On The Record
APRS Show reviewed
This year's APRS Show had more new gear aimed at the home and small commercial studio owner than ever before. Among the 24-track and digital monsters lurked new 4-track cassette machines from Tascam, Audio-Technica, Peavey, Vesta Fire and John Hornby Skewes. New 8-track machines were unveiled by both Fostex and Tascam - and there was a new 16 band-er from Tascam, too. Add to that trucks full of new effects units, mixers etc, and you had a bonanza for recording buffs. IT's team was there to compile the following round-up of this year's hot stuff.
Affordable digital home studios may be just round the corner, but that hasn't deterred either the established 4-track cassette machine makers from upgrading their products or various hopeful newcomers from entering the competition for your wallet-filling. Leading the new brigade were TASCAM, who've upgraded their multitrack cassette range with the launch of the 246 PORTASTUDIO. The 246 features 6 input channels, twin speed operation (at last, a Portastudio which can replay pre-recorded tapes!), dbx noise reduction, twin FX circuits and much more.
Also new from Tascam was the revolutionary 388 'Studio 8', an eight track open reel machine with an enclosed format which makes it look (on first sight) like a cassette multi-tracker. With an 8-in/8-bus mixer section with 8 PGM output busses, L/R stereo busses, twin FX return systems and monitor sections, the 388 uses 1/4" tape on 7" reels. Having SMPTE compatibility, on-board DBX and much more, the 388 looks to have great potential for both advanced home recordists and some pro users.
HARMAN U.K. (Tascam's importers) also showed a new 16 track machine which earned a great deal of interest. It was the new 16 track MS-16 which runs 1" tape at 15 ips. Compatible with SMPTE time-code systems, the MS-16 looks like being a winner in the demo studio and advanced home studio market. Finally came a new 2-track machine from Tascam, the ATR-60/2T, a pro-class mastering machine with a centre positioned time code track.
FOSTEX, meanwhile, are definitely up to something - and rumour suggests it's going to be big news when it happens! On show via ATLANTEX were uprated versions of their 8-track on 1/4" tape open reel recorder, now called the Model 80, fitted with LED 'ladder' metering and an improved, all black look; likewise a new twin-track mastering machine (the Model 20), also with a third track for SMPTE time-code linking. But, despite this launch, the Fostex people were keeping a strangely low profile. Rumour has it that this reticence was deliberate, and that the Autumn will see a major price/performance breakthrough from them. Our guess is that it will expand the interconnection potential for small/home studio gear into a new MIDI-capable direction.
Back down from the rarefied heights of open reel gear, JOHN HORNBY SKEWES showed two newcomers - one the long anticipated TECZON 4-track on cassette recorder, which should be in the shops for around £429 before very long. The Teczon features a 'no names, no packdrill' noise reduction system, 4-channel input normal stereo cassette playback capacity, battery/mains operation, Low/High Eq., punch in/out operation, tape speed (pitch) control and much more. At the price it competes head-on with the Tascam Porta-One, and the duel should be entertaining to watch! Up-market from the Teczon is the sturdy-looking AUDIO-TECHNICA 6 input 4-track cassette machine, set to sell for RRP £1,099. This much more pro-orientated tool than the Teczon (and priced accordingly), features both balanced and unbalanced plus direct inputs, 48v phantom powering on all mike-inputs, full parametric Eq solo buttons, 4 stereo headphone jacks, twin speed operation, Dolby B & C, digital tape counter etc.
PEAVEY, too, are entering the 4-track market via their AMR division, who showed their new 4-track on cassette recorder, so sturdily built that it looked like it would withstand a direct hit from an ICBM. Peavey's AMR side has a whole new line of recording and P.A. gear, and the new 4-tracker looked like proving to be a substantial improvement (at least in terms of physical strength) on the plastic cased 4-trackers which we've grown used to. For hire companies, mobiles and heavy users its modular approach (it has an optional mixer of advanced quality) plus its inherent physical strength makes it look like a definite one to try.
Watch out for the new VESTA-FIRE cassette 4-tracker from importers MTR. Rack mounting, this unit offers 6 input channels, built-in dbx noise reduction, full Eq facilities, on-board limiting, very sturdy construction and a low RRP of just £689. To us, this one looked like a potential winner.
YAMAHA, as expected, majored on their uprated MT44-D system, a marked improvement on their earlier MT-44. The recorder itself isn't much more than a cosmetic update, but the patch-bay system is considerably improved, as is the 6-input mixer. Matching it now comes a full range of reasonably priced FX, monitor speakers, power amps and so on. This time, Yamaha look like contending on more than equal terms.
As chip prices drop, so does the cost of rack mounted effects units suitable for home and live use. APRS 'star' for us had to be a new ACCESSIT unit from BANDIVE, a genuine APHEX 'Aural Exciter' destined to sell for not much more than £60! Given the several hundred pounds figure for the 'real thing', until the appearance of this price-slaughterer Aphex units have been the exclusive privilege of pro studios. For £60 you can now have one of your own.
More bargain goodies were on the JHS stand in the shape of some interesting 19" rack mounting processors: a genuine digital echo with reverb (the DIGITEC S1310R - RRP £249) with a 2.5 to 1310 ms. delay, plenty of extra effects controls and sturdy metal frame. A new JHS spring reverb carries the absurd RRP of just £69.00!
T.C. were (as expected) creating a stir on the MUSIMEX stand with their superb stereo chorus - although, having now sampled its abilities, we feel that this name is quite inadequate to describe its potential. TC agree, apparently, and a name change will come soon. So advanced are the phase and control operations that the most astonishing effects can be created. A demo, from TC's Ulrik Heise showed us how to turn a digitally recorded solo violin passage into a full string ensemble with staggering realism.
Still on FX the superb LEXICON PCM60 digital reverb seems to go from strength to strength. Although not new, the telling fact was the number of other makers who told us that they had something better! True or untrue, it speaks volumes for the regard with which S.S.E.'s Lexicon is held!
Having said that, the ALESIS digital reverb from BANDIVE/TURNKEY genuinely does look like a fine unit at a fine price, offering a frequency response of 30Hz-14kHz, add-on chip capacity to expand the algorithms, and a very wide range of reverb/echo effects. Try, also, Bandive's ART DR2 digital reverb with six push-button control parameters, twin user settable presets + by-pass and decay time of 0.1 sec-12.8 secs.
Yet more FX were seen at DON LARKING's own show, including MTR's huge range of VESTA-FIRE and CUTEC processors. We're trying hard to keep up with all the new products from MTR, but seem to be losing the race! Nonetheless, note the new MADRACK D7, a 7 tap analogue delay which offers a true stereo range of effects, suitable for live or recorded use. Flanging, mono/stereo, 3.5 octave sweep, 'drainpipe' effects, chorus & multi-chorus, vibrato, reverb, stereo 'widening', various stereo location effects - it sounded good to us!
BEL, distributed by newcomers S.E.D., have followed-up their successful BD80 2-8 sec. Digital Delay with a new version featuring a keyboard interface (1v/Octave), enabling the sampled sound to be pitched over 2 octaves. Bel's BD Series has also been extended to include the BD320 digital delay processor, which has the features of the BD80 but with a range of 8-32 sec @ 15 kHz bandwidth! Where high fidelity work is called for, look out also for Bel's BD240 digital delay, which features a full 18kHz bandwidth 6-24 sec.
Finally, ROLAND, whose SRV 2000 Digital Reverb (with its highly useful MIDI programme capacity) was creating a definite stir. Roland seem to be moving increasingly closer to the needs of the home/small studio owner these days - notably their mini-sized signal processing range of DDL, Comp/Limiter, Flanger, Graphic Eq. and Phaser. As MIDI interfacing becomes increasingly necessary in the recording market watch Roland become increasingly active, witness the success of their SDE-2500 DDL.
The pro-studio business is the home of studio monitors which you could move your home into - and still leave room for the drive units! Ignoring such luxuries, several smaller units were on show for both home and small studios. First points go to TANNOY, who are continuing their 'dual concentric' approach with some delicious-looking new units called DTM-8s. Priced at around £300 a pair, the new Tannoys feature 8" dual concentric drivers and are aimed primarily at the 'near-field' (desk-top) pro and home studio market. Handling 10-100 watts with a peak input rated at 120 watts, the DTM-8s are claimed to deliver 89 dB spl.
MUSIMEX are also entering the small speaker league with their new CRYSTAL monitors, destined to sell for RRP £425 + VAT per pair. These tiny British made 2-way units are claimed to handle up to 300 watts RMS and will deliver 116dB @ 1 metre. Featuring liquid cooled drive units, Crystal monitors are claimed to handle from 100Hz-20kHz ±2dB. An IN TUNE review will follow in due course.
Another tiny monitor (metal clad this time) is the TAM 'Micro-Monitor' distributed by MTR. With built-in 10 watt amps, these units look ideal for use with X15s, Porta-Ones etc. - especially as they are to retail at an impressively low RRP of £99! Review samples, please?.
PEAVEY, too, are now into studio monitors with some impressively well priced full-size 3-way units coming from their new AMR division.
Too many new mixers were on show at this year's Show to cover in one short report - but thankfully most of them were full 24 track items, only a few being suited for the smaller studio, PA and home recording market. Among these the newcomers from TAM (again, distributed by MTR) looked particularly impressive value for money. Finished in battleship grey and made from good old-fashioned metal (as opposed to flimsy plastic), TAM's two display models comprised a 10:4:2 and a 16:8:2, at prices which significantly undercut the established competition. Despite that, no corners seem to have been cut - in fact the TAM desks look far stronger than the average, and very well equipped for the money. With reasonable luck, TAM look like having a great future.
Still on mixers, do check-out the BANDSTAND range from JHS. Again, these combine very low prices with above average specs - keep your eyes open for their PDM 8x2 and PDM 12x2. Specifications of both units look excellent and the prices (whispered into our ears) look like being extremely low. More details will follow!
HHB, meanwhile, showed AHB's CMC Series an in-line format unit with multiple programme muting and routing facilities, the details of which can be stored in an external computer for later recall. Undoubtedly, HHB'S commitment to digital and computer-orientated recording and mixing is paying off handsomely for them. When the time comes for digital to invade the small studio/home market, it seems that HHB will be in there first. 16 track analogue recorders, meanwhile, remain very much the cat's pyjamas for advanced home and smaller commercial studios, at which point we must congratulate ACES/STUDIO MAGNETICS on their amazingly priced SML 1216, a new 16-track on 1/2" recorder which retails at only £2,800 plus VAT. Running at 15 ips, the SML 1216 has varispeed as standard (with a 30 ips version as an option) plus plug-in card pre-sets. The fine features - not to mention the low price and a 2 year guarantee - surely must make the Studio SML 1216 a winner?
Not too many new mikes on offer this year; apart, that is, from a great newcomer from SHURE, via importers HW INTERNATIONAL. Dubbed the SM98, it is undoubtedly one of the tiniest high quality dynamic mikes yet produced, and has been developed as a clip-on instrument unit with a directional response. Ideal for clipping direct onto drums (an idea which obviously appealed to HW visitor Brian Bennett of the Shadows), the new SM98 could be equally at home fixed to an instrument cab. It'll handle a genuine 150dB, apparently, which (especially for drummers) could make it the ideal answer for the percussionist who keeps breaking sticks on his SM57s!
Watch-out, however, for newcomers from AKG and AUDIO-TECHNICA at the BMF Show, and a new ELECTRO-VOICE, which we were waiting for details of as we went to Press on this issue.
Once again, the number of amps - old and new - on offer was bewildering. Nonetheless, just a few models represented anything really significant. The first of these was a major expansion of HH's MOS-FET range, the VX Series. Seven different output levels are offered, from the 1 unit high 150 watt a side VX150, to the super-powerful VX1200, capable of 610 watts stereo and contained in a mere 3 units high 19" rack mounting space. The 80+80w VX150, 100+100w VX200 & 155+155w VX300 models are all convection cooled, but the larger (VX450, VX600, VX900 & VX1200) versions are fitted with 2-speed fans. A broader range (the silent fan-less models being particularly suited to control rooms) and improved all-round specs look like ensuring continued success for these all-British power amps.
From the USA, three power amps stood out for us. The first was the new AMCRON (featured in last month's IN TUNE), the second a ruggedised HAFLER power amp range from HW INTERNATIONAL. IN TUNE has had a Hafler on test for several months and we rate it as one of the most 'musical' sounding power amps money can buy. Now the new strengthened model suits the Hafler to road use - look out for it!
PEAVEY had the first samples of their long awaited DECA power amp on show. As we've snaffled one of the earliest samples in the U.K. for a review in this issue, we'll not comment here - other than to hope that you take careful note of our review of this major event in power amp development. Finally, there's also a super-Spey lower-cost new power amp from MTR.
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