Category: Products / studio-gear + dj / tape multitrack
Added: 06-Jan-03 | Author: admin
New price: € 122.00 - £ 79.22 | S/H price: Not listed
Tascam MF-P01A bit of diversity here at Dancetech!... Yes we do also play guitars, beleive it!... and in this world of hi-tek digital this & that, the humble tape-based porta-studio often get's overlooked amongst the plethora of available cheap digital format devices... However, when it comes to getting ideas down quickly, wether at home or in the old hotel room on tour etc the classic Portastudio cannot be overlooked.
The TASCAM MF-P01 is the cheapest such device you can get - a no-frills recording & ideas sketchpad ideal for anyone who writes songs... So let's review it! - But first a little pre-amble for the recording newbies...
Writing songs is often a 'spur of the moment' thing... You wake up in the middle of the night with a riff or melody in your brain, and I tell you this.. The amount of times I've lost idea's in the short time it takes to power-up the computer at home and setup things to record the idea... If I had a quid for every great riff or melody or hookline I've lost in that few precious minutes it takes to setup my studio to record one of those ideas, I'd probably have a big ol' fat swiss bank account rolling in dosh!!... That is where these little porta studio's win out over the flashier bigger brothers & componant-based studios... Their immeadiacy and ease of use!
When you are getting idea's down, what do you want to do? - Well, you want to lay down the chords on your guitar or keyboard.. or record a vocal or guitar or synth melody or hookline... mebbe then you want to develop that a bit further... drop in a vocal over the guitar riff/hook, mebbe add some extra riff or two on top of some chord progression... whatever... and with a tape based Portastudio, it's as easy as hitting record, laying down the idea... then to add more, simply rewind, hit record, and there it is all done and dusted, and you can then forget all about it safe in the knowledge that you can come back in a day or two or even a month or so later and that gem of an idea will be there for you to remember!
Another advantage of the tape-based portastudio? - SIMPLICITY! - yup!... sure you can get a 3 or 4 track smart-media card based little multi-track nowadays starting at around £150 quid or £200-300 quid for slightly flashier versions.. and yes, some have basic fx chips onboard to add reverb or eq, or even on the more pricier ones you can get a built in rhythm device to drop down some drum patterns... But here's the thing... good song-writers OFTEN are technicaly illiterate, sorry, but that's a fact!... and whilst anyone with a decent brain can learn a menu based LCD screen utilising digital portastudio, they are fiddly... they have little tiny LCD menu's... and it's a lot of pratting about...
Ideas... they are just that... ideas!... a good song or hook or melody idea doesn't depend AT ALL on whether it's done in digital or tape format... quality is irrelevent when it comes to getting an idea down - what IS important as i say, is just to be able to lay down the basic song or hook/riff/melody idea.. and i.m.o the tape-based device rules supreme for this type of use... they are simple, and they use CHEAP media in the form of chrome cassettes which retail at a measly 59 pence or so each.
Anyways... Christmas called around this year, and i wanted to get a gift for a songwriting friend who writes GREAT songs but who is totaly without ANY experience with gadgets & who frankly isn't too aux-fait with technology... I checked out some of the cheaper digital based smart-media card 4-tracks and decided to go for the good old tape-based unit because i could see that whilst the digital devices might in the long run offer some extra features, what this friend really needed was a way to capture their ideas... After all, once that idea is captured, they come to my studio and we record the songs in full-on digital studio format with all the toys!... Before I bought them this Tascam, they were singing their songs onto a crappy old stereo cassette deck... one of those table-top data-recorder type cassettes with a built-in mic, which worked fine for getting a simple idea down, but the Tascam would give them the ability to still do this, but also they could get stuck in and develop more complexed ideas!
Another reason I went for the tape-based basic portastudio?... Well, I've taught sound-recording classes before in the past for local education authorities, and I know for a fact, if you take a total studio-tech beginner and get them started with a simple 4-track, once they have fully explored the use of such a device they are FAR better equipt to move on to bigger things... ALL the basic's of recording skills can be learned using a simple portastudio device, beleive me!... It gets the user RIGHT to the heart of multi-track recording protocol without encumbering them with lots of distracting things which get in the way of them understanding the basic's of multitrack recording... So may times I've seen total beginners go onto 'studio recording courses' at local colleges where they are plunged into all sorts of studio-tech stuff without even learning the basics... Sure, it makes them think the course is 'good' cos they get to immeadiatly play with lots of flashy toys, but they tend to come out of the course confused, and STILL without knowing the basics of multitrack recording... and yes, working with a simple tape-based 4-track DOES give you all you need to move on to digital multitracking! - I got my first ever recording & publishing deal using a simple reel-to-reel 2-track!!... so it CAN be done!
TASCAM i think it's fair to say invented the cassette Portastudio back in the early 80's, (even if Fostex followed quickly on their heels)... Tascam invented the idea... and it's simple enuff...
You take a ordinary cassette tape which NORMALY would record TWO tracks on EACH SIDE of the tape... you then sling in a 4-track play/record head and make the device so it uses ONE side of the tape only - That way it uses all 4 tracks on one side, rather than 2 tracks each side, (2 x stereo on a normal cassette device)... simple!
Now, the quality isn't 'prestine' on these simple devices, but running the cassette tape at high-speed as portastudio's do, it's quite acceptable for recording songs... You don't really get any hiss and noise at all once there is music recorded on the tape - Bruce Springsteen even released an album once which he recorded on a portastudio as far as I remember, so when it comes to SONGS rather that flashy production they are quite capable to create songs... (But yes, as you develop your skills you CAN create productions on one of these devices.. more on how later!)
HOW IT WORKS... IMPRESSIONS.
Anyways, to cut a long story short, I ended up buying the TASCAM MF-P01 - it's the cheapest Portastudio recording multi-track device you can get - I paid £85 quid for it down the west-end.. You can't argue with that! - a multi-track recorder for the price of a pair of trainers!.... So... What's it like?
Well it's SIMPLE!.. that's the best thing about it... you get a no-frills silver plastic cased deck... No flashy eject etc... you open the lid manualy, drop in a cassette and you are ready to record!
The TASCAM MF-P01 has a record mic/line 1/4" input on the front which is nice because you can easily plugin without faffing around at the back of the unit...
The input section has a basic LED input meter ladder with a level fader below... The gain has a wide range capable of working with Mic or Line levels, so you can use it without any mic pre-amp with a dynamic mic, or if you have a condenser mic and a pre-amp you can of course get a mic quality up to whatever level you happen to own!
On the back there is a stereo Phono/RCA pair of master outs which you'd use primarily to send your mix or working session OUT to an amp & speakers for monitoring or a master recorder of some type for mixdown. - For those with no studio gear at all, your hi-fi amp AUX-IN L/R phono sockets would be the thing to plug these connectors into, and from your hi-fi amp you could record to a master mixdown on your hi-fi stereo cassette deck... You could also record OUT from this pair of sockets IN to your PC as well to transfer your work to the PC!
The MF-P01 also has a handy headphone socket round the back too, so you have all you need for monitoring as you work.
Using the MF-P01 is simplicity itself... There is 4 channels in the left of the unit. Each channel has a simple LEVEL and PAN control, plus a RECORD-ENABLE button with an accompanying red LED indicator.... You simple select a track and depress the RECORD button for that track. Plugin your mic, keyboard, drumbox or guitar/bass etc, get an INPUT level on the Input-section meter, and you're ready to go!
Press record on the transport and off you go!... Once you've recorded your track, you then rewind and switch the next track into record... As you switch to the next RECORD button on the next track you want to record to, the previous track RECORD button flips OUT of record mode, so you can't acidently record over the previously recorded track when you go to lay down the next track.. it's THAT simple!
Any recorded track automaticaly goes OUT of record mode & into Playback mode when the next track is switched IN to record mode - You then set the level for the playback track/s using the wheel-style Volume control on the mixer.
There is also a simple location COUNTER above the transport section which you use to find your songs on tape where a cassette master tape has multiple songs on it - It's important to keep notes with your recording cassettes in the liners to show start times of songs... Then, when you load a cassette to work on a previously recorded song, you rewind to the beginning, reset the counter and then forward to the required start-time to find your song. So you need to get into the discipline of always resetting the counter when loading a new tape, and when loading a tape with other songs on it to start a new song, rewind to the beginning of the tape, reset the counter, then forward the tape to the end of any previously recorded material... forward it another 30 seconds or so to leave a nice gap, then make a note of the new start time of the next song you record. That way you don't get in a muddle finding the start-time of songs, and wont accidently record over other material - it's just a bit of studio discipline you need to apply when working with tape.
So as you can see, it's no-frills... The mixer is basic, offering only Volume & Pan, there is no EQ section at all.. however, this isn't such a big deal to be honest, most porta-studio's WITH channle Eq's only usualy offer a basic Bass & Treble two-band eq... The best thing to do with this style of basic Portastudio is to get your sound right before committing it to tape. A unit like the MF-P01 is best used therefore with some sort of external fx unit... For example, if recording a guitar or bass, tailor the sound using your amp or guitar pre-amp eq and fx, get the sound right as you play along and monitor via the headphone or L/R OUT via your amp/speakers, and then when the sound is right, drop into record and get the track down.
More than 4 tracks?
Ok... 4 tracks is great to get basic songs down.. you get your drumbox, create your song drums and then record them to a track on the MF-P01 - Then rewind, and plug-in your guitar or bass or synth etc and once the sound is set right, record the next part on the next track... then rewind and add your vocal etc... You can build 4-track songs with ease that way.. But what if you want to add MORE tracks.. Well, this is where the arcane art of multi-tracking comes into play - BOUNCING TRACKS - For the newbies, how this works is simple... You record 3 tracks of whatever... let's say those 3 tracks are drums, bass & rhythm guitar... ok you have your basic backing. Now you want to add vocals, lead guitar & a backing vocal for example... Well, you now need to get into the art of BOUNCING tracks.
This involves mixing down the three recorded tracks to the last available 4th Track. To do this you simply take the L/R master OUT on the back of the MF-P01 and route that IN to the front INPUT socket of the MF-P01. You then put Track 4 into record and the 3 previously recorded tracks will be recorded mixed together onto the last available Track of the MF-P01.
You then can re-record over the 3 tracks which have now been bounced down to the 4th track! - Working like that you can create songs with 8 or more 'parts' - It works fine trust me! - As mentioned previously, I've recorded songs in the past using my old two-track stereo reel-to-reel by bouncing from the LEFT to RIGHT track and adding an overdub mixed in with the playback of the previously recorded track each time to build up songs comprising 8, 10 or 12 parts! - That's how you do it of you want to take your songs further and add more parts... This technique of creating tracks by bouncing and overdubbing is the basis of how bands like Coldcut and other started making their first tunes back in the day before portastudios when people used to do it using a couple of cassette decks wired together or old reel-to-reels decks & tape loops etc! - The introduction of Portastudio's just made the whole thing easier!
So there you have it - The TASCAM MF-P01 - A simple no-frills 4-track, great as an ideas sketchbook and also capable of creating bigger arrangements with judicious use.
Other good points are portability... It's small & light and is ideal to take into a rehearsal studio to get down your rehearsals or backing tracks played by the band. You can if you like then take those backing tracks home and add overdubs such as solo's, vocals etc - Also as mentioned it's a great tool for taking on the road for getting down idea's in the hotel after a gig! - Cheap cassette tape medium is another good point, as opposed to expensive Smart-media cards for storage.
- 4-track compact cassette multitracker; Hi-bias (Type II) tape; 4.76cm (1 7/8in) /sec tape speed.
- 1x 4-track record/ replay permalloy head; 1x 4-track ferrite erase head.
- 1x 1/4 in jack socket mic/line input.
- 2x phone stereo outputs.
- 1x input level control.
- 1x 1/4 in headphone monitor jack socket.
- 4x track level and 1x Master level control.
- 4x track pan controls.
- LED signal level indicator.
All in all a great little unit, simple & no frills with a super-cheap price tag to match! - check one out!.. these Portastudio units go on and on lasting years usualy, and at the price this one goes for, frankly you could throw it away in a year and buy a new one & still it would only cost less than £2 quid per week for the ability to get your songs & idea's down any place, anytime! - I don't own this unit as it was a present for a friend as mentioned, but I'll add an audio example as soon as possible of a song done on the MF-P01 to this review so you can hear what it'll do in terms of getting a song together...
All in all, a super-value, no-frills songwriting tool ideal for any budding song-writer who want's to just get their ideas down and not have to spend ages 'learning' stuff and fiddling about - The MF-P01 is SO easy to use you can start making music as soon as you open the box & it costs the same price as a decent fx-pedal!
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Total stars: 14 | Total votes: 3