Yamaha MT44 Cassette System
The choice of 4-track cassette recording systems is ever expanding. From it's humble beginnings back in the seventies this area of the market has drawn the interest of several of the audio industry's giants and each has had their own ideas concerning the direction in which the format should go.
One school of thought which seems to be gaining in popularity is the modular system, that is to say a system which can be bought bit by bit: the mixer, the tape deck, the speakers etc. This is as opposed to the original all-in-one concept, and the idea is that should the buyer already have one of these items, eg. the band's PA desk, he or she isn't forced into wasting money duplicating the facility.
Along with the wide range of available systems comes a commensurately wide range of prices, and more recently there has been somewhat of an accent on keeping the cost down to suit the pocket of the less decadent musician. In this vein Yamaha have recently launched a new system under their 'Producer Series' heading. It consists of a simple 4-track cassette deck, an equally simple 4/2 mixer and a patch bay providing easy access to most major inputs and outputs including insert points for the connection of auxiliary signal processors. All three units plus a lead/oddments box fit neatly into a purpose built rack giving the impression of one single, compact system.
Also purpose built for use with the system, although of course of equal use with other equipment, are the MS10 self-powered 20 watt monitor loudspeakers. However, for the purposes of this review I was only supplied with the three main components, and so I can comment no further on the rack, the box or the speakers.
Each unit is constructed from lightweight grey plastic with silver and pale blue markings and has a simple, smart appearance. The overall feel is closer to hi-fi than professional studio equipment, but this is not necessarily a criticism as no one wants to spend large sums of money buying a set up that can stand life on the road when it's only going to sit on a table in the living room. This is not an expensive system after all.
Save for the stereo headphone jack socket on the front panel, the only way in or out of this machine is via the four line-in and four line-out phono sockets at the rear. These operate at the lower industry standard line level of -10dB, and as there are no microphone level inputs you are more or less obliged to use the recorder with a mixer or mic amp of some kind.
The front panel contains four record level knobs above which are four associated safe/record ready buttons with their four, dual colour indication LEDs: green to show record ready status and red to indicate that the track is actually in record, whether it be with the machine running or in the pause mode. Above the LEDs is a row of four, 7-segment bargraph meters showing green from -20dB to -3dB and red for the three remaining LEDs from 0dB to +6dB. They seem to exhibit a peak reading response and work comfortably in practice.
Although the tape counter is only mechanical there is a useful feature which can be switched whereby in the rewind mode the machine will automatically either stop or go into play upon reaching zero. This is useful for the continuous rounds of overdubbing and replay inherent in the multitrack process. It isn't possible to have the machine jump into record/play automatically however, which is both a limitation and, perhaps more importantly, a safeguard.
Worthy of note is the nature of the transport controls: stop, play, fast forward and rewind are all combined on a single pressure pad, and each command is defined by applying pressure to the relevant part of the pad; it's very easy in practice, the transport is perhaps a little sluggish in the wind modes, but unless you're charging money, what's a few seconds between friends.
For most people a system of this kind represents a considerable financial investment. Double standard tape play speeds and choice of noise reduction systems has previously limited this type of equipment to home recording. The MT44 on the other hand is compatible with the normal domestic cassette format, runs at 1⅞ips and offers both Dolby B and the more upmarket Dolby C noise reduction facilities.
The idea is that if only one member of the band or writing team owns an MT44, the others involved can record their ideas on the two tracks of their hi-fi cassette machines and finish them off on the remaining two tracks of the 4-track machine. In this way you could quite easily co-write by post. Definitely a stroke of genius.
The trade-in for this extra convenience is a slight loss in quality as compared to the higher speed machines running at 3¾ips. However the difference isn't so great, and only really becomes significant when multiplied by the bouncing process. Excellent value as the centre of a home demoing system.
This is a 4/2 mixer of unusual design. When recording, the four input channels are not routable, that is to say input 1 is connected directly to track 1, input 2 to track 2 and so on, although cross patching is a simple matter with the patch bay if you have it. On mixdown, the signals returning from the tape recorder can be panned between the main left and right outputs for stereo imaging.
A built-in, 7-band graphic equaliser is permanently in circuit with all input channels on both record and remix. This makes it awkward to use when recording backing tracks using several instruments at a time, although for most bedroom based, one man home recording situations it would probably be very useful.
Working down from the top of each channel we have a mic/line/tape input source selection switch, followed by a single tone control not dissimilar to the type found on an inexpensive practice amp. It is strange to find such a limited channel facility on a mixer designed for recording although for most practical applications it is true to say that the graphic would probably help the situation a great deal.
Next in line is an echo level control which works in conjunction with a master echo fader to provide, in a single send/return function, access to the internal electronic reverb facility. The effect is not very natural, but might just help to liven up a drum machine or a lifeless synth etc. The channel is completed by a pan control and channel fader.
To the right are the three master faders: main stereo output level, echo, and 'aux in', which controls the level of any line source connected to the 'aux in' socket on the rear panel. This can be used for bringing in an external source during mix-down.
Metering is in the form of a pair of horizontal, 7-segment LED bargraphs, in circuit across the main stereo outputs. Their graduations and response are similar to those on the MT44.
A rather limited console although it does have the advantage of lightness, compactness and the ability to fit into the Yamaha rack should you eventually want to go for the complete system.
This offers easy access to all mixer/cassette line inputs and outputs allowing insertion of external effects and processors. With the exception of 'Line Out' and 'Aux In', all connections are via ¼" jack sockets. This type of connector is substantially more expensive than its phono alternative but does offer the 'break jack' facility as found on professional patch bays.
The MT44 is most certainly an excellent machine for those who have access to a mixer and offers the significant advantage of domestic machine compatibility. The MM30 mixer and PB44 patch bay, whilst not bad, aren't so impressive, and unless you want something to fit neatly into the Yamaha rack, there are possibly better alternatives on the market.
The recommended retail prices including VAT are as follows: MT44 £399; MM30 £199; PB44 £79 and MS10 speakers £129 (each).
Further Information from Yamaha, (Contact Details).
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