Akai MG614 Recorder
Close to £1,400 is a lot of folding to pay for a four track cassette machine, so how does the Akai earn its crust?
Firstly, it's not strictly four track, but sort of five. With so much home recording now revolving around MIDI linked sequencers and drum machines, it makes sense to use one of your four tracks to carry a sync signal that triggers all the sequenced material on final mixdown. Akai have gone one further to give the MG614 an invisible fifth track designed to carry the sync info, still leaving you a quartet of other tracks to record on. The signal is converted to a high (23KHz) frequency modulation code and recorded on track one, alongside (or rather above) your normal immaculate playing. There's a compromise. For the Akai to easily reinterpret the sync on playback, a 10KHz filter switches in to subdue interfering high harmonics from the music. So stick to bass parts on track 1, or you'll lose top end.
It's a six channel mixer, as you will have gathered, with excellent twin parametrics which can be switched in and out for comparison. Useful.
But the major investment has been in the tape control. There are four, assignable memory positions (set by tapping a 'capture' button as the desired moment flashes by). They can be sought out quickly by memory search, or automatically shuttled between while you rehearse (ie write) your next part. To have the machine get on with the rewinding, positioning and switching to play while you concentrate on the music is one of those horrible luxuries that spoils you for life for normal portastudios.
The no-expense-spared approach spreads out to include the robust case and padded arm rest, unfaultable construction quality (couldn't pull off a single knob) and easy access (all the input sockets are faceup on a strip at the rear, including two balanced mike XLR sockets).
The dbx noise reduction works fine, but is switchable if you're not a fan, as is the tape speed — 1⅞ and 3¾ alternatives, again getting the most for your money.
In operation it's smooth, easy, and lets you get on with the music. The fifth track is not as liberating as you might expect. You can't bounce down track 1 when the sync signal is encoded, so the real benefit is for a four pass recording, plus sequencers straight to mix down, it's luxurious, but it's musicianly. If you have settled on four track recording as your medium, and you want to be efficient about it, this is the boy.
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Review by Paul Colbert
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