Preservation Sound's Chris Sanchez is now doing videos occasionally. This guy he's spotlighting is
cool. Not my musical taste but I really respect his creativity.
Here's something I found out from dubbing many cassettes over the years -- that medium is the
cheapest and easiest way to get tape "slam" that people like for vocals and guitars. Those Tascam
decks offer many "flavors" because they have NR and two speeds, so you have four different deck
parameters plus many different tape stock parameters. The comments made about the Porta02 are
correct, in my experiences years ago. It has input stages that clip before the tape saturates, which
produces the "brittle" sound described. The better cassette 4-tracks had good input stages that
could handle levels that would saturate tape, especially without NR at the lower speed.
In my high school metal band days, we'd get a drum sound that didn't deserve to come out of a tight
basement by using old EV666 mics into an Ampex MX-35 mixer, so some transformer and tube distortion
from the get-go, then into 2 tracks of various Tascam and Yamaha cassette 4-tracks. I always ran
dbxII NR on the basic tracks, and we actually didn't shoot for tape crunch, but it ended up
happening anyway. We'd run the output of the MX-35 thru a Fisher spring reverb, which had a knob for
dry-passthrough/wet-spring balance. We must have accidentally figured it out from the get-go because
there are no spring plinks from loud drum hits. The guitars and bass would be mixed to the other two
tracks on the first pass-through, with a DI on the bass and the guitarists using their amps for all
the reverb, crunch and distortion they desired. I think we used Shure SM57 mics on the amps. Drums,
bass and guitar would record rhythm tracks together, so plenty of leakage in a small overloaded
room -- it sounded LOUD right off the bat. We'd then mix these 4 tracks down to 2 tracks on a second
cassette machine, ideally always running at 3.75IPS. Then on the second machine we'd add guitar
solos and fills and vocals. Then the final thing would be mixed, usually adding at least some more
spring reverb for the vocals, down to a 1/4" reel master (that was the best format we had). The
result was surprisingly good for that kind of music. Would I recommend this for a classical string
quartet or a band like the Cowboy Junkies? No! But it worked great for hard rock/metal, where a
somewhat muddy and crunched sound is desired but everyone still wants to hear all the guitar licks
and drum fills, so it's a balancing act like all recording.
My point in telling the story is, those old cassette 4-tracks were capable of some interesting
things -- super-crisp, clean recording of many tracks not being one of them.
-- Tom Fine