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Old cassette based 4 track recorder

Discussion in 'Recording' started by TheTJW, Jul 22, 2016.

  1. TheTJW

    TheTJW Active Member

    Hi all, my first post!!

    I've recently rediscovered all my old four track recordings from the 80's and 90's (yes, I'm getting on a bit!) and want to listen to them again, however, I do not have the original Tascam Porta 05 four track recorder they were recorded on - does anyone know if I could successfully play these tapes back on any cassette based 4 track recorder, or will they only really respond to being played back on another Tascam Porta 05? (they seem to be a bit rare on the UK ebay site!)

    Thanks in advance.
  2. Kapt.Krunch

    Kapt.Krunch Well-Known Member

    Most of them may play them. If noise reduction was used, TASCAM Portastudios used DBX (type ?), so engaging NR on a unit with Dolby(x), or another scheme won't sound right. I think Yamahas may have used DBX, but not sure which type. Playing them back without NR will sound bright and a bit noisy. May be able to dump them into the computer and do some noise reduction, and some eq to get them listenable, anyway. And, of course, depends on the condition of the deck and tapes, the tracking of the deck, (head may not line up perfectly with what was recorded on tape), etc. Best to use the same machine, but youdon't have that. Next best is same model, different machine. Next is same brand...but still may not be quite right...though will have the proper NR, and THAT'S only if the noise reduction circuits are/were working properly in the original machine and the new one.

    Knowing all that...can't hurt to try to salvage the old tapes. I wouldn't spend much money on one. If you could borrow one, that would definitelty be worth a try, anyway.

  3. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    In addition to what The Kaptain mentioned, it will also depend on the speed of the original recordings - some decks had 2 speeds, (1 7/8 or 3.5 ips), so if you happened to record at the faster speed, you'd need a playback deck that would support that.

    And yes, Yamaha's porta-studios ( MT1X, MT2X, if I recall?) used dbx NR, so if your tapes were encoded with NR on your Tascam, you'd need to find a 4 track porta-studio that would have that feature, in order for your tapes to play back properly...

    Not all porta studios from various manufacturers used the same NR encoding. Some used Dolby B/C.
  4. TheTJW

    TheTJW Active Member

    Ok thanks, that's what I was afraid of...I was nearly at the point of buying an old 4 track recorder off ebay in desparation, after narrowly being outbid on a Porta 05 by £1 on Thursday! So, I guess I'll have to play it safe an wait for another to come on ebay, which is in reasonable condition.

  5. dvdhawk

    dvdhawk Well-Known Member

    I still have my old Tascam Portastudio 244 in storage, because I couldn't stand the thought of selling it for $1, too many good memories.

    Ideally, you're transferring these tapes to a DAW, or other modern recorder while playing them?

    I think the leading cause of cassette tapes being "eaten", is lack of grip on the take-up reel. There has to be a certain amount of grip AND controlled slippage built-in, to account for the significant change in diameter when the reel on the right is empty vs. when it is full. Some people seem to think the 2 large splined spindles that the cassette slides down over, pull the tape through the machine to play, but that's only true in FFW and REW. In PLAY mode , the pinch roller squeezing the tape against the capstan is what pulls the tape through at a constant(-ish) speed - while the left spindle provides a tiny bit of friction, and the right spindle takes up the slack. When the tape is fully rewound, the take-up reel is only about 7/8 inch in diameter, and it has to turn very quickly to make sure it's taking up the slack as fast as the pinch roller is feeding tape through. (Like Donny said, as fast as 3 3/4 ips on the better PortaStudios). Meanwhile, the supply-side reel on the left is still full, and closer to 1 7/8 inches in diameter, and is turning very slowly relatively. As more and more tape transfers from the supply reel (left) to the take-up reel (right), the diameters are constantly changing, and so does the corresponding RPM of the individual spools. The take-up has to mechanically adapt to the constantly changing diameter, so it has to have the ability to slip more and more as the spool gets filled. At this point, the take-up spool is also getting heavier, which may be a bit of a factor if you don't have good grip on the take-up.

    With the tape fully rewound and pressing PLAY, the take-up can't afford to slip at all. If it can't keep up, then the slack tape will soon get backed up and wrap around the pinch roller and/or capstan. The tape deck may have micro shut-off switches to sense too much slack or too much tension, but they often don't help here until there's several feet of tape mangled around the capstan. In that case, the cassette can't even eject without further damage to the tape and shell.

    So before you try to play those old tapes that are important to you, you might want to play a couple sacrificial tapes you wouldn't mind losing. You may need to have all of the rubber parts (belts, idler tires, pinch roller) serviced and tape path cleaned and demagnetized. It would be a shame to go to a lot of trouble just to have your tapes get "eaten".

    As far as the tapes themselves go, you should make sure you loosen them up the best you can by FF>> from being to end (without engaging the play/record heads), then REW<< back to the beginning. Stopping and restarting are the enemy, and cause little deviations in the way the tape packs on the spool. Doing the FFW and REW clear through once or twice will help it pull more uniformly in PLAY mode. This will also be a good way to judge the grip of the idler tires and whether they might be up to doing their duties in PLAY mode. If they are at all sluggish spooling the tape in FFW and REW, there's not much hope they'll do any better with the added friction of the PLAY mode.

    If you feel confident the PortaStudio is up to trying it, just keep a very close eye on the take-up reel to be sure it can keep up under all conditions (beginning, middle, end of a tape).

    Good luck!
    kmetal and Brien Holcombe like this.
  6. Brien Holcombe

    Brien Holcombe Well-Known Member

    I love a challenge. I have a pioneer cassette deck and enough gear to plugin the deck/amp into an interface to get directly into the digital domain. Playing while recording a track backwards would be fun...sure lining them back up might be a challenge but I always have time in a motel room after work to tinker with that...once the tracking has been handled at home.

    Just saying...
  7. Sean G

    Sean G Well-Known Member

    I remember playing with a reel to reel at age 14 and recording "daed si luap...daed si luap" over and over again then flipping the tape and playing it back...my first attempt at back-masking.

    Too much listening to the White Album at 14...the things you remember from your youth :D
  8. dvdhawk

    dvdhawk Well-Known Member

    I've considered that challenge too Brien, just for the sake of archiving some of my old 4-track tapes. Are your 4-track cassettes normal speed or double speed?

    I don't think reversing the 2 backward tracks in the DAW would be very destructive. If you dubbed entire tape-sides with each pass to the DAW, they shouldn't be too far off lining back up when reversed. Getting them perfect would take some patience. I've also wondered how well the audio would hold up after manipulating the speed. Doubling the speed might be as simple as recording it at 48k and playing it back at 96k. Then there's the Noise-Reduction, as Donny mentioned, it would be best to playback with the same dbx or Dolby noise-reduction circuitry that it was recorded with, so that might be a problem.

    I've got a studio-grade (if there ever was such a thing) Tascam 202 stereo dual cassette deck I rent out racked with a great standalone Sony pro-CD recorder, for people who want to transfer their cassettes to CD. My Tascam 244 4-track would definitely need serviced before I trusted it. So I don't know which would be less work and less aggravation, tracking down belts and tires and servicing the 244, or using the 202 and jumping through all the hoops to hope you got something worth listening to.

    If you try it, let me know how it turns out.
    Brien Holcombe likes this.
  9. Kurt Foster

    Kurt Foster Distinguished Member

    i could be wrong on this but i would be concerned that different models / makes of cassette multitracks may have different head designs with different bias and level settings. i do know some of the Fostex 4 trackers didn't like TDK Hi Bias tape.

    also there is more than one kind of noise reduction. Dolby for cassettes comes in b / c and s varieties and there is also more than one kind of dbx. i don't think there was ever a set standard for these things. i would choose to err on the safe side and try to find the exact same type of machine or better yet find the original machine with the appropriate n/r decoding that these tapes were recorded on in the first place.


    as to tracking from a consumer deck into a DAW and then ^#$%ing with the files to compensate for speed and noise reduction , i think that's just pissing into the wind.
    kmetal likes this.
  10. bouldersound

    bouldersound Real guitars are for old people. Well-Known Member

    Trying to sync up tracks that weren't transferred in one pass is probably doomed to failure. The speed variation of cassette is too high. It's possible Celemony's Capstan software could get it done but I wouldn't get my hopes up. Kurt's point about 4-tracker head type might also be an issue. Otherwise it's a matter of matching the NR type and aligning the head to the recording.
    bent, pcrecord and kmetal like this.
  11. dvdhawk

    dvdhawk Well-Known Member

    That's a very good point. The cumulative error would get you over 22 minutes.

    This 'playback on a normal cassette player thing', is something that I could have done with zero expense, but yet have never attempted it because it seemed like too many hurdles for questionable results. If I ever got to the point I really wanted to digitize these old tapes, I'd have to clean and service the 244 (the very machine they were created on) and do it right. Finding belts and tires is a lot harder than it used to be.
  12. Kurt Foster

    Kurt Foster Distinguished Member

    tascam in Montebello has lots of nos parts.
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  13. dvdhawk

    dvdhawk Well-Known Member

    Thanks Kurt!! I just checked the Tascam parts page, and sure enough the old 244 is still listed. I'm absolutely shocked. I'll check them out next week to see if they have all the rubber drive parts I'd need. This would be near the bottom of the to-do list, but I would like to have the parts on hand. Thanks again.
  14. kmetal

    kmetal Kyle P. Gushue Well-Known Member

    Definatly re habbing the old machine is easier and jas the greatest chance of success.

    I've tried it before they won't stay in sync past 15 seconds.

    My 424 mk3 was out of use for like 7 years. I took it out a few years ago after just demagging and cleaning the heads and rollers a rubbing alcohol soaked Q tip.

    The thing worked fine. I love those things. I still have mine and it's one of the very few things I'm keeping in my liquidation.

    As far as NR goes there's a chance it may not have been used at all. On my machine it was selectable, and on my reel to reel 4 track it was an outboard unit. If it wasn't used it'll make life easier.

    I'm actually in the market for a pro 2 track cassette or I'm gonna find a pro mastering place to transfer a couple things I have only one analogue copy of. If anyone can reccomend a deck of high quality and/or high quality place to get transfers done please do.

    To me you can't put a price on those old memories every dollar is worth it even at a premium.

    It's probably a good idea to do a new transfer every 15 years to keep up a technology evolution. If your like me and care about super high quality transfer of a consumer recording that is...

    @dvdhawk I wouldn't be surprised if your machine worked fine man, w a little oil on the mechanisms and some rubbing alcohol. That said I did have to replace the roller on the reel to reel but I wasn't the original owner.
  15. dvdhawk

    dvdhawk Well-Known Member

    Thanks Kyle,

    I'm amazed Tascam is offering any parts for such a relic, so we'll see soon if they've got my parts on-hand.

    On my Tascam (if I remember correctly) I believe the dbx NR was always on, like it or not. If the machine was on, so was the Noise Reduction.

    Alcohol will clean the rubber parts, but it will often dry them out too, causing them to lose their grip and eventually crack. I always used a rubber cleaner / conditioner, like Rawn Re-Grip that didn't sacrifice the rubber's elasticity. The only caution there is, you can't pop a tape in right away after using Re-Grip on the pinch-roller. The rubber will be slightly tacky for a little bit, and the tape will tend to stick to the pinch-roller if you don't wait until it's completely dry.

    Again, just like mentioned in the recent turntable thread; belts, rollers, and tires are the kind of stuff you used to be able to buy from just about any half-decent parts vendor. Now they don't stock many, if any, and they want 10x too much for them. Oh well, good old supply and demand. I saw a news segment just this past week saying the last company making VHS machines is finally ready to stop manufacturing them. The 2 big shockers in the segment were: 1) someone was still making VHS machines at all in 2016, and 2) they sold 750,000 units last year!!
    kmetal likes this.
  16. Kurt Foster

    Kurt Foster Distinguished Member

    one good thing about TEAC /Tascam's is parts availability. i don't know if it's true but i have heard they could actually build a brand new 80-8 if they wanted to. tons of parts.
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  17. kmetal

    kmetal Kyle P. Gushue Well-Known Member

    In reality I should have used the rawn re grip. The alcohol did do the trick and didn't cause any immediate drying fwiw. That said mine have probably turned to stone because I said that lol. Good call on the rawn oil. I'll be taking mine apart in the next year or to so I'll use the proper stuff for the rubbers.

    Kurt no lies, as strange as it may sound I actually said the other day I would just build a new Tascam 34 or tape machine, instead of re habbing the one I have now. It's gotta go up for sale to pay for other things and building a brand new one was my consolation. Lol I didn't think I'd actually be able to make an actual factory released model.

    Amazing tidbit there man.
  18. kmetal

    kmetal Kyle P. Gushue Well-Known Member

    I would love to know who/what country those got sold to. I have a theory that a big part of this whole 'lease your cell phone' thing is so companies like Apple can re sell your used phone at a premium price to less wealthy countries...
  19. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

    I wonder if I could still get parts for my Model 48 1/2" 8 track?

    That baby needs some serious maintenance. Not sure it'd be worth it, though, other than to be able to play back old masters that I recorded on it...

    I did do some cool stuff on that machine - but I'm not sure it was that cool... I know for certain that there's no Sgt Pepper hiding in that stack of tapes. LOL
    kmetal likes this.
  20. Kurt Foster

    Kurt Foster Distinguished Member

    i love the 48's. balanced +4 and full sync response. if i had one and i was still able to record people i would be getting on it in a heart beat. those 48's are just as good if not better than the OTARI 8 tracks imo. i'm sure you can get parts for it.
    kmetal likes this.

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