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The Tascam Way (Part 2)

Conclusion

The Teac 80-8 tape machine, Tascam Model 5 mixer and dbx DX-8 noise-reduction unit: last month we examined them individually, this month we look at them in combination.


Mel Lambert overlooks the Tascam gear in operation.


The system comprises an 8/4 mixer and an 8-track tape machine. It may seem strange, however, to connect an 8-track to a mixer that has only four outputs. But few people will want to record on all eight tracks at once (apart from multitrack recording of live performance; and more of that in the next section). So a mixer with eight outputs is rather a luxury. And an expensive luxury at that.

Trying to match eight into four does pose problems though — not serious ones, but they must be borne in mind when planning a recording session. Take the mixer line outputs and tape inputs for example. As we've seen, four outputs are available and four tape inputs. Any four tracks on the 80-8 can be selected for connection to these four sets, but for the sake of argument let's assume that they correspond to tracks 1 to 4. What do you do if you want to record on tracks 5 to 8? Well, there are several ways round this and the solution I chose was to use the parallel auxiliary outputs to connect submaster output 1 to track 5, submaster output 2 to track 6, etc. That way any input could be assigned via the necessary submasters to any track on the 80-8. Neat, huh?

The 'tape in' sockets of the Model 5 are not so easily sorted out. Their purpose, of course, is to provide connections from the output of the tape machine into the mixer. In particular, off-tape signals can be fed to the cue buss during overdubbing, without having to use the cue pot on an input channel. The setup works satisfactorily for the first four tracks of the 80-8, but then you run out of 'tape in' sockets on the Model 5. Of course, all eight tracks could be reconnected as the need arises, but I preferred to look for a way of having them connected permanently. (And don't forget that during mixdown of the 8-track recording into stereo, the tape machine outputs need to be connected to the mixer inputs. Having to sort out that number of inputs and outputs every time can be a real pain.)

The solution I came up with — and once again there must be alternatives — was to connect tracks 1 to 4 to the four 'tape in' sockets in the normal way, and then connect tracks 5 to 8 to 'line in' on channels 5 to 8. No was long as you don't need to listen off tracks 5, 6, 7 and 8 and simultaneously use the same number input as a microphone channel, there are no problems. With a little prior planning there shouldn't be any trouble. And, of course, 8-track mixdown is now simply a matter of setting the input selectors on channels 1 to 4 to the centre position, and channels 5 to 8 to 'line'. (Plus the fact that all the tracks are in the right order, and there is no need for sheaves of notes to remember what is recorded where.)

In operation



The first recording session I had planned with the Tascam gear was a live performance of a couple of bands in an empty church hall near Bristol. If time permitted the group wanted to have a go at overdubbing, but would settle for 8-track recording of several numbers. To provide the eight tape machine inputs, I had planned to use direct outputs on four channels and route the remainder to the submaster outputs as normal. I say 'planned' because for some unknown reason I forgot to take the reel of tape with me. (Don't laugh, it could happen to you!) Instead, it was decided that a stereo recording on a Revox A77 would do just as well for demo purposes.

One of the bands, who go by the name of NW10, consisted of drums, bass, lead guitar, electric piano and vocals. I used three microphones to cover the drum kit: an AKG D202 resting on a pillow inside the bass drum; and a pair of AKG D190s arranged either side of the kit to cover the cymbals and tom toms. Not an excessive number of microphones, but they have to be enough if you've only got eight channels. An AKG D19 was stuck in front of the lead guitarist's amplifier, and a D707 handled the electric piano's amp. The bass was direct-injected because, quite simply, we hadn't brought enough microphones. (Ever had one of those days when it's not worth getting up?) It was no real hassle, however, because I had tried miking up the bassist's amp and compared it with the di sound — I preferred the latter. Anyhow, there was enough spill from the bass into the drum and guitar mics to give some richness to the mix.

The mics were routed to the Model 5 as follows: channel 1 was assigned to the bass drum; channel 2 to kit left; channel 3 to kit right; channel 4 to the bass guitar; channel 5 to the lead guitar; and channel 6 to the electric piano. This left two channels for the lead and harmony vocals. As we didn't have any splitter boxes to allow the vocal microphones to be fed to the mixer and PA simultaneously (so the vocalists could hear themselves above the band's instruments) I used the Model 5's cue system. By connecting one channel of the PA directly to the mixer's cue output, the vocalists were satisfied and I could balance them in the mix. An added bonus was that it also allowed me to replay the tape through the PA so the group could hear how they sounded.

For the stereo recording, group 1 was designated left output and group 2 the right. Drum mics were panned to duplicate their actual position over the kit, bass was panned centre, lead guitar right and piano left — roughly the same positions they occupied on stage. The lead vocal was panned slightly left of centre and backing vocals right of centre to give them some spread.

The only problem worth mentioning was the lack of level on the headphone feed. Probably my fault, but the only place I could set up the gear was on the right-hand side of the stage in the wings (mainly because our mic leads were a trifle short). I was only a few feet away from the band, which is great for visual communications but lousy for sound isolation. The only solution was to connect a 15W amplifier I just happened to have along (amps I remember; tape and mics are another matter) between the monitor outputs and my Koss Pro 4AA cans. With the amp running flat out I could just about monitor the mix above the noise of the band. God knows what spl the cans were producing, but I had a piercing headache for three days afterwards. I only had myself to blame, but let it be a warning to sound engineers: don't try and mix too near the band. You know it makes sense.


The next session I attempted was rather different. John Atkinson, a scribe on Hi-Fi News and Record Review (another Link House publication) is very much into recorders. No, not the tape sort; his interest lies in the acoustic variety. He had worked out a six-part arrangement of Can-Can by Offenbach to be played on four types of recorder. Although John is a very talented lad, there was obviously no way he could simultaneously play all the parts himself. Which is why he asked if I would record him six times on the Tascam gear and produce a stereo mixdown.

The six parts he had written were for bass recorder, tenor (twice), treble (twice) and descant — an easy recording on eight-track. Before any music was laid down, a click or guide track in the same tempo as Can-Can and lasting slightly longer than the duration of John's arrangement was recorded on track 8. This was played back into John's headphones while he was recording subsequent parts. It allowed him to follow the beat during the breaks in the arrangement without getting lost, as some parts weren't continuous throughout.

Only one microphone was needed, and for convenience this was connected to channel 1. We then recorded the first part, that of the bass recorder, on to track 1 of the tape machine. The tape was then rewound to the start, tape cue on submaster 1 faded up and the studio headphone output switched to cue. So that John could hear in his cans a mix of the previously recorded track and the second part he was about to play, the cue control on channel 1 was also faded up. The process was repeated four more times as each fresh part was routed through the Model 5 on to whatever submaster or group output was necessary to record on a chosen track.

The only problems were mainly with microphone placement. The mic John used was a Sennheiser ME40 cardioid model, and it was surprising how the sound of the recorder altered as he moved it away and towards the capsule. The best sounds were obtained with the recorder's bell two feet away and slightly off axis from the microphone. I was also surprised at the dynamic range of his recorders, and had to keep an eagle eye on the levels. In fact, as time went by I found myself setting the levels on the peak-reading LEDs because of the sudden changes of level that were fooling the VUs — and me — into a sense of false security.

A couple of times during the recording John would lose timing, or be unhappy with his playing. Rather than re-record the whole track from the top we attempted a couple of drop-ins. These were very easy to do on the 80-8 because, as explained earlier, the outputs switch automatically from off-tape sync to input as the track is put into the record mode. John could thus start to play along with himself a couple of bars before the drop-in point, give me a nod of the head on the beat at the right point, I would press the button and he'd carry on. Couldn't be easier.

Mixdown of the six tracks into stereo was carried out later in the evening and allowed us to explore the workings of the solo system. As explained earlier each input channel is provided with a momentary pushbutton solo switch. When depressed it connects the post-fader signal of that channel module directly to the control room monitor output. Its purpose is to facilitate adjustment of the equalisation of each channel either before or during the mix, without having to pull down the faders on all the other channels. One or more solo buttons can be depressed at the same time to let you listen, for example, to just drums and bass etc.

Another totally different application I meant to try, but never had the opportunity, was that of using the Model 5 as a PA mixer. The Model 5 owner's handbook gives an outline of one way in which this can be achieved. It suggests that the stereo house PA be connected to the line outputs of submaster modules 1 and 2. (The other two would do just as well, for that matter.) Mics are then connected to the input channels and assigned, mixed and panned as required between these two submasters. On-stage monitoring for band members is provided by the cue and echo busses. This allows a separate mix to be set up for stage left and right — handy if, for example, the bass guitarist wants to hear what the lead guitarist is playing on the other side of the stage. To facilitate overall control of the cue and echo submixes — and also monitor their respective levels — the output from the busses can be connected to 'buss in' sockets of submasters 3 and 4. Thus we have house PA left on submaster 1, house PA right on submaster 2, stage PA left on echo buss and submaster 3, and stage PA right on cue buss and submaster 4. Obviously the degree of stage PA control is a compromise — for example, the echo send is connected after the channel fader and is thus affected by adjustments being made to the main PA mix. Nevertheless, it does show the versatility of the Model 5 as a recording or PA mixer.

One last facility I managed to try on the tapes from John Atkinson's recorder sessions was that of track-jumping. And I'm glad I did because it shows one potential disadvantage of the narrow ¼-track format. What I was attempting was to mix down the six recorder parts on to tracks 7 and 8. When I tried it a very pronounced high-frequency 'squawk' appeared on track 6 and on the mixer's VU meters for group outputs 1 and 2. The cause? Well, as far as I can figure, the signal being recorded on track 7 was being picked up by the adjacent record/sync head on track 6. The output from track 6 was then passing to mixer channel 6, submasters 1 and 2, back to track 7 and round again, resulting in the nasty noise. To prove the point, pulling down the fader on channel (track) six cancelled the howl-round completely.

Thus if there is any likelihood of having to bounce down previously-recorded tracks to make space on the tape, it is worth leaving a pair of tracks that won't be near any of the ones being jumped. For example, suppose a drum kit has been recorded on four tracks to be reduced later to stereo. By recording them on tracks 1, 2, 3 and 4 the bounce-down can be made on to tracks 6 and 7 without any problem. What would happen if the four tracks chosen, for some odd reason, had been 1, 3, 5 and 7? There is now no way of jumping without recording on an adjacent track.

You may, however, have spotted one important flaw in my reasoning: I had been using the record/sync head to provide the off-tape signals for bouncing-down. What I could have done is to switch the 80-8's output selector to monitor. Then the signals appearing at the outputs for tracks 1 to 6 would have been taken from the replay head. There would now be no howl-round because the recording and replay are happening on separate heads.

So why can't track-bumping be carried out this way every time? There is one very good reason why not. It may happen that you want to leave a bass or drum track to act as a guide for subsequent overdubs. Suppose you bump down all the other tracks off the replay head and leave the guide bass track. When you replay the mixed track and the guide, they'll be out of sync. That's what will happen. With a little bit of forward planning such problems can be avoided.

Summary



That then is the Tascam approach to integrated mixer/tape-machine combos. The Model 5 is particularly versatile and the 80-8 is very easy to use. Prices may vary slightly from retailer to retailer but the Model 5 can be had for about £1100/$1500, while the 80-8 will set you back about £2200/$2650. The optional DX-8 noise reduction module adds another £770/$950 to the sum. OK, not exactly peanuts, but for a total of around four to five grand you can have yourself a bloody good recording/PA setup with more than adequate specifications. (On the subject of spec, the more technical reader may like to take a look at Hugh Ford's review of the 80-8 published in the December '77 issue of Studio Sound.)

For looks, the Model 5 and 80-8 are pretty tasty duo. Paintwork is a semi-reflective black, with easy-to-read white lettering to let you know what's what. In fact, physical appearance is one of the forgettable things about the Tascam series. That's not meant to be a criticism — rather that you take in everything so easily, and it's so immediately obvious what everything is there for, that nothing attracts your attention as being odd or out of place. Both units simply exude competence. What more could you ask for?

No gear is without its faults, and these two are no exception. Until the eagerly-awaited Model 15 16-input/8-output mixer finally appears on the market, for a fully Tascam mixer/tape setup the 80-8 will have to be linked to a mixer with only four outputs. But as you've seen four into eight can work with a little prior planning on sessions. The 80-8 is obviously handicapped to a certain extent by the track-jumping problem, but this can be overcome fairly easily with some forethought when the track-sheets are drawn up. All in all a fine duo and one that would do justice to any band's music.


Series - "The Tascam Way"

This is the last part in this series. The first article in this series is:

The Tascam Way
(SI May 78)


All parts in this series:

Part 1 | Part 2 (Viewing)



Previous Article in this issue

Randy California

Next article in this issue

The Rhythm Section


Sound International - Copyright: Link House Publications

 

Sound International - Jun 1978

Donated & scanned by: Mike Gorman

Series:

The Tascam Way

Part 1 | Part 2 (Viewing)


Review by Mel Lambert

Previous article in this issue:

> Randy California

Next article in this issue:

> The Rhythm Section


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