Positioned on the head cover in full view, is a four digit display tape counter that lights upon power up. A small reset button to the right, and latching zero return button provide a very practical one memory auto-locate function on this counter, but it only works in rewind mode. It's main use is to mark the start of the track you are working on so that you're not required to shuttle the tape backwards and forwards in an attempt to find the track. On our test, the counter nearly always returned to a position slightly ahead of the zero point and proved accurate.
The headshield cover flips up on the model 32 to give access to the three heads for cleaning purposes, but also for azimuth and height adjustment via the small screws. Below the record head (the middle one of the three) is a mirror-finished anti-static head cover which helps you to see the heads when cleaning them with the recorder upright, as well as protecting the tape when in motion.
The transport controls themselves are neatly grouped in a section to the right, below the heads. These are of the standard micro-switch logic-type, with the usual functions: rewind, fast forward, stop, play, pause and record. The latter two having associated green and red LEDs above them and blue and red colouring for distinction.
A cue lever to the left defeats the tape lifters when pushed upward, bringing the tape into contact with the playback head for manual monitoring of tape content in the fast motion modes. It's advisable not to overuse this facility as it tends to accelerate head wear, as well as damaging your speakers (and ears) if it is monitored at high levels.
A small, silver pitch control gives a plus or minus 12% change in tape speed when pulled out, and is only suitable really for tuning adjustment of tapes recorded flat or sharp. A wider pitch change would have made varispeed effects possible, as on the Revox B77 (which requires an additional unit).
The next three controls are labelled Edit, Speed and Reel, and between them select the correct motor speed and tensioning to suit the smaller 7" reel size and slower 7½" ips running speed. When in edit mode, the take-up reel (right hand) motor is disabled, so that pressing 'play' allows the tape to spool off without being taken up, whilst still being able to monitor off-tape material. This is useful for listening to unwanted sections of programme which can then be spliced out. Before entering edit mode it is necessary to first activate the 'stop' button. This row of controls is completed by a large, orange 'power' pushbutton.
The remainder of the front panel is taken up by the two large and brightly illuminated VU meters which occupy the bottom half of the machine. Alongside these are the dual concentric input and output level controls. Being large and well calibrated they are easy to use, with the inner of the dual knobs designated to the left channel, and the outer to the right. Unfortunately the output control has no effect on replay so you can't use it as a monitor volume control! Both controls work for mic or line connections which are mutually exclusive ie. you can only have one or the other, which precludes internal mixing; a feature that was of immense value on the old Teac A3340S 4-track.
A headphones socket is provided, of the jack variety, which accepts an 8 ohm pair of stereo phones for quick monitoring when external speakers aren't at hand. Signals from either off-tape or the inputs can be monitored dependent upon the position of the output select buttons. Two more jack sockets are provided for direct connection of a microphone level input to the left and right channels. These are unbalanced, transformerless inputs and will quite happily accept signals with an impedance between 200 and 10 kilohms.
Mic or line selection is achieved with the three input select buttons above each VU meter. Orange coloured LEDs indicate status, removing any possibility of a mix up between the chosen inputs and a -20dB 'pad' attenuates the mic input signal only, when selected. In this way excessively powerful signals can be reduced to match the input and provide an extra degree of 'headroom' without tape saturation.
Output select controls are labelled 'Input', 'Sync' and 'Repro' and select, naturally, which source signal feeds the output jacks, VU meter and headphones. The provision of sync monitoring and recording means that either channel can be recorded independently - so in effect you've got a two track multitrack recorder, which can be useful for sketchpad ideas without the need to resort to your 4 or 8 track machine. Further uses of this would, perhaps, be in laying down a sync time code alongside a mono music track for audiovisual productions, for example.
The beauty of this system is in ease of operation. If you want to record left and right tracks separately, but in synchronism, you simply select record mode and 'sync' and you're away.
A built-in safety feature is the use of the function buttons, which actually enter the record mode. They also serve for 'punching in' or 'out' of record when only small segments of sound need to be recorded. To enter record mode, 'play' and 'record' transport functions must be pressed simultaneously, the red LED above 'record' will light upon selection. However, this will only set the tape in motion, preset for record. No recording will take place unless the function buttons are enabled. Following this course of operations has several advantages, in that it lets you monitor off-tape signals before punching in to record mode, which is vitally important when adding a new part to tracks already on tape.
With record mode selected, 'pause' can hold the system, requiring 'play' to be pressed to start things rolling. This will mostly be used by solo users, as it reduces the number of things you need to press to begin recording. By the way, Tascam's RC71 remote control unit duplicates the transport control functions and is a useful accessory for studio applications, letting you locate the machine away from the mixing console connected only by a single cable.
Housed in a recess are connections for left and right line in/line out, all using phono sockets. A 12-pin socket connection is provided for the RC71 remote unit and there's a ¼" jack socket which permits remote punch-in/out via an additional footpedal, provided the machine has been preselected for record from the front panel.
The final rear panel connection accepts Tascam's DX-2D noise reduction unit control signal which automatically switches the dbx unit from encode to decode relative to the record/playback status of each channel on the Tascam 32.
As with most Teac/Tascam tape recorders the transport mechanism works beautifully. Motion sensing and tape guide arms ensure correct tape tensioning, resulting in a 'snatch free' action. Motion sensing also obviates the need to press 'stop' before changing direction, and a smooth transition always ensues. This is one machine that is hard to mistreat, short of physically attacking it!
Recording quality was good with a fairly flat response extending from around 45Hz up to 20kHz at 15 ips. Equalisation characteristics conformed to IEC specifications on our machine, but NAB is available using an internal preset. The quoted signal-to-noise ratio is 68dB at 15 ips tape speed and this was backed up by practical testing. The noise is evident, but not as prominent as on other machines, making this a realistic machine on which to record masters.
A logically laid out, functional machine that represents a serious threat to the ubiquitous Revox! Ease of operation backed by built-in recording safeguards, and useful features such as the zero return and digital readout make the Tascam 32 a better machine than most. The reputation for reliability that accompanies all Tascam products fortifies my impression that the 32 is a winner, even if it is slightly more expensive than that 'other' stereo tape recorder which emanates from the land of Swiss cheese and Heidi.
The Tascam 32 sells for around £800 and is distributed in the UK by Harman UK Ltd, (Contact Details) for more information.
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Review by Ian Gilby
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