Buying second-hand is always an immediately cheaper option to forking out for a new machine and, just like with old cars, you take a chance concerning its history and how reliable it's going to be. It is likely that the heads will have worn down to some extent, the mechanics of the transport will be a little more sloppy and the electronics may be a little more noisy than when they started out. The main problem is that if anything does go wrong you have to pay for it to be fixed whereas with new equipment you should be covered by some kind of warranty. It really is just like buying a second-hand car privately.
Here are the machines that have been but are no longer, or at least they are no longer current. For the most part they have gone by the wayside for very good reasons and you would be well advised to go for a possibly slightly less sophisticated new system; things have improved so much that even the simplest of machines nowadays are comparable with the old top-of-the-line models. Be careful out there.
The 250 was hottish on the heels of the original Teac Portastudio 144 and was a considerable improvement. Even when the somewhat more sophisticated Tascam 244 subsequently emerged it still held its ground as far as punter popularity mainly through its use of Dolby C which, together with its 3¾ips tape speed, produced what was for then unusually high quality recordings. Its four channels can be routed to any or all of the four tracks, it has four VU meters, two-band fixed eq, a drop-in/out footswitch and the main channel inputs are on the front. Each channel also has an auxiliary send intended to be used for foldback during tracking and as an effects send during mixdown.
Generally superior to the Teac 144 especially in terms of sound quality, though without the Teac's separate effects send or effects return.
The original from which sprang all portastudios, the 144 is now well and truly out of date although it still has one or two winning features. At between £300 and £350, it's hard to recommend them as a sensible buy when you can get the likes of a Porta One for a little more.
It runs at 3¾ips and uses Dolby B noise reduction yielding a reasonable result but not to be compared with the Dolby C and dbx systems now standard. Four input channels can be simultaneously routed to two tracks although it isn't possible to record all four tracks at a time. Each channel has an input trim, two-band fixed eq, a channel fader and, surprisingly, an auxiliary send. There's also an auxiliary return with adjustable level. There are four VU meters which our esteemed editor suggests are actually "virtually useless", making it hard to set optimum levels, and strong spikey synth sounds are liable to overload the inputs. Other unfortunate aspects are that there is not a drop-in/out footswitch and all the inputs are on the rear panel meaning that you're forever leaning over the thing to replug.
Interesting because it was the first, and of possible interest for its auxiliary send and return facilities not generally available on less expensive current models.
Surprisingly, it took Yamaha a while to get the hang of the portastudio business and the MT44 based system, in its two incarnations, remains as a record of the journey towards their only current model, the very presentable MT1X.
Both the MkI and the MkII versions are modular consisting of a deck, a mixer, a patchbay and a rack to put it all in. As I am a firm believer in the all-in-one design I have difficulty in recommending either system although the MkII is considerably nearer to being worthwhile than the original. The MkI deck runs at 1⅞ips with Dolby B and is capable of mildly okay results. The mixer is a highly unlikely four channel affair with very limited channel facilities including pan and a single 'Tone' control, although it does have the saving grace of a built-in seven-band graphic equaliser.
The MkII system is a considerable improvement running at 1⅞ips but using either Dolby B or C (switchable). The desk (RM602) is a 6:2 with a three-level input selector switch, two-band fixed eq and separate monitor and effects send controls on each channel plus a stereo effects return to the main buses and insert points.
The MkI is really very limited and can't be recommended unless it's offered at a very low price and you can't afford better. The MkII is much better, but at the price I really think you'd be better off going for an all-in-one model.
Gear in this article:
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