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Home Recording (Part 3)

Part 3 of the 8-track At Home review by Nobby Line


THE TEAC Tascam 122 Cassette Recorder

It's always puzzled me how many bands or writers will spend hundreds of pounds on studio time to produce a professional sounding ¼in demo, and then make half-a-dozen really average cassette copies to take around to record companies and publishers. From the studio point of view, it may be routine to do a daily alignment check on the multitrack and mastering machines, yet more often than not the cassette is overlooked as unimportant.

One of the main problems is, of course, that many lower priced machines aren't really alignable, and even though they have a normal/chrome/metal switch, it isn't possible to really get the best out of the cassette being used. One of the beauties of using a 3-head machine like the Teac Tascam 122 is that you can monitor off-tape whilst recording, and it is this facility that makes really critical alignment possible.

In addition to a 3-way tape type switch as mentioned above, the 122 has an override button which allows a more precise alignment of bias and record levels. The owner's manual gives a set of simple instructions to achieve this which include the use of a test oscillator emitting what I reckon to be a rather pedantic set of frequencies — 400Hz, 12.5kHz and 6.3kHz for level, HF and bias adjustments respectively. However, if you have a cheap oscillator which can only get as close as 500Hz, 10kHz and 5kHz, or thereabouts, those frequencies will do just as well in the event, and if you don't have an oscillator at all, but you do have a synth, you should be able to use its sinewave function to do the job, as long as you can establish, by reference to a friend's oscillator, which notes relate which frequencies. The fact is that after you've been through all the baloney with the oscillators and so forth, the final bias and record level adjustments are best done by ear, whilst listening to the programme which you intend to record, and if you haven't always got the time for the full works, the alignment facility is still absolutely invaluable for this purpose.

The 122 takes 5¼in. of rack space with a good deal of style, and not only does it look good but it also offers a comprehensive set of facilities of definite use in the studio. In addition to the line in and line out connections on the rear panel, a third pair of phonos is located on the front of the machine providing a second set of line-ins which can be switch selected in preference to the main sockets. This really is extremely useful, as it means that you can leave the machine 'plumbed in' to its normal source, and still be able to quickly connect occasional sources without fumbling around at the back of the rack, or at the back of the pile of equipment if you don't have a rack. It also features normal and double tape speed, and although it isn't quite standard enough for use with the outside world in general, for the compilation of an in-house library, the quality is notably superior at the higher speed.

At first, I thought the machine was a little noisy with regard to tape hiss, but as I got used to it I found that it was the metering that tended to play it a little too safe as far as record levels go, and that by monitoring off tape during record, I could bring the level up well past the meter's apparent maximum, without audible distortion. By putting the original programme through the M-35's Eq, and correcting for what I heard coming off cassette during record, I was able to make some extremely impressive cassette copies.

The deck has full logic control with a very smooth, quick response, and the functions include a record mute button, which mutes the inputs in the record mode, providing a simple means of inserting blank periods between tracks etc. The same remote which can be used for the 2 or 8-track machines can equally well be used with the 122, making it possible to have all three machines operated from one central position. Luxury! The mechanical tape position counter is usably accurate and works in conjunction with a defeatable memory facility which can be set so that in the rewind mode, on reaching zero, it either simply stops or goes into play. This would be very useful if you were actually mixing down to cassette where you might be doing take after take to get it right, and the repeated manual location of zero can become strangely taxing.

Another simple but pleasing addition is that of a volume control associated with the stereo headphone output, which unusually has enough power to drive studio impedance headphones (maybe 200 or 600ohms) at a good volume.

Noise reduction facilities are switchable between none, Dolby B or Dolby B with Dolby HX, headroom extension processing. Within the machine itself, that is recording and playing back on the same 122, both settings worked extremely well and had very little negative effect on the timbre of the recordings. The problem, as always, is whether or not someone else's machine will line up properly; in the event I usually leave it out. It's a pity that on such a high quality unit the newer Dolby C is not incorporated, although at double speed with Dolby B and HX, the quality was quite outstanding. Any other form of noise reduction can be put into circuit via a set of stereo send/return phono sockets on the rear panel, and so dbx or Dolby C are by no means ruled out. The price of the 122 is rather high (about £420) but be careful not to underestimate the importance of being able to produce quality cassette copies or even masters; in this area it won't let you down.

The effects/signal processors

THE REBIS RA200 Modular Signal Processing System. R.R.P. £552.00.

As I said in the first article introducing this set up, signal processors are of the utmost importance in achieving high quality recordings, and whilst there are some extremely impressive rack mounting units on the market from a number of manufacturers, for the small studio or home recording, a modular system is compact and cost effective. Of all the modular systems on the market, the Rebis RA200 Series is the most compact, the most comprehensive and probably about the best value of them all. It includes at present 24 different modules including three different standards of patch modules (¼in phone jacks, GPO jacks and Bantam jacks), three frame sizes to take three, eight or seventeen modules, including flight case designs for on the road use, and three different styles of power supply.

I was lent a 17-way portable rack unit measuring 19in by 5¼in, which in addition to the modules I'm about to discuss, contained a 20-way patch bay to provide access to them all. Each module is based on a single PCB (printed circuit board) with a protective metal plate, and slides along top and bottom runner guides to mate with its relevant edge connector mounted at the rear of the main frame. It is held in place by a single finger screw, but everything is mechanically so precise that there is no fear of looseness or misalignment. The standard of the PCB's (printed circuit boards) and internal wiring is very high, and the whole system feels solid, reliable and professional. These were the modules included in the rack which we ran with our system.


RA203 Compressor/Limiter RRP £130.15

A single channel, fully variable compressor with the following variables:

Threshold — Continuously variable between -20dBm and + 10dBm.
Compression Ratio — Continuously variable between 1:1 (no compression) and 40:1 (limit).
Release Time — Continuously variable between 50 milliseconds and 3 seconds.
Attack Time — Continuously variable between a fast 20 microseconds and 1.5 milliseconds.

Next to the bypass switch is a link switch which allows two 203's, preferably a factory matched pair, to be used for stereo or other interactive applications. The row of four LED's used for metering gain reduction take a little getting used to because their values change as the compression ratio is altered. However, although this could be seen as a problem, it does give them far greater resolution than if their values were fixed, because at ratios of 40:1 you might be reading gain reductions of up to 15dB whereas using a gentle slope of 2:1 on a vocal, you might only be producing 3 — 4dB changes. In both cases the LED's will show you what's going on, and it's surprising how quickly you get used to the changing values idea.

Overall, I found the RA203 to be a simple but flexible compressor, straightforward in operation and effective in practice.

RA201 Noise Gate RRP £81.65

A fully adjustable, keyable noise gate with the following variables:

Threshold — Continuously variable between -40dBm and +20dBm
Attenuation — Continuously variable between 2dB and 40dB.
Release Time — 50 milliseconds and 10 seconds.
Attack Time — 20 microseconds and 4 milliseconds.

All these ranges are more than adequate for most applications and allow a good degree of unobtrusive control over anything from a smooth bass guitar to a sharp snare drum. When using a drum machine, the addition of a gate with variable attack time greatly increases the scope of the synthesised snare and kick drum sounds like by allowing their envelopes to be altered and removing the over-fast transient nature present with certain models — it really is a vast improvement. The key input also lets you use one sound to gate another; for instance, with the snare drum, having achieved a fairly fat sound, it is possible to key a source of white or pink noise onto the front of it to give it a variety of unusual or electronic characteristics. That's just one of a number of very useful facilities that a good gate can offer, and the 201 performs very well, especially considering its price. (cont. next month).

Series - "Studio Check"

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Part 1 | Part 3 (Viewing) | Part 4

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Fair's Fair

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Roland Boss SCC Sound Control Centre

Music UK - Copyright: Folly Publications


Music UK - Jul 1983


Home Studio



Studio Check

Part 1 | Part 3 (Viewing) | Part 4

Gear in this article:

Cassette (Stereo) > Tascam > 122

Studio FX > Rebis Audio > RA200

Gear Tags:

2 Track
1⅞ ips (4.75cm/s)

Feature by Nobby Line

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> Fair's Fair

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> Roland Boss SCC Sound Contro...

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