Home Recording (Part 7)
Studio Equipment - Part Two
Nobby Line continues the run down on Music U.K.'s 8-track package. This month — accessit units
No time for idle banter this month readers; too much information to be conveyed, points to be made, honest indictments of technical innovation and dodgy performances alike, and so to business.
You will remember, having avidly consumed all previous Home Recording articles, that I am in the middle of casting a critical eye over an 8-track recording package installed within the bounds of the 'town residence'. This month I'll start with the range of Sennheiser microphones and headphones kindly lent to me by UK distributors, Hayden Laboratories.
This is probably about the best known Sennheiser model and is used widely by professional PA hire companies, mostly as a tom mike. The design is over twenty years old, and it is a bit bulky making it usable only with a stand. It has a cardioid pattern, and a variable bass roll off filter with five positions from 'music' to 'speech' settings, with the speech having the least bottom end. It has been designed to be very bright for broadcast use, and in fact the roll off is active starting from around 1 KHz. It's very robust and no nonsense, except that the special stand adaptor can very easily come detached from the mike if handled carelessly. Apart from that though, you can give the occasional wallop from an off target drum stick without too much concern. A valuable part of a collection, if you're aiming at buying a range of mikes.
This is also a more common Sennheiser model, well known not only for its excellent performance, but because of its massive size and shape. It has a slightly smoother, wider response than the 421 and has an added 5KHz presence boost switch. Its high end clarity proved great for the top end of an acoustic piano, but really it can handle pretty well anything.
Another good model, with a sound similar to the 431, but somehow not quite as open. It looks good though, in all silver with a dome head, and comes with a foam pop shield attachment. Handling noise and breath noise are low, but although it probably looks better than the 431, it isn't quite as well balanced for hand held use.
This is a great sounding mike, in a small neat, all silver package, but the fact that it's omnidirectional limits its use for the home studio. Again it would be a valuable part of a whole collection, but if you can only afford a couple of mikes at this stage, this one will have to wait until later.
This one comes as a 'set', which immediately smacks of an amateur model. The set includes cable, pop shield and stand adaptor, but at this end of the market, there are much better mikes available from other manufacturers. I'd give it a miss.
This is the base unit for the range of Telemike capsules. It's about five inches long, contains the 5.6v battery and amplifier needed to power the capsules which simply screw into place. It has an on/off switch with a LED which flashes as you switch on to show the batteries are okay, and a three position bass roll off switch.
A nice clean open response, but its omni response pattern limits its studio applications.
A rather dull sounding unit, with no real high presence even with the bass rolled off on the filter switch, but a tight cardioid response.
This one has a really tight response pattern, and a very acceptable sound as long as you keep right on axis. It would be a good mike to use at a slight distance from a snare, but at a little over 12in, its overall length makes it tricky to find a safe space in the kit. I wouldn't expect it to take too many knocks either.
This is actually a tie-clip mike, which comes with its own lightweight cable for attachment to the power supply unit. Such a device can be useful where you need to have close proximity in a small space, or to fit inside a snare drum to use as a triggering device. Such tricks will be discussed in future articles, until then suffice it to say that the unit is very adequate.
The Telemike range is a relatively inexpensive way of getting a range of microphone response patterns, and although none of the units are particularly brilliant, with the exception of the cardioid, they are all quite acceptable.
Both these units are circular fully enclosed models, and offer good acoustic separation, important for certain aspects of multitrack recording. Those who have studied anatomy will however have noticed that the human ear is not round, it's oval or oblong or similar. Round cans of the enclosed variety never quite fit perfectly, even though these ones were well padded. The 222 were rather compressed in their reproduction, and compared with standard high quality studio models, the clarity was down. The 230's were definitely better, but both sets tended to get worse at high volumes and went into distortion before the threshold of pain, which is more or less the level some musicians require in headphones!
Two open pairs of headphones, which were actually more comfortable to use than the enclosed models. The amount of acoustic spill from cans to mike would though limit their use in the studio, although the same characteristic can help a vocalist to hear herself or himself acoustically, which is often a help in intonation.
I have a lot of respect for Sennheiser products, especially their mikes, and anything you buy from the upper part of their ranges is sure to be of a good quality.
From the same people who supplied us with the excellent SECK 16:8:2 mixer came the Fostex A-8, 8-track machine, the A-2, 2-track and a pair of Fostex Personal Monitors. All good stuff too.
After the four tracks on 1/8in cassette tape revolution, eight tracks on ¼in had to come; and it has in the shape of the A-8. The machine is incredibly small, lightweight and childishly simple to operate.
To keep the cost down, only four inputs have been provided meaning that only four tracks can be recorded at once. This machine was designed specifically for home demos, and in such applications this limitation is no real limitation, except if you wanted to copy a previously recorded pro studio 8-track onto the Fostex to mess around with at home or if you were doing live recordings. It's seldom a problem.
The transport is smooth and positive although not exactly lightning fast, and has the standard function controls plus a return to zero function, where 'zero' is any point on tape at which you push the button to clear the digital tape position indicator.
It's a 'two head' machine, meaning that the record and playback functions are performed by the same head, therefore there are no 'sync' switches to worry about. On the other hand it does mean that the performance has to be somewhat of a compromise, because certain aspects of record head and playback head design are different. The machine is certainly not transparent: that is to say you can hear a definite difference between the original sound and the recording sound. This doesn't matter too much though unless you are planning to bounce down more than once, in which case the bottom end gets rather mushy, fat and indistinct.
The machine runs at 15ips, and with such a narrow track width you might expect problems with noise, but the built in Dolby C noise reduction system does an excellent job in keeping the noise down whilst doing very little by way of colouring the sound.
One thing that the narrow track width is responsible for though is the occasionally high level of crosstalk, and highly transient signals such as hi-hat and snare, where the sound is very sharp and percussive, tend to modulate other tracks. The result of this is that your sustained bass guitar notes or piano chords will beat in time with the hi-hat or snare. The problem is strangely intermittent, and by cutting the high and low frequency content of the hi-hat on the multitrack, and keeping it on a track well away from sustained instruments, the problem was largely overcome.
A footswitch socket is provided at the back of the machine so that you can drop selected tracks into record whilst keeping your hands free. The problem with any but the very top pro machines is that there is a gap between the point at which you put the machine into record and the point at which you actually start recording. At this price it's unavoidable, and you can really only drop in on a track where you have at least a 1/3 second gap. All in all, the machine performs well, and turns out excellent quality demos, although it certainly isn't up to what is generally accepted as 'master quality'. Its small size makes it perfect for the home situation and its price makes it about the only affordable 8-track on the market.
These are excellent little chaps. With aid of some sticky tape and support of some kind, you can sit them on the meter bridge of the mixer, and more or less ignore the room acoustics. Self-powered, they provide 10 watts into a single 3½in speaker, and sound excellent. I prefer them by far to Auratone cubes except that they can't provide any kind of volume without distortion. The neighbours love 'em!
That's the lot for this moon; next moon I'll be looking at the ancillary gear and monitoring.