An Analog Setup for My Needs (Tape Machine Talk)

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hithere
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An Analog Setup for My Needs (Tape Machine Talk)

Post by hithere » Sun May 19, 2019 10:38 am

Hey there,

I am hoping to get some advice on a possible analog system that would fit my needs and budget.

I have been recording myself digitally for about 15 years. Starting on a Boss BR8 digital 8 track, to Logic, and now Pro Tools. I am well aware of the great technology we have access to these days, including tape and saturation plugins. I still wish to try a different workflow.

I am a musician first, and engineer second. I collaborate with more talented people than me on drum recordings and final mixing / mastering.

This system is just for my solo stuff, thus I am not concerned with what modern clients might wish for (recall etc)

I am hoping to find a tape machine that would fit my needs for under 2 grand (including any work that will likely need to be done to it). I would like to try this way of working to see if I’d be interested in a higher end machine down the road.

I had a Tascam 388 for a short time, and remember enjoying the effect that machine had on my stuff (Lofi / Midfi ie not like a Daw) but the prices have gotten out of hand so I have been looking at the Otari MX5050 / Tascam 48

I am a little hesitant to be limited to 8 tracks though.

The Tascam MS16 is also on my radar, which was used on some of the early War on Drugs records.

It is an ignorant question, but I am unsure of different size tape being used on different machines. For example 1 inch on a 2 inch machine.

Ideally I would like to be able to have a machine that would let
me take my Tapes to the studio for drum recordings, and final mixes running through say a Neve console & outboard that a studio owns.

Which brings me to most likely only needing a mixer for rough mixes / monitoring.

Would this be a viable way of working with the right rig in my budget?

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Re: An Analog Setup for My Needs (Tape Machine Talk)

Post by kslight » Sun May 19, 2019 12:19 pm

I know you've probably ruled it out due to cost, but I kind of think the 388 is the perfect "home studio" reel to reel...with its self-contained nature, unique sound, and relatively low cost to operate (using 1/4" tape at 7.5ips is pretty economical). Yes, machines are around $2k. But if you used it a lot and got a good machine I think that's worth it. Don't listen to me though...I have 2 of them, so I'm biased...(tape joke) You might try your luck at finding a cheap one locally...I've never paid that kind of money for one, I've owned 4. Trouble is (and with ANY tape machine) finding a good tech, and those techs won't ever be cheap...and major parts like motors and headstacks mostly available only from scavenged machines...

I don't really think of 8 tracks as a big limitation...forces you to commit.

2" machines generally seem to still go for thousands for a machine worth owning...I probably wouldn't want one for non-commercial/home use...tape is pretty expensive, etc...

Moving on to the MS16...I used to have one. That's 1" tape...some machines run at 30ips, some at 15ips. I had a 15 ips model, with the dbx NR...but you really probably don't need the dbx unless you're recording really quiet stuff anyway.
Problem with this machine is that 1" tape is pretty expensive...over $200 a reel last I checked.. And the MS16 isn't really all that interesting of a sound, IMHO...

There is also the MSR16...16 tracks on 1/2". No experience with that. 1/2" tape is over $100/reel.

38 is 8 tracks on 1/2". I had one given to me, used it briefly but only used it to test/sell it.

TSR8 is 8 tracks on 1/4". No experience..

688 is 8 tracks on cassette...used to have one of these. Kind of cool, not as easy to use as 388 but much more portable. Sort of regret selling.

238 is like the rack/no mixer version of the 688...

And several other options...all kind of have their ups and downs.

I don't think literally taking your tape into the studio to mix is a very practical/realistic expectation...the studio probably wouldn't have a compatible machine, and even if they did...probably wouldn't be calibrated the same.. I would probably just dump it to digital THEN take it to the studio to mix...

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Re: An Analog Setup for My Needs (Tape Machine Talk)

Post by A.David.MacKinnon » Sun May 19, 2019 6:05 pm

I can’t comment on the ms16 beyond the already stated fact that 1” is more expensive and that it doesn’t have a great reputation for sound.

I have an msr16 which is a great machine for what it is. It’s not 2” by any stretch but it can sound really good and you can easily make a good sounding record on it. Tape is affordable. I don’t use mine as much as I used to but I’ll never sell it. I recently bought a parts machine to keep it going.

Before the MSR16 I had a 38. It was a great machine (again, for what it is). Fidelity is a bit better than the msr16 and if You get the external Dbx noise redux units you have the advantage of only engaging noise reduction on the tracks where you need it instead of globally. The transport is a bit clunky and it’s prone to having cards come loose causing tracks to stop recording or playing back. That’s an easy fix though. If I could find a decent price on a good 38 I’d buy it again

I also own a 488 (cassette 8 track like the 688). It’s fantastsic. I love it. It’s my writing machine. Tape is cheap. It’s quick and easy to get up and running when an idea strikes and it can sound really good provided you use as little of the onboard electronics as possible. I run external pre amps and dump multi tracks to pro tools to mix (or mix on a real board).

I’ve been on the hunt for a 238 forever. Considering that I try not to use the mixer section of the 488 at all the 238 is my dream cassette machine. Can’t find a good one and when I do the price seems crazy.

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Re: An Analog Setup for My Needs (Tape Machine Talk)

Post by roscoenyc » Mon May 20, 2019 7:16 am

I read posts on here all the time about the 388 or the 688.

I've owned tons of these machines including Fostex and Tascam and Otaris.

I just don't get the romance.

They aren't great machines.

OP said he's done a lot of digital recording.
Why not get better at it instead of going back to some small format analog machine that requires a lot of TLC to keep going.

OP also says that he'd be bringing tracks to a big studio to finish.

As a guy who's owned them in the past I just don't get the romance of these machines.

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Re: An Analog Setup for My Needs (Tape Machine Talk)

Post by I'm Painting Again » Mon May 20, 2019 8:14 am

if you wanna take your tapes into the studio to work you prob ought to get the same format your studio has, no?

how are you going to take say a 1/2 -8 reel to a studio that has say a 2"-24 ?

yea typically you can't run cross format at least not without a changeout of headstock and guides and recalibration - that's an expensive service on top of everything else if a studio even has the capability to do it in this day and age

otari mx5050-8 1/2" is the one I'd pick for general purposes - had one for a while but sold it - sounded OK - kinda vanilla but trouble free and easy once it's set up - Nirvana's Bleach was made on this one for reference

the tascams and teacs etc. are "cooler sounding" but technically "worse sounding" and I've kept one of mine to get that vibe - I use it to get the sound of like flying nun records from the 80's and American lo-fi

my Ampex 440b sounds almost like my Lavry ADC with a bit of a more compressed and euphonic sound (less accurate)

the Ampex is the only one that sounds like a classic record from the 60's / 70's

Mara machines are what I'd pick up today if I wanted that sound but you're not going to find that in your budget they're doing a 1"-8 for ~$8k now iirc

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Re: An Analog Setup for My Needs (Tape Machine Talk)

Post by markjazzbassist » Mon May 20, 2019 8:20 am

a person after my own heart. i dumped the DAW's 10 years ago and haven't looked back. Had a bunch of Tascam 388, Teac 3340s, Otari MX5050, and have settled on a Fostex Model 80.

The Tascam 388 prices are outrageous and not worth it in my opinion unless you can find one completely ready to go with decent heads for say 1200. The 7.5 IPS is noisy unless you're recording super loud music (ie metal, rock) and the head bump at 100 Hz is brutal and i just don't like the low end on that machine. The DBX is like a blanket that just kills the vibe, i don't like DBX. Honestly i did a couple records on the 388 and i'm proud of them but i've since sold all my 388's and haven't looked back.

A reel of 1/2" tape is about 100 bucks. That's 33.33 minutes of music at 15 IPS. That can get expensive fast. But if you have the money this is the route to go, better tape widths, thicker backing, and a more robust format. if you need 16 tracks the Fostex B16 or G16 or the Tascam MSR16 are nice. For 8 Tracks the tascam or otari offerings are nice.

A reel of 1/4" tape is 30 bucks. You can get a lot more recording time from this size tape for the money. I always get 1.5 mil tape that way i can hit it a little harder and it holds the bass better, i'm a bassist and the 1 mil stuff was fuzzing out with my jazz with flats (super fundamental heavy tone). You might be able to get away with it genre depending, if so 1 mil tape will get even more recording time as more tape per reel.

I'd recommend a Fostex Model 80, R8 or E8. They are 1/4" tape (so cheap tape) and are similar to a Tascam 388 but they record at 15 IPS which i find gives a better low end (wierd i know) and top end (no secret there). Also the Dolby Noise reduction is less heavy handed than the DBX if you choose to use it (i use it sparingly). Also you can pair it with your mixer of choice and since they are separate if something happens to one you get it repaired or replaced. the 388 you need to scrap the whole damn thing or lug that big ass thing to get repaired. i did it a couple times and it's a bitch, that thing weighs 100 pounds.

1" tape is 160 bucks a reel (still only 33.3 minutes of recording time) and 2" tape is 300 bucks a reel (still only 33.3 minutes of recording time). If you have a ton of money these formats will yield the best results in clarity and Hi-Fi sound, but the costs of tape will be massive.

my .02

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Re: An Analog Setup for My Needs (Tape Machine Talk)

Post by TapeOpLarry » Mon May 20, 2019 8:29 am

I'm with Eric. I've been through the valley of overbias. I own 3 or more tape decks right now, and the reason the main 3 are Otari is that they are like Toyotas and keep running. I have spent well over $60,000 on tape decks over the last 20+ years. Seriously. Decks, parts, repairs, MRLs, spare decks. I like 16-track 2" but try finding a 16 track head for an Otari - I pulled that off years back. The only tape formats that sound kinda good to me are 16 track 2-inch at 15 ips IEC and sometimes 1/2-inch 2-track Ampex decks. I tracked a band on a Tascam 238 a while back, in a Portland basement, and it was kinda fun but I don't feel the tape was the cool thing - the limitations were. Once I tracked a band on a brand new Studer 827A and it was so clean it might well have been digital. That was the end of THAT era.

My usual rant: Everything else you do when recording should be doing more than the recoding medium. Mic choices, placement, rooms, compressors, instruments, coaching, arranging, etc. It's all SO much more important.

If a tape deck is defining your music then there must be something wrong with your music. If your music succeeds despite the tape deck you are GBV, Daniel Johnston, Varnaline, etc.

Sorry for the rant. Good luck.
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Re: An Analog Setup for My Needs (Tape Machine Talk)

Post by digitaldrummer » Mon May 20, 2019 9:32 am

I love the convenience of digital. even more so when i read these threads. :-)

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Re: An Analog Setup for My Needs (Tape Machine Talk)

Post by Magnetic Services » Mon May 20, 2019 12:37 pm

I had good results with a Tascam 38 (after putting a bunch of money into repairs/upgrades). They are relatively common and parts are abundant, but they are honestly pretty annoying to service - especially replacing belts and motors. Hopefully people like Jim Williams and JRF Magnetics are still servicing and upgrading these?

If I had to do it again today I'd probably save up and get a restored Otari (like Larry here) or a Mara Machines MCI. If your machine's not running, it's like having a sweet car in your garage that you're "still fixing up". Which is fine for some folks, but when it's running well it really is the best feeling.

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Re: An Analog Setup for My Needs (Tape Machine Talk)

Post by kslight » Mon May 20, 2019 5:03 pm

TapeOpLarry wrote:
Mon May 20, 2019 8:29 am
I'm with Eric. I've been through the valley of overbias. I own 3 or more tape decks right now, and the reason the main 3 are Otari is that they are like Toyotas and keep running. I have spent well over $60,000 on tape decks over the last 20+ years. Seriously. Decks, parts, repairs, MRLs, spare decks. I like 16-track 2" but try finding a 16 track head for an Otari - I pulled that off years back. The only tape formats that sound kinda good to me are 16 track 2-inch at 15 ips IEC and sometimes 1/2-inch 2-track Ampex decks. I tracked a band on a Tascam 238 a while back, in a Portland basement, and it was kinda fun but I don't feel the tape was the cool thing - the limitations were. Once I tracked a band on a brand new Studer 827A and it was so clean it might well have been digital. That was the end of THAT era.

My usual rant: Everything else you do when recording should be doing more than the recoding medium. Mic choices, placement, rooms, compressors, instruments, coaching, arranging, etc. It's all SO much more important.

If a tape deck is defining your music then there must be something wrong with your music. If your music succeeds despite the tape deck you are GBV, Daniel Johnston, Varnaline, etc.

Sorry for the rant. Good luck.
I totally get where you're coming from...I'm a firm believer in the song. Gear in general (not just tape) gets romanticized but all of it is pretty insignificant compared to the song.

But at the same time, since in the personal use context its likely just for fun...for most of us anyway...if running a low end tape deck makes it fun then have fun. What I like about when I use the 388 is that it takes me somewhere else, and forces me to make decisions that I would not make on the computer. For better or for worse. And some of us (most of us?) probably stare at a screen of some sorts most of the day so I can see where one would want to turn that off for awhile.

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Re: An Analog Setup for My Needs (Tape Machine Talk)

Post by TapeOpLarry » Mon May 20, 2019 7:45 pm

If you can make it fun, then do it. It was fun to use the 238 recently and I get it. Between Tape Op and Pro Tools I’m sick of computers.
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Re: An Analog Setup for My Needs (Tape Machine Talk)

Post by Nick Sevilla » Tue May 21, 2019 1:59 pm

Hi... em, hithere.

I think you are just romanticizing a few recordings done on a Tascam 388, and nothing more.
I had a Tascam 388 for a short time, and remember enjoying the effect that machine had on my stuff
Yep, a romance with tape.

Instead of going through the hassle and expense of tape, because if you did get a tape machine I would insist it be a Tascam 388 and nothing else, instead take a look at what your current setup may not be giving you in terms of sonics. Maybe you need more Neve preamps? They fizzle and distort material in a heavenly way. Maybe different outboard, or a piece that has character? Without knowing your music, hard to tell what could work for you.

If you did get a different tape machine than the 388, you would be disappointed. They all sound so very very different. And you'd be stuck with a boat anchor.
Realizing vibratory excursions from a paper widget.

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Re: An Analog Setup for My Needs (Tape Machine Talk)

Post by TapeOpLarry » Tue May 21, 2019 9:27 pm

There are numerous varieties of boat anchors....
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