The Help File
Where everything clicks
Your questions answered
Digital diagnostics, techno troubles, glitches in your Gizmos; they're all in a day's work for THE MIX medical department.
Send your queries to: The Help File, (Contact Details).
QOn the subject of cassette tapes and their nasty habits; I've often put a tape in the ole deck and started playback. After a short while I notice the sound instantly goes dull and muddy. Immediately stopping the tape and removing it I noticed the tape head covered with a white powdery layer, and also particles on the tape itself. Having cleaned the head and blowing, shaking the tape particles free, I put my cassette back in and continue playing.
A short while later it sounded all cock-eyed again. Removing the tape I notice the heads covered in white stuff again. I notice that this mostly occurs when I haven't played a tape for some time. Would this therefore be to do with how I store the tapes, i.e. cool temparatures. I usually wind them to the end and keep them in cases. I have also taken to fastwinding them several times to each end before playing them, thinking this may perhaps loosen tape particles. This hasn't really proved successful. Is there a cure for my problem, or are my tapes possessed?
DTA Cleare, Tiptree
AIt sounds like you've been using some cheap'n'nasty cassettes - use some quality tapes like TDK, Maxell or BASF and you shouldn't have too many problems. Cheap tapes tend to shed oxide particles, and that's what you're finding on your heads. Having said that, cassette tapes don't have an infinite lifetime. Some of my tapes that are ten or more years old are now knackered. To prolong the life of your cassettes, keep them in a cool dark place, perhaps along with your wine racks in the cellar. CJK
QFor some time now, I have tried in vain to find a tape recorder which will record my music faithfully. My old Philips reel to reel is still giving good service, but it won't last forever (it's already over 20 years old), so can you tell me what reel to reel machines are available nowadays?
AThere are a number of 2-track reel to reel machines you might want to check out. The Revox B77 is still a great old workhorse, in a saddle-em-up-and-ride-em-cowboy-kind-of-way, and if you really want a quality machine, look at the Revox C270. Cheaper alternatives include the Tascam 32, or a secondhand Fostex Model 20. Alternatively you could forsake the old reel to reel in favour of a spanking new DAT machine, which will give you better recordings. If your Philips is still working, then you can use that to play your old tapes and use the DAT for new recordings. CJK
QJust a couple of questions... Firstly, what type of mic do you consider most suitable for recording Brass Band music indoors? At the moment I am using four fairly cheap electret condenser microphones, about six feet above the players in our small bandroom, in conjunction with an old Yamaha MT44 4-track and MM30 mixer. Although the results are gradually improving with some experimentation, I wonder if there are any relatively cheap types of mics that would make a significant improvement. This exercise is of course being run on a shoestring, so large condenser mics are out of the question!
Secondly, does anyone remember how to program the arpeggio section of the old 1984 Casio CT1000P synth, and what the programming functions actually do? The rest of the controls have been worked out by trial and error, but although the arpeggio section works when playing, the programming remains a mystery. There are apparently no instruction books left for this model now, so has anyone out there one I could borrow and photocopy?
Mike Goodall, Littleport, Ely
AThere are things that you can do without replacing your microphones to get better recordings. The first option is to use a DAT recorder, rather than the four track. You aren't multitracking, so there is really no need to record to anything other than two tracks. The second thing to do is experiment with some different stereo microphone techniques. The June '88 issue of Home & Studio Recording has a tutorial on this, should you need any help.
Ideally though, a new set of microphones would be in order. Models that spring to mind are the AKG C1000S (which costs around £215) or the AKG 451E (around £225). If the shoestring you mentioned is shorter than this, Sennheiser have a series of good quality condenser microphones in the ME62/64/65/66/67 range, which cost between £100 and £200.
As for the arpeggio function on the Casio, perhaps contacting them directly would be an idea. Companies usually have copies, or can get access to copies of most of their manuals. Contact them on (Contact Details), or Inter Manual Rescue on (Contact Details). If not, does anyone else have any ideas? DM
QJust recently I purchased my first home studio mixing desk. The store where I bought the desk had no manual or power supply available, so I need to find out the PSU specifications. The desk is a Seck 1882 MkII mixer, with a DC power, male six pin socket with phantom power.
I am in the middle of a two year Sound Engineering course, so I know enough not to just plug in anything. If you could give me any information on voltage etc., I would be very grateful. I have written to the company, but there's no reply as yet.
Fin Higgins, Eire
AIf you've written to Seck, you'll wait forever because they're actually no longer in business. Soundcraft are currently offering technical support for all Seck owners, which includes the sale of power supplies. The model you need for your mixer is a modified version of the Spirit power supply, the DCP100; the price of which is £199.50 new. However, if you speak to Ralph Davies at Soundcraft yourself, he is sure that he'll find you a less expensive alternative. Contact them on (Contact Details). CJK
QI bought the first issue of 'The Mix' and found it interesting, if a little confusing. I'm a 17 year old musician, and I'll be buying a PC in September. What I'd like to know is what I'll need to add on to the computer to start recording audio to the hard disk, and then how it transfers to tape. I am interested in recording songs with keyboards, bass, guitar, drum machine and vocals by myself. Is it possible to do this on a low budget?
Kevin Roebottom, Aldershot
AIf you're dead set on getting a PC, then the best option is Quad Studio from Et Cetera, which has all you need to get started in hard disk recording for that platform. £489 will buy you a compatible Turtlebeach sound card, and the editing software you need. The output of your recorded signal will be from a stereo pair of sockets on the card which you can just plug into your tape deck. Should you want a more comprehensive editing package Software Audio Workshop (also from Et Cetera) is a better, if a more expensive alternative. SAW has an optional interface to sync with MIDI and SMPTE timecode as well, which might be useful to you.
What you might also consider is a different computer platform altogether. For most musical applications on the PC, a 486 is needed which costs just a little less than an AV Macintosh. These Macs come complete with all the necessary hardware for digital recording (inputs and outputs too are included as standard), so all you need then is some software. Shop around, and you might find a complete package for a reasonable price.
The Atari Falcon is also a less expensive alternative, particularly if you are likely to want to sync things up to MIDI. Cubase Audio for the Falcon provides 6 tracks of digital audio alongside a veritable plethora of potential MIDI tracks. Cubase Audio is also available for the Mac, and this version offers 8 tracks of digital audio.
Whatever you choose to buy, it is going to cost quite a bit. But with the cost comes increased editing software capabilities and better quality recordings. I hope we haven't confused you even more, but to make a really informed decision on which hard disk recording system is best for you, you really need to know what's available. For information on Cubase Audio, contact Harman Audio on (Contact Details). Et Cetera can be contacted on (Contact Details). Complete Cubase Audio and Falcon packages can be bought from System Solutions. (Contact Details). DM
QI have been running a small eight-track setup from a council house in South Wales. Although it is little more than a home recording setup, I seem to be enjoying a relative amount of success in that singers, cabaret acts etc., seem to be putting their trust in what I can tease out of my somewhat ageing gear.
However, an opportunity has arisen for me to take charge of a 24 track facility yet to be built. As you can appreciate, the jump from my humble abode to a fully professional studio will take some organising, given the fact that my backers are looking to me to virtually design the place. Due to the fact that I am spending other people's money, and also that I am desperate to achieve top quality within the studio, I would like to spend that money wisely, hence this letter to you.
The problem I am facing is that there is so much gear on the market to choose from. We are also talking of getting the studio up and running in one go, rather than adding to it piece by piece, which has been the case with my own setup.
If it is at all possible, could you furnish me with a list of reasonably priced pro quality gear that you would recommend for installation in a new studio. Also, could you advise me on room shapes generally accepted in control and live room design. I know that there are firms which will design and build a studio, but I would not like to abuse this golden opportunity by spending more money than is necessary.
I realise that this request may cause you a fair deal of hassle. If there is a question of some kind of fee for putting this info together, I would be glad to send it to you.
Ian Day, Blackwood, Gwent
AOkay, let's start with the tape machine. If you want 24 tracks of audio, either go for three digital 8-tracks such as the Alesis ADAT, Fostex RD8 or Tascam DA88, or an analogue 24-track such as the Fostex G24s or Tascam MSR24. Which mixing desk you get depends on how much you want to spend - from a couple of grand upwards. Any 8-buss in line desk with 24 inputs will do the job, such as the Mackie 8-buss, Tascam M2600, Spirit LC, AHB GS3 or Soundtracs Topaz. If you want to spend a bit more then you can look at the Soundtracs Solo range, or for a split console check out the AHB Saber. As far as monitors and effects are concerned, there's a huge range to choose from - keep reading THE MIX and you'll get a good idea of what's appropriate for your needs. As far as a fee is concerned - the invoice is in the post. CJK
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