Tascam 234 Syncaset
With the arrival of several 4-channel cassette decks in the last couple of years, including Teac's own Portastudios, and other multitracking cassette decks from Fostex, Clarion, Cutec and Yamaha, the opportunity for the home recordist to make good quality recordings has opened up considerably. Because these machines include some kind of built-in noise reduction, the final results with careful use (ie. attention to peak levels, crosstalk and punch in/outs) can compete favourably with reel-to-reel recorders like Teac's A-3340S and others.
So the home recordist working in 4-tracks in a limited budget, limited space situation is advised to consider these new multitrack cassette machines. For the musician constantly requiring quick overdubbing for getting up basic tracks they are ideal, and provided the final mix is adequate, will enable a useful demo tape to be made.
The Tascam 234 Syncaset 4-channel cassette deck is a real space saver as it is intended for 19" rack mounting (taking up 5 13/16" height and 14 1/16" depth). Silver coloured screw on handles are supplied and rack mount end plate are memorable.
Its presentation contains no frills, simply all the functions that you'll need for high quality, 4-channel sync recording and playback. It is also suitable for AV, or non-sync film and video soundtracks that are compatible with Tascam's 133 and 244 machines. Because it offers selectable dbx II noise reduction, it is possible to create a 4-track master cassette with 10 different parts — non more than second generation recording. Taken to its useful limit, you could squeeze on 15 parts on to your cassette!
Another factor in the improved sound quality is the use of twice normal tape speed to 3¾ ips.
A custom programmed microprocessor controls the delicate 3 motor servo operated transport and really does do its job of sensing the tape condition. Wow and flutter on piano recordings was quite acceptable (quoted as 0.04%). Since controls and 'micro' touch types, all operating in any order (except pressing 'play' with 'record' to record) and refusing to damage the tape in any way. The fluorescent green 4-digit tape counter held its position well during multiple rewinds and is easy to read across the studio.
A pitch control holds normal pitch until pulled out and then provides 5 semitones deviation. This facility is generally found on multitrackers these days and is useful for squeezing that last piece on to the end of your demo tape by a slight speed change.
There are only two heads, both Teac types — one for individual erasure of one or more of the 4 tracks, and one for record and playback of the 4 tracks. The latter obviously virtually eliminates alignment problems and the circuitry is adjusted for high bias 70us EQ gamma ferric oxide (Type II) tapes such as Maxell UDXL-II or TDX-SAX.
The 234 is finished in a subdued brown matt colour on a sturdy metal case, with familiar Tascam/Teac orange/off white rotary controls beneath the 4 VU meters. All function select controls are placed under the rotary controls, including the tape counter, and have LED indication where appropriate. A stereo headphone socket and level control is located at the right. This will monitor the stereo output mix of all 4 tracks or give a mono mix dependent on the cue button setting.
The tape transport controls are all set (as is now often the case) beneath the cassette enclosure. Incidentally, the front plastic cover slides out for easy access to the heads. A damped slide Eject button releases the cassette and a large orange power on/off switch completes the front panel main controls.
The tape transport control is 'fully logic controlled', ie. you don't have to 'stop' to rewind or go to some other function. The controls are momentary types for Fast Rewind, Fast Forward (taking approx. 85 secs for a C-60 tape in one direction), Stop, Play (with green 'on' LED), Pause (red 'on' LED) and Record (red 'on' LED). Although positioning is fine, I must confess to preferring Rewind to be left of Stop and Forward to the right!
Tape motion sensing assists these functions. In order to set the 234 into record mode, the Record button is held while depressing the play button. The Pause control places the tape heads in contact with the tape, while the transport is 'readied' with the pinch wheel just 'off contact' with the capstan. This enables instant starts and stops. If the Pause and Record buttons are pressed simultaneously, then it is only necessary to press the Play button to set the 234 into the record mode. Pressing the Pause button again will stop the tape, but the system will be ready to record when the play button is pressed.
Setting inputs and outputs is done with the 8 rotary pots. There are separate input controls for each track on the front panel. Normal line levels (eg. electronic instruments) are inserted via RCA phono sockets at the rear into the appropriate channel 1-4. Alternatively, another signal of mic or line level inserted into a jack socket can be mixed in as well using the rear trim pot. All inputs are unbalanced and this mixing facility does allow much more blending and overdubbing easily. It might have been better to put the mix pot as part of a dual concentric input with the main line in, rather than have to keep leaning over to adjust. Tascam have optional plug-in input transformers for balanced low-Z mics.
The outputs of each track have their own level and pan controls, the latter are for setting the stereo field at the Cue Out phono sockets at the rear. Four direct Line out phono sockets are also provided.
In the group of functional controls the illuminated Meter displays can be switched, to show tracks 1-4 individually (either in or out), or will switch off Meters 3 & 4 to indicate Cue Outputs on Meters 1 & 3. The Cue switch then selects either the stereo mix output or a mono mix of all tracks in use. This can be a useful simple foldback for yourself and others recording with you to cue in new tracks or punch in/outs.
A four digit counter LED tape counter with comprehensive logic control provides accurate and easy tape location. The white controls are of the latching type, except for the reset and off, which are momentary push button. A tape counter Reset button sets the counter to zero at any point on the tape. On returning to zero counter, it is possible to select a number of transport functions: STOP will cause the transport to stop at zero when the cassette has been rewound from any number. PLAY will set the 234 into play mode, on having rewound the cassette. Located beside the STOP and PLAY zero buttons is a red LED which will illuminate when either of these buttons is pressed. To cancel these functions the momentary OFF switch is pressed. Beneath the digital display is a square green LED showing the status of the noise reduction system. This can be turned on or off at the rear.
Underneath the zero return switches are the Memory switches which can be used on their own or in conjunction with the zero return functions. These switches are: ENTER, a momentary switch that when pressed will enter into the memory the current tape position number displayed on the tape counter. CHECK, this momentary switch allows you to see on the tape counter display the last number entered with the Enter switch, irrespective of tape position. The next three switches are latching type with the centre OFF being the latch release. STOP will halt the transport at the location number that has been entered into memory. A red LED shows it is selected. Next is the OFF switch which releases the STOP and RWD switch. The RWD switch when selected, will place the transport into the rewind mode when the tape counter displays the same value as that which has been entered into the memory. One big advantage here is that memory/zero return controls will allow a portion of tape to be repeated as many times as required.
As an example, let's say that there is a piece of music that you want to set up on a repeat play program. The beginning of the piece is found and the tape counter set to zero by pressing the Reset button. The Play button, in the zero return section, is pressed and the LED will light. The tape is then wound forward to the end of the piece. The number on the tape counter is then entered into memory by pressing the Enter button. The RWD button in the memory section is then pressed and the LED will light. The cassette will rewind to zero and then start to play until the number on the display equals that in the memory when the cassette will rewind again. This repeat cycle will continue until either the OFF button or the transport STOP button is pressed.
To the right of the Zero Return and Memory controls are the Output Select, Sync input, Meter, Cue and Function Select controls. These are all white press and release switches. The output selector switch selects either the material on the cassette or the input signal and routes it to the Line Out, Cue out and Phones Output. When Input is selected, a red LED to the left of the switch will light. The Sync/Input switch works in conjunction with the 4-track select switches. Besides this switch is a green LED which lights when this switch is pressed.
The Function Select switches, of which there are four, one for each track, place the selected track into the READY-SAFE/RECORD or SYNC modes. There is a red LED to the left of each switch. The LEDs will flash when the selected track is in the READY-SAFE mode. This is when the deck transport is at rest or in the Play mode and Sync Input has been selected. The flashing LED indicates that the track is ready to be recorded when the Record button is pressed with the transport Play button. When the selected track is being recorded the LED will be lit continuously. If the SYNC/INPUT button has been pressed this enables you to listen to a track onto which you are about to record, up until you press the record button, when you will then hear the input to that track. This is ideal for Punch In and Punch Out using a simple make-break momentary switch. In this way, tracks can be corrected, added to and tidied up. The four VU meters, which are calibrated to +3dB, also have bright peak reading LEDs.
For the purpose of testing the 234, a synthesiser was used as the input sound source. Two tracks were laid down. Those were placed on tracks 1 and 2. While listening to those tracks, track 1 panned left and track 2 panned right, the line outputs of these tracks were connected to the line inputs of tracks 3 and 4 respectively. The synthesiser used had a stereo output and was connected to the Mic/Inst sockets of tracks 3 and 4. The trimpots were set for the correct mix and the composite signals were then recorded onto tracks 3 and 4. The line outputs of tracks 3 and 4 were then connected to the line inputs of tracks 1 and 2. Again, the synthesiser was connected to the Mic/Inst sockets of tracks 1 and 2, with the trimpots adjusted for the required mix. The 234 was then placed into record, bouncing tracks 3 and 4 with the new synthesiser part being added. A total of 6 bounces was carried out with very little noise present thanks to the noise reduction system in circuit. The final result was very good and could be compared favourably with some 4 channel reel-to-reel tape machines.
The 234 Syncaset is very easy to use, provided you're willing to change input lines around as necessary. The front panel layout is logical and it is very easy to see the functions for each switch to control. Some click noise was apparent with Cue outputs linked to monitor mixer or 2-track machine, although punch In/Outs were clean. It is recommended that the deck be used in conjunction with a mixing desk, and that it performs as the four-track machine in a four-track studio with a two-track machine providing the final finished tape. It is also worth noting that no speed change for using standard cassettes is provided — an important omission. The signal to noise ratio with dbx NR is quoted as better than 90 dB unweighted, 20 Hz-20 kHz. Nevertheless, some slight noise was apparent even on single takes. However, the overall brightness of the input was retained providing a final result that was clear and distortion free.
Since the 234 retails at £575 inc. VAT it will be an attractive item for the small studio.