Amstrad Studio 100
Eamonn Percival assesses the atributes of Amstrad's multi-track recorder
Multi-track recorders have come down in price dramatically in the last couple of years - Eamonn Percival checks out one of the most economic options available
The home studio market continues to be ever-burgeoning and it comes as no surprise to see Amstrad step into the fray. Their Studio 100 is a brave attempt to combine quantity with value for money. The package is based around a four-track cassette deck (for mix-downs or standard cassette operation), a bog standard turntable, three-waveband radio, reverb, DJ facility, 10 watt per channel amplifier, two speakers, four mikes (with tabletop stands) and a pre-recorded cassette tape of drum rhythms and backing tracks.
First things first: as far as value for money is concerned, the simple answer is you gets what you pays for. For just less than £300, you get all the aforementioned facilities in one system but, alas, sound quality suffers in most departments. The Amstrad Studio 100 was tested mainly for its four-track facility and, while it does the job, it suffers from the "second, third and fourth generation syndrome" in that a noticeable amount of hiss emanates after a bounce or two. This can be alleviated somewhat by using a decent set of mikes or fewer in-line effects units (my first mistake) but the "hash" still remains. There is a noise reduction system but, in practice, this not only cuts out a fair amount of hiss but also "mutes" the tone, thereby losing the top end of the signal.
It would take too much space to detail every control on the system (there are well over 50) so suffice to say that, more or less, every switch, rotary or fader that you would expect from such a system is included. Naturally, because of the turntable, the Studio 100 is a stand alone system and, as such, takes a bit of getting used to. For example, the faders actually fade from bottom to top instead of the usual vice versa. Weird or what?
Not being the most talented musician in the world, I experimented with just two songs, a fast blues and slow blues. A Roland drum machine went down first, followed by bass guitar, vocals and lead breaks. The inherent limitations soon showed. Whilst trying to reduce unwanted noise on the drum track, I managed to lose a lot of desired treble on the cymbals and snare drum. Similarly, trying to get a "dirty" sound for lead guitar with the aid of a distortion pedal introduces a nasty, slushy noise. The only recourse here was to forget DI and mike up the guitar amp.
As a more straightforward multitrack test, I attempted a touch of acapella in the form of a five part harmony, doubled up ("tracked" or "bounced"). With a hint of reverb, this worked quite well, although great care must be taken on monitoring the VU's (naturally). It must be said here that I used an SM57 mike for this exercise and not the type supplied by Amstrad!
A word here about the manual supplied. If you are a newcomer to home recording, the user manual is, or should be, your best friend. As many computer buffs will know, manuals in this field are notoriously user-hostile and the Amstrad tome is no exception. It's probably because of the number of facilities available, all of which need step-by-step explanations. The trouble is that the manual attempts to take the user through each option in a "logical" order.
If, like me, you're not particularly interested in the DJ facility, this entails skipping bits of chapters and almost endlessly coming across the phrase "if you wish to playback your recording, skip to section 4.3.3." Until you are familiar with the system, it tends to become a bit of a jigsaw puzzle working your way through the manual. To be fair, having said it's a slog, it's important to familiarise yourself with an manual before you can really claim to be au fait with the relevant product. It's just, in this case, it seems to be harder work than absolutely necessary.
If you're a musician and also a budding rapper (although, genrally, these two occupations tend to be mutually exclusive), then the DJ mode will be of interest. Switching to "DJ" enables you to operate mikes and record decks via the tone controls and, more importantly, faders.
Another handy feature built in to the system is the "continuous play" facility on cassette operation. You simply load two cassettes and press both "play" buttons. Tape 1 starts first and, on its completion, Tape 2 takes over.
All in all, the Amstrad Studio 100 is reasonable value for money given the number of facilities. If you are already armed with a decent hi-fi set up and are solely concerned with the four track aspect, you could consider looking towards the lower end of the home studio market such as the Vesta Fire MR-300 (£200) or the Fostex X-15 (£275).
Review by Eamonn Percival