Tascam's colourful new CDGT1 lets you easily practice playing or singing alongside your favourite CD.
Tascam have clearly identified a need for a device that will help guitar players or singers work out songs from CDs by allowing them to slow down the music without changing its pitch. However, their CDGT1 Guitar Trainer goes rather further than that, as it also allows the key of a piece of music to be changed without affecting its tempo. The guitar input has its own effects section to allow you to play along with the CD you're trying to learn.
Solidly moulded from alarmingly red plastic and slightly larger than a VHS video tape case, the Tascam CDGT1 can be powered from four AA batteries or from an optional external mains adaptor. It has a small but perfectly adequate LCD window to handle the CD play functions (as well as parameter editing) and a Gameboy-style four-way rocker switch for parameter access and value changing. The Display button doubles as an Escape button during editing, while Loop and I/O buttons allow two points to be marked within a song while it is playing so that these can form the start and end of a loop for rehearsing a defined section of the song. Bank and Number buttons are provided for accessing the onboard effects banks and user memories, and the regular CD transport controls are augmented by a Cue button that returns the playback position to wherever playback was last started. Cue can be set up so that the player pauses when Cue is pressed or it can go straight to the playback point and start playing. Provision is made for an optional footswitch, which can be set up in the menu either to act as a Cue controller or to step through the effect presets.
The stereo phones output, line input and line output jacks (3.5mm) are on the front edge of the case, with thumbwheels to control the input and output levels. The stereo line input is mixed with whatever else is going on in the CDGT1, enabling external audio sources to be mixed in. For example, you may wish to plug in your favourite modelling guitar preamp rather than using the onboard processing. The mic/guitar and footswitch sockets are conventional quarter-inch jacks, where a switch on the right-hand side of the case toggles between mic and line input modes. There's also a Hold button that locks the current control status when the machine is on to prevent accidental interference with the controls. Curiously, there's also a recessed Guitar power switch that powers up the mic/line input and effects section. This is in addition to the main power switch close to the power adaptor socket, and it must be on to use the mic/guitar input. It's my guess it is included to extend battery life when the mic/guitar input isn't needed, as the digital effects chip and preamp circuitry probably draw a significant amount of power.
The CD player behaves pretty conventionally until you dip into the menu and select one of the special modes. Key mode enables the key of the recording to be changed by up to six semitones either way (in semitone steps) without affecting the tempo. SSA mode does the opposite, and allows the tempo to be reduced by up to 50 percent without affecting the pitch, while Pitch mode acts rather like the varispeed on a tape recorder and lowers the pitch and tempo together, once again by up to 50 percent, in one-percent steps.
The onboard effects are arranged into two banks, where numbers one to five in each bank can be used to store user settings. There are 43 presets in all, 30 designed for guitar and 13 for vocals. As you might imagine, the degree of editing is fairly limited and values are changed using the up/down sections of the four-way rocker switch, but you're provided with adequate adjustment to control things like guitar distortion amount, compressor gain, tone, degree of pitch-shift and amount of chorus, flanger, phasing, tremolo, delay or reverb. The vocal presets, on the other hand, have only one adjustable parameter. There are also auto-wah effects, panning and vocal de-essing. Guitar presets combine four effects blocks (headed up by either distortion or compression). There's also a handy guitar tuner that works via a row of dots in the display. When the pitch shows in the middle of the row, it's correct. Normally the note detection automatically recognises which string you're tuning, but, for oddball tunings, you can opt to set a note value manually and then tune to that instead.
So, how well does the CDGT1 stack up as a 'guitar trainer'? After several hours of using it, the guitar still couldn't do somersaults, fetch slippers or jump through hoops, so I'm afraid it's nul points in that area! However, as a guitarist trainer it's a bit of a gem. The audio quality is comparable with any decent portable CD player, though, as you might expect, it takes on a hint of the characteristic pitch-shifter warble when you use the Key or SSA modes. Even so, it's perfectly acceptable to play along to, and the slowed-down settings make it a lot easier to figure out what's being played. Used as a straightforward CD player, it behaves conventionally, but seems reassuringly resistant to skipping caused by bumps or vibration. It's also happy playing CD-R audio discs.
The guitar effects are fine for practice purposes, though the overdrive sounds are rather too 'fizzy' for my liking and I wouldn't choose to record using them. I preferred the clean and chorused guitar presets as these sounded rather more musical to my ear. The vocal effects fare a little better, as they don't usually have any distortion settings and tend to use mainly effects such as reverb or delay, though there are some interesting lo-fi frantic panning and megaphone presets for the more adventurous.
Although the CDGT1 costs rather more in the UK than a typical portable CD player (and is arguably less portable), it manages to double as a high-quality music playback system and a comprehensive practice aid for vocalists (using an unbalanced mic with a jack lead) or a practice/learning aid for guitarists. While the guitar effects are a little unrefined compared with the latest in modelling technology, they are absolutely fine for the purpose intended and the only trick I can think of that Tascam have missed is in not adding a central image voice canceller, which would have allowed singers to attenuate the vocal part on the CDs they want to sing along to.
CDGT1 £149;optional power adaptor £12. Prices include VAT.
Tascam +44 (0)1923 438880.