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Making It With Multitrack

Article from Sound International, March 1979

Two-cassette package from Teac, available from dealers including Turnkey, (Contact Details).

It had to come, I suppose: the obvious way to introduce people to multitrack recording techniques is to take people through the recording process, not just with words but with audio examples. This is the intention of this new cassette package from Teac. Recorded entirely on Teac/Tascam gear (namely an 80-8 8-track 1in machine, DX-8 dbx module, and a Teac 7300 stereo mastering recorder, all mixed through a pair of Model 5 mixers offering 16/8 capability) the package takes you through an introduction to sound-on-sound and basic 4-track recording, microphones and microphone technique (on the first tape) and a complete 8-track session, including the planning stages, backing track, overdubbing and mixdown including the finished master, on the second half of the set. A pretty ambitious aim, but one which is carried out very well in many ways. The production was recorded at Ivan Berg Associates under the eyes and ears of executive producer Carl Anthony.

The package has some very good and very bad points, all of which are worth noting. Firstly, the good. The approach to the art of multitracking is impeccable, and the excellent scripting takes you through the whole process in a very clear and precise way, with no nonsense and at just the right technical level. Each problem or process is detailed with an example, and this all goes to show that a great deal of thought was put into the ideas behind the production of the tape. Simon Prebble's clear narration assists the listener in understanding all the procedures involved. So full marks to the people who had the ideas, wrote the script and organised the sessions.

The bad points are almost all concerned with the actual recording. Firstly, the choice of cassette as the production technique leads to problems. Cassette mass-production is notoriously unreliable, there being a great tendency for high-speed copying to lose top and add noise. Cassettes can also be very variable in their quality, and this package is no exception. The overall sound on the tapes sometimes loses definition, and the cassettes themselves are not as high quality as one would like. The tape path is somewhat 'wavery', leading to wandering azimuth and resulting loss of top. Also, the tape itself tends to shed oxide alarmingly, clogging up the heads in less than 15 minutes and once more causing loss of HF before you get round to taking the tape out and cleaning the heads — again and again. The cassettes are Dolby-B encoded, and surprisingly the Dolby level appears to be correct (particularly unusual) although the actual recorded level is very low, seldom rising above -6dB on a PPM-type meter. Thus the signal-to-noise ratio, important in some of the demonstrations (of sound-on-sound's problems, for example) leaves a little to be desired. And audio quality is important on this type of material.

Most disturbing, however, is the variable quality of the actual programme material. I can forgive the use of cassettes, as they are more suited to this type of production (the only other viable technique would surely have been disc, and that would have been far too expensive), but the sound problems are not confined to the cassette reproduction. It sounds as if the original master is a bit suspect. For example, there are often sudden degradations in the clarity of the narration, as if the heads on the master machine had become clogged. As these faults suddenly change when an audio example is slotted in, it sounds like the master is at fault. The actual audio production is sometimes a bit tatty, with lumpy cross-fades and doubtful edits that give the listener's mind a hiccup and disrupt the flow of concentration. All as if the — obviously able — team were just a little too rushed when putting the final master together.

Other points are more subjective. Some of the sounds that appear on the tape are rather poor, a big example being the drums. A couple of examples of 'bad drum sounds' are given, followed by the result of using 'correct' mic technique. On the 'bad' sounds one gets the impression that balances have been moved around quite dramatically to make the kit sound worse than it is, masking some very good sound elements that, if left alone, would have been more than acceptable. Most noticeable was the difference in the bass-drum sounds between the 'bad' and the 'good', when heard with the rest of the kit.

While the sound of much of the kit became tighter and crisper, the bass-drum was tweaked almost out of recognition, losing 'guts' or 'oomph', whereas before it had been only a little boomy. If the balance had been left alone, rather than being apparently fiddled, I'd have preferred the 'bad' to the 'good' sound that followed. Another sound that appeared fiddled was the sound-on-sound demonstration which sounded as if it was a multitrack simulation of true s-o-s, made to sound more duff than it really was, as with the drums. The balance changed dramatically as tracks were added, in a rather different way than one would have expected from the real thing. I was again not too knocked out with the vocals, which sounded over-limited at times, as did Prebble's narration.

But many of these quibbles are personal points: ways in which the producers' idea of a good sound differs wildly from my own. Similarly the sound of the bass guitar 'in the studio' is weak and poor, and not a good example of the way in which DI and mic can be combined to produce the guts of a miked-up amp with the well-defined attack of a DI. On the ideas front, I also feel that too much was made of separation and too little of the art of getting the right sound out of an instrument (as opposed to just good mic technique, which is handled well). Once more with the drums I felt that more could have been made of the ways of getting good sounds out of a few mics (bearing in mind the fact that most of the people this tape package is aimed at will have a few input channels and even fewer tracks!). For example, I seldom use more than 5 mics (the number used on this session) and I can get away with three. And I've heard good sounds, albeit mono, with two! But in many ways this reflects modern over-concern with close-miking and separation. My idea of a good drum sound, for example, is a stereo image of the sound of the kit, with depth as well as width, rather than the string of percussionists in a straight line between the speakers that so often results from too many mics on individual parts of the kit, pan-potted into unrealistic positions. Like the 'stereo' grand piano which sounds as if it's ten feet wide (or whatever the distance is beween the monitors). Again, these are personal points: I'd like to see more 'reality' in multitrack recording.

But overall this package is a very useful aid to those who are just entering, or considering, the multitrack world and the opportunities this type of recording can offer. The tapes, whilst headed with the Teac logo, sensibly refrain from recommending any specific hardware: the outlook is commendably general, clear, and above all, useful. Except for the few negative points I've mentioned, a good effort, and one well worth lending an ear to.

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Publisher: Sound International - Link House Publications

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Sound International - Mar 1979

Donated & scanned by: Mike Gorman

Sound Reports & Views



Review by Richard Elen

Previous article in this issue:

> Landscaped Crusaders

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