MPC Sync Track
Yazoo for forty quid
Chris Everard tells you why you cannot live without MPC's latest box of tricks.
For those of you who have not realised the delights of tape syncing methods in multi-track recording, I'd better start this review by briefly explaining what tape sync is and what it can do. Syncing units to other units via trigger outputs and inputs is a very desirable facility nowadays and practically no drum machine or synthesizer that has come out in recent times has seen fit to leave out these important features. True, there are many different types of triggers being used (though MIDI is rapidly becoming dominant in this field) one of the most popular being the Roland system comprising of din-in and outs such as those fitted on the TB303, TR606, MC202, TR808, TR909 (in only), Hammond DPM48, MSQ700 and quite a few other units. Only a couple of the aforementioned units is capable of directly syncing to tape, the others, sadly up until now, have been denied this facility. Where tape syncing comes into its own is when a drum machine/sequencer combination is being used. More often than not, because of various limitations, the most a person could record with this set up was just one drum line and at the very most two sequences. If (for instance) the trigger signal running the sequencer(s) could be put onto one track of a multitrack tape machine and played back to trigger the same sequencer over and over again, much more varied and complicated compositions could be recorded. Well, now from MPC a unit which has been designed specifically for the Roland din syncro system is set to free all those people who have the appropriate equipment. The years of frustration are over!
The Sync Track is very small and devastatingly easy to use. Its in a very durable case which funnily enough is built more robustly than the Roland units its meant to link up to (the 606 and 303 being almost made entirely from aluminium effect plastic!).
The Sync Track takes the syncro-pulse from any one of the Roland units and then amplifies and modifies it into a smooth thin pulse which it then relays via the jack output onto a track of tape. The process is then reversed when syncing up other units (or even the same one to its own signal) and I must say, its a very good design indeed.
I used the Sync Track with my TR606 and two TB303's and found that I could build up very complicated pieces within a very short time. Because you always have the sync pulse at hand on tape, actually recording the last instruments is not necessary. I better explain hadn't I? Say you want to record a drumline and three lots of different sequences and all you've got is a TR606 and one TB303, well, you first laydown your basic tracks which will consist of the drumline and tape sync pulse (courtesy of the Sync Track) and then rewind the tape, you feed the tape pulse back from the machine and into the TB303 sequencer (though its possible to go via the 606 for other applications) and record the desired sequence, then you can do the same thing again and again until all three sequences are laid down — however, if you're on four track or eight track, you can economise on the number of tracks on the recorder you use by leaving the last sequence off tape and just running it 'wild' through the mixer everytime the machine is rewound. Obviously, there are a thousand and one uses for the MPC and some very clever things are possible.
After the initial period of nervousness and nail crunching worry (about six to eight sessions for expectant engineers) tape sync multitracking becomes very easy and straightforward, in fact another way of life! The MPC Sync Track is one of those things that has endless uses, I've even figured out a way of syncing my cassette deck up to my multitrack machine using it! Full marks to MPC for a clever, affordable lifesaver, every kitchen should have one!