Moving to tape - need advice

Discussion in 'Tape Recorders' started by Jeemy, Feb 8, 2006.

  1. Jeemy

    Jeemy Well-Known Member

    Sep 19, 2003

    It was a bit of an impulse purchase cos it looked like such a bargain - I just bought an Otari MX5050 tape unit (1/4" i think), which came with 2 x Dolby A units, an Adams-Smith Zeta Three sync unit and an ASC timecode unit on the meterbridge. It was £300, so I figured what the hell. Its been used in a format conversion capacity, well maintained and modded so it can run at double-speed (the guy told me half but I can't see the point of that). 70ips?? god knows.

    I have got NO experience with tape, I've read a bit and understand the basics of timecode. My master clock will be an RME fireface 800 hopefully.

    I just wondered if anybody had any startup advice. I bought it primarily to learn a bit about operating and maintaining tape before I shelled out £1000s to go 12 or 24-track, and to try and improve my guitar sounds which even with an Eggle, Cornford, 57, Seb, STT, RME compressor signal chain, frankly suck.

    I could probably use it with the STT (which I use for almost all single-channel tracking) for single or stereo tracking on more than just guitars, but obviously i can't really record 6 tracks of drums and the overheads 2-track onto this simultaneously....or can I??

    The sync made me think I could sync with my DAW ok.

    I am just looking for some advice as I embark on mastering this bit of kit.

    Don't bother with this machine at all? Don't use the Dolby? Yes you can sync perfectly, and take 2 track masters back out onto it, and you should? Learn to splice? Don't bother? Use it for vocals? Compress and EQ pretape because you'll get more of the "good stuff"? Things to consider when syncing with a DAW?......any pointers you can offer would be greatly appreciated at this stage?

    So we know, my setup is (core pieces) this - STT-1, TMP8, Seb vmp4000e, feeding Fireface, Joemeek VC1QS, and mics include M930, 421, K2, 57, d1, d2, i5, c4, 414EB, a bundle of other stuff, but thats the core, runs into Cubase 2 SL for which I have some Waves Renaissance and some free plugins. All runs on a G5.

    All help, pointers and mudslinging greatly appreciated!
  2. Jeemy

    Jeemy Well-Known Member

    Sep 19, 2003
    I know that was all a bit vauge so not expecting much to come from this *bump* - gonna start learning to calibrate it, wind it, bias it, sync it etc this weekend. Maybe a/b some split tracks to tape and digital for comparison through the week.

    Any thoughts or suggestions welcome. J.
  3. moonbaby

    moonbaby Mmmmmm Well-Known Member

    Feb 23, 2005
    The MX5050 was a great machine. It came in several versions, and, judging by your description of its previous applications that this is a"half-track" format. These machines were very popular for broadcast and dubbing, as they were veritable workhorses. I used a roomful of them in various audio facilities back in the 80s. But they ARE 1980s technology, and Otari is only manufacturing tapeless technology these days. Maintaining an analog tape machine is getting more and more expensive each year, and the wear-and-tear parts get harder to find, not to mention the cost and availability of the tape!
    Maybe I didn't get something in your post, but I sense that you want to get the "tape saturation" of this machine injected to your digital recording rig? I think that in the long run, you would be better off with an Empirical Labs FATSO or the new Rupert Neve Tape Emulator. Both of these utilize analog "transformer-like" devices to provide this type of saturation. I have used the FATSO and was very impressed; the RN Portico box looks like it will do the trick, but haven't tried that yet, it is a new offering from him.
    In either case, you will not have to deal with the noise level, the maintenance expense and hassles, and the overall FRUSTRATION that analog tape will present to you.
  4. Jeemy

    Jeemy Well-Known Member

    Sep 19, 2003
    You guess right - also I feel that I should as an engineer of limited repute, know how to operate such a thing.

    I am keenly aware of the time factor - I run more than one company and although I desperately want to tinker with this machine and learn it before graduating to a larger one, it does bear on me that this will be at the expense of time more profitably spent on acoustic tuning of my room, or mic technique - but I think this is one of those things that despite the good advice and the sensible route, I will persist with.

    As I say, this was a bargain as I saw it and a good DIY project, and the Neve unit sounds amazing, but it is £8-900 and only one channel right? Longtermly I am keen to be able to record 8-channel drums to tape. Isn't it a single/stereo unit? I know there are potential clients not using my facility because I can't do that. The TMP8 soft limiters is too hard to explain to them....

    I will look at the Fatso but I am in a phase where I just want to get the best out of what I have got and the tapedeck is rightly or wrongly included in that.

    On a more philosophical note; I know its getting harder to maintain and upkeep these machines, but is that inevitably going to continue? Reading comments by people like Albini and with the new companies starting to manufacture tape again, is it just hard for those of us unable to splurge cash on our pet projects, and the big studios can effortlessly maintain what they want? Are there a few industry standard machines that have better support than the less standard units like this?

    With the wealth of comments and uncertainty circulating about the longevity of digital media, I find it possible to believe that a market exists and may be growing; in which case it would be interesting to see what fills the gaps.

    Thanks for the advice - I will keep you posted on what goes on. Even if this falls down dead, its gonna be fun to practice on.

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