asked Steve if he'll be around, and we're going to get together. So, I should be scooping up one 688 in a couple of weeks.

One thing I noticed when reading the manual was that it mentioned you should change the back-up battery every 5 years or so. After searching, I found this page:
Sound Devices - Replacing the 664 & 688 Real-Time Clock Battery

But it mentions the "Real Time Clock" battery. I don't know if that's the same thing or not. The battery shown here is the disc-type 2032 battery.

I was wondering if you'd looked inside the 688 yet and have learned anything about the back-up battery. Thanks!
 

sweetbeats

Reel deep thoughts...
Hey Sweetbeats,

I've talked to Steve (my friend with the 688), and he says he still has it (it's been stored in a nice flight case, too), and it's still mine if I want it. As fate would have it, I'm going down to Houston in two weeks because my wife's band has a gig there. I've asked Steve if he'll be around, and we're going to get together. So, I should be scooping up one 688 in a couple of weeks.

One thing I noticed when reading the manual was that it mentioned you should change the back-up battery every 5 years or so. After searching, I found this page:
Sound Devices - Replacing the 664 & 688 Real-Time Clock Battery

But it mentions the "Real Time Clock" battery. I don't know if that's the same thing or not. The battery shown here is the disc-type 2032 battery.

I was wondering if you'd looked inside the 688 yet and have learned anything about the back-up battery. Thanks!

That’s awesome about your friend’s 688...cool! :D

And no I haven’t cracked open the case on my 688 yet. But it’s high on the list once I do a little more poking around on my new-to-me console. Dealing with the battery and affirming my suspicion I need to order a capstan belt are the two main goals for that first look inside. I suspect the “real time clock” battery is referring to the same battery noted in the manual.
 

Dick Name

New member
I scored a 688 for next to nothing from a buddy, it just needed a belt and a bit of cleaning. I love it, it’s become the center of my home studio. If I’m not using the tape function, I still sent everything through it on the way to my DAW. It’s kind of complicated, but it’s been fun learning all of its features.
 

famous beagle

Well-known member
That’s awesome about your friend’s 688...cool! :D

And no I haven’t cracked open the case on my 688 yet. But it’s high on the list once I do a little more poking around on my new-to-me console. Dealing with the battery and affirming my suspicion I need to order a capstan belt are the two main goals for that first look inside. I suspect the “real time clock” battery is referring to the same battery noted in the manual.

I hope that's the case, because that means it should be an easy replacement. I'm hoping it's not some proprietary impossible-to-find part at this point.
 

famous beagle

Well-known member
Hey Cory,

So I got the 688 last week. The short story is that everything was working (mixer channels, displays, aux sends, meter bridge, etc.), and the transport was FF-ing and RW-ing, but it wouldn't play. As I suspected, the old belt was toast. So I replaced it tonight, and the transport is purring like a kitten. So that's super exciting.

After a recording test, I learned that tracks 1, 3, 4, 5, and 6 are all recording strong signals (identical to the source as far as I can tell). Track 2 is very weak (almost inaudible), and tracks 7 and 8 are only about half the signal of the good tracks.

Of course I cleaned the tape path, but that didn't change anything.

The next thing I wanted to try was to exercise the ribbon connectors that run to the heads. And that brings me to my question. Have you opened this thing up yet? I've opened the right front panel to access the transport (obviously), but when I tried to remove the mixer-side panel, it wasn't coming up when I thought it would.

I was just wondering if you'd been inside yet and if so, figured out how to remove the mixer-side panel.

Thanks!
 

sweetbeats

Reel deep thoughts...
I haven’t opened mine up yet...but I know how it’s done. I don’t know how anxious you are to get in there, but I hope to be digging into mine in the next month and was going to make a YouTube video bringing the steps from the service manual to life.

Very cool you picked it up, cool your buddy passed it on to you!
 

wkrbee

Member
Recording on all eight tracks then flipping over the tape and playing will show if the problem in on the record side or playback side.
 

famous beagle

Well-known member
I fixed my 688! :)

After getting the mixer panel off and getting access to the connectors for the head assembly, I unplugged them all (one by one, of course), flushed them out with contact cleaner, and plugged them back in. Now all 8 tracks are working perfectly! :)

Sweet success!

So that's one free fully-functional 388 (which I was only able to get working 100% thanks to the unmatched generosity of sweetbeats!), and now one free fully-functional 688! I think all my years of bad luck with analog recorders are finally paying me back. :)
 

skywaveTDR

Active member
Well I can say I have been inside. The one thing that makes these hard to work on is the lack of a couple of extra feet of wire. I have though of making extender cables but it takes time to find the right connectors. The 488 is also a pain in that the same thing is true, they cut cost so much but a couple of feet of extra wire would be a good thing to have in there. Most the wires I talk about are not audio wires but basic DC type wires.
Since they have come out I have serviced many of them and there are a good many Porta Studios that have the Gear C problem like the 122 Mk III. The 112 is not direct drive but a very much cheaper design.
Sam, Skywave Tape Deck Repair, Chicago
 
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