Multitrack Cassette Recorder
Affordable cassette multitrack with a few unexpectedly sophisticated features.
Yamaha's first truly portable cassette multitrack recorder is here investigated by Shirley Gray.
Yamaha have a very good reputation with regard to both style and sound quality and this was borne out by their previous cassette multitracker, the MT44D. Any new developments from Yamaha in this region are likely to be worth examining. However, unlike the MT44D, the MT1X has a built-in mixer and is therefore Yamaha's first portable multitrack unit. There are a number of similar units on the market at present, notably the Fostex X15, the Vesta Fire MR10 and the Tascam Porta One though the MT1X has the important advantage that all four tracks may be recorded simultaneously. So how does it fare with respect to the competition? Without further ado we'll take a look at how it's put together.
The Yamaha MT1X appears to be made of a rigid, black plastic and uncannily resembles a Star Wars spaceship, (or possibly Darth Vader's codpiece... Ed). The legend is green, in keeping with other Yamaha products, and the whole unit has been designed to be as cuboid as possible; many of the controls are sliders which have been inset so that they are flush with the front surface. The knobs used are round and flat, similar in size and shape to a 1p piece but slightly concave. The unit is powered by an AC adaptor which is supplied, but if you require complete portability a battery pack is available. A carrying strap is also provided, with well-designed secure clips and a non-slip rubber shoulder pad. Physically the MT1X measures 365mm x 26mm x 225mm and weighs 2.5kg, so it's quite small and light.
Along the front panel are six ¼" jack sockets; four labelled 1 to 4 which are the inputs for each respective channel. These have the capability of handling both mic and line levels; one socket is labelled Phones (and this is not surprisingly for headphones), and one, Punch-In/Out, for the optional FS-1 footswitch for performing remote punch-in/punch out operations.
Moving to the rear panel, next to the Power switch and the DC In socket we find Sync Out and In for use with the optional YMC10 MIDI converter (this will be explained later); four Tape Outs which output the signal of the tracks being recorded when recording, and the signal off tape when playing back - for use when mixing down with an external mixer or transferring to another machine. Next to these are the stereo outputs, an Aux Send and two Aux Returns (left and right for stereo effects return). If your effects device is mono, then plugging into either of these sockets sends the signal to both left and right channels. These can also be used as inputs from a stereo line level source, such as an external mixer. Unusually, the meters are LED bargraph types rather than moving coil VU meters.
"I could hardly tell the difference between the playback off tape and the original."
The tape runs at normal hi-fi cassette speed (4.75cm/sec or 1⅞ips) and is configured to use CrO2 tape only. Switchable DBX noise reduction is employed, and pitch control (±10%) is available. The slider for this is located above the tape deck and has a centre detente to indicate the position for normal running speed. The recorder has the usual controls, with all the usual mechanical switches. Pressing Play followed by FF or Rew allows you to hear the signal on tape as it winds or rewinds.
Setting up record levels is achieved while the Pause and Rec buttons are depressed, and the signal to be recorded is selected by four Record Select Switches labelled 1 to 4 which have a red LED indicating recording status. Each Record Select switch has a centre Off position, and pushing the switch down selects Record on tracks 1, 2, 3 or 4, the signal to be recorded being obtained from the respective input channel. Pushing the switches up enables the output of the left and right busses to be recorded; the left onto tracks 1 or 3, the right onto 2 or 4. This enables you to mix any or all of the four inputs together and record them onto one track (or two if you're recording in stereo), which is very useful for recording a drum kit, for example. The tape deck also has a counter with a reset button, and an on/off button to select Zero Stop. If this is set to On, the tape will stop during rewinding when the tape counter shows 999.
Using the Sync In and Out sockets in conjunction with the Sync switch effectively bypasses the noise reduction system and EQ on Track 1 so you can record timecodes onto this track without fear of the DBX corrupting the signal, which I have found to be a problem in the past. In addition Yamaha have come up with a useful system for people who want to synchronise their MIDI instruments to tape, utilising the optional extra YMC10 MIDI converter I mentioned earlier. What this device is doing is turning the MIDI synchronising signal into a form that tapes and tape machines can handle, and reversing the procedure on playback. This was specifically designed for use with their own drum machines and sequencers which don't have an inbuilt sync-to-tape facility such as the RX11, RX15, RX21, QX1 and QX7. Presumably this will also work with other MIDI drum machines.
"I also found on the review model that the level set with the meters when recording didn't quite match the level they showed on playback..."
The Yamaha MT1X has a fairly simple 4-channel mixer which can be used both when recording and playing back, unlike some similar machines which have only two channels, or will only let you use the mixer when recording onto tape, which has obvious disadvantages when you're trying to set up EQs. For each channel there is a 3-position switch to select input, tape or off, a gain control slider marked Mic at one extreme setting and Line at the other for matching up mic and line level inputs, and a fader controlling the volume of that channel. Electronically the faders appear before the EQ section so in the manual they are referred to as input faders (ie. input to the channel) whereas in actual fact you would also use them to set your output levels for each track on mixdown. To the right of these is a Master fader which controls the overall level of the input faders, the stereo mix level for the monitor section, the record level when bouncing, and the output level of the Stereo Out jacks. To the right of the Master fader are two sliders; the Aux Master Send and Return which control the overall level of signals sent to and returning from your effects.
The Pan control for each channel is situated above the faders and is for creating a stereo picture on mixdown, or selecting the left or right buss when bouncing or mixing several inputs together. Above each panpot is the EQ section consisting of two sliders, a Hi and a Lo which alter a range of frequencies centred around 10kHz and 100Hz respectively, offering a 10dB cut or boost. Each channel has its own Aux effect send slider which is situated next to the Lo slider, and above these are the peak level meters which contain 14 LEDs, nine of them green and five red. These are switchable from 4 Trk (when they will show the input level to tape and the playback level off tape) to Stereo, when meters 1 and 2 (also marked Land R) show the level of the signal output through the Stereo Out jacks.
Finally there's a volume control for headphones, and a 3-position switch labelled Stereo, Monitor and Mix to let you choose what will appear at the Phones jack; Stereo to monitor the signal output through the Stereo Out jacks, Monitor for monitoring the signal of each track when in record or playback, the level and stereo picture being dependent on the positions of the four Monitor Level and four Monitor Pan controls, and Mix, which allows you to hear the sound heard in the Stereo position and the Monitor position combined.
"Yamaha have thoughtfully catered for people who want to record sync-codes onto tape by providing them with the facility to by-pass the noise reduction system on Track 1."
Happily, Yamaha have supplied an incredibly helpful manual with their MT1X, and it really is easy to learn to use. The controls are well arranged and clearly labelled, and being so small and light you'd have no problems carrying it around. So, how does it perform? Well, I found the sound quality surprisingly good. I could hardly tell the difference between the playback off tape and the original. The DBX works very well as a noise reduction system and there was barely any noise to speak of, although it has a slightly detrimental effect on high pitched transient sounds such as drum machine hi-hats which made them sound a little ragged, though to be honest you'd have to be an absolute Hi-fi snob to let this offend you! The EQ section, although not particularly flash, is adequate for most user's needs I should think. Punching in and out using the Record Select switches is fairly clean (ie. no clicks) though it's best to punch in and out during a small gap (as indeed is the case with many machines). Before punching in you are able to monitor what's on all four tracks plus the instrument you are about to record, using headphones with the Phones Select switch set to Mix, which is very useful as it means you can practise along to the tape right up to the point where you have to punch in. In the connections department, they seem to have included everything you might need, except I felt it was a shame that they didn't have the output of the monitor section appearing on the back panel so you could have the option of running the monitor mix through your amp and speaker set-up. After all there are occasions such as when recording keyboard overdubs when you don't necessarily want to have to use headphones. Of course you can get round this by using a stereo jack-to-two phonos adapter, which you can buy at most electronics shops, plugged into the Phones socket. I also found on the review model that the level set with the meters when recording didn't quite match the level they showed on playback, which was confusing at first.
The Yamaha MT1X is a very stylish, portable unit which is capable of producing good quality recordings. In this respect the DBX noise reduction seems to have less severe side effects than are apparent on competing machines, though I'm not sure why Yamaha have foresaken the excellent Dolby C system. Perhaps it's politics or something of the sort.
Also, you may record on all four tracks at once, and it has a 4-channel mixer with 2-band EQ and one auxiliary send which you can use both when recording and when mixing down. The unit is easy to operate with a clearly written manual which takes you through just about every possible recording situation. In addition, Yamaha have thoughtfully catered for people who want to record sync-codes onto tape by providing them with the facility to by-pass the noise reduction system on Track 1. The nearest competitor for this product is the Tascam Porta One, and in fact the designers seem to have 'borrowed' quite a lot from this unit and tried to improve upon it. In terms of features and looks they have probably succeeded. At the price, this makes it without doubt worthy of consideration as the basis for a small home studio with the added benefits of complete portability should you wish to take your studio on location.
The Yamaha MT1X costs £450 including VAT, and further details are available from: Yamaha-Kemble Ltd, (Contact Details).
Review by Shirley Gray
mu:zines is the result of thousands of hours of effort, and will require many thousands more going forward to reach our goals of getting all this content online.
If you value this resource, you can support this project - it really helps!