Vesta Fire MR10
4 track cassette deck
4-Track Cassette Recorder
Calling this a Personal Multitrack Recorder was a wise move on the part of Vesta Fire, because it's almost totally geared to one-person operation - a sort of personal tape notebook.
You might have heard that phrase 'personal tape notebook' before, too, or something very similar. What lets the MR10 down here is that it doesn't work with batteries. So this is one notebook that won't be leaving your bedroom/rehearsal room/workroom.
Before we actually switch on the MR10, let's briefly question where it falls in the market. Somewhere between the Fostex X15 and the Tascam Porta One, is the answer. If you know the Porta One, consider the MR10 as a sort of two-channel-mixer version of that, minus a little gadget or two.
Compared to the X15, it offers a little more (crucially): a master fader (so you can alter overall levels easier); four mono line inputs (making the number of potential inputs greater); VU meters over peak LEDs (a personal choice I'd endorse); a single-press record/play button (good for lazy fingers); a level and balance control for the auxiliary and phono inputs (giving a little more control over potential inputs); and switchable dbx over fixed Dolby B noise reduction (another personal one).
So, let's switch on now. No batteries, remember, so a 15V mains adaptor is essential (and Vesta's DC15 is another £20). Recording is dead easy, and after a couple of dry runs referring to the straightforward and clearly written manual, you should be getting along with the MR10 very easily.
The scheme is basically this: plug an instrument into one of the two front jack sockets and get a decent level using the 'trim' knob (adjusting the level you're giving the channel) and the fader, while keeping an eye on the meter. You may have read famous engineers and producers saying that it's important to get the required tone and level of your tracks down on to tape originally - with the MR10 this is even more important, as the bass and treble control per channel only work when recording. So you have to get it right at that stage, no choice.
A combination of safe/record switches near the bottom allows you to send the instrument plugged into input 1 to tracks 1 or 3 of the tape, or into input 2 to tracks 3 or 4 of the tape. In theory, you could have up to eight inputs coming in at once to one tape track: two on the inputs just mentioned, four panned left or right on the four line-ins we talked about above, and two into the auxiliary ins (though you'd make better use of these as a single stereo source).
But that would be unusual, wouldn't it? Think about it. You're more likely to be putting in a maximum of two instruments at a time on your own: for example, a drum machine running at the same time as you play a bass synth or guitar. More likely still is that you'll do each instrument one at a time. The front jack inputs are ideal for either purpose.
So, once you've got a few tracks recorded you can juggle around very easily, flicking a couple of switches and turning a few knobs to get the recorded signal coming up in the headphones alongside the new stuff you're recording, or bouncing two or three tracks down into one to leave more tracks to fiddle around on. You can drop in corrections to faulty playing with the supplied FP10 'punch-in/out' footswitch, too.
On mixdown you can use the level and pan knobs for each of the four resulting tracks, and even use the good array of ins and outs to put reverb, delay and other track-fatteners on at this stage.
Recordings sound good and faithful overall; I left the dbx permanently switched on. Vesta recommend TDK SA-X or Maxell XLIIS cassettes (ie high bias types only, as usual), and I used these as well as That's EM to good effect. My drum machine highs were crisp and reasonably clear on playback, while my bass lines fared similarly well. I only began to get noise and an ill-defined haziness building up after two or three three-track bouncedowns (the manual insists on calling these 'ping-pongs', and this was the only area where its instructions were a little imprecise).
My own niggles were small: the VU meters are angled upwards slightly within the box, but can be difficult to see at some angles - and they're not illuminated; there's no zero-return - with one, you save time and irritation on long sessions; and a pair of dummy plugs sat in the Aux In sockets of my MR10, without explanation or obvious point.
A good box - and the direct comparison, cash-wise, must be with the X15. As we've seen, the MR10 beats that in several areas - but a minus point must be the Vesta's lack of battery operation. Also worth bearing in mind is that you're very likely to move up the recording gear ladder once you get hooked - and Tascam or Fostex gear tends to make an easier secondhand sale. However, if you like bargains and plan to keep the thing in one permanent workplace then note the fine value and smooth operation.