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Looking to get started with cassettes in 2018
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Author Looking to get started with cassettes in 2018
ayruos
Hello!

Over the last few weeks I've become fascinated with musique concrete and the physicality of sound and have grown an interest towards using cassettes in my personal practice.

Over the next year or so, I want to be able to do the following things,

1. Go through my dad's old cassette collection to sample them into the Morphagene/Clouds/etc and use the material that exists.

2. Record to cassettes, final tracks, maybe release some stuff on cassettes.

(So no, not particularly looking at using multiple tape recorders for sound on sound techniques primarily but if it comes up might be interested in that a bit, too)

I'm currently in Europe but will be returning back home to Indian next summer (and gain access to my dad's old cassette collection and hopefully a second hand market for old cassette players/recorders etc - but the second part I'm not sure about, I'm hopeful though!)

With these two objectives in mind, I'm looking for suggestions on how to get started on this route, maybe not immediately but at some point in the next year.

I have no prior experience in working with cassettes (apart from making cassette mixtapes and pirated copies of albums on a two deck cassette recorder which sadly my dad sold off in my late teens sad banana ).

I'm guessing what I need to acquire are a couple of walkmans/portable tape players and at least one recorder of some sort. And also understand cassettes - read up on some stuff about differences like Chrome, etc? Prices on eBay at least for recorders seem quite high (!) and I'm not sure what kind of stuff I should be looking at anyway, so any tips, tricks and other info would be welcome!

Thanks in advance!

PS. Let's not get into the debate of whether this is worth it or not!
Jean Luc Cougar
A few thoughts (in no particular order):

1. Don’t overthink it or feel like you need to become an expert on tape technology, part of the beauty is the simplicity.
2. With what you have described above it sounds like you will want 2 tape decks/recorders, but in a pinch you could probably get away with just one.
3. Some considerations for tape decks:
- You will need one to record your material, I would suggest high end consumer models or maybe even a 4-track. Why? If all of your sources are tape, it may be slightly lofi and have some high end loss, you likely don’t want to have that both going in and out
- I’m unsure what your process is, nor have I used morphogene or clouds - but it might be useful to have a tape deck that has variable speed so you can pitch things up and down.
4. Recording / releasing on cassette: given the nature of the project I see the appeal. If you go down this route, it might be worth reading some articles on who buys tape and vinyl in 2018. Short summary: collectors as much/more than listeners. Often times the motivation is to have a physical representation of support. This may lead you to consider a digital download with purchase and/or unique packaging.

Sounds like a fun project!
electricfence
I don't have any experience with the first part of your inquiry, although it seems like you'd only need a tape player and some way of boosting the signal to modular levels (and maybe the Morphagene does that already; I've never used one).

As far as recording tracks to cassette, last year I decided to make a "holiday EP" to send to friends for Christmas, and I recorded and mixed it on cassette, and then hand-dubbed copies of it. I used an old Tascam 4-track cassette recorder (a Portastudio) for recording, and it was lots of fun, although you kind of have to be pretty organized when it comes to composing using it -- or at least I did. (I just looked at Reverb, and it seems like they've gotten more expensive in the past year or two since I bought mine, just FYI.)

To dub the cassettes (and for recording the mixdown from the Portastudio), I bought a new Marantz PDM-300CP. It was cheaper than many used dual cassette decks that I saw, and I thought, "Hey, it's new, that's better, right?" but the build quality was surprisingly poor. But it got the job done.

I found a supplier somewhere in Missouri for new, blank cassettes, and they had a variety of lengths available. I was able to get 20-minute ones with red cases (for Christmas!) so that my EP would fit on it without a ton of empty tape. I also found some cheap portable cassette players that I sent to one or two friends who didn't have a way to play the EP!

As I said, the recording process was fun, but there were tons of constraints -- and if you're used to editing and mixing in a DAW, doing it on the tape machine ("live" without automation) is kind of a drag. One of my friends described the finished product as "pornographically low-fi," which I think was a compliment, and, except for a sampler on one track, the process was all analogue.
corpusjonsey
Check out HAINBACH. He's on Muffs too. He does great demos of his process involving tape. Some videos use a Morphagene.
smetak
Yes!

Hainbach is crucial! And Amulets - both have exceptional demos on youtube dedicated to tape.

Personally, I would recomend a Marantz PMD 201, an ancient field recorder very popular a few decades ago - three heads with pitch control.

And a decent multitrack for recording (and manipulation) - I have a Fostex x 28 and a simple x 12.

All these manchines are extensively used and demoed by Hainbach and Amulets (who's more into Tascam), especially Hainbach who gives detailed explanation and examples. He normally uses Ciat Lonbarde and a OP 1 for sampling - but a phonogene/morphogene would be a must.
ayruos
Thanks everyone for the replies!

Quote:
Don’t overthink it or feel like you need to become an expert on tape technology, part of the beauty is the simplicity.


That was the plan, but unfortunately, the prices on second hand tape decks on eBay and Reverb means that it is still a fair bit of investment so that why I'm trying to understand the subject a bit better.

Regarding the Morphagene, it can both boost line level to modular levels AND offer variable speed control, so that's not too important on the player side.

electricfence it sounds like a really fun Christmas project that you did! I generally record from my modular in multitrack, using a Zoom R16, standalone, on the DAW I usually do a bit of basic mixing, compression, EQ, etc, no edits or overdubs so I can imagine going straight into a 4 channel tape recorder to record. That's not super important though.

corpusjonsey and smetak - yes, HAINBACK I'm following on Youtube and looking at some of the stuff he does. Very inspiring! I'm super interested in going through my dad old cassette collection when I have access to it in a few months, sampling old obscure Bollywood should be lots of fun! Not aware of Amulets, will look them up now!

Thanks for the recommendations on the Tascam Portastudio, the Marantz recorders, etc. The prices for all of these seem to be higher than what I imagined they would be, so I'm keeping a lookout for them and hoping I'll see a good deal soon. Fingers crossed!
ayruos
Looks like the Fostex recorders are much cheaper than the Tascam ones on eBay. Wasn't aware of them earlier!
booger
ayruos wrote:
Looks like the Fostex recorders are much cheaper than the Tascam ones on eBay. Wasn't aware of them earlier!


I’ve owned Fostex and Tascam recorders. My opinion is that Tascam is a much better quality than Fostex. My experience only applies to 4-tracks. Fostex felt light and cheap while Tascam was heavier and seemed more solidly built.
smetak
booger wrote:
ayruos wrote:
Looks like the Fostex recorders are much cheaper than the Tascam ones on eBay. Wasn't aware of them earlier!


I’ve owned Fostex and Tascam recorders. My opinion is that Tascam is a much better quality than Fostex. My experience only applies to 4-tracks. Fostex felt light and cheap while Tascam was heavier and seemed more solidly built.


Hum.....although I'm far from an expert on this, the build quality seems similar - a Fostex x12 is a cheap little machine, rather flimsy. But the x28, a more advanced piece, is decently put together.

I think with Tascam is the same thing - I had the Porta Studio 5, with a busted motor - gave it to a friend to use for parts - wasn't able to get it fixed. I have a 424 with a better build quality. But like the fostex x28, its a big plastic box and with all the decades on its shoulders, must be handled with care.

The Marantz PMD series seem quite sturdy, heavy metal boxes (must have been a bit of a drag for new reporters to carry them back in the day).

Needless to say, ALL of them have been sent to a tech when time of purchase due to various problems and cleaning.

On pricing, according to Hainbach (I live in the middle of the jungle, so pricing for gear, for me, is a tentative thing....), the Marantz seems to have gone way up, especially the ones with three recording heads; people have been buying up these machines for authentic tape delay - there are some fascinating youtube demos using the Marantz and VCF to achieve interesting delay effects. Unfortunately, haven't had the time to test this myself, but no doubt something to explore.

Hainbach also has an excellent video on the "sound-on-sound" technique with, I think, a Fostex x12 (or a Marantz pmd 222) and his trustworthy fostex x28. A must see!
calaveras
the funny thing about cassette tape is that it used to be how us mere mortals could emulate the sample based music of the 80's when samplers were impossible to own on a minimum wage.
I used to have multiple tape decks and reel to reels. I'd bounce things back and forth. Speed up, slow down. Edit. Variable pitch. All the tricks I could think of or read about in some magazine.

Now it's kind of flipped. You can get into sampling and multitracking pretty easy. But if you want to do tape stuff you have to use 2nd hand tapes, or pay a premium to whomever still makes them. Does anyone currently make a cassette deck? I suppose it shouldnt be hard to get one 2nd hand. But then you need to get some 100% alcohol, some chamois swabs and maybe even a head demagger.
(assuming you want full fidelity out of your tapes, if not maybe you want the most fucked up sound a tape deck can make)
IR
smetak wrote:
I have a 424 with a better build quality.

Which version do you have? I have a Mark III and it's the pits in terms of build quality.
smetak
IR wrote:
smetak wrote:
I have a 424 with a better build quality.

Which version do you have? I have a Mark III and it's the pits in terms of build quality.


Earliest model, pre Mark II - the buttons are all worn down, but, still, pretty decent for its age and in "reasonable" working order (bit of a problem in regard to volume on one its channels) - but the motor is quite good and can modulate the pitch quite well.
IR
smetak wrote:
IR wrote:
smetak wrote:
I have a 424 with a better build quality.

Which version do you have? I have a Mark III and it's the pits in terms of build quality.


Earliest model, pre Mark II - the buttons are all worn down, but, still, pretty decent for its age and in "reasonable" working order (bit of a problem in regard to volume on one its channels) - but the motor is quite good and can modulate the pitch quite well.

The gray one, yeah, that one probably is better built. The annoying thing is that with the latter versions they kept adding features (at least on the mkIII, the two extra channels are very useful for effects mixdown), then cutting corners so that made them less sturdy.
ayruos
calaveras wrote:
Does anyone currently make a cassette deck?


Tascam actually does, they unveiled a new one this year!

https://tascam.com/us/product/cd-a580/top

Not ready to spend on something like this atm though. There's some Fostex X18's that might be in my budget though - anyone have any experience with those?
IR
ayruos wrote:
calaveras wrote:
Does anyone currently make a cassette deck?


Tascam actually does, they unveiled a new one this year!

https://tascam.com/us/product/cd-a580/top

Not ready to spend on something like this atm though. There's some Fostex X18's that might be in my budget though - anyone have any experience with those?

I don't see Dolby on that thing, it's just like Chinese cassette gear in that department.
jonne74
Tascam also released the 202 MkVII earlier this year. It's a double deck version.
smetak
I've caught this:

https://www.amazon.com/TOSHIBA-Cassette-TY-AK1-N-Domestic-products%E3% 80%91/dp/B07BF3KX9N

But according to this demo, its quite a piece of junk:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rD8i5zwtOmc
mudlogger
There's a very good link here on the monome forum that will help you

https://llllllll.co/t/how-do-i-produce-and-self-release-music-on-casse tte/8446/21
Scot Solida
ayruos wrote:

Tascam actually does, they unveiled a new one this year!

https://tascam.com/us/product/cd-a580/top



I have one of these - it's not great. It feels a bit like a cheap home stereo component from the 1990s. It isn't anything like the quality studio cassette decks or CD machines Tascam used to make.

Unfortunately, there aren't too many options these days.
MindMachine
calaveras wrote:
But if you want to do tape stuff you have to use 2nd hand tapes, or pay a premium to whomever still makes them.


Are you kidding or just rolling coins?

https://www.nationalaudiocompany.com/


If someone wants to buy my old TDK chrome tapes they can get a good deal and have free sampling material of classic analog synths. I have hundreds.

If you just want to sample stuff into modular then just get a $30 old mono player. Clean it up and let her rip.

If you want to maybe record and sample then get a Portastudio - many to choose from.

If you want a pro stereo output then invest in a Tascam 122 or similar.

Or just get a Pressman or Walkman or whatever and sample from that.

Guinness ftw!
ayruos
MindMachine wrote:
calaveras wrote:
But if you want to do tape stuff you have to use 2nd hand tapes, or pay a premium to whomever still makes them.


Are you kidding or just rolling coins?

https://www.nationalaudiocompany.com/


If someone wants to buy my old TDK chrome tapes they can get a good deal and have free sampling material of classic analog synths. I have hundreds.

If you just want to sample stuff into modular then just get a $30 old mono player. Clean it up and let her rip.

If you want to maybe record and sample then get a Portastudio - many to choose from.

If you want a pro stereo output then invest in a Tascam 122 or similar.

Or just get a Pressman or Walkman or whatever and sample from that.

Guinness ftw!


Thanks, yes. A Walkman should be enough to sample from, that was my original guess too. And recording into cassette, I don't really think I want to get my hands dirty with multitrack recording right now, what's the cheapest option if I want to go line out (sound card or modular) into tape? Good enough decks have line ins, right?
joesdeals
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=woDGKMDZJi0

This is the 4 track recorder I have, also a great video / tutorial series on working with the Tascam 424
Scot Solida
joesdeals wrote:


This is the 4 track recorder I have, also a great video / tutorial series on working with the Tascam 424


I've got the MkIII. I recently pulled it out, cleaned it up, and had a grand old time recording a sweeping 4-track Berlin School mini-epic into it. It sounded surprisingly good and I enjoyed it immensely. It was fun to work within the limitations of the format.
jensenluxvid
Thrift stores are your friend. I have a fair number of cassette players/recorders and most of them I got for a few bucks at the thrift store. Yes, they still can be found there. Also, don't be afraid to get something broke if it can be had for cheap. Often they just need belts, which is a pretty easy fix. I paid $20 for a broken Tascam 414 on Ebay, with minor issues, and it works great now. I got a Library of Congress vari-speed player for $5 that needed a belt, and it also now works. And if it turns out to be too hard to fix, you're not out a ton of money.
smetak
On tapes themselves - these guys in the UK are curcial!

https://tapeline.info/v2/

Have bought from them - excellent service and decently priced.
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