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Analog tape deck problems

Hello everyone,

I'm fairly new to the recording world and I just bought a 1978-79 (not sure of the year, I just know when they were made) Yamaha TC-520 natural sound stereo cassette deck. I plugged stereo cables from the rec/out jacks on the back of it into the tape in jacks on the back of my Realistic stereo mixing console and then plugged in a mic. OK so I'v got everything plugged in, I record my first take and then listen to it back on the cassette deck, it sounded the same as when I heard it through my headphones while I recorded. Then I took the tape out to my car to listen to it, at first it had alot of bass and wasn't very loud I then had to turn the bass nob all the way down and the treble and volume nob all the way up just to make it clear enough to hear. I knew this wasn't right so I went back into my room and messed around with the different levels on the mixer and the tape deck itself.

I turned the mic level up and the master volume up on the mixer and then on the tape deck I turned the left and right recording levels up. Still when I listened to it,(I listened to it through a boom box this time) it was way to warm and didn't have to much added volume. After that I went on to record more takes messing around with the levels. I did different combanations, I turned the mic level up and the master volume down a little, I turned the L/R rec. level on the tape deck down and the mic level down and turned the master volume up on the mixer. The outcome from all this? Just warm sometimes distorded takes.

Is this just the warmness of good old analog recording that I just don't like? Or is there a nob, button or connection I'm missing? I'd really like some advice on how to get these recordings to come out the way they sounded on the recorder, or just some advice on something I'm missing in my set up.

Thanks and best regards,



Cucco Mon, 09/26/2005 - 06:54

Congratulations! You have officially been bitten by the recording bug!

Many of us got our starts dorking around with gear in the same manner you are right now.

To answer your question, I'll start with the possibly obvious and then move to the less obvious.

1. Check that on your mixer your eq is set flat. If the high frequencies are lowered (attenuated) it will sound dull and lifeless.

2. Make sure you are using an appropriate tape. Type 1 is just crappy. Type 2 is better (Chromium). Type 4 is just never called for.

3. Check your cables. Bad cable=bad sound

The warmth you refer to is an often mis-used word.

Common definition of warmth:
Lack of presence in the high register, often bloated and overly distored in the lower frequencies with a euphonic and exaggerated lower-mid frequency and attenuated upper-mid/lower-high frequency range.

In other words - Bose Speakers :shock:

My definition of warmth:
Clean accurate sound with good balance lacking in stridence in the upper mids and high frequencies and maintaining fidelity and presence throughout the entire spectrum.

IOW, warmth isn't necessarily lack of highs, it's lack of errors and an overall cleanliness.

Determine which of these definitions (or variation thereof) you're referring to and you'll start to see a more clear answer.

The other likely scenario is that, given the age and quality of the equipment, you're simply experiencing the best that the equipment has to offer.

A couple other things to look for -

What are the meters showing on the cassette deck? If they are constantly peaking, the warmth and distortion you are referring to is in fact a by-product of good ole analog. Back the output of the mixer or the input on the tape deck down. Tape decks will only allow so much level to be recorded before they begin to saturate. A little saturation=good. Too much saturation=bad. How much is enough?? That's up to you to decide what kind of sound you like.

Also bear in mind that saturation also depends on the tape.

Some tape decks use their playback head to play the sound that was recorded directly into its headphone output. Others simply break off the input and feed one section to its write head and the other to its headphone amplifier.

In the case of the first scenario - you can get an accurate picture of what's being recorded by monitoring with your headphones at the tapedeck. In the second scenario, it doesn't matter where or what you monitor, the sound will not reflect what's hitting the tape.

Try another (any or all of the following):


See if any of these fixes the problem. If they do, that's your answer.

Keep us posted!

Jeremy 8-)

JoeH Mon, 09/26/2005 - 08:25

This is what scares me about analog going away...So much info being lost or forgotten about.....

If you want professional sound coming out of your cassette deck/tapes (or a reasonable facsimile thereof), you need to have your machine checked out by a professional technician, or at least do some research on analog recording so you can understand what it is you're hearing, and why.

For starters, you'll need to find ONE brand of tape that gives the best results for your machine, and have your machine aligned for this tape, and this tape alone. (Everything else is a compromise, esp with cassettes.) Good luck on that, as analog tape stock continues to dwindle around the globe. Cassettes are going away as fast as VHS tapes, and you may want to stockpile a few dozen just to be safe.

You have to clean and degauss your tape path and heads as well, BEFORE you make any critical testing, recording or listening.

(When I used to do this type of work, the running gag was: "The Standard for Cassette Tape Alignment is: There IS no standard!")
Seriously, though, if you can still find one out there somewhere, you need to purchase an STL (Standard Tape Labs) Cassette alignment tape (or pay someone who has one to set your machine up for you), and get playback EQ and levels set properly after cleaning and demag'ing. Depending on the machine, you MIGHT have some adjustments for EQ (very little, I'm sure) and at least some PB level trims in there somewhere as well.

You'll also need (Most important,IMHO) to set the RECORD LEVEL and BIAS for the tape you're using. These are internal adjustments, NOT front panel, NOT user friendly, and they are put inside for good reason: If you mess 'em up (and it sounds like that's the case with your machine), you will only make things worse. Take your time and do a lot of reading before tweaking these things on your own if you can't find or afford a pro to do this for you. (for more information on tape and bias adjustments, go to Eddie Ciletti's web page and do some reading:

I'm not going to bore you with the entire bias alignment technique here (it's tricky enough with a 3-head machine that will let you hear the results via the PB heads, and tedious beyond belief with a two machine that won't), suffice it to say: get a pro to go over your machine with you, and explain the whole mess about analog tapes, casssettes included. (Print this out and bring it along - whoever he is will probably have a good laugh and a few stories to tell you about analog equipment.)

You will almost always get a "warmer" sound coming off analog tape due to what is called "Head-bump" - a slight rise in the frequency response curve at 80 hz on playback. Only the most pro of pro machines (reel to reel multitrack, etc.) have EQ adjustments in-circuit to deal with this. The rest just make you live with it, and it has now become synonymous with "WARMTH". Yeah, Rrrrrrrrright. ;-) Another urban legend bites the dust, indeed.

Azimuth is also critical with cassettes; even moreso than the bigger open reel machines. The tolerance area is even smaller. Granted, it's not as critical if you're using this machine and this machine alone for all of your future work, but know that what sounds great on one machine can sound AWFUL on another, all due to misaligned heads (Hint: the first thing to go is usually the high frequencies.....and bad head alignment often sounds like swishing or swirling noise on PB) You will want to establish a standard, and stick with that, if only for your own tape library.

The only consolation here is that most people don't use cassettes anymore, so you won't have to worry about your tapes sounding good or not-so-good on other people's systems. (With all the potentially dangerous/bad-magnetized tape heads out there, it's probably a good idea to NOT play critical tapes (including any STL Tapes) on machines that haven't been properly maintained. You'll lose a lot of high end almost immediately due to the magnetism, and your tapes will forevermore sound "Dull". Sorry!

THere is also the issue of head wrap and tape path as well, but I don't want to scare you any further than I already have. Hehehehe.... (Gee, I wonder why people left this format and vinyl in DROVES all those years ago! ;-)

All these factors come into play when getting any kind of sound at all out of your cassette tape. Between tape-compression (another benign misnomer for the sound of too much level being crunched through the circuitry onto an overbiased tape and the resultant sound coming back as: "Fat, Warm, Thick or Crunchy"), and bias adjustment itself, there's a world of changes that can happen to sound after it's been printed onto tape, some of them very very good, some of them just awful.

Good analog tape recording was/is an art, and cassettes work the same way, but they're just not perceived that way anymore. Our natural tendency these days is to just power them up, pop in a tape, and wonder why it 'don't sound so good". You may be better off with a chip-based MP3 or MiniDisc recorder if you need something quick and easy.

Otherwise, getting good sound out of a cassette deck is fast becoming a lost art, and I'm not sure it's worth the effort anymore. It's a good history lesson to know how it was done, but IMHO, it's hardly worth the hassle anymore, unless you are going for a specific, vintage (cheesy?) sound.

Good luck with it all, regardless. You may have some fun and learn a few things along the way. 8-)

SIAB Tue, 09/27/2005 - 10:58

Hello again,

After reading the info given I then took it out to my room and tinkered around with the different ideas to the problem I have with the sound of the recordings. I'm using a little stereo mixer from the 80's and it only has 3 mic ins and a level for each mic so I couldn't adjust an EQ because I have none. I have pretty crappy cables, I did change them and the outcome to show in another recording. Thanks for the definitions of warmth Jeremy and I'm referring to the lack of highs definition.

I backed out the output into the tape deck and then the other way around and this did clear the recording I did after that up. But I'm still not getting alot of volume. It just doesn't make sense, why would it sound good on the playback of the recorder and then when listened on another tape deck it's so low volume and yes, still a little lifeless in high frequencys? To me it can't be the mixer. I also put in a type II cassette and it didn't do much.

To answer Coyote trax's question, yes I did record with the dolby on and it made a little clearer recording. With it off the recordings are a little duller. In the end the Dolby didn't do much.

Thanks for all the information and I hope someone has an answer or idea to the volume and low frequency thing.