four track cassette
Looks are important on this machine. "But it's a tape recorder," you cry, "What's important is how it does its stuff and how it sounds, and not necessarily in that order." Quite right, too. But the MT1X (it has to have an X, of course) looks very different on the face of it to any other 4-track cassetter. It's black, very black. With green letters. And lots of flat slidey knobs. Very horizontal. Very vertical. It's a bit, well, confusing.
And one thing more, before we get on to the precious works and sounds. You can't see the cassette tape through the tape door, such is the overwhelming blackness. Now that's silly. How d'you know if the end of the tape's getting near? Or if you've put the wrong side on? Design is all very well, but practicality should over-rule.
Oh, just one more. When we switched on our MT1X the cassette motor made a noise, and carried on making a noise all the time we used it It worked perfectly, but should it really make this low-level but distinct squabbling?
Now onward, as promised. The direct comparison is Tascam's Porta One. There are similarities: four-channel mixer, dbx noise reduction, normal tape speed, two-band EQ per channel, pitch control, and so on. There are differences: the MT1X can record on all four tracks at once, has LED bar graphs rather than the Porta One's traditional meters, and offers a sync facility when linked to an optional MIDI box. The Porta One, however, is ready for battery or mains use when you buy it, whereas the MT1X needs a battery pack (another 21 quid) for portability. Give and take.
The actual recording processes that the MT1X employs are reasonably easy to grasp; if you're used to a simple X15 or similar you shouldn't suffer too much techno-fear.
The Record Select switches might throw you a bit at first - basically if you want to record on to, say, track 2 of the tape you set the switch to 2 (simple enough). But there are also 'L' and 'R' labels on each (for Left and right busses, or mix points) which come into action when you're bouncing a few tracks down to one, or recording from more than one input source to a single tape track.
The manual clarifies things there, and is generally a good example of Yamaha's words-and-pictures instruction books. However, even though the manual's examples are well explained, it doesn't always make it clear what to do if your own requirements differ slightly from these schemes. But given some common sense and a bit of head-scratching, you should be all right.
I used TDK SA tapes (as usual you must use chrome types) and they sounded good. I also took the opportunity to test TDK's brand new SF chrome tape. It's cheaper than SA, and sounds it - the highs aren't so crisp and there's less bite to the mids, though the bass remained tight. Good value, though.
But we must return to this element of confusion from the MT1X's design, in addition to the already noted colour scheme which doesn't exactly aid clarity and visibility. There is the matter, for example, of the Aux Master, dbx on/off, Phones Select, Meter Select, Sync on/off, and, for each of the four channels, the Tape/ Off/Mic-line, mic-line gain, EQ high and low, and Aux gain (a total of some 25 switches) all being of exactly the same type. Get my drift? It may help save Yamaha countless Yen in the knobs department, but it does make things confusing.
What did I like? The meters are very bright and very clear - you won't go wrong with these. The sounds off-tape were of a very high standard (I kept the dbx permanently switched on), with the extremes of bass and treble reproduced most faithfully, even if the stated 40Hz - 12.5kHz frequency response is not unusual among cassette multitrackers.
I also found all the interconnections I needed for FX fiddling, although (and not uniquely) another headphone socket would have been nice. The Sync for MIDI triggering sounds like it might help hightech chaps, but I didn't have the toys to try it.
In terms of list price, £470 (with the battery pack) puts it some 40 quid above the Porta One's retail, though in reality I imagine they'll sell for about the same. At that rate, unless I had stacks of synths and drum machines and could find a good use for the Sync facility, I'd still opt for the Porta One.
The MT1X's sound is up to standard, and cannot be faulted. The machine itself offers all the expected facilities, plus a few extras over the direct competition (for example, the MIDI-sync and four-tracks-at-once).
But it falls down on simple ease-of-use and operations clarity. I found it tiring to use, and it made me long for the cooler, easy-going Porta One, or indeed almost any of the other cassette 4-trackers. So take a long hard look, beyond the undoubtedly comforting word 'Yamaha', when you come to measure the MT1X against the other boxes you're offered.
Review by Tony Bacon
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