Portastudio vs. "Real" Analog Rigs

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Judas Jetski
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Post by Judas Jetski » Mon Dec 29, 2008 9:35 am

joel hamilton wrote: In the former situation, you would not be making "professional" recordings, which may or may not be important to you.
Great post, Joel. (I guess that's why they pay you the big bucks! ;))

The only thing I'd add is that one way or another, a portastudio is a great starting point. Should an individual decide to "follow the analog path" it's entirely possible to learn a ton using the 424 while also building a good rig around it--which then becomes great when a top-notch recording device is swapped in. Should that individual decide to upgrade to a top-notch digital setup, that person has already developed some (hopefully) killer chops using the 424. Either way--happy ending.
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calaverasgrandes
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Post by calaverasgrandes » Mon Dec 29, 2008 10:07 am

one lesson most of us learned on the cassette multtrack was to set levels right. A lot of other gear is way more forgiving about hittin the tape hard, or recording very weakly. But with a fostex, tascam, yamaha, vestax etc you had to hit it just right.
Once you get in the habit it never goes away, kind of like twisting dreads, or signaling turns.
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Post by markesquire » Mon Dec 29, 2008 12:18 pm

Maybe this post should go elsewhere, but I'll put it here since it's applicable and because I'd like to limit the responses to just 4-track cassette recorders.

What things can I practice doing to develop the "killer chops" if all you have (as is my case) a 424mkIII, several dynamic mics, crappy monitors, and a digital multi-effects guitar processor (which I've hooked up for effects).

This is the most ghetto rig EVER, but it's all that I have!!

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Post by asmara » Mon Dec 29, 2008 12:33 pm

check out elliott smith's first LP. Similar set-up. nice recordings. (at least listenable).
I would say mic placement is pretty critical chop. Proximity effects to various mics. Understanding vari-speed control and its creative applications. Bouncing tracks. levels.
overall workflow... using E.Q., printing effects wet. The joy of doing your "final' mix.

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Post by timmymacdd » Mon Dec 29, 2008 4:52 pm

markesquire wrote:I'd like to post some of my recordings, but don't have a *good* way of getting them onto my computer. I have Reaper and an M-Audio Fast Track digital interface. However, any time I try to feed signal into my computer, it sounds horrible; it either sounds really dull (low signal) or gets a lot of digital distortion even at moderate signal levels.

Any advice on this? My recordings are not of completed songs, but are mostly multitrack "sound check jingles" that I've made while getting to know the 424's intricacies.
That is the real reason why people won't switch to digital.....It takes an ASS load of reading to understand how to do it..... But truly it will save you time and money to go digital.

My computer records perfect sound from either a 50 dollar soundblaster audio card.....or my 150 dollar EBAY steinberg device. I wouldhighly unrecommend the computer soundcard that comes with your computer however it can be done and sounds better(or at least as good as )than any partostudio device.

There are input gains in the computer that need to be set....and output gains from your portastudio...as well as inside of your audio recorder that you are using......once you get a grasp as to what would be causing the distortion......it is one of four levels........it will sound good. Not to mention what it would sound like after a little digital working.

The digital distortion is not caused from the computer....it is caused from the user. AND most of us have been there in the early days of learning to put sound into the computer......a 5 dollar soundcard inside a free computer can make a perfect mp3-even from a portastudio.

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Post by Judas Jetski » Mon Dec 29, 2008 6:52 pm

asmara wrote:I would say mic placement is pretty critical chop. Proximity effects to various mics. Understanding vari-speed control and its creative applications. Bouncing tracks. levels.
overall workflow... using E.Q., printing effects wet. The joy of doing your "final' mix.
...getting good drum sounds on three or four tracks, using subtractive eq, making things sound good with and without effects, selecting instrument tones which complement or offset each other, stereo panning, getting a natural room-sound using delay and reverb...
Check out the newest Andy Smash release, Black Light / Black Death! http://andysmash.bandcamp.com !


"Avoid trends and clich?s/don't try to be up to date/and when the sunlight hits the olive oil, don't hesitate"

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telecasterrok
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Post by telecasterrok » Tue Dec 30, 2008 11:07 am

Hi Mark -
I'm a longtime musician that's just getting into recording, and I faced a similar dilemma. I rented a firestudio and talked my band into letting me record our next album... Our singer, who lives in Chicago, came down to Austin and we cut his vocals. Over the next year I tried to record the rest of the tracks and shape the mix with plugins. I would take my laptop to the cafe and mix endlessly... it always sounded like shit. I abandoned the project, defeated.

On a tip, I purchased a Tascam 388 and did my first recording with it the other night... just a collection of random friends playing live in a living room, improvising. 4am. lots of booze. The next day I pick up my gear from my friends house--by the way, picking up a 388 is no trivial matter--and take it home to mix. It took 20 minutes to mix two songs....
you can hear them here:

http://www.upload-mp3.com/browse/teleca ... 3154_g7cHx
http://www.zshare.net/audio/5345535827568545/

The above was done with no overdubs, no room treatment, and the most expensive mic was an at2020.


One point I'd like to make:
If you're going to buy gear based on opinions on the net, then try to find out what sounds the reviewer like, because they may *love* a piece of gear that (if you heard it yourself) you yourself would hate.

The Tascam 388 is a lot of fun. There is an immediacy to it that I like.

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shedshrine
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Post by shedshrine » Wed Dec 31, 2008 9:03 am

telecasterrok wrote:Hi Mark -

On a tip, I purchased a Tascam 388 and did my first recording with it the other night... , picking up a 388 is no trivial matter--and take it home to mix. It took 20 minutes to mix two songs....


The Tascam 388 is a lot of fun. There is an immediacy to it that I like.
Link to the The Tascam 388 thread of destiny

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Post by musichascolors » Sun Aug 16, 2015 9:49 pm

Sorry to bump this really old thread, but it is an interesting thought. Curious to think of the difference between say, a 388 and a 424mkii.

Tape width wise, they're the same as 8 tracks on a 1/4 inch = 4 tracks on 1/8 inch. So in terms of tape real estate, the principal difference is that the 388 runs at twice the speed. This might reduce the distortion and make for a better frequency response. On the other hand, distortion and treble response (rolled off, etc) is what people like about the sounds of these units. And the 424mkii is 10 years newer, so perhaps the electronics are better? (I wouldn't bet on it, but maybe). The 388 definitely has more eq options (three sweepable eq controls vs one).

Ultimately, I think the answer though is that they're both different tools. Some people prefer to shoot film on 8mm vs 16mm after all. So they both will give you their own sound, and beautiful art can be made on both.

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Post by Judas Jetski » Mon Aug 17, 2015 2:04 pm

As it happens, I've been using a 424 Mk. II and Mk. II (one of each) almost daily for the last few months, doing some forensic work on my 4-track cassettes. I'm trying to re-claim some material that I gave up on about 20 years ago, that really should have seen the light of day. I'm trying to use the original tracks as much as possible. I'm re-working the material, so there's a lot of tracking involved as well, but I want to stay faithful to the hard-core DIY ethic which was forced upon me by circumstance. Otherwise it'll sound weird(er).

With the 424, you're not really talking about 1/4 the width of the cassette tape itself but rather something narrower. There has to be physical space between tracks on the tape, and tolerances aren't necessarily very tight on cassettes in general, so they can't run the outside tracks right to the edge of the tape. So we're talking maybe more like 60% coverage with all 4 tracks, after all's said and done.

I've never used a 388, but I'm very sure that it's exponentially better than the 424, when it comes to sound quality--although like you said, in an era where format is an artistic choice, "good" is subjective. I find the dbx used on the 424 to be incredibly effective. I was tracking to a Maxell XLII-S cassette and got results that were every bit as clean as I would have wanted out of a 1/4" 8-track (even though it still sounded like cassette in a way I couldn't really quantify). I was totally blown away, at least until the tape started to fall apart and I lost hours of work.

If I had to do it over, and given the choice between 424 Mk. II and 388, I'd totally go with the 388. But of course a 388 is a much bigger investment than the 424 Mk. II, which scores SUPER-high on the "cheap & cheerful" scale. I've been having a blast absolutely plowing through other people's music collections--bulk-erasing, recording, and moving on to a new tape like I was getting the stuff for free. Because I basically AM getting the stuff for free. And it's not like I need to worry about sounding professional, because I've got the ultimate excuse: "hey, whattaya want? I recorded this stuff on a 20 year old cassette tape." It's a valuable tool in the War on Perfectionism.

I do find myself wishing I had more aux sends, but I guess that'll tighten up my mixdown "game."
Check out the newest Andy Smash release, Black Light / Black Death! http://andysmash.bandcamp.com !


"Avoid trends and clich?s/don't try to be up to date/and when the sunlight hits the olive oil, don't hesitate"

www.AndySmash.com

mrc
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Post by mrc » Tue Aug 18, 2015 12:42 am

I can say that I started at a college (NPR) station, recording on 1/2 inch mono, which sounded pretty darned good through the gear they had (Neve board, on down). The rest of this is from the hip, not particularly sensitive, but I'm retired and just don't give a damn. Suck it up buttercup.
I've used a less than 20 dollar rat shack cassette for capturing song ideas. A Tascam 644 midi studio, Fostex 8 track R to R, 16 track 2 inch Ampeg , edit Ampex my bad, @ 30 ips with no dolby on any to them. Dolby sounded like crap. Adat black face, that was rough, and a bunch of different daw interfaces. Now I have an Audient 880, apollo twin duo, focusrite pro 40 with a black lion mod, and an old Alesis AI3 from the cubase 3.7 if ever needed. I'm patching the converter/pre's to a rme raydat.
Yeah, you can learn on a cassette, but a $20 cassette machine should teach you everything you need to know about a medium designed to be a phone answering/recording solution. Good sounding recordings can be made on the better units, and they got my self/ bands a lot of work (back in those days). Money for this is hard to come by, and even harder to pay off. Pay cash, and buy when you can pay cash. You'll need outboard gear and a lot more going to tape, that would pay for a reasonable starter daw system. Reaper is pretty damn good and very cheap. It comes with good plugins, and all you need is a fair used set of pre/converters, and you can crank out pretty good sound, without buying over and over to get to where you should have started. Save yourself a lot of money and time. Buy that $20 mono cassette machine, or even better, 2 of them so you can bounce while making noise live, and see what I mean. It'll be a cheap lesson. A good mic and decent monitors are really important, as well as proper sound treatment for your space. Lots of research, and learning how to spot the bs and sales pitches will go a long ways. :lol: :lol: More money is made selling than making music, and all the promo crap you read is to continue the trend.

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Mo-Tech
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Post by Mo-Tech » Wed Aug 19, 2015 10:19 am

I have both 414 and 424 mk III and an Otari pro R2R. No comparison!

I use 424 and 414 only for intentional compressed noisy "lo-fi" effect seldomly when I need to. Can be kind'a "cool" sounding, but no way you can make "serious" recordings on them unless it's that intentional "lo-fi" sound you look for that works for very limited audience that apreciate that noisy "cassette" sound coming through a thick pillow.

Sonically, Otari MTR-12 just plain daylight murders it quality, literally and in every aspect - let alone noise (w/o any NR), in depth, from bottom end, mids, highs, dynamics, liveliness or "3D-feel" is just lightyears ahead. It's really like comparing a 50cc scooter to a 1000cc turbocharged superbike in performance. No matter if you use DBX (which sonically kills the analog "juice" big time btw!) or double speed+speed dial to max, it doesn't even remotely touch a real R2R in sonic quality even at it's lowest speeds (7.5IPS), IMO.

But as said, those cassette multitrack recorders can be creatively used for certain tracks or mix stems, which I transfer into my final mix that's printed onto R2R. Using the best of all worlds I guess...

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I'm Painting Again
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Post by I'm Painting Again » Wed Aug 19, 2015 8:52 pm

If you want it to sound like Smog's Sewn to the Sky record it on a "dumpster potrtastudio"

If you want it to sound like Fleetwood Mac or something of that ilk record it to 2" with 70's discreet console preamps..

mimic the production of the reference material you're trying for is a standard practice..something to think about there..

if you want to impress people with the way it sounds it goes down like this..

you have to know the people and what impresses them..

taste is so subjective..

people go wild for stuff that sounds (technically) terrible..and vice versa..everything in between and you have to really understand them and what they like to deliver it as something that will click with them..and it gets subtle and difficult sometimes..you have to do a lot of non-gear thinking before you start messing with the actual production imho

that said with a cassette 4trk you're limited..the sound will never extend below and above certain frequencies for example..424 MkIII is like 40Hz to 16kHz +/-3dB

on the gear side...

if you're looking for a way to make the portastudio sound nicer..I've found one of the best ways to do that is put 4 expensive mic preamps feeding it in line mode and using good (often expensive as well) mics..now that's $$$ you might not have to invest and why would you do that anyway when you could maybe get a nicer recorder or something..like buy $5000 worth of mics and pres to record to a portastudio..but it does make it sound a lot better and perhaps necessary to get all out of it it you can..

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Post by honkyjonk » Tue Sep 15, 2015 1:26 pm

Yeah,

Ditto that on going into the RCA line ins (or 'receive' jack on some models) I got that tip from somebody and did some tests and my 244 does sound better/clearer with more low end as well.

As a listener, I get excited when I hear about an album being made on a 4 track. Just the lo fi distortion junkie in me I guess.
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Post by A.David.MacKinnon » Wed Sep 16, 2015 8:30 pm

I'm making a record on a 4 track at the moment and can confirm that putting big money mics and preamps in front of the cassette makes a huge difference. Putting a big money console on the other end helps too.
The 4 track in question is a Yamaha MT44 which is an early 80's stand alone cassette machine. It came with a patchbay and separate mixer (which is junk). I'm running some nice mics and decent preamps (McCurdy, True, Chandler, blah, blah, blah) and returning to an MCI JH636 console. It's still a little lo-fi but sounds way better than it should. The real pinch point is that there aren't enough tracks to avoid bouncing if you're playing all the instruments yourself. If I was tracking a band I'd be sub-mixing multiple instruments to each track.
I made records on narrow format reel to reels for years and honestly this isn't that far removed sonically. It's dirtier and the top and bottom don't extend quite as far but at $2 a tape it sounds pretty awesome and is tons of fun.

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