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4 track cassette recorder - how to use the cassette?

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4 track cassette recorder - how to use the cassette?

Postby Kipish » Sat Jan 11, 2014 3:12 pm

Hey everybody,
just got a fostex 4 trax recorder.

i looked around the web and got some info but i couldnt understand one thing:
if a 4 track recorder records on all 4 channels at once, that mean that u can only record on one side?

as i understood - there are two tracks in each side ( A + B = 4 TRACKS) and the playback plays one track from each side - one from A, one from B - total 2 of 4 tracks.
when the 4 track records it records on all tracks.
so once i recorded on side A, side B is also recorded on and changing side will delete the side A recording..?
right?

so actually a 60 minutes cassette gives me a 30 minutes recording time?

thank allot,
hope youll know what im talking about....

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Re: 4 track cassette recorder - how to use the cassette?

Postby Kwackman » Sat Jan 11, 2014 3:20 pm

kipodish wrote:
if a 4 track recorder records on all 4 channels at once, that mean that u can only record on one side?

Yes.

kipodish wrote:
so actually a 60 minutes cassette gives me a 30 minutes recording time?

Yes, or even less if the machine runs at double speed, some of the Tascams did, not sure about Fostex.
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Re: 4 track cassette recorder - how to use the cassette?

Postby Wease » Sat Jan 11, 2014 4:08 pm

A cassette has 4 'lanes' you can record onto.
On a normal tape recorder, the recording head writes to 2 of these lanes (ie side a). One then flips the cassette over to record onto the other 2 lanes for side b....which of course is reversed recording (ie backwards in relation to side a)

On a 4track like wot you have, the recording head writes to all 4 heads (although internal architecture of the 4 track machine means it can also read from some of these heads as well if required, and only record on one to 3 heads at a time, if available...hence the ability to bounce down tracks and overdub)... The lanes of course will all be recorded in the same direction...so no side b as such and therefore 1/2 the recording time
Scroll to multi track recording in this article for more info in cassettes...it makes things quite clear, and the whole article is worth a read.

Sometimes I feel very old, especially when discussing formats that obviously some of the young uns have never experienced before...
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Re: 4 track cassette recorder - how to use the cassette?

Postby Exalted Wombat » Sat Jan 11, 2014 5:01 pm

kipodish wrote:Hey everybody,
just got a fostex 4 trax recorder.

i looked around the web and got some info but i couldnt understand one thing:
if a 4 track recorder records on all 4 channels at once, that mean that u can only record on one side?

Yup. And I must also warn you that unless you have old material recorded in this format to transfer, or have no access to today's technology and this was all you could afford, you've acquired an almost useless antique.

There MAY be some magic in running your music through wide-track high-speed tape. But there's very little in this machine I'm afraid. Sorry.
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Re: 4 track cassette recorder - how to use the cassette?

Postby dmills » Sat Jan 11, 2014 5:59 pm

Yep, those of us who were there the first time ran screaming to even the early (and very shonky by todays standards) digital formats just as quickly as we could to get away from 4 track on cassette, it was a toy and **ANYTHING** else was better.

15 minutes on a C60 at double speed (And C60 was the longest you wanted to use because of issues with stretching), and the track width was tiny so alignment was even more critical then on a proper deck.

I am not the only one around here amused by folks who have obviously never dealt with the care and feeding of a proper tape deck going on about the magic of tape.
Hint, a proper machine required a technician with skills in mechanical & electronic engineering and some physics background to visit once every few weeks to fettle the thing, when your ongoing costs are that high you make sure the writing and performances are up to snuff before getting to the room, that cost was the real mojo of tape.

We put up with tape because it was better then going direct to (lacquer) disk, and some liked the inevitable distortion that came from hitting it hard enough to get an acceptable noise floor, but it always was (and is) a pain in the bum and a compromise that there is no need for these days.

Seriously even a cheap interface and a very modest junker pc or laptop is better then a 4 track in all ways.

Regards, Dan.
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Re: 4 track cassette recorder - how to use the cassette?

Postby Hugh Robjohns » Sat Jan 11, 2014 6:05 pm

dmills wrote:Seriously even a cheap interface and a very modest junker pc or laptop is better then a 4 track in all ways.

FIRST YORKSHIREMAN:
And you try and tell the young people of today that ..... they won't believe you.

ALL:
They won't!


http://www.phespirit.info/montypython/four_yorkshiremen.htm

H
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Re: 4 track cassette recorder - how to use the cassette?

Postby BJG145 » Sat Jan 11, 2014 6:15 pm

Thread reminded me of PJ Harvey's 4-Track Demos.

Apparently the original machine was listed on eBay last July for $18K.

http://www.ebay.com/itm/Actual-4-track-PJ-Harvey-used-to-rec...

(Only sold for $1K, but actually that's quite a cool piece of memorobila. Anyway...)

People do sometimes confuse an A80 with a C90. But I guess it's as good a way of mangling sounds as any.
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Re: 4 track cassette recorder - how to use the cassette?

Postby Folderol » Sat Jan 11, 2014 6:24 pm

@kipi
I can understand your excitement at getting hold of a piece of gear like this. It looks quite impressive, but I have to agree with the others. It will give you lots of pain and suffering unless you use it only for some esoteric tape effects.
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Re: 4 track cassette recorder - how to use the cassette?

Postby The Elf » Sat Jan 11, 2014 7:08 pm

Run away.

Run away quickly.

Count me amongst those who were there first time around. And count me as one of those who say... this really isn't worth the effort.
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Re: 4 track cassette recorder - how to use the cassette?

Postby Bob Bickerton » Sat Jan 11, 2014 8:17 pm

Still have mine in the shed somewhere..................... May offer it to the local museum...........

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Re: 4 track cassette recorder - how to use the cassette?

Postby turbodave » Sat Jan 11, 2014 8:29 pm

Oh, Ignore them all....regardless of how good digital is, these devices at the time were great and they are a fun toy...you may learn so much without latency, horrible clipping, driver issues and no interface..plug in a mic and make a racket!!!
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Re: 4 track cassette recorder - how to use the cassette?

Postby Scope » Sun Jan 12, 2014 10:29 am

I loved my 4 track.
At the time it was affordable and quite brilliant.
Sod whether it's actually any good.
We all know it can't compare to a modern mac running an rme interface into protools or logic.
It's nostalgia and fun in one neat box

I hope you have a lot of fun playing with it.
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Re: 4 track cassette recorder - how to use the cassette?

Postby Zukan » Sun Jan 12, 2014 11:18 am

Kipish, don't let these guys throw you off dude. The Fostex was always a great piece of kit. Its dimensions perfectly replaced that of a small footstool.
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Re: 4 track cassette recorder - how to use the cassette?

Postby James Perrett » Mon Jan 13, 2014 11:11 am

I've just acquired a 4 track cassette recorder too - a Tascam in my case. I'd have to add that I avoided them as much as possible when they were popular as I felt that the 4 track format stifled creativity rather than encouraged it. You had to spend too much time planning your track layout in order to submix and bounce in the most effective way. When writing or experimenting I was much happier using a decent 2 track reel to reel and just bouncing between the tracks every time. You could spend all your time worrying about the musical performance rather than where you were going to put the next track.

I later moved up to 8 track and the 2 track became the master recorder. In fact, the same 2 track is still in regular use but I doubt you could say that for many 4 track cassette machines. I only gave the Tascam a home because it was, in good condition, free and I guess that sometime in the future someone is going to come along with a 4 track cassette that they want transferred to digital.
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Re: 4 track cassette recorder - how to use the cassette?

Postby Richard Graham » Mon Jan 13, 2014 11:27 am

Four tracks were great. In the first copy of Home and Studio Recording I bought, Paul White recommended a Tascam Cassette 4 track (with 6 input channels and parametric eq) as being 'good enough for small run record releases'.

Pros: simple to use, tiny learning curve, no latency/drivers/compatibility issues, no boot time, literally "plug in and play".
Cons: sound quality far from perfect, track count.

In some ways, computers are still not as good as a cassette 4 track for a recording musician.

Having said that, I would not go back to them unless I had to!
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Re: 4 track cassette recorder - how to use the cassette?

Postby homergah » Mon Jan 13, 2014 12:56 pm

Kipish wrote:
so once i recorded on side A, side B is also recorded on and changing side will delete the side A recording..?
right?


If you flip it over and hit "RECORD" yes. But... if you flip it over and hit "PLAY" you may spend the next few hours dealing with a psychotic episode as the machine whispers to you, "Paul is dead, Paul is dead, Paul is dead....."
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Re: 4 track cassette recorder - how to use the cassette?

Postby Hugh Robjohns » Mon Jan 13, 2014 1:04 pm

Richard Graham wrote:Four tracks were great.

They still are!

Having a limited number of tracks focuses the mind on what are the really important aspects of a recoding.

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Re: 4 track cassette recorder - how to use the cassette?

Postby Richard Graham » Mon Jan 13, 2014 1:12 pm

Hugh Robjohns wrote:
Richard Graham wrote:Four tracks were great.

They still are!

Having a limited number of tracks focuses the mind on what are the really important aspects of a recoding.

H

I am sometime staggered by the SoS famous producers articles, where they have used over 100 tracks to produce a single. I still never use more than about 8.

They are successful though, whereas I languish in total obscurity!

I loved the Gabriel Roth interview a couple of years ago, where he talked about recording a guitar amp and a bass amp together on one track, using a Realistic dynamic mic. That's minimal!
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Re: 4 track cassette recorder - how to use the cassette?

Postby ManFromGlass » Mon Jan 13, 2014 1:54 pm

I loved my fostex. I learned how to record, mix, basic mic techniques and bounce down and other things! I think I did some of my most creative work with it but that might be my senility acting up! But then the Atari came out . . . . . . .
Have fun with it. If it inspires you to create music then it is worth it.
Cheers
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Re: 4 track cassette recorder - how to use the cassette?

Postby Rich Hanson » Mon Jan 13, 2014 4:13 pm

There's a lot to be said for learning recording on a limited medium. I think my whole approach these days is very much shaped by starting out with sound-on-sound cassettes, then 4 track cassette, then 8 track open reel. I still rarely use more than one reverb in a song, a hangover from the days of only having one auxiliary bus (and only one reverb unit!)

Recently I did consider putting the backing tracks for our next gig onto a four track and using that. Don't worry, I did come to my senses after a while!
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Re: 4 track cassette recorder - how to use the cassette?

Postby 4TrackMadman » Mon Jan 13, 2014 4:18 pm

Still have my Fostex in running condition. Last thing I did was a quick and dirty songwriting demo with my band, amazingly vocals sounded a lot better through the tape than on digital.

Anyway, lots of fond memories with this one and quite a few years of no downtime, wish I can say that about my DAW.
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Re: 4 track cassette recorder - how to use the cassette?

Postby DGL. » Mon Jan 13, 2014 4:39 pm

Jeff Lynn started with a 2 track B&O reel to reel, bouncing back and forth from left to right and back again building it up track by track. Now that must be difficult.
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Re: 4 track cassette recorder - how to use the cassette?

Postby The Elf » Mon Jan 13, 2014 4:42 pm

DGL. wrote:Jeff Lynn started with a 2 track B&O reel to reel, bouncing back and forth from left to right and back again building it up track by track. Now that must be difficult.
I started out much the same. It was a royal PITA, and very frustrating, but it was all I could muster.
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Re: 4 track cassette recorder - how to use the cassette?

Postby James Perrett » Mon Jan 13, 2014 5:59 pm

DGL. wrote:Jeff Lynn started with a 2 track B&O reel to reel, bouncing back and forth from left to right and back again building it up track by track. Now that must be difficult.

That's what I was trying to describe in my previous post - much easier than 4 track in my opinion (although a Revox probably works better than a B&O).
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Re: 4 track cassette recorder - how to use the cassette?

Postby hollowsun » Mon Jan 13, 2014 8:29 pm

I worked with a band who had a Tascam 244 Portastudio back in the day and they did astonishing things with it. They'd come to my place with it to record my (at the time) extensive collection of synths and then take it away to add other stuff. I showed them the old trick of boosting HF on the way in so that they could bounce down to other tracks without it becoming a mush and they did some great stuff on it - careful track planning, bare basic musical arrangement and so on. Then they'd bring it back to me to mix to a stereo reel-to-reel.

They could have come to me and used my 8-track but they didn't want to bother me and also preferred to work on stuff at home (they shared a house). They (we, actually - I did FOH) gigged a lot, built a following and garnered record company interest to the point that one put us in a London 24-track studio (forget the name - it was 30 years ago!). However hard we tried, we just could not reproduce the sound of the 4-track. Yes, I could reproduce the synth noises, the chaps could redo the bass and guitars and vocals and it all sounded great (obviously - proper room, great mics, skilled engineer, lovely desk, 24-track . . . them were't days!) but we could not reproduce the 'character' of the 4-track. "Good thing" you might say but the lo-fi, slightly dark and murky quality of the 4-track suited the character and 'image' of the band. We didn't like the polished version neither did the in-house engineer and, more importantly, neither did the A&R chap at the record company. Bugger!

So they put us in again but this time we brought the Tascam along and dubbed it across to four tracks (sans vocals) of the 24-track and then built it up from there - I added and doubled synth bits, the vocals were redone proper-like ... just bits of tidying up. The thing virtually mixed itself and we had the murky quality with a bit of 'sparkle'. Everyone involved liked it and it did sound great.

We were close to signing on the dotted line but then wives and girlfriends of some band members (the same wimmin who followed the band around as enthusiastic fans and audience members) suddenly panicked at the thought of their menfolk not having a proper job and bit by bit, the band fell apart. Damned shame because they were good. Ho hum.

This is all to say that these old things were great in their day - they pretty much started the whole 'home recording' phenomenon (further refined by the advent of the Fostex A80 1/4" 8-track and then their 1/2" B16 - no prizes for guessing the track count on that!) and I think they are great fun - p!ss easy to use and great for getting some ideas going and IMO, to criticise them is a bit like having a pop at a painter for having a sketch pad and not stretching a canvas over a frame and cracking out the oil paints and sable brushes.

I know quite a few who still use them that way (and some - charmingly eccentric - loons who ONLY use them for everything!) and they can be great as an audio processor - run a couple of DAW tracks into one, record them and then bounce them back to the DAW (or record to them and dub that across to the DAW much like we did in that 24-track London studio).

And FWIW, my oldest chum bought a 244 years and years ago from one of my UK Akai engineer colleagues. He bought it new but with Akai work, he wasn't using it so asked me if I knew anyone who wanted to buy it. I thought it could be useful for my old pal who is a drama teacher and puts on lavish productions with extravagant lighting and sound. So he bought it and it's still going strong 30-odd years after it was released.
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Re: 4 track cassette recorder - how to use the cassette?

Postby turbodave » Mon Jan 13, 2014 8:37 pm

AaaH! the Tascam 244..it is a real gem IMO. I have one but it needs some attention . Did all my early demos on one. Dave
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Re: 4 track cassette recorder - how to use the cassette?

Postby Tim Gillett » Mon Jan 13, 2014 11:37 pm

I used to service Tascam Portatudios. About ten years ago they stopped coming in. I serviced and repaired one about a month ago. First one I'd done in many years.

At their best and when set up precisely they were capable of surprising fidelity. But unlike pro tape machines they werent designed for quick and easy alignment. Just to align the machine to a tape you had to pull them apart. A long, fiddly, frustrating job.

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Re: 4 track cassette recorder - how to use the cassette?

Postby The_BPP » Tue Jan 14, 2014 8:42 am

I had both Fostex and Tascam back-in-the-day. They certainly keep you focused.

Ah, memories... Like the corners of your mind, apparently.
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Re: 4 track cassette recorder - how to use the cassette?

Postby Barry Garlow » Tue Jan 14, 2014 11:57 am

Bruce Springsteen famously recorded his classic Nebraska album on a portastudio, so they can't be all bad.

I loved mine (i had a vesta, fostex and tascam), still have all the tapes.

I suppose the thing was that we knew the capabilities and the restrictions and knew that there was little chance of producing anything beyond a demo, so the pressure was off. Now, the gear is capable of producing a master.

I would say that my best recorded performances are from portastudios, not fidelity-wise, but the performances.

Loads of fun.
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Re: 4 track cassette recorder - how to use the cassette?

Postby Fishnish » Tue Jan 14, 2014 12:34 pm

I still have a Tascam portastudio. Occassionally I get it out from the cupboard, plug it in and listen to a few of the recordings I made in the 80's.

After cringeing at some of the material, 2 things jump out me in equal proportions:

1. The sound quality, which at the time seemed at least acceptable, if not quite good, is really pretty poor, especially noise/hiss.

2. The actual performances on the tape seem much more spontaneous, lively and ambitious than a typical track I'd lay down into a DAW nowadays. I guess the restrictions of the format made you "commit" more as a musician, think more about sounds and print them straight to tape, which gave many of the recordings a distinctive signature sound.

I also think that messing around on a portastudio gave me a grounding in audio production/engineering. The fact that you had to physically set up effects on inserts and sends, that you had to understand the bussing system to bounce tracks. You only had basic EQ and you had to record with that in mind and use it wisely, and you had to get gain structures right for doing your bounces etc. A real learning process.

I would still recommend messing around on a portastudio as a great way of getting to grips with the basics of recording.
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