Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Case For Recording With Tape

With the onset of digital recording, the use of tape has fallen by the wayside. But there’s no reason to leave it in the hands of eccentrics or diehard vintage enthusiasts. After all tape has been around a long time and works much the same as it ever did. And there’s a certain desirable audio quality that you only get from tape. Some say it’s that tiny bit of hiss in the background, acting kind of like a ride cymbal, that gives it what is most commonly referred to as “warmth”

Look at all those great recordings Les Paul made. And his gear, though pretty good, wasn’t nearly as good as what came later on. Elvis’ first records on the Sun label (some say his best) were done on modest tape machines. By the time the Beatles came along, 4-track tape was state of the art. The Doors albums, some of the most spontaneous and live studio cuts ever laid down, were recorded on 4-track tape. Jimi Hendrix on Electric Ladyland, with the help of Eddie Cramer, seems to have squeezed the most out of tape. Although, The Beatles’ Sergeant Peppers album is probably the most impressive album ever created on tape.

Portable multitrack recorders hit a highpoint in the ‘80s, with the arrival of the Tascam 246 Portastudio, which weighed about 20 pounds and sold for a little over $1000. Even though the cassette format could be argued to have less fidelity than quarter inch reel, or the half inch stuff found at EMI or Abbey Road, the 246, with built-in 6 channel mixer and DBX noise reduction, got the home recording musician right up there with The Fab Four in terms of what could be done with four tracks of tape. Pat Metheny recorded his New Chautauqua album on a Tascam 246 Portastudio, playing all four tracks himself.

Today, a Tascam 246 Portastudio can be found for under $200. Yes, the belts and pinch roller will need to be replaced, and the heads will need to be cleaned regularly. You can still get parts from TEAC/Tascam USA, along with a service manual, which you’ll need to safely get around inside. Some might say it’s not worth messing with, when it’s so easy to just plug into your computer.

But, then there’s that sound thing again. The joy of making music without a whirring power supply fan and trading the glare of an LCD for the dim glow of a VU meter should count for a lot and maybe come as a relief. There’s a certain excitement when the tape begins to roll, a little tension perhaps, in the quest for a perfect take, knowing you can’t cut and paste with a mouse click. What you get with tape is a sense of putting together a song the way John and Paul did. Would they have embraced all the computer recording capabilities we have today? Of course. In that respect, you can always use your computer to master your tape and burn a CD. But if you’ve never used tape, give it a try. You might be pleasantly transported to a place with tangerine trees and marmalade skies.


1 comment:

  1. help me with pdf manual tascam 246
    thank you