Tascam 38 Eight Track Tape Recorder
This report is designed to indicate the sort of advantages and disadvantages one is likely to encounter during the first year's ownership of a Tascam 38 multitrack tape machine. The idea being that it makes more sense to find out exactly what you are getting for your money before it actually leaves your pocket.
A pretty nifty looking machine, is the way I would describe the Tascam 38. Finished in a brownish-grey matt plastic, displaying a number of function controls, it is capable of complementing most living rooms. From the front it looks very similar in size to any stereo tape deck, however its depth, 12½", makes a wide shelf or table essential. The machine is surprisingly heavy, being about the weight of a standard TV, at 56lbs, and is quite awkward to carry due to the absence of any suitable handles. The 38 is not a portable multitracker by any means and once in position it is unlikely that you will want to move it until future re-calibration or service.
The tape format is 8-track ½" running at 15ips with a 10½" NAB reel. With Tascam's ten years of multitrack experience behind it, the 38 is possibly the most advanced semi-professional 8-track recorder on the market. The design philosophy behind the particular model was to remove all unnecessary features such as headphone amps, output volumes and microphone inputs, often duplicated on a mixing desk, hence it is not possible to use this particular recorder without a mixing desk. The reason being that the phono inputs at the back of the machine are calibrated to accept nominal input levels of -10dBV and maximum input levels of +18dBV, yet the average voltage output from a microphone is only in the order of a few millivolts, so for those of us just starting off on the multitrack trail, don't forget to put some money aside for a mixing desk.
Ignoring the more obvious tape transport select controls, the Tascam 38 boasts a variable pitch control, edit switch, cue lever and a single memory return to zero autolocate function. Pitch is variable by +/-12% of the normal 15ips tape speed, and although simple harmony effects are possible it's main purpose is to correct for any instrument which happens to be recorded flat or sharp, such as a piano.
The 'Edit' switch is 'dynamite' and must be treated with utmost caution, unless you wish to find your tape careering onto the floor at 11 metres per second. The only safe way to operate this function is from the Stop mode. When the Edit button is depressed, the take-up reel motor is disengaged and then on pressing 'Play', the capstan motor is activated and the tape spools off the recorder. Hopefully it is the section of tape which requires editing! The cue lever provided below the headshield can be used to cue or review a signal on tape, for example, in trying to find the start of a recording. However, because the head is being forced into contact with the fast moving tape, this function must also be used with caution as excessive use greatly accelerates head wear requiring the heads to be 're-lapped', which can prove a fairly expensive undertaking.
In my opinion, the autolocator with its return to zero function is a very useful addition to any recorder and as its name suggests, it rewinds the tape to the point marked 0000 on the LED tape counter.
More often than not, especially on long rewind runs, the tape overshoots the zero position and takes two further shuffles before coming to rest on or near the zero mark.
The accuracy to which an autolocator returns is dependant upon the mechanism employed to sense the tape movement. Tascam utilise photo-optic sensing devices which detect the movement and direction of the reel motors whilst Studer machines, on the other hand, actually record a code onto the tape using a specially devised tape head which on playback gives instantaneous and precise positioning.
The Tascam 38 can operate in three different modes: Reproduce, Input and Sync. An LED above each mode switch indicates your selection. Reproduce is the standard playback mode, Input is used to make an initial recording and Sync mode is used when monitoring existing tracks while making overdubs at the same time. Because Sync mode employs the same tape head for record and monitoring, it is impossible to create timing errors.
Unfortunately, there is a problem associated with this facility and that is one of internal feedback between adjacent tracks in Sync mode. This is due to two instruments being recorded onto the tracks at high VU levels and will result in the VU meter needles suddenly slamming hard up against the red end of the scale. Admittedly this is a rare occurrence with the Tascam 38 but good track layout and sensible levels can ensure that it doesn't happen at all.
The standard 10½" reel of tape lasts for 32 minutes (at 15ips) which is easily enough for half an album's worth of material. Since I have found the 38 to be very quiet when using noise reduction, there is no real reason why album standard recordings could not be made on this machine as long as there are not too many overdubs or bounces, as these can degrade the finished result considerably.
There is a punch in/out facility provided on the 38 which is extremely helpful if working solo. It is a foot-operated device and allows you to go directly into or out of record mode while the tape is in motion. A remote control unit is also available supplied with a twenty foot connection lead which plugs directly into the rear of the machine, giving full control over all transport function controls located on the front panel. A further optional extra supplied by Tascam is a 19" rack-mounting kit which enables the recorder to be sited within a rack neatly, and out of harms way. Highly recommended.
Every machine comes with a 114 page operational/maintenance manual which is extensive to say the least. However, for someone who isn't fully conversant with technical jargon, they may find it rather overwhelming. Perhaps it would be better to get a dealer to show you exactly how to wire the machine up and explain how it operates.
The first real problem I encountered with the Tascam 38 was its strange input and output signal voltages. The mixing desk I was using, an Alice 12/4/8, had a nominal output voltage greater than the nominal input voltage of the recorder causing problems with overloading inputs etc. To get around this problem I built a series of attenuating circuits (potential dividers), one for each track input. This is a perfectly legitimate practice as the resistor network does not degrade the audio signal quality, as long as impedance matching rules are obeyed.
Incidentally, this is a fairly common problem when combining different types of equipment, especially mixing American and Japanese products. It is due to manufacturers adopting different voltage reference levels to define their nominal input and output levels. Some choose 0.775 volts and others 1 volt.
I hope this report has not sounded too destructive, it was intended as a more 'objective' addition to the manufacturer's brochure, which of course contains nothing but praise for the machine. Having said that, I would not swap my Tascam 38 for any other 8-track currently on the market. It is a very good quality recorder for the price, which has not given me any technical problems, apart from the aforementioned, since it was bought some 17 months ago - and that is after almost continuous use, six hours per day. All in all, a great machine!
For further details on the Tascam 38 contact your nearest Teac/Tascam dealer, or phone Harman (UK) Ltd. (Contact Details).
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User Report by Chris Allison
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