Dave Ward enthuses over this very useful aid to multitrack control.
QuPlay have come up with a completely new product probably best described as a Nightmare Relief Device.
And now, dear engineer, close your eyes and recall a nightmare. It is 3.30 in the morning. You have been behind the mixer in this fuggy atmosphere for 18½ hours and the guitar hero is attempting his solo for the ninety-third time. You are about to drop-in the last two bars on track 14 for the umpteenth time: 'Oh Shit!' you have pressed button 13 by mistake and wiped out two bars of lead vocal... This nightmare can now be a thing of the past thanks to QuPlay.
The QuPlay QP1 is a tape programming aid that has three main functions: Firstly it memorises drop-in and drop-out points. Secondly it can be used to trigger external devices such as sequencers and drum machines at programmed points, in addition to which it can be used as a standard tape transport remote control.
The QP1 measures 17cm x 11cm x 15cm and isn't a heavy device so with its long remote cable it's comfortable to hold in the hand whilst you wander around the control room, seeking inspiration. The front panel of the QP1 is set out in two separate sections: the first section is the standard remote control, with normal play, stop, record, fast forward and fast rewind functions. This section of six buttons also has a button marked Locate which will send the multitrack tape recorder spinning back to its pre-programmed drop-in point. The tape recorder will often overshoot this point by a small margin because the QP1 will instruct the machine to stop; the overshoot depends on the 'head of steam' that the spooling motors have built up at that point and the efficiency of the braking mechanism of the tape recorder. This is by no means a criticism of the QP1 - on the contrary, this system makes for very gentle tape handling, avoiding stretching your precious master tape.
The second section on the front panel of the QP1 is the business end. For its magical drop-in function there are five buttons and three easily identifiable lights from which you can tell the status of the machine at a glance.
So how exactly do you program in a drop-in point? There are five buttons, marked; Program, In, Out, Arm and Disarm. First it's necessary to press the program button which 'enables' the device. This done, it becomes poised to accept your instructions. In this mode a green light clearly marked 'program enable' tells us the situation. Having ascertained our drop-in point on the tape (with the tape recorder in or out of motion) we will press the In button. This drop-in point is now recorded in the QP1's memory. We can now fast forward or play through the track to our drop-out point where we will press the 'Out' button - and this point will also be recorded in the memory. It is now possible to play over this section and, as the machine passes the drop-in point, and orange 'window cue' light will illuminate staying lit until the drop-out point is passed. These drop-in and dropout points are very precise and more will be said about this later.
"The QP1 now solves this and at £299 plus VAT must be one of the best bargains around."
In this mode the QuPlay won't actually drop into record because it has not been 'armed', but this function is very useful for checking our drop-in/out points.
To arm the little beast, (ie. to put it into its record ready mode), it is necessary to press both the Arm and Disarm buttons at the same time. These buttons have been wisely positioned some distance apart, so it would be difficult for even an extremely tired and emotional engineer to press them both by mistake. Once armed, a red light will indicate this status of the QuPlay and as the tape is played, the tape recorder will drop into record on those tracks selected, as the drop-in point is passed. The tape recorder will drop-out of record immediately the drop-out point is reached.
On the rear of the unit there are two switches. Switch 2 we will talk about later, our concern with the arming of the device brings us to switch 1 at the moment. In one position of this switch it is necessary for us to 're-arm' the device every time we want to have the QuPlay drop the tape recorder into record. In the second position the switch will by-pass the disarming function after the first pass of the tape. Both these positions are very handy... Position 1 ensures that you don't by accident wipe out the perfect drop-in you've been trying so hard to achieve and position 2 means that you don't have to arm the QP1 every time you want to drop-in on a particular section. But beware in this latter position that you don't cause the disaster mentioned in the last sentence.
On the rear of the unit there are two jack sockets (number 2 will be covered later) but number 1 which takes a standard ¼" mono jack plug is a foot switch input which has a couple of very nifty uses.
"We found that in fact its accuracy was much better than this. On our B16 it was nearer 60mS or 1" of tape at 15ips."
First of all, when the QuPlay is in the 'program enable' mode, the first press of the foot switch memorises the drop-in point and the second press memorises the drop-out point. This obviously leaves the engineers hands free to reach for the aspirin or bottle of stronger substance needed to calm jagged nerves. The other very useful function of the foot switch is when QuPlay is not in the program enable mode, pressing the foot switch allows the operator to shift the entire record window to another position on the tape. For example, if a record window of thirty second duration was programmed to begin at 000 metres on the tape and you found that you wanted that thirty second window to begin at tape time 2 minutes the use of the foot switch will allow you to do this in one simple operation (ie. pressing the foot switch at 2 minutes).
And now we come to switch 2 and socket 2 on the rear of the QP1; a trigger output facility. Using switch 2 on the rear panel the unit can be set to provide a brief closure at both the punch-in and punch-out points or, in the second position, the socket will provide a continuous closure commencing at the punch-in and ending at the punch-out point. This trigger output can be used to start sequencers, drum machines or repeat holds and to stop them at the drop-out points. The trigger output is only active when the QuPlay is armed. This is a very useful function.
Although the QP1 has been designed for interfacing with the Otari MTR90 Mark 2 and the Otari MX70 machines, it will also interface with the Tascam 58 and 48 and Fostex A80s. For some time we have been using it with great success on the Fostex B16 which we use on the Gateway courses. The accuracy of the QuPlay is better than 200mS - after 16 passes of the machine this is an accuracy of 3" of tape at 15 inches per second (ips). We found that in fact its accuracy was much better than this. On our B16 it was nearer 60mS or 1" of tape at 15ips. This accuracy of course is dependent very much on the accuracy of the tape count mechanism of the machine and it is very important that all the service parameters of the tape recorder are carefully checked and serviced; particularly the tape count mechanism.
I was recently talking to Colin Thurston, producer of such notables as Duran Duran, Human League and Gary Newman. Colin told me that he had been using the QuPlay interfaced with his Otari 24-track for some time. He was very impressed with the device and apart from it obvious punch-in/punch-out functions, found many extremely useful procedures for the QP1, including very precise spot-erasing, track cleaning and the triggering of an infinite number of devices. I'm certainly glad that Colin told me about the device. My partner Mick Parker often works alone on the B16, recording music for film and commercials. He has nothing but praise for the device as the most useful remote control, time saving and 'hand-freeing' unit found to date. For many musicians working on their own dropping-in and out has, for a long time been a problem. The QP1 now solves this and at £299 plus VAT must be one of the best bargains around. What is more I no longer have to go to bed reading the nightmare that we started with; you don't know how near the truth that nightmare is. Goodnight. Sleep well.
Further information on the QP1 can be obtained from: QuPlay Ltd, (Contact Details).
Review by Dave Ward
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