Going Old School with Tascam

April 13, 2021

When I was 13 years old, I knew about multitrack tape recorders but didn’t have one for myself. One day I had a vision of the Tascam 424 MKII Portastudio, and I had to go out to rent it at Long and McQuade as soon as I could. The experiments on that machine were not that thrilling from what I remember. Maybe because all I had to record with was an electric guitar directly into it? Nonetheless, it captured my attention.

Within a few years I had started recording with the home PC and a Roland XP-10 synthesizer, so the need for a multitrack was non-existent. I had tried digital ones, specifically a nice Yamaha one that ran on a minidisc, but again nothing clicked.

Around 8 years ago I found a Tascam 424 MKII (the model I had tried as a teen) on craigslist, and I made the mistake of buying it without trying it first. It was incredibly noisy and in poor condition so I learned a difficult lesson there.

However with all these false starts, I still couldn’t shake the idea of a multitrack recorder. One reason for this is I discovered how recording live instruments into the computer are prone to small amounts of delay (latency) if you’re not careful about how your software is setup, or if you don’t have a nice soundcard that can fix this.

This year I rented the Zoom R8, which I didn’t enjoy using. When I found out that Long and McQuade had a discounted Tascam DP-008ex though, I sprung into action and bought it.

So far my experience with the machine has been fantastic. I am able to work on tracks without the option to edit them carefully, or get lost programming synthesizers in menus. I just have to decide what instrument I’d like to plug in, if I’m recording in mono or stereo, and that’s about it. The knobs let you set the panning and amount of reverb it will have.

There is a metronome built-in, but it’s incredibly quiet, so I can choose to record a guide track from my own metronome or a drum machine instead. I can only record two tracks at a time which is a constraint that can be annoying but still keeps you focused. Better yet, it keeps you creative.

I had thought for a long time that it must be possible to find a program on the computer that functions in the same way. In Ableton it is hard to do that because it’s nearly impossible to remove the grid that’s overlayed on the screen.

I would say a basic program like Audacity can serve as a replacement for this way of recording, but overall it’s nice to not have the computer involved at all. That’s the beauty of working with a multitrack recorder.

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