About fifteen months ago I was invited along to the UK headguarters of Toa Electronics in Brentwood to "look at some new products". Believing it would be a standard gathering of the press clans, I was taken aback to find myself in a small demo room staring at what looked like a rack-mount 8-track recorder/mixer. Was this the first multitrack DAT recorder I had heard rumours of? Surely not, DAT wasn't yet that well developed. Having sipped the obligatory white wine I had been handed on my entrance, I sat down with the assembled small group of not-so-familiar faces and listened while the black box performed its tricks. 'Sounds good this DAT stuff,' I whispered to my neighbour. Then, as the music subsided, a gentleman of Far Eastern origin walked over to the front of the machine, pressed a button, and ejected what looked like a TDK C60 cassette which was jubilantly raised aloft by said gentleman as if to say, 'Look - a cassette!!'
'Hold on a minute,' I thought pensively. 'DAT doesn't use standard cassettes. What's going on?' Were we witnessing a technical breakthrough? Had the Japanese ditched the smaller DAT tapes in favour of cassettes? No. It turned out that the Toa machine in the rack was not a DAT recorder but an 8-track analogue cassette recorder! The world's first, in fact; and the assembled group of dealers, studio personnel and technical press were not there to celebrate the launch of the machine but to provide "feedback" to the Japanese engineers, who recorded every comment we made on reams of paper with the obssesive enthusiasm of a behavioural scientist. They wanted to know what we thought of the machine, where we saw it fitting into the UK market, and at what price we would like to see it sold. In return, we asked them about vital technical details and were given open answers to all our questions apart from one: 'When do you intend releasing it?' This resulted in silence. They didn't know (or so we thought). One wise dealer chirpily advised them to get it out "damn fast, before Tascam or Fostex release one!"
Over a year later and the Toa MR-8T 8-track is ready for launching (see p36). Not that Toa engineers have been spending the past twelve months getting their machine to work. No, they have been waiting for the right moment. Toa had heard that Tascam were busy developing their own 8-track cassette machine and had strangely decided to postpone the release of the MR-8T until Tascam's was ready. Tascam duly announced the forthcoming release of their machine (see p6), which no doubt brought a smile to the corporate faces of the marketing men at Toa's Japanese HQ. By allowing Tascam to 'appear' to come out with their machine first, Toa (very cleverly) hope that Tascam's reputation for quality will rubber-stamp both machines and give credence to the '8-track on cassette' format as a whole. This way both companies are likely to overcome the type of unfounded prejudice that greeted Fostex's release of their equally pioneering (and hugely successful) 8-track on ¼" tape machine. Will this ploy work? I hope so. We will be reviewing the Tascam 238 next month. Meanwhile, I wonder what Fostex are working on - a 6-track 'portastudio' with built-in SMPTE/MIDI synchroniser and digital reverb for under £500 perhaps?
Finally, you probably noticed that you had insufficient change left over to pay for the usual four Marathon bars after splashing out on your favourite reading matter this month. After two years and seven months of maintaining the same cover price of £1.20, we've had to up the ante a teensy-weensy bit to £1.40. But the cost of an annual subscription to Sound On Sound remains at the bargain basement price of £12 for UK readers. You don't need a calculator to realise that taking out a subscription both makes sense and saves you 40 pence per copy!! You could buy an extra two Marathons for that, or a can of Diet Ribena and a Twix, or put it towards the forthcoming edition of our 'new' magazine...
Editorial by Ian Gilby
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