Anyone have recs on a cassette 4 track?

Get that song on tape! Errr... disk?
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Re: Anyone have recs on a cassette 4 track?

Post by UlricvonCatalyst » Mon Oct 22, 2018 12:41 am

The original portastudio was actually pretty high-end compared to what came later as corners were inevitably cut to bring the price down.

I cut my teeth on one of these:

Image

I don't think the pre-amps were shit at all, and the sweepable 2-band Eq is a joy to fiddle with. I also have to contradict Larry's assertion that
Larry Mal wrote:
Sun Oct 21, 2018 8:03 pm
the cassette was a miserable creation. The signal to noise ratio is terrible, and the usable frequency range is often quite terrible... I seem to recall the Type 1 cassettes capped off at around 15kHz. Dreadful. The later "metal" and "chrome" cassettes were much better, but that was the end of the line.
Every portastudio I ever came across was biased for Type II (chrome) cassettes, a medium which was very much alive and kicking from day one of the portastudio's tenure. Using the wrong medium then blaming the machine for poor results doesn't give an unbiased account of the reality on the ground.

I can absolutely understand anyone with an interest in home recording wishing to acquire a poratstudio, for all the reasons stated in the tape op piece and because experimentation is always good for personal development. Predictably, I still own a 244 just like the first one I ever used and have used it as an auxilliary mixer as well as in its primary role. Tape compression does indeed sound uniquely appealing, even if you have cloth ears, and the ease with which you can record backwards guitar/cymbals/satanic invocations makes ownership a no-brainer.

The one piece of advice I'd give the OP is to be aware that not all portastudios are created equal; later, cheaper ones don't hold a candle to the many higher-end ones that are still out there, so do a bit of research and maybe draw up a shortlist of which ones are worth paying a bit more for (typically Tascam, Fostex or Yamaha models that run at 3.75 i.p.s.).

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Re: Anyone have recs on a cassette 4 track?

Post by Larry Mal » Mon Oct 22, 2018 7:39 am

UlricvonCatalyst wrote:
Mon Oct 22, 2018 12:41 am
Every portastudio I ever came across was biased for Type II (chrome) cassettes, a medium which was very much alive and kicking from day one of the portastudio's tenure. Using the wrong medium then blaming the machine for poor results doesn't give an unbiased account of the reality on the ground.
Why are you assuming that I used the wrong kind of tape? I know the difference between high and low bias tape (I and II) and metal tapes (IV). I always did. I've always been concerned about sound quality.

We don't have to guess here, these things are technology and as such they can be measured (well, everything can be measured). By every metric, cassette tape lags behind other mediums.

It's proving a little hard finding hard specs on cassette tape these days, I even opened up a Maxell Type I here in the office this morning hoping for a frequency graph. We have tons of those around, no idea why. No plot points, though.

Anyway, cassette's signal to noise ratio ("hiss") is fucking dreadful:

The S/N ratio, one of the measures of signal transmission quality, expresses the signal/noise ratio in decibels . The larger this value, the higher the transmission quality. The S/N ratio is used as one of the reproduction characteristics of recording media such as magnetic tapes, magnetic discs, and optical discs. For example, a cassette tape has an S/N ratio of approximately 50 dB (signal voltage is 300 times the noise voltage), and a CD has an S/N ratio of approximately 100 dB (signal voltage is 100,000 times as large as the noise voltage).

I guess the usual way of dealing with that was the various Dolbys, but I hated each and every one of those even back in the day. I preferred the hiss rather than the wet blanket over the recording that is the Dolby noise reductions.

The dynamic range of the cassette was also poor:

Dynamic range is a measurement of the difference between the quietest possible sound (silence) and the loudest possible sound that can be handled by a given medium. The potential dynamic range of music in an acoustic environment is as high as 120 decibels (dB). The dynamic range of a CD is closer to 80 dB, FM radio is only about 50 dB, and AM radio a mere 30 dB. With these severe limitations on dynamic range, compression becomes necessary in order to allow the changing dynamics in music to be heard.

By comparison, consumer analog cassette tapes have a dynamic range of 60 to 70 dB.

I'm finding it a little hard to get accurate figures for the frequency range of cassettes, like I say. The figure of 15k seems to be accepted:

Compact cassettes may have a response extending up to 15 kHz at full (0 dB) recording level. At lower levels usually -10 dB, cassettes typically rolls-off at around 20 kHz for most machines, due to the nature of the tape media caused by self-erasure (which worsens the linearity of the response).

(Same Wikipedia article as above.)

I seem to be reading that cassettes also only start hearing bass frequencies around 50k.

So, my point is, by every measurable metric the cassette tape is greatly inferior to just about everything else.

Now, would you ever want "that sound"? Maybe, I don't know. But it's kind of like, we all like to go out camping from time to time. But you still want a house- you don't want to have to live in the tent.
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Re: Anyone have recs on a cassette 4 track?

Post by øøøøøøø » Mon Oct 22, 2018 7:43 am

Cassette four-track is "analog recording" in the same way an old Teisco is a "vintage guitar."

It is, technically. And it's completely possible to do some very cool things, particularly if you're playing up (rather than playing down) the rough edges.

But cassette four tracks rarely hold much sustained appeal, for me. The noise floor will necessarily be very high--and this is coming from a person who doesn't find a moderate noise floor all that objectionable in most cases. The timbre will typically be quite dull and blanketed, and trying to compensate for that seldom leads to satisfactory results.

So if you want a recording that's noisy, dark, and typically fairly distorted, cassette four-track could be a vibe. But I seldom want that for more than one or two tracks in a given production/song, and importing a single track or two from a four-track isn't my preferred workflow, so I normally just make it sound gritty some other kind of way.

If getting your feet wet in analog recording is what you want, I might suggest finding a Tascam 388. It's basically like a cassette four-track, but actually uses open-reel tape at semi-sensible speeds, and therefore is a lot more akin to the kind of analog recording people are talking about when they fetishize "analog recording."

A Fostex E-8 would be another option in a similar vein. If you could step up a bit, the 1/2" 8-track variant of the Otari MX-5050 paired with a small format analog console (even a Mackie or whatever) would get you doing something very much like bona-fide analog multitracking.

All of those solutions will run you about a grand, though, or maybe more... and if you can't go there, I'd advocate enjoying an affordable digital multitrack solution for now.

Good luck whatever you decide!

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Re: Anyone have recs on a cassette 4 track?

Post by Larry Mal » Mon Oct 22, 2018 8:00 am

mackerelmint wrote:
Sun Oct 21, 2018 10:17 pm
Well, there's quite a bit of scientific opinion out there that CD quality is about as good as the human ear can realistically distinguish. I never record at 24/96, are you kidding? CD quality is fine. I know a few people who swear by it and their stuff sounds great.
Sure, CD quality is "fine". It's just not very good.

When you say as good as the human ear can distinguish, I am assuming you are talking about the 44.1k sampling rate, which gives a frequency range upper limit of 22.5kHz that it captures.

And that is more than human ears can hear, that's true. It isn't, though, a greater frequency than what your musical instruments produce. A violin or an acoustic guitar creates sound higher than 22k. I see no reason not to capture everything that the instrument creates. Why not? Disk space doesn't cost much these days.

Regardless, though, the problem with the CD standard isn't the sampling rate, but the bit depth:


The easiest way to envision this is as a series of levels, that audio energy can be sliced at any given moment in time. With 16 bit audio, there are 65,536 possible levels. With every bit of greater resolution, the number of levels double. By the time we get to 24 bit, we actually have 16,777,216 levels. Remember we are talking about a slice of audio frozen in a single moment of time.

Here's a crude picture of what that all means:

Image

We've all enjoyed listening to CDs, it's a "fine" medium. But it was always criticized for its sound even back when it was new. It just isn't that good of a standard, and considering that every computer you came across recently is more than capable of handling 24 bit audio, there's just no reason not to do that. Again, what are you saving? What's the drain on resource?

I mean, your ears hear sound at greater precision than what 16 bit offers. Your ears are fucking amazing. Not only are your ears very precise, but they deliver information directly to you passing your conscious analyzation of what you are hearing. You simply take in information from all around you, millions of precise calculations every second.

Nothing recorded can ever duplicate the experience of hearing acoustic music (for example) in a great environment, machinery just can't do that. But that should be the goal, to create as realistic an image as what the real world offers.

Of course you aren't limited to that, you might later make any kind of artistic decisions. But again, why not start from a place where what you have is as pleasing, natural and realistic as possible? Let your imagination be your limit- not your technology.
Last edited by Larry Mal on Tue Oct 23, 2018 10:14 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Anyone have recs on a cassette 4 track?

Post by Larry Mal » Mon Oct 22, 2018 8:02 am

øøøøøøø wrote:
Mon Oct 22, 2018 7:43 am

So if you want a recording that's noisy, dark, and typically fairly distorted, cassette four-track could be a vibe. But I seldom want that for more than one or two tracks in a given production/song, and importing a single track or two from a four-track isn't my preferred workflow, so I normally just make it sound gritty some other kind of way.
Brad says things a lot more concisely than me. Like he says, you can always add grit or lo-fi later. But you can never subtract that from a medium like tape.
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Re: Anyone have recs on a cassette 4 track?

Post by UlricvonCatalyst » Mon Oct 22, 2018 9:19 am

Larry Mal wrote:
Mon Oct 22, 2018 7:39 am
Why are you assuming that I used the wrong kind of tape?
Probably because of the ambiguity caused by your follow-on sentence about chrome and metal tapes coming later. No slight intended.

Okay, I guess we can all agree that recording to cassette will significantly colour your sound, but isn't it an even bet that the OP, in raising the spectre of 4-track portastudios in this day and age, is interested in exploring lo-fi recording? Kind of makes a lengthy exposition on the limitations of the medium redundant, I'd say....unless the OP chimes in that he was expecting 2-inch Otari-type "warmth" from a portastudio.

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Re: Anyone have recs on a cassette 4 track?

Post by Larry Mal » Mon Oct 22, 2018 9:22 am

UlricvonCatalyst wrote:
Mon Oct 22, 2018 9:19 am
Larry Mal wrote:
Mon Oct 22, 2018 7:39 am
Why are you assuming that I used the wrong kind of tape?
Probably because of the ambiguity caused by your follow-on sentence about chrome and metal tapes coming later. No slight intended.

Okay, I guess we can all agree that recording to cassette will significantly colour your sound, but isn't it an even bet that the OP, in raising the spectre of 4-track portastudios in this day and age, is interested in exploring lo-fi recording? Kind of makes a lengthy exposition on the limitations of the medium redundant, I'd say....unless the OP chimes in that he was expecting 2-inch Otari-type "warmth" from a portastudio.
Good point, actually. I was under the impression that Type 2 and metal tapes came along later than they did, as it turns out. I wrote that before I did my further research, so I was not correct when I put that down- thanks for the heads up.

To address the second half of what the you wrote, I didn't take it as he was looking for lo-fi, I took it as he was interested in exploring the world of analog more than anything else.

I took it as he had heard how good analog sounds and thought that a Portastudio might be a way to get there. I guess I could have misunderstood. I've basically been saying that analog is great but cassettes suck so if you want analog, get a reel to reel machine.
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Re: Anyone have recs on a cassette 4 track?

Post by Fuzzbuzz » Mon Oct 22, 2018 10:51 am

Larry Mal wrote:
Mon Oct 22, 2018 9:22 am
I took it as he had heard how good analog sounds and thought that a Portastudio might be a way to get there. I guess I could have misunderstood. I've basically been saying that analog is great but cassettes suck so if you want analog, get a reel to reel machine.
I think you must have missed his actual questions and point of the thread topic....

“Anyone have refs on a cassette 4 track”

“I want to get into analog recording but have no experience! Do you guys have any experience recording to cassette?”

I’m not sure anyone would whole heartedly disagree that reel to reel is a much better sounding option. But the reason 4 track cassette recorders were so popular is they offered an affordable alternative to the average musician/working man, and they still do if someone is interested in recording to tape.

You could debate that cassette is not analog, I guess? But you would be wrong if you think it’s not analog. That’s not the point

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Re: Anyone have recs on a cassette 4 track?

Post by Fuzzbuzz » Mon Oct 22, 2018 11:02 am

To provide perspective I will add... I still record using my 424 MKIII, tascam 388 and tascam 38 in addition to using an M-Audio to Logic Pro X. The MKIII and the 388 are just as easy to use as the digital setup, and in a lot of ways the sound is so much better TO MY EARS! Of course the 38 into my M-208 console is the best sounding format, but it’s also the most hands on and time restrictive method I use. I save that for when I have the whole band together and we are going through final tracking and we have a dedicated person to just operate the tape machine and monitor the mix going in. But it’s still a lot more hands on which is why I don’t use it for experimenting while I’m just writing or working out parts/songs.

A cassette 4 track is a great way to mess around with tape to track parts and piece together songs! I would recommend it to anyone interested in dipping their toes into recording outside of digital means. You will learn a lot!

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Re: Anyone have recs on a cassette 4 track?

Post by Larry Mal » Mon Oct 22, 2018 11:36 am

I never said cassette wasn't analog.

What I said was it sucks. I said that because it does. It does nothing better than digital audio and it's quite a bit worse.

If you've heard that analog has a great sound, you heard that because of reel to reel. Cassette is not and never has been a professional format, or even a good one, nor a particularly interesting one.

I still think that's fine advice. I don't think the OP knows much about tape and might be confusing cassette tape with the magical analog that he's heard so much about- but that was reel to reel tape. Not cassette. Because cassettes suck. Always have.

I think buying a Portastudio would be a fantastic waste of money that could better be spent elsewhere.

In other words:

Q: Anyone have recs on a cassette 4 track?

A: Yes. Don't waste your money. Whatever it costs you, you paid too much. If you want to learn something about audio, or making better recordings or songs, spend that money you would have wasted on an obsolete format that was terrible when it was new and buy a new microphone, or a book, or another instrument, or some lessons on something, or just buy your mother a nice present. When's the last time you did that? You should call her. She misses you. There are a lot of better things one can do than fuck around with bullshit cassette tape, is what I am saying.


That is the sum of my advice, it's worth what you paid for it, take it or leave it.
Last edited by Larry Mal on Mon Oct 22, 2018 12:31 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Anyone have recs on a cassette 4 track?

Post by mackerelmint » Mon Oct 22, 2018 12:30 pm

Larry Mal wrote:
Mon Oct 22, 2018 8:00 am
mackerelmint wrote:
Sun Oct 21, 2018 10:17 pm
Well, there's quite a bit of scientific opinion out there that CD quality is about as good as the human ear can realistically distinguish. I never record at 24/96, are you kidding? CD quality is fine. I know a few people who swear by it and their stuff sounds great.
Sure, CD quality is "fine". It's just not very good.

When you say as good as the human ear can distinguish, I am assuming you are talking about the 44.1k sampling rate, which gives a frequency range upper limit of 22.5kHz that it captures.

And that is more than human ears can hear, that's true. It isn't, though, a greater frequency than what your musical instruments produce. A violin or an acoustic guitar create sound higher than 22k. I see no reason not to capture everything that the instrument creates. Why not? Disk space doesn't cost much these days.

Regardless, though, the problem with the CD standard isn't the sampling rate, but the bit depth:


The easiest way to envision this is as a series of levels, that audio energy can be sliced at any given moment in time. With 16 bit audio, there are 65,536 possible levels. With every bit of greater resolution, the number of levels double. By the time we get to 24 bit, we actually have 16,777,216 levels. Remember we are talking about a slice of audio frozen in a single moment of time.

Here's a crude picture of what that all means:

Image

We've all enjoyed listening to CDs, it's a "fine" medium. But it was always criticized for its sound even back when it was new. It just isn't that good of a standard, and considering that every computer you came across recently is more than capable of handling 24 bit audio, there's just no reason not to do that. Again, what are you saving? What's the drain on resource?

I mean, your ears hear sound at greater precision than what 16 bit offers. Your ears are fucking amazing. Not only are your ears very precise, but they deliver information directly to you passing your conscious analyzation of what you are hearing. You simply take in information from all around you, millions of precise calculations every second.

Nothing recorded can ever duplicate the experience of hearing acoustic music (for example) in a great environment, machinery just can't do that. But that should be the goal, to create as realistic an image as what the real world offers.

Of course you aren't limited to that, you might later make any kind of artistic decisions. But again, why not start from a place where what you have is as pleasing, natural and realistic as possible? Let your imagination be your limit- not your technology.
Yeah yeah yeah. Bit depth and dithering, yadda yadda. Still can't hear the difference, because our brains alias that dithering for us. Like you said, that on the fly analysis our ears and brains do is something else.

Someone's always going to criticize something, no matter how good. That doesn't mean it's bad.

I see no reason to capture sound that our ears cannot hear. It's irrelevant to me how much disk space I have or processor power to do the job. I have a friend, though, who is just recording constantly. And you know, he loses nothing sonically by reducing the amount of overhead his music requires. He does make gains, though, in terms of saved space and processor power that he can use to do more stuff. I mean, for you and I our technology isn't going to limit us, but there are people for whom that space is dear, who record far more than you or I. For those of us to whom it's not a practical consideration, I'd argue that "why" is just as valid a question as "why not".
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Re: Anyone have recs on a cassette 4 track?

Post by Fuzzbuzz » Mon Oct 22, 2018 12:31 pm

I miss the young Larry who worked his ass off to buy a 424, got stoned and had a lot of fun recording onto his cassette 4 track.

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Re: Anyone have recs on a cassette 4 track?

Post by Larry Mal » Mon Oct 22, 2018 12:35 pm

Again you keep focusing on the sampling rate, though. I've done a great deal of recording, actually. There are times when I would use a lower sampling rate, more if I suspect that the system I'm using might be a little iffy. Otherwise, 96k it is, because if nothing else I like to know that I am doing the best job I can be doing.

But the other half of the CD standard is the 16 bit. What possible reason is there to adhere to that standard?

What bit depth do your ears hear at? Why would you not record something that corresponded as closely to that as you can?
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Re: Anyone have recs on a cassette 4 track?

Post by tdbajus » Mon Oct 22, 2018 12:38 pm

You know, another thing to consider from someone who sank way too much money into home recording stuff: don't make the mistakes I made.

I could have done 4 albums with Albini for the amount of money I wasted on buying my own shit. It only took me 20 years to realize I fucking hated engineering stuff.

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Re: Anyone have recs on a cassette 4 track?

Post by Larry Mal » Mon Oct 22, 2018 12:41 pm

Fuzzbuzz wrote:
Mon Oct 22, 2018 12:31 pm
I miss the young Larry who worked his ass off to buy a 424, got stoned and had a lot of fun recording onto his cassette 4 track.
There was nothing better that existed that I could possibly have afforded. The second digital audio was a thing, I got right on that.

I had so much fun with it I went to school for an audio engineering degree and learned how to record things pretty well, and I spent some years doing freelance work in that field. This was also a lot of fun, I can tell you. And at the end of the day with it, I liked knowing that I had done the best possible thing I could have for the people that paid me, that I had made the most beautiful recording I could to match the effort they poured into writing and performing the material in the first place.

What else should I have done? I never ended up making any real money from it so a nice sense of satisfaction would really be the only reward.

Now I don't do any of that, I attempted to get into the sound for video field and didn't get there, so all I do is record my own music and my friends from time to time. I have a lot better equipment and knowledge now than I had then. I never see any need to get a fucking Portastudio so I can make bad and noisy recordings no one will ever want to hear.*

I make beautiful and clean recordings that no one wants to hear! Long story short, I have every bit as much fun recording as I did then. When I buy a house I'll put a studio in the basement and make my music down there and show my kids how to engineer. I think it's a blast. The love of music and recording never goes away, the only thing that did is the Portastudio and the bullshit smoke.

If I really have the money, I would look into getting a nice reel to reel system (it would be my fourth).
Last edited by Larry Mal on Mon Oct 22, 2018 1:05 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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