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Recording World

Akai MG1212

Studio Test

Article from International Musician & Recording World, January 1985

Could this be the Megaportastudio. Jim Betteridge went forth and recorded

Puts the multi back into multitrack...

At the very least, Akai's re-entry into the home recording world has been spectacular. Rather than tentatively sneaking in on the backs of the existing plethora of four-track cassette machines, they have leaped in feet first with their own completely new format: The Mega Portastudio; or more officially, the MG1212.

The MG1212 is a sophisticated 12-channel mixer coupled to an equally sophisticated 12-track tape recorder. The whole thing comes in a single, hi-tech package that sits neatly on top of a sturdy, black metal stand; no messy interconnecting wires, earth loops or level matching problems. It's all ready to go.

What you need to make this dream your own is nothing more or less than £6,000 (from which you'll get 10p change). This isn't a system you can build up bit-by-bit, it's a now or never proposition, and at six grand, that's some decision.

It's difficult to compare this machine with existing models because to a large degree it's unique. In basic terms it sits mid-way between the eight tracks and 16-tracks, but this is a somewhat simplistic analysis in view of its sophisticated computer-controlled facilities. Even so, the price puts it very much in competition with the low cost 16-tracks, or more specifically, the Fostex B16. The mixer too is quite nice, but it is essentially a fairly straightforward 12:12:12, with in-line monitoring.

For around £5,600, a well known London dealer will supply you with a Soundtracs 16:8:16 (ie eight output groups with 16-track monitoring) plus a B16 and about £500 worth of extras such as leads, tape, editing blocks and maintenance equipment etc. Alternatively, you can opt for a straight 5% discount producing a final bottom line of about (where's me calculator?) £5,320. The cost of purchasing interconnecting leads would then bring it up to around £5.5k. In the same way, the actual selling price of the MG1212 will almost certainly come down to nearer the £5,500 mark in time. With regard to cost, then, the comparison is quite fair.

What the B16 package has over the 1212 is four extra tracks, various operational advantages (and disadvantages — more on that later), and the flexibility to use the two components separately and to upgrade the system in stages as the finances become available. It also has the previously mentioned awesome abundance of interconnecting leads and phono plugs with potentially dry/noisy joints: a nightmare for any completely non technical musician.


An important part of the emergence of home recording has been the establishing of new, less expensive formats, thus bringing more of the tracks to more of the people for less of their hard-earned.

When Fostex brought out their eight-track 1/4" machine, and then subsequently the 16-track 1/2", much rhubarbing was to be heard concerning the lack of compatibility with other standards. In the event, they offered so much for so little, that this consistency was largely ignored, and in a matter of months two new standards had been established. Now Akai are trying the same ball play with a Betamax-style (though not actually Betamax at all) 1/2" cassette, the MK20. Each cassette currently retails for £15.49 and at the faster speed of 7-1/2ips (and I assume that at this level of recording people will want quality) it has a running time of 10 minutes. That's expensive, but perhaps the price will come down in time.

There is a great deal to be said in its favour, however. A cassette is a far more robust and convenient method of storage that largely precludes edge damage and helps prevent humans or other animals leaving greasy prints all over the precious oxide. Apart from cost, the arguments against this format will only concern those who like to razor-edit multitrack and/or record backward-echo. The first demands access to the tape and a means of slow-spooling against the heads (to find the edit point), whilst the second requires the tape to be turned over and recorded on in reverse direction. Neither are possible with the MK20 format as it stands. It should be remembered that this machine is intended as a high-quality demoing device, and hence it would be churlish to focus on these failings, unless you felt that they were important to you in practice.

In lieu of the lost tracks and editing/echo facilities, the MG 1212 offers a previously unheard-of level of convenience and domestic civility. Its presence is far less likely to upset the rest of the household and it has been designed with the lone musician/operator in mind: it's a cinch to use.

The Recorder — Tricks It Can Do

This 12-track recorder actually has 14 tracks. Track 13 is used for recording a sync pulse from an external drum machine or sequencer etc, thus allowing machine-driven parts to be added after the original take. Whether or not it's any different, in terms of crosstalk or frequency response etc, to an ordinary track, I couldn't ascertain, but there was no problem with spillage.

Track 14 is used to record a standard Akai control code that must be recorded onto the tape before commencement of recording. This is used by the internal microprocessor to give the 1212 a few very useful automatic facilities of significant importance to the self-op recordist. It's all based around nine tape position memories which can be used to allow such things as speedy location of specific points in a recording, automatic drop-ins and drop-outs, playback mutes for assisted mixing or 'practice drop-ins' and cycling between two points. This last application is great for repeatedly practising a tricky part until you get it right; constant rewinding can get surprisingly taxing after a while.

The main benefit, however, must be the facility to enter into memory the points at which you wish to drop in and out, and then leave the rest to the Akai technology. Having entered the points, you can hear the effect by having the machine automatically mute playback at those points, thus allowing you to rehearse a drop-in without having to commit to actually pushing the ghastly red button. If the points are slightly wrong, you can repeatedly adjust them until they're right on the nose (no offence to any editorial staff), and then go straight ahead with the actual drop-in/drop-out, knowing that it's going to be okay. That's a huge relief, and allows you to concentrate on getting the playing right. The speed of the drop-in/out is fairly slow, however, and as with most non-professional machines, it isn't up to nipping in or out between notes.

The mixing facility is quite comprehensive. It is an in-line design, meaning that the monitor controls are included as part of the channel controls, and thus the deck is made up of I/O channels rather than separate input and monitor channels. The desk is of a semi-modular design with three I/O to a module. This is a good compromise between the cost of full modularity and maintenance difficulties that can be experienced with less expensive non-modular designs.

Each I/O features a balanced mike (XLR) and unbalanced line (phone jack) input, with a single, wide ranging, input gain control for both. There is a two-way pad in front of the mike amp giving either 20dB or 40dB attenuation allowing the connection of a variety of low level sources. The line input is unusually sensitive, and thus when connecting standard line level instruments, the input trim control often has to be right down, with the channel fader below its indicated optimum position. A pad would be handy here too, but the bonus of this sensitivity, coupled with a high input impedance, is that there's no problem with direct connection of an electric guitar or bass without a DI box. Even so, in a perfect world, connection via a DI and a mike input is still preferable, as it offers all the benefits of a balance line.

The equalisation section is three-band sweepable and includes a bypass switch. It provides a fairly smooth +/-15dBwith nicely overlapping ranges of frequencies. Insert points are provided on all input channels and there is provision for the connection of other external sources into the main stereo busses. There are three auxiliary sends, two of which are pre/post switchable and controlled by a dual-concentric pot which is convenient for use as a single stereo send for either stereo effects or foldback. Metering is via 14 LED ladders, plus peak indicating LED's to show when the input level reaches a point 3dB below clipping. The main channel faders are high quality carbon whilst the monitor pan and level controls for each channel are on a single dual concentric rotary pot.


Channel to track routing is also fully electronic and centralised. Connecting a source to any given channel will automatically send it to its numerically corresponding track unless the channel is otherwise routed. This is accomplished via a single pair of mono busses — A and B. Any number of input channels can be routed to any track via either of these busses, and the current channel/track status is shown quite clearly on an illuminated display. Even so this method means that, for instance, should you wish to record a complete drum kit on a stereo pair of tracks, you will need to utilise both busses A and B, leaving no means to route any other tracks. In one way then, it's a sophisticated method, but in another it's rather limiting.

There are other slightly frustrating things about the mixer such as no channel mute buttons and the fact that you can only solo one channel at a time, but generally it's pretty good and very smooth in operation.

The MG1212's overall performance spec is very comparable with the Soundtracs/Fostex system, and thus the question as to whether or not it's up to creating master quality remains identical. The Akai uses dbx noise reduction as opposed to the B16's Dolby C. Both work well and again it's a matter of personal preference. In fact, the whole question as to whether or not the MG1212 is good value has to be a personal matter.

AKAI MG1212 RRP: £5999.90

Also featuring gear in this article

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The Producers

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Hi-Fi Graphics

Publisher: International Musician & Recording World - Cover Publications Ltd, Northern & Shell Ltd.

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International Musician - Jan 1985

Recording World

Previous article in this issue:

> The Producers

Next article in this issue:

> Hi-Fi Graphics

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