Tascam 244 Portastudio
This month HSR takes a look at the Tascam 244 Portastudio, launched in May 1982 as a successor to the revolutionary Teac 144. Although the 244 model has been followed most recently by its rack-mounted counterpart, the Tascam 234 (HSR Sept 83), it will no doubt continue in popularity for some time to come, and remain the backbone of many a home recording setup.
The 244 is a 4-track cassette recorder incorporating dbx noise reduction and 4-channel mixer in one portable unit, measuring 455 (W) x 120 (H) x 370 (D) mm and weighing 9kgs. The case is a dark grey plastic mould, with an ergonomical design and colour-coded knobs. Four large VU meters, angled towards the operator and scaled from -20dB to +3dB, are situated along the top of the machine. These relate to tracks 1-4 respectively in Remix mode and meters 1 and 2 to Buss L (track 1/3) and Buss R (tracks 2/4) respectively in Record mode.
Sockets are the RCA phono type with the exception of the four Mic/Line inputs and the remote Punch In/Out sockets which are standard ¼" mono jack sockets - all of which are safely housed in rear panel recesses that allow easy access for quick repatching. The cassette transport section is located on the bottom right-hand side with the Tape Cue (monitoring) controls directly above.
The four channel stereo mixer accepts an extremely wide range of signal levels (electronic keyboards, guitars and percussion), and mics with an output impedance rating of between 50 ohms and 10 kilohms.
The controls in each vertical channel module are identical and commence from top to bottom with a three-way input selector switch for Mic/Line, Off or Tape.
Mic/Line - The input (¼" jack) sockets 1-4 on the rear correspond to the appropriate Mic/Line input and a Trim control adjusts the signal level over a 0-50dB range. A red overload LED situated nearby is activated at 22dB above nominal input level, to aid distortion prevention.
Off - The module is inoperative when the selector is set to Off and provides a useful aid at the mixing stage by effectively 'muting' the channel without the need to alter any fader controls that may have been set.
Tape - This selects the recorded signal from the playback head and 'remixes' it by routing it through the mixer section. Track 1 is always routed to module 1 and so on, for convenient reference.
The signal can be accessed at this point in the signal flow chain via the Accessory Send/Rcv phono 'insert' sockets on the rear panel, and processed through a compressor/limiter, phaser, flanger, etc. The Accessory Rcv socket could also be used for receiving line signals from, say, another Portastudio or tape deck where no Trim adjustment is needed. When no external equipment is connected, the metal 'jumpers' must be in place to allow signal to flow on to the EQ and Auxiliary sections.
Tonal modifications are carried out by two dual concentric parametric equalisers, with variable centre frequencies of between 62Hz to 1.5kHz, and 1kHz to 8kHz. The lower rotary control offers a cut or boost range of 15dB and a reserve or 'headroom' of 10dB, which is adequate enough. A variable bandwidth control would have increased the power of the parametrics further, but as they stand they are excellent and far better than standard fixed frequency treble or bass tone controls.
The Auxiliary sub-section which follows takes the mono signal and directs it to left and/or right Aux Send sockets at the rear. The Aux select switch has three positions Pre, Off, and Post.
Pre - the signal being routed to Aux Send is obtained before EQ adjustment and is not affected by the channel fader. During mix-down, connecting, for instance, an echo device to the Auxiliary Send and Receive sockets and selecting Pre will allow you to produce a 'ghost player' by lowering the module fader but leaving the echoed signal remaining in the background on the fadeout.
Off - mutes the Aux Send signal and leaves 'dry' signal only.
Post - receives the signal after the EQ section and will also 'track' the setting of the channel input fader.
Another dual concentric control sets the level of signal being sent to the auxiliary and pans the signal to the Aux Send L + R outputs.
Below the Aux sub-section is the channel Pan control for positioning the signal in the main stereo field. The sum of the four channel faders are sent to the stereo Line Out and Aux Send phono sockets at the rear via the ganged, stereo Master fader, which is located to the right of the input modules. The Master fader also sets the levels displayed on the VU meters and determines the overall level sent to the tape recorder and monitor sections. Two overload LEDs (L + R) switch on at +10dB above nominal level. The Aux Receive rotary control, directly above the Master fader, sets the levels of both Aux Rcv sockets at the rear and this signal is then routed through the Master fader, allowing both send and receive signals to be matched after processing by an external effect for example.
This incorporates a 3 motor transport system and tape heads are Ferrite for erase, and Permalloy for combined record/playback. The tape speed is 3¾ ips (twice normal speed 1⅞ ips) and the recommended C60 and C90 tapes will give you 15 mins and 22½ mins playing time respectively (one direction recording/playback). Teac advise the use of gamma-ferric high bias 70 microsecond cassettes such as TDK-SA, Maxell UDXL-11, or equivalent. It is not advisable to utilise C120 tapes as the thinner tape is prone to stretching.
Associated controls are the usual Fast Forward, Rewind, Play, Record, Stop and Pause, with full logic function. The Record button's LED flashes when in ready mode and stays lit when recording is in progress whilst a green LED indicates that the Pause function is activated. To the right are the counter Reset (to zero) and Zero Return (with LED indicator) buttons, an eject button for accessing the cassette (without ejecting it), and a four digit fluorescent tape counter proved to be clear and reasonably precise though prolonged recording sessions caused the zero return accuracy to falter somewhat.
A pitch control (with centre click stop) varies the tape speed +/-15% and accordingly adjusts the pitch up or down.
The two stereo headphone sockets are located conveniently on the case's front edge and are capable of driving phones of 8 ohms impedance or more. The monitoring selector switch can be set to one of three modes: Remix, Cue, Aux.
Remix - obtains a stereo signal directly from the L and R busses and is used for bouncing tracks and, of course, remixing.
Cue - lets you monitor the recorded track(s) directly from the tape heads ie. without being routed back through the mixer, and is used mainly for synchronised monitoring of previously recorded tracks whilst laying down overdubs. The overdub headphone level is determined by the Buss monitor control (this level has no bearing on the recording level), and previous track monitor levels are set by the Tape Cue system, all signals being heard in mono.
Aux - monitors the output to the Aux Send sockets on the rear.
The four Tape Cue dual concentric controls allow you to set up a separate headphone monitor mix. The lower controls pan the signals to the Tape Cue Outputs L and R on the rear panel (the headphone signal is mono only); whilst the upper controls set the Tape Cue gain levels.
With a little use the apparent complexity of the 244 soon dissolved and tracks could be laid down, bounced, and mixed quite simply. The Record Function switches (located above the Master fader) determine the recording mode and the track to be recorded. The Record Function three-way control can be set to Sync (the 'normal' recording mode), Safe (no recording can take place, even if Rec/Play is pressed), and 4-Channel Record (with LED indicator), which is used for recording on all four tracks simultaneously. The recorder will always erase all tracks prior to recording on all four tracks simultaneously so take care not to inadvertently activate this mode! It is conceivable, however, to do a 'live' take with a number of musicians recording on all tracks and subsequently re-do one or more tracks, bounce down or make overdubs.
Below this section are the Buss Assign switches which route the signal to either Buss L or Buss R. The top select switch assigns Buss L to either record Track 1, Safe, or record Track 3. The lower select switch similarly assigns Buss R to record Track 2, Safe, or record Track 4.
Once recording is underway, it will be noticed that the meters and LEDs indicate the unit's current mode of operation, by lighting and working only as required, they prove to be a helpful guide on whether you have made the right connection or switched/panned to the correct buss etc.
I recorded a number of pieces on the 244 and achieved some very pleasing results. It must be constantly kept in mind during recording, however, exactly where the signal is being sent. For instance, if laying down a part on track 1, the input pan must be set fully left (Buss L). If panned fully right, no signal will actually be recorded! Fortunately, once the Buss Assign switch is set to record on track 1, the first VU meter only will light and if you have panned incorrectly meter 2 will actually function thereby pointing out the oversight.
Tascam advocate bouncing tracks using the Remix mode, whilst monitoring via the headphones. However, if tracks 1, 2 and 3 are being bounced to, say track 4 and thus panned right in order to place the signal on Buss R, this allocates the monitor mix to the right headphone only, which I found to be a little disorientating!
The signal to noise ratio is quoted at -90dB and crosstalk at -70dB at 1kHz, and the dbx noise reduction functions admirably. An optional footswitch (Tascam RC-30P) provides a remote Punch-In/Out facility that allows drop-ins to be performed and activated with ease if you're working on your own, which will be the majority of the time for most Portastudio owners I guess.
One point not mentioned in the manual - make sure to remove headphones before turning off the unit to avoid an earpiercing HF whistle!
The 244 comes highly recommended and has already proven itself both reliable and popular. It is possible to achieve up to 10 good tracks without ever going further than second generation with forward planning and track economisation. The 244's adaptability and compact nature make it a very worthwhile investment for a solo musician or small group looking to get started in the world of multitrack.
Recommended retail price for the Tascam 244 Portastudio is £655.68 inc VAT and it is distributed in the UK by Harman (Audio) UK Ltd, (Contact Details).