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Maxell UDII, Sony UCX-S, That's EM

three new chrome cassettes

REGULAR READERS (hi, Yukihiro) will remember from the January home recording issue that when we last looked at cassette tapes we came out in favour of Maxell XLIIS — something of a mouthful, but nevertheless a good all-round tape if you're into 4-track home recording.

The limitations on the tape you'll use for your 4-track cassetter are imposed mainly by the makers themselves — of the machines, that is — for they have decided that this sort of recorder will be set up in advance only to take 70μs, or high bias compatible, tapes. In other words the mid-price range — above your everyday Normal cassette, and thankfully below the exalted prices asked for the so-called Metal tapes.

Time for an update, we decided here at the cosy, informal offices of One Two Testing, and out came the trusty office Fostex 250 multitracker with which to put this new batch of oxide through its paces.

First we took the three tapes on test out of their boxes, because we all like to have cute little packages hurtling around our machine, now don't we? Well, even if we don't, it seems clear that the makers think we do. Much effort goes into packaging and design, though one would imagine that this effort is directed more towards the average consumer who's keen to do stacks of home taping and other illegal activities with the newly purchased rust, rather than our own particular brand of creativity. But for the visually conscious, here's the lowdown.

The That's tape is in a plain black case with little incuse lines running up and down. We ought to get out of the way now the fact that we think "That's" is a daft name. That's all. And this example looks... ordinary. The Maxell has a gold label attached, with red and blue lettering — it looks gaudy and tasteless. The Sony is in a clear case — look at those reels — and compared to the other two is a clean, modern design.

But enough of the clothing, and more of the flesh. Out with the drum machine to give these tapes some real tests on real sounds. First of all, some bass end noises to see how the tapes cope with the lowly stuff.

The That's cassette returned a very dull sounding bass drum, lacking any of the original's punch and clarity. Even tried at various recording levels, the That's EM tape was not very happy with our bass programme, and gave disappointing results. On to the Sony UCX-S, then, and a distinct improvement in the playback sound over That's, with more of the original's bite, but a rather annoying low-level hiss brought out by the tape's high-end emphasis.

The Maxell was the best performer on bass, however, and despite it too having a high-end emphasis, it actually lent this improvement to the sound of the bass drum itself without actually adding unwanted hiss above it. A good full sound from the Maxell UDII, then, and the best in the bass area.

Dealing with a hi-hat and cymbal programme was a more singular affair: That's gave a flattened, rather tinny result that again failed to impress us. The Maxell was average in its returns, and had little of the tinniness of That's and a more acceptable noise level. The best was the Sony which, like the Maxell on the bass programme, gave a little lift to the level but added it to the sound of the hi-hat and cymbals, not to the surrounding noise.

Then we checked to see what sort of level the tapes gave back for a specific input signal — this tells you how well the tape will perform with small input levels and therefore how much noise it's going to give you back in these conditions. It's also an indication of how much punch and attack you'll be able to draw from the cassette — very important considerations when you're recording at home on 4-track cassette machines.

And the best performer in this area was quite definitely the Sony, giving a good margin over that of both the Maxell and That's (which came out almost level — there wasn't much to choose between them).

We bounced back and forward many times on all the tapes to see how that would affect their quality and their noise levels — again, this is the sort of thing that can make or break a cassette during home recording. Bouncing is really the heart of the matter.

Best performer for bouncing was the Sony, quite clearly the most true and the least degraded after half a dozen bounces. The Maxell held up reasonably well in second place, while the That's tape did not fare too well.

Harking back again to our January test, we'd still recommend the Maxell XLIIS. But do any of the new cassettes come anywhere near? Yes — the Sony UCX-S is a clear contender, and you should give this one a try yourself against your own favourite tape. The new UDII from Maxell didn't appear to offer too much over their XL, but is a reasonable performer. And That's do not appear to have anything startling in their new offering.

Tape heads you win, tails out you lose.

Average prices for C90 lengths: UDII £1.50; UCX-S £1.95; EM £1.90

CONTACT: Maxell, (Contact Details); Sony, (Contact Details); That's, (Contact Details).

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One Two Testing - Jun 1985

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