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Yamaha MT120

4-track Cassette Recorder

Yamaha's new MT120 cassette 4-tracker improves further on their successful MT100, offering excellent features including 5-band graphic EQ; Dave Lockwood boldly goes where even the manual hasn't gone before.



The MT120 4-track cassette machine from Yamaha has a typically 'entry-level' configuration, although its switchable normal/high-speed transport enables it to offer superior audio performance to many models in this sector of the market. Distinctively styled, despite the preponderance of matt-black, and of sensibly compact dimensions, the unit closely matches most of its rivals on basic features, but with the one unusual addition of a dual 5-band graphic EQ across the stereo bus.

As usual with Yamaha, build quality and the general feel of the product in use is excellent. Although this type of unit should always be intrinsically simple to operate, in practice many examples are not. The MT120, however, never obscures functionality with its styling, and introduces no non-standard multitracking procedures or terminology; full marks for that. Less satisfactory though is the fact that Yamaha seem to have overlooked the possible requirement for additional inputs into the stereo bus for sequenced MIDI sources being run 'live' into the mix. This is now acknowledged, to some extent, by most other manufacturers' entry-level designs, even if they don't all go as far as Fostex's X28. The curious thing about the MT120 is that there is a way in which you can actually achieve a respectable nine sources at mixdown; however, you'd never know that unless you were inclined to go looking for it. The manual makes no reference to the possibility! I'll explain later.

Unusually for a compact-chassis recorder, the MT120 utilises an on-board power supply, with detachable mains lead (dual round-pin, reversable-polarity connector). Yet again, however, access for the all-important cleaning and de-magnetising processes is hindered by the flip-up cover for the cassette housing, which only tilts up to about 45 degrees. Surely it can't be too difficult to design a cover that is readily detachable, or which tilts back right out of the way?

INPUTS



The MT120 offers four main fader-controlled inputs, plus a stereo aux return, although the channel facilities are restricted to just pan and auxiliary send controls. The only EQ provided is via the stereo bus, but as this can be used as a tape send, it is possible to EQ individual signals during recording, but not on mixdown — now a fairly common configuration in this type of unit. The MT120's EQ is a bit more sophisticated than most however, offering +/-10dB at each of five bands: 100Hz; 400Hz; 1kHz; 5kHz; 10kHz ('Q' = 0.7). You can certainly do a bit more with it than just basic sweetening or 'top-loss pre-compensation'. Although all the faders are centre-detented at the flat position, the entire EQ stage can be switched out, when necessary — switching-in with everything set flat introduces no undue noise.

Input from the four 1/4" jacks along the front edge of the chassis is controlled by a mic/line gain sensitivity slider next to the main fader. Channel source switching selects either mic/line or the off-tape signal at the input, with the track record-select logic determining the destination. Pan is via large rotary controls, whilst the channel auxiliary offers a post-fader effect send facility via a short-throw fader.

NOISE



The input amplifier stage performs well enough, provided you stick to line-level or close-miked sources, and follow the manual's sensible guidelines on maximising headroom. With the powerful dbx noise-reduction system employed (NR can be switched out on track 4 for sync code usage), tape noise is reduced to the point where input noise is often more significant. You can certainly be a little more conservative than normal with levels onto tape.

If you go looking for problems with the dbx, you will find them; record either a bass drum or a bass guitar (particularly one with very little mid or HF content) on its own and you will hear a small burst of unmasked tape noise accompanying every note or hit, if you are monitoring loud enough. This is an inevitable consequence of employing the dbx system's full-range compander approach in an inherently noisy situation, and much is made of it by the makers of rival NR systems.

Personally I am inclined to say "so what"; how often in 4-track recording do you actually get to record a bass drum on its own track? Most of the time the input signal will have enough HF content to effectively mask noise shadowing. If you are sequencing bass and drums anyway, and recording only signals such as vocals and guitars on tape, then so much the better, and you might as well have the advantage of minimal tape noise that the dbx system offers — in normal usage I think the benefits easily outweigh the occasional side-effect.

Both electronically, and off-tape, the MT120 is a very quiet machine compared to some of its competitors, achieving 85dB s/n ratio (3% THD) and 40Hz to 18kHz (+/-3dB) frequency response, at the higher (9.5cm/sec) tape speed setting.

Although the MT120 has only a very basic mechanical tape counter, there are four decent (15-segment) bargraph meters, switchable between track and stereo bus levels. The electronic transport control logic provides 'cue' monitoring when a wind mode is entered from Play without going via Stop. Zero-return is incorporated, but no zero-return-and-play for some reason; surely this is fairly basic? The optional RCM1 remote control unit (wired) was supplied with the review set-up. Considering the size of the hand-set, its transport controls are ludicrously small. I don't suppose anybody knows why they are not simply a duplicate of those on the machine itself which are a far more operationally convenient size?

RECORDING



The MT120 follows the usual procedure of routing each input to its own track (ie. channel 1 to track 1), with channels 1 and 3 going also to the left side of the stereo bus, whilst 2 and 4 feed the right side. Record Select switches allow each track to pick up either the direct input or the bus signal (via the EQ if desired), so it is possible for any input to address any track via panning, and simultaneous recording on all four tracks is feasible. If you are recording with a microphone in the same room as the MT120 you might find the unusually loud transport solenoid 'clunk' a bit of a problem however. Although there is a footswitch drop-in facility, there is no rehearse (tape/input monitor flip) function to help set up a level match.

Independent monitor mix sliders are provided, alongside the stereo master fader, with the monitor source being switchable between the stereo bus, the monitor fader sub-mix, or a combination of both. It is this 'Mix' position that allows the nine remix inputs; by using the dedicated Monitor Output phonos to feed the mastering machine, rather than the stereo bus pair, the tape tracks can be controlled from the monitor faders whilst MIDI sources utilise the input channels and, if necessary, the aux returns. The tape-based element of the mix will be mono in this configuration, with no access to the aux buss, and only the 'live' sources will pass through the EQ. You will also have to use the rotary monitor pot as the master level control (the master fader will only control a sub-mix of the extra inputs). OK, so it's a bit of a compromise, but you can do it if you need to, and I certainly would have thought it worth mentioning somewhere in the manual.

CONCLUSION



The MT120 is a well-engineered 4-track cassette system, reflected in a subjectively high standard of performance in all areas. The 'no channel EQ' principle is now readily accepted, and the configuration has slightly more flexibility in operation than is at first evident, for those who are prepared to really push gear to its limits. The inclusion of direct tape outputs allows the unit to be readily incorporated into a larger system with a more sophisticated mixer, and adds further possibilities for processing individual tracks at mixdown (by feeding the tape-out to an effect and returning it to the line input). Yamaha's new MT120 makes no claims to be offering anything particularly innovative, but everything it does, it does to a high standard. In a market with priorities as diverse as the 4-track cassette sector, there is certain to be room for this specification.

Further information

MT120 £399 inc VAT; Remote £32.

Yamaha-Kemble Music, (Contact Details).

YAMAHA MT120 SPECIFICATIONS

Input impedance (all inputs): 10kOhm
Input level: -56dB (Gain Max) to +10dB (Gain Min)
Output impedance (all line outputs): 1kOhm
Output level (all line outputs): -10dB
H/phone o/p: Load impedance 8 to 40 Ohms,
Max. o/p level 45mW per ch.
Tape speed: Switchable 9.5cm/s - 4.75cm/s
Varispeed: +/-10%
Wow and flutter: <0.12% WRMS
Frequency response: 40Hz to 18kHz (9.5cm/s, dbx out, +/-3dB)
40Hz to 13kHz (4.75cm/s, dbx out, +/-3dB)
Distortion: 1.0% (315Hz, -10dB Rec Level, dbx on)
S/N ratio: 85dB (dbx on, IHF-A)
Channel separation: >65dB @ 1kHz
Erasure ratio: >70dB @ 1kHz
Record/play head type: 4-channel Permalloy
Erase head type: 4-channel Ferrite
Tape type: IEC Type II (High bias, 70μs EQ)
Dimensions (WxHxD): 410 x 80.8 x 237mm



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Star Wires


Sound On Sound - Copyright: SOS Publications Ltd.
The contents of this magazine are re-published here with the kind permission of SOS Publications Ltd.

 

Sound On Sound - Feb 1992

Review by Dave Lockwood

Previous article in this issue:

> Cyber-Tribal World Funkateer...

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> Star Wires


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