Portastudio vs. "Real" Analog Rigs

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markesquire
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Portastudio vs. "Real" Analog Rigs

Post by markesquire » Mon Dec 22, 2008 7:15 am

Greetings all, this is my first post. I am new to recording and know embarrassingly little, so I thought I would seek your expertise! A couple of years ago, I wanted to experiment with recording, and without doing a lot of research, I bought a Tascam 424mkIII Portastudio because (1) it was inexpensive, and (2) I liked the idea of having an analog rig because I liked a lot of old analog recordings and because I thought that it would be nice to have real, physical knobs, faders, and tape at my fingertips without relying on a computer.

Also, I guess I knew that the Portastudio was an ancient, bare-bones recorder, and I liked the "challenge" of impressing people with amazing recordings that they couldn't believe came from THAT thing! Not sure I've accomplished that yet, but the whole premise assumes that the Portastudio is a mere toy compared to "real" rigs - is this at all accurate?

I'm still not very good, but I've been impressed with some of the recordings that I've captured on the Portastudio, likely because my expectations weren't too high! I've thought about looking into a "real" analog reel to reel rig and wondered whether it would provide any advantages over the Portastudio. For the sake of fairness, let's try to compare apples and apples: Portastudio 4 track vs. Reel to reel 4 track.

(1) Tape: does the tape used in reel to reel 4-tracks differ in any way from the cassette tape used in the Portastudio (width, thickness, etc.)? I think that most reel to reel 4 tracks use 1/4" tape, but not sure what's in a cassette.

(2) Tape speed: is one faster than the other for reduced noise? I run my Portastudio at high speed - 9.5cm/sec or 3.75 inches/second.

(3) Components: are the mic pres and other components of similar quality?

(4) Noise Reduction.

(5) Editing Capabilities: I think that a reel to reel likely wins here because you can splice tape, while I don't think the Portastudio has any editing capabilities other than punching in and re-recording a passage.

Thank you guys for your help. If any of you have achieved good recordings with a Portastudio, please post them to give me something to shoot for and learn from!!!
Last edited by markesquire on Mon Dec 22, 2008 7:41 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Post by @?,*???&? » Mon Dec 22, 2008 7:25 am

I had a Porta 05 for years. Noisy beast. The dbx noise reduction kept tape noise low, but there is so much system noise with nothing playing it's always a compromise. I'm not sure this kind of noise would be deemed 'charming' by anyone. There was thing cool disc done by a group called Geggy Tah (their first release) that was a hybrid of their low-fi 4-track demos combined with big studio production that had an interesting texture sonically.

If you're striving for clarity, a machine like this might not be your best choice, but if you're striving to learn creative thinking through problem solving (i.e. bouncing, combining tracks, mixing and settling with the best possible input signal with only low and high frequency eq) you should set your self to task and dive in.

A 'real' multi-track tape machine at a 'real' is going to sound way more open with practically no inherent built-in system noise. Much cleaner, way more precise. Everything you'd expect from a larger, more expensive machine.

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Post by markesquire » Mon Dec 22, 2008 7:45 am

Thanks for the input. Would I lose any convenience/features by going to a a "real" rig? I know that I've become accustomed to having the combined recorder, mixer, tape speed, etc all in one box. What (other than the obvious mixer) will I miss by going to a "real" rig?

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Post by ;ivlunsdystf » Mon Dec 22, 2008 8:35 am

Reels cost way more than cassettes. Upkeep/calibration/etc. can be a pain in the ass. Those are your downsides. They require input of time/money/expertise.

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Post by markesquire » Mon Dec 22, 2008 8:42 am

If "real" tape rigs sound better than a Portastudio, what makes that the case?

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Post by E-money » Mon Dec 22, 2008 9:43 am

If "real" tape rigs sound better than a Portastudio, what makes that the case?
Professional reel to reel multitrack recorders move the tape past the recording/playbacks head 5 to 10 times faster than a cassette multitrack. The tape is wider as well. Both of these result in higher fildelity.
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Post by farview » Mon Dec 22, 2008 9:52 am

You can certainly do some fine work on a porta-studio, but there is a big quality difference between that and a reel to reel setup.

Cassettes were never meant to deliver high quality audio, they were meant to be portable. They were the 70's version of what mp3's are now...

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Post by vvv » Mon Dec 22, 2008 9:58 am

I do recall demoing on some all-in-one Tascam with 1/4" reel to reel; I think it was an 8-track?

Had a mixer built in, though.

Now that I think about it, we did the drums on it, and finished the demo on my Porta2.
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Post by tubetapexfmr » Mon Dec 22, 2008 10:22 am

I do recall demoing on some all-in-one Tascam with 1/4" reel to reel; I think it was an 8-track?

Had a mixer built in, though.
I believe you're thinking of the Tascam 388. It would be a great step up from the Porta cassette units. The workflow would be similar so the learning curve would be minimal. The best thing about the 388 is if you wind up getting a computer rig later it folds right in to a hybrid setup perfectly. They are fairly easy to get and there are even two of them on ebay right now.
http://cgi.ebay.com/TASCAM-388-STUDIO-8 ... 0290153876
http://cgi.ebay.com/Classic-Analog-Tasc ... 0315591366

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Post by timmymacdd » Mon Dec 22, 2008 10:25 am

Wider tapes makes less noise between the channels so it is better....however tape is expensive. It is a waste of time too. People are more impressed with a good song than a good recording of it.

I love the old 8 track analogue machines they sound great.....Problem comes when the people that you are going to actually be able to listen to your music are going to want it in mp3 format....I didn't see anyone even asking for a cd player this christmas......

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Post by casacassette » Mon Dec 22, 2008 11:16 am

Wider tapes makes less noise between the channels so it is better....however tape is expensive. It is a waste of time too. People are more impressed with a good song than a good recording of it.

I love the old 8 track analogue machines they sound great.....Problem comes when the people that you are going to actually be able to listen to your music are going to want it in mp3 format....I didn't see anyone even asking for a cd player this christmas......
Altough you are absolutely right, I would never use that as a reason to abondon tape. A lot of people/mucians a still appreciate the sound and working method of tape as opposed to digital workflow. I don't really care too much about people who listen to mp3 only...(as music loving people only of course, I can understand the benefits of mp3's.)

So, get yourself a tape machine! tascam 388 or similar is great...

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Post by kayagum » Mon Dec 22, 2008 11:17 am

markesquire wrote:If "real" tape rigs sound better than a Portastudio, what makes that the case?
Besides the tape differences (wider, faster), the electronics on "real" decks are quite a bit more substantial. What people mistake for a "tape" sound is really the electronics. Sometimes people will run a signal through the deck just for the inputs and outputs (i.e. no tape). Joel Hamilton (one of the moderators on this board) favors this.

That being said, learning how to get the most out of a Portastudio is a worthwhile venture. Many of us older folks started out that way (I started on a PortaOne, graduated to a 238s, and now work with a HD24), and these days I would say the key advantage to learning on a Portastudio is workflow. How to bounce, how to decide whether to keep or toss a track, make decisions on outboard gear with limited aux busses, etc.

IMHO, the people start on DAWs strap every plug-in on every channel, loop aimlessly, and it becomes a compositional and computational mess in a hurry.

Whatever you decide as your next step, don't ever sell off your PortaStudio- it's a gem, and you may even want to go back to it on occasion, if only to remember how to bang out a song in a hurry :)
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Post by markesquire » Mon Dec 22, 2008 11:39 am

Thanks for the thoughts.

First, exactly what is the width difference between a reel to reel 4 track and a cassette?

Second, what is the speed difference. My cassette tape goes pretty fast because I've set it to "fast" tape speed AND I've maxed the pitch control as well, which runs the tape faster in both recording and playback. Does that even put me in the same speed ballpark?

Would someone mind posting what they consider to be an excellent Portastudio recording?

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Post by KennyLusk » Mon Dec 22, 2008 11:53 am

kayagum wrote:
markesquire wrote:If "real" tape rigs sound better than a Portastudio, what makes that the case?
Whatever you decide as your next step, don't ever sell off your PortaStudio- it's a gem, and you may even want to go back to it on occasion, if only to remember how to bang out a song in a hurry :)
+1 on this.

The built-in limiter in the portastudio "sounds" so awesome. It sounds "small" but sometimes that's exactly what you need. Keep it around for smashing drums, overheads and guitars at least. And as other's have already commented, they're outstanding tools to learn on, have fun with, use as a scratchpad, and produce demo's with.
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Post by getreel » Mon Dec 22, 2008 12:19 pm

cassette is 1/8"(actually 0.15 inch, 3.81 mm) and 4 track reels are usually 1/4". That's twice the width of a cassette. Like was already mentioned, real open reel machines run at higher speeds. They also use higher quality heads and run at more stable speeds(often more than one speed choice so the user can choose quality over tape cost or vice versa). I liked my first cheap digital systems better than any of my old 4 tracks, but the 4 track cassette is how I got my start in recording. That and stereo cassette live recordings.

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