Tascam MS-16 & Otari MX70

Discussion in 'Tape Recorders' started by ChrisH, Apr 24, 2017.

  1. ChrisH

    ChrisH Active Member

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    Howdy,

    I'm looking for some input in regards to both these two 1 inch 16 track machines because I'm in the market for one.
    Both are currently going for about $1000-$2000 depending on the condition and seller.
    I've never used either of these machines and don't know anyone that has had experience with them.
    Any input from those of you (on parts availability, functionality, reliability, transport quality, ect..) that have had experience using them would be appreciated.
    I'm also unsure what these went for new, back when they were still being sold (would be interesting to know).

    I have the opportunity to get a MS-16 and drive it back from California to Utah myself, the seller has sent me pictures of the heads (but I don't know how to judge them or if you even can by photos?).

    Here's a link to the listing:
    https://reverb.com/item/3480066-tascam-ms-16

    Thanks Everyone
     
  2. Kurt Foster

    Kurt Foster Distinguished Member

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    < i would opt for the OTARI machine. lol. that said, with these older OTARI's you need to be sure to get a copy made of the EPROM chips every ten years or so as they have a tendency to loose their charge. other than that the OTARI's are great machines. the TASCAM MS16 has softer heads and a tape lifter system that doesn't lift the tape far enough off the REPRO head during fast winding causing premature REPRO head wear and i would assume tape degradation. the sync head is full response on the TASCAM so a lot of guys don't even use the REPRO head except for alignment but a worn REPRO head will make calibration of the machine difficult at best. the TASCAM ATR series machines are much better if you can find a 16 track version.
     
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  3. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

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    Kurt's post was great info, I'll just add a few more tidbits...

    I had an MS16 for several years, and I did a lot of great work on that machine. But, Kurt is right, the lifters were the weak link in the transport mechanism, during fast Rew or FF, the lifters really did make hard contact with the Repro head, and because the head stack of those series of Tascams were "softer", you could face premature wear on them.
    ---------------
    Quick side note...
    @Kurt Foster - Kurt, do I recall correctly... I seem to recall that Tascam fixed that issue about halfway through the manufacturing run of the MS16, so if you had one that came later (after '91 maybe?) that problem had been fixed? I'm almost sure that happened... looking to you for confirmation on that tho...)
    ------------------

    That said, plenty of guys accidentally mixed songs off the sync head over the years - and not just on the Tascam either. LOL.
    What was good about the Tascam,besides it having a great sound, was that parts were always readily available.
    I'm not sure Otari still makes parts for their decks...? You might need to locate a third party parts service for those.
    Either way, you'll eventually want to order up an alignment tape for either one you choose,and I would certainly check for head stack wear on the one you end up going to get, along with motors and speed control, too. Also check each track input and output and VU.
    If you notice any problems, decide to either make a lower offer- knowing you'll have to put money into fixing it- or ...walk away.
    Tape machines are electrical, and may have circuits-based issues, but they are also mechanical, with motors and bearings and moving parts, just like any other mechanical device, and as such, they are just as susceptible to age, use, wear and tear.

    I'm not trying to sway you away from getting one, I think if you find the right one, that you'll have fun with it, and part of that is the analog experience, because there is a kind of "magic" to the sounds of tape machines and consoles; in a way it's sort of sexy (in an audio way) to hear them put their vibe to music....but I guess I'm also just giving you a heads-up that you aren't buying a simple device. All mechanical (and electrical too but particularly mechanical) devices will need maintenance and servicing eventually.
    It's not a question of "if"... but of "when".
    So, your first quest should be to find out if parts are still available for the two models in question.

    FWIW
     
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  4. Kurt Foster

    Kurt Foster Distinguished Member

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    i don't know anything about a "fix" for the MS16's lifter issues. all i know i what i have heard about them in the past and as we all know bad news travels much faster than good. Donny has actual hands on experience with MS16's so i defer to his opine on anything related.

    although i tout analog recording a lot, i would never recommend buying an analog recorder and console unless you really have a passion for the medium. the reality is we don't own this stuff, it owns us. running an analog studio requires a business plan that includes regular maintenance not only for the machines but the instruments as well. i paid $100 bucks plus a month just to keep the grand piano in tune and playing correctly. if you own an animal, you have to feed it.

    would it be cool to have a studio like that? yes it would ........ would it be cool to deal with all the issues it would present, not just in starting up but in continued operation? i don't think so. not without a client base to support it or the knowledge to work on all that stuff.

    the problem? finding a tech that has all that old school knowledge that can still get to you to do the work. they are all getting long in the tooth. Michael Gore (the guy who kept me up and running) no longer does studio calls. you have to take your stuff to him and to tell the truth, who knows how long that will last until he just decides to go play golf all the time? if i were still running KFRS, i would be pulling my hair out. there are a lot of guys that call themselves "techs" who will do more damage than good, especially over a period of years working on your studio. when i bought my JH636, we had to spend countless hours going through it to remedy all the "fixes" some idiot had done. good techs are hard to find. bottom line is you really need to have a passion for tape and analog audio for it to make any sense.

    the promise of DAW was they were going to democratize the recording industry, making tools accessible to many who couldn't afford them or the space to house and use them. this hasn't played out imo. the litany of complaints is too long to go into every time a discussion comes up but we all know what they are. the result is for every "solution" to issues that kept people from self recording, another issue arises. better mics? now your acoustics need work. quieter recordings? RF and EMI noise is now more of a problem. squeeze the sausage in one place and it swells up in another.

    so i am not so much an advocate of tape per se, but rather an advocate of analog mixing. i have done dozens of projects on digital tape that i think stand up to anything recorded on big tape analog. it was once i got rid of my console and tried to mix on a computer that the frustrations set in. and it's not just a tactile thing either. i truly believe that itb summing just really sucks and digital eq has a much different sound than analog eq. i do not subscribe to the opinion that digital eq is better. it's just different. sometimes a little phase shift is what the doctor ordered. summing mixers are an improvement in sound but i still find them lacking in a way that for me stifles my creativity. what i would love to see is a multi track recorder DAW program, sans all the mixing and plug in abilities. just a plain multi track recorder that runs at 192 with all the editing abilities but no mixing facilities. a person has to be a computer scientist to be able to run a DAW. that's why you see a lot of old schoolers and even some of the newer crop of producers and engineers in the biz bringing in Pro Tools "operators" who may not be musically inclined but know their way around a computer.
     
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  5. audiokid

    audiokid Chris Staff

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    Solid advice from Kurt.

    If you buy a reel to reel, I'd use it to add vintage hype and decor for the clients that know no better but that's as far as it would go. They look really cool and will get people talking regardless of using it or not! That's all its good for.
    From personal experience, you will likely get it working half ass and then it will die and never get fixed. Who is going to fix it? Better off, don't use it and just keep it looking clean and use it to hype your studio.

    I'm going to add my two cents in this thread for forum content reasons now. My opinion on tape is not intended to sway anyone from investing in tape recording , but rather to put some thought into other key products that were part of the fat analog tape era too.

    Guessing... if you have reached the level of wanting "tape sound", you are likely understanding a bit more about pro audio than just the average project studio so this post is for you.
    I'm simply taking this opportunity right now, to talk about why I think pultecs and LA2A's vs tape might be just what you need to discover next, that is actually still being made like the good old tape days.

    Looking for analog warm and fat. Here's what I hear...

    If you are really looking for analog silk... build an analog tracking/ mixing system that allows you to switch "good pro audio equipment" gear from the tape era.... and start tracking and mixing in a direction that isn't compromising your capture. You'll be miles ahead.

    If you are really wanting big fat sounding tracks that translate. Tape isn't a band aid to cheap gear and poor mixes.

    Pultec EQ's from Pulse Techniques http://www.pulsetechniques.com/products are where I would look . Buy one at a time. Do a comparison and then imagine one per channel. Next, get LA2A's and 1176LN and that is your channel strip. The sound of this stuff is pro audio.

    This stuff is expensive but its the real deal to analog. Even brand new tape would never rival the lush and smooth texture a professional analog front end. Tracking through good pultecs, LA2A's, > converters >DAW... wow.

    If I could afford it, and it was a choice between a brand new tape machine or channels of Pultecs http://www.pulsetechniques.com/products... , I would have at least one MEQ-5 or EQP1A3 per channel (depending if that channel was a mid focus or full range) and never look back. Save your dollars and go one channel at a time. Tape is a dead dead dead end. :notworthy:(n)
     
  6. Kurt Foster

    Kurt Foster Distinguished Member

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    i looked around on the web and i was not able to find anything regarding an update or factory fix for the problem. i did find quite a few posts where owners were complaining of the problem. many offered solutions ranging from rotating worn lifters, cleaning and replacing the rubber grommet on the lifter silinoid to proper lubrication of the lifter mechanism to even replacing bulging capacitors in the power supplies. it seems the design as a whole has issues.
     
  7. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

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    If it were me... and it was once... I would stear clear of tape. I'm not saying it doesn't behave a certain magic to it, but unless you are very good with repairing them, you're in for a long haul with the rewards being an eventual diminishing return.
    The maintenance on tape machines is on going. As Kurt said, you fix one thing and another problem pops up.
    Chris mentioned clients being impressed by them, and I think that's true for the most part.
    People are a lot more impressed by the visuals of tape machines and big mixers than they are by one box with a keyboard and a screen.
    It's always been that way actually. Very few clients on our level know the differences between pro and consumer gear. I recall one client who came to my studio who mentioned being very impressed by another "studio" in my area, mentioning that his control room was loaded with gear and had a big beautiful mixer.
    I knew the guy he was talking about, and i knew what he had, too. He had a lot of low grade rack stuff and a large Sunn mixer that was designed for live use - and even for that, it was still low grade... noisy, power supply built in, 3 band fixed EQ. So the client didn't know any better, he was just impressed by the "look" of all that junk.
    I think Chris is right, so is Kurt.. that you can achieve a pro analog sound by other means. Good mics, Good preamps, nice select EQs and Gain Reduction...
    Perhaps start with something like a 500 Series rack that lets you expand and custom build to your goals. Something like that would make a far greater difference in your sound, improving it, stepping you up to the next level, and you wouldn't have to maintain it every week either... or even possibly everyday.
    We've also not mentioned the cost of tape either. 1" is going for around $90 bucks a reel, and at 15ips, gives you less than 34 min of recording time...

    FWIW
    -d.
     
  8. Kurt Foster

    Kurt Foster Distinguished Member

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    you have to deal with the facts of what your market needs and what costs it will bear. in parts of the country like LA or Nashville, studios can afford tape and they are very much in demand. it seems the process is to record to tape and then transfer to DAW for edits and mix. most these studios also sport real analog consoles which imo, contributes more to a great mix and wow factor than an analog recorder. again we come up against issues with maintenance of a large format console. you need a client base to support these animals and the proper vets (techs) available to cure their ills. otherwise your pissing into the wind. fortunately they are still manufacturing large format consoles. i wish the same were true for analog multitracks.
     
  9. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

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    Addendum:
    If I could afford it- (and afford the maintenance) I would love to track to a DAW through a big, beautiful console - a Neve, SSL, Harrison, Trident, even an Amek or Neotec - with the console groups and direct outputs sent to a great converter, and then to the DAW.

    Where Kurt and I differ, is that where he prefers to mix tactile, using the DAW as a modern tape machine and having the console handle both directions, I would still like to mix in the box - but my thought about that is that because there would be great pres on the console, as well as the ability to insert great analog processing per channel, while tracking - there probably wouldn't be the need for all the plug processing that Kurt dislikes.
    Short of a handful of digital delay/ plug ins, and perhaps having the advantage of the point accuracy of detailed digital EQ, there would likely not really be a need for the other bells and whistles plugs ...because the front load on the tracking would be of such high quality.

    Maybe a few LA2's, or a Focusrite Red Opto Stereo Compressor, a few select EQs - Pultec, Weiss, API, etc. and maybe a few FET compressors ... I would be in "tall cotton", as a friend of mine from Georgia would say ;)
    But... unless you are of sufficient financial means, or have a benefactor who really believes in you, ( and I don't have either) it's difficult to justify buying those things if I don't live in an area where entertainment biz thrives, and where I could at least have a chance to get some return on it ... Nashville, NYC, London, Toronto, LA ...
    While the workflow I mentioned would be my "dream" rig, I know for a fact it would never pay for itself in Cleveland. It would be a personal indulgence. A nice one, a fun one, but only an indulgence just the same. It would be a terrible business investment.
    And.. as a final note... those big, sexy LFC's ?They need maintenance, too. ;)

    IMHO :)
    -d

    Edit - Kurt beat me to it with his most recent post. Lol
     
  10. Kurt Foster

    Kurt Foster Distinguished Member

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    aside from a itb mix sounds like ass to me, the main reason i dislike mixing itb is i pretty much just don't "get" computers. i dislike the constant cycles of upgrade and updates just to stay compatible with the world in general. computers are designed to be obsolete they day you take them home while professional recording consoles and tape machines are designed to military specs for the long haul.

    using a nice console seems to me to be a more elegant approach than going into a computer and then out again into outboard into a summing solution and then back into the same or another computer. i know we've been going around and around on this as to what the trend is and what i have been seeing is all the big studios and mixing cooks are pretty much using DAW with LF consoles to mix with a few exceptions of guys like Andrew Scheps.

    consoles and tape add a glue and a type of "goodulation" to a recording that you can't get with plug ins and mixing itb. tracking to tape and then going into a DAW and mixing on a LF console is the best of all worlds at the moment. of course, as Donny likes to say, in my humble opinion.
     
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  11. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

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    I get your reasons, I respect your stance. I don't happen to share your thoughts on ITB mixing, and IMO, while computers are an ever-evolving technology, maintaining them - or even replacing them, is far less expensive than doing the same to a tape machine or console, especially these days when -as you mentioned in one of your posts above - the cats who are true masters of tape machine and console servicing are retiring, or, even dying off, unfortunately.
    As far as the sound of ITB mixing, we'll just have to agree to disagree. ;). That's not to say that I don't respect your thoughts, because I do, and whether it's because we are similar in age, or that we came up in the craft at basically the same time and having very similar studio experiences, you and I see pretty much eye to eye on most everything else regarding audio.
    It's just that one point where we differ. ;)
     
  12. ChrisH

    ChrisH Active Member

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    I hear you guys.

    Here's my question though..
    What if your top priority isn't what's the absolute sonically superior route and you're priority is the intuitive creative process while tracking and mixing ?

    You don't get the fun & intuitive experience of mixing with real faders, not staring at a screen, turning actual knobs on actual channel strip eq's, utilizing tape saturation/compression, and just listening while mixing without a screen getting in the way by trying to "show you" what you're hearing?

    Do you really need a Neve, Studer, and the best of outboard processing to get great results in the analog world?
    Isn't it more about the experience and workflow of working analog than what is technically sonically superior ?
    Also, the beauty in limitations when you literally can not apply as many occurrences of compression as you want, tracks, eq, ect...
    I've personally tried to make records while limiting myself like I only have a 16 channel console, couple compressors, and is what happens is you still don't end up limiting yourself and you fall back onto relying on limitlessness of the DAW.

    I say all this humbly and with all do respect.
    To me the mixing process between different mediums and setups drastically changes your mindset for better or for worse and you gotta find out what works best for you.
     
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  13. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

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    I'm not gonna argue with you ... because I can't. Every artist has their own vision for their work, and as such, the way they want to go about preserving it.
    I don't think anyone here was trying to talk you out of your vision... whatever that vision is - we were just trying to explain that the medium you are currently interested in is not always easy to keep working at its optimum, nor is it cheap to do that either.
    If that's what you really feel you should do, and you feel passionate about it, then you should follow that vision. Just know going in that you will have problems from time to time.
    I think that sometimes we look back on "the good old days" through rose- colored glasses, and we often forget - or choose to forget - that not everything about analog was "awesome".
    Yes, there were limitations that could be beneficial to the creative process. But those same limitations could also be a hindrance from time to time, too.
    You've heard from three guys who came up in the craft smack-dab in the middle of the analog era. There were some great sounds using that gear. But there was also a lot of maintenance and downsides to it too. And it wasn't easy to keep getting that sound without knowing how to service the mechanics of the medium.

    As long as you know going in what you'll actually have to deal with, and you have the skill and knowledge to take care of that gear and keep it up and running, then by all means, follow your heart. But as Kurt said, it's like having an exotic animal... you have to feed it, take care of it, and understand that it has its own "temperament" that you will have to handle. ;)
     
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  14. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

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    And...
    If you are truly convinced that you want a tape machine, your very first step is to make sure that parts are still available for whichever one you choose.
    I can't comment on Otari - I'd defer to Kurt on that one; I can say that I think you can still get factory parts for the MS16 ... but it would be NOS, (New Old Stock) which means that when it's all been sold, that's it. Teac isn't actually making new transport mechanisms for that machine anymore, they'd be selling off whatever parts they have, either new or used.

    There's always the chance you could find a third party parts vendor, but it's gonna be the same risk... eventually they simply won't be available anymore. There's always a slight chance you could retro-fit a part made for another model for yours, but there's no guarantee if that either..
    Just be sure you can still get parts, is all I'm saying, and it probably wouldn't be a bad idea to start buying spare parts now; reel motors, lifters, pinch rollers, and the pull-out cards that hold the electronics for each track, too. Get them now, because you don't know for sure that you'll be able to in the future.
    Welcome to analog tape. Lol.

    FWIW
     
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  15. Kurt Foster

    Kurt Foster Distinguished Member

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    imo, if you are going to work with semi-pro gear, you should just stay digital / itb unless you just want to push faders and twist knobs for the sake of pushing faders and twisting knobs.

    to get real tape compression, large format tape is the way. with narrow gauge tape you don't get the same effect before the distortion of the electronics sets in. you need head room to get tape compression that just isn't there with narrow gauge tape machines like Fostex's or Tascam's running @ -10, especially if you use the onboard N/R. for me that is one reason i am more attracted to a 1' 16 track Otari that is designed to run specifically @ +4.

    and what i can say about LF consoles is it was a life changing moment for me the first time i recorded drums on a real console. it was like, "Oh! NOW I get it!"

    i would be perfectly content with an old Trident 65 and a good tech in town to keep me running, if there were a client base. lol! . i could get by with 16 tracks on 2" tape, 2 or 3 channels of LA 2s a couple of 1176's and 3 Lexicon reverbs.

    there are still NOS parts for the OTARI's. but Donny's right. there will be a day when they will no longer be available. on the other hand you could always go with an MCI or an AMPEX, which i am sure that even if there were no NOS parts available, some machine shop or boutique manufacturer like ATR services or MARA machines will fill the gaps.
     
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  16. ChrisH

    ChrisH Active Member

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    On a related side note:

    What about outboard tape emulators ?
    I've certainly never heard (i've tried most) plugins that do that tape thing.
    Can anyone comment on any of the outboard "tape emulators" ?
    Specifically the Imperical Labs EL7 FATSO.
     
  17. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

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    Can't say. I've never used them.
     
  18. DonnyThompson

    DonnyThompson Distinguished Member

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    @Kurt Foster
    FWIW, not all tascams were -10.
    I had a Model 48 half inch 8 track that was +4

    ;)
     
  19. Kurt Foster

    Kurt Foster Distinguished Member

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    i know there were a lot of Tascam's that had +4 inzanouts. machines like the 48 and 58 and the ATR series. as far as the MS machines and others i don't know if they are dedicated +4 machines or if they internally run @ -10 with extra amps to bump the levels up and down. i suspect the latter as most of those machines were capable of -10 and +4 at the same time on different connectors.
     
  20. bouldersound

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

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    A DAW is just a tool. I've learned to close my eyes and listen, then look at the screen and adjust, then pace nervously around the control room and listen some more. I do understand the frustration with computers and the endless upgrading, but I also have, as my home system, an XP machine still running a 12 year old DAW just fine. I'm not on an endless search for the latest/greatest plugin that will make everything I do sound like some famous mixer, I just try to make the best of the small selection of plugins I've been using for years.

    At one studio I use a more up to date version of the same thing, with a newer computer and newer version of the DAW, but it's running more or less the same limited set of plugins. It's not even connected to the internet so there's no temptation to do updates. It has been working just fine for several years without them.

    At the "other" studio, my partner is always latching on to some new plugin. I just go with the flow and let him deal with the computer, software and plugins. It's nice to play with different stuff. He's tried out a few tape emulators lately, and though I can't say if they're accurate I can say that they offer some useful variation. My contribution has been to keep him from going too far out on a limb. I'll find things like the "wow and flutter" control and dial it back, or adjust the gains so it's bouncing the digital needle at an appropriate level on the virtual VU meter. While I'm perfectly happy to mix with a minimal set of effects, there do seem to be some good tape and hardware emulation plugins out there if you really want that kind of thing, and it's still possible to develop some restraint and focus so you don't end up down the rabbit hole.

    I don't miss faders. Well, for mixing live I still prefer them, but for studio work I can live without them. Learning not to get mesmerized by the screen is key. Just look away or close your eyes, and take your hand off the mouse. Listen and decide, then go back to the tool.
     

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