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Best portable vintage tape device for field recordings?
Old 25th February 2019
  #1
Gear Nut
 
🎧 5 years
Best portable vintage tape device for field recordings?

I'm looking to record some sounds around New York and I want to use tape (I also make tape loops). I'm looking for a vintage portable recorder that:

-Has speed control
-Has input (1/4" or XLR) for mic
-Has 1/4" or 1/8" output

I basically want to be able to record sounds with the warmth of tape, sometimes run them out through effects pedals, and add them to multitrack projects.

Would love any feedback from people who have experience in this - thank you!
Old 25th February 2019
  #2
Lives for gear
 
🎧 10 years
Budget?

My first thought is a Nagra, but they are not cheap.
Old 25th February 2019
  #3
Lives for gear
 
🎧 10 years
Why speed control on the portable recorder, are these recordings going to brought back to your studio and transferred to multitrack tape or DAW for further processing ....you could probably do speed variation then, on the multitrack tape, during the transfer process ?

Anyway, Nakamichi 550.....it's tape, made from about 1975 onwards, runs on batteries, ruggedly built, not sure if it has speed variation ability...do some research on it, reasonably priced used today, get yourself some ferric or chrome tapes and you're good to go !

If it needs to be 1/4" tape a Uher Report (3000, 5000....I forget the model) but make sure it's been maintained, new drive belts, capstan wheel, good heads etc....or else you'll have acquired yourself a short-term time bomb.

Tape isn't 'warm' per se, mythology....it simply distorts benignly when moderately overdriven, let's start off with the right methodology and terminology. You plan to record into the red.....you'll get your warmth ?
Old 25th February 2019
  #4
Gear Nut
 
🎧 5 years
Sorry, as far as budget, <$800 would be great. I like speed control because I like to lower the speed completely when I do a tape loop, run it through effects and record it live that way.
Old 25th February 2019 | Show parent
  #5
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🎧 10 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by deern ➑️
Sorry, as far as budget, <$800 would be great. I like speed control because I like to lower the speed completely when I do a tape loop, run it through effects and record it live that way.
Ok, Nak 550 is out of the running on that score, but a worthy and robust machine otherwise. The Uher family might give you the typical tape standard speed increments: 7.5, 3.75, 17/8 ips....but continuously variable between those is a bigger ask, not sure if even Nagra did that ? You maybe able engineer a variable pot for the motor or capstan speed, like they did at Abbey Rd for the Beatles era Studers ?
Old 25th February 2019
  #6
Lives for gear
 
🎧 10 years
Midland Portable Model 12 204 real to real tape recorder (New in Box ) | eBay

for the price, may be worth a shot.

Speed control is asking a lot. You are better off doing speed controls in the digital world.
Old 25th February 2019
  #7
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jnorman's Avatar
 
3 Reviews written
🎧 15 years
I hesitate to say the obvious, but I would recommend that you do your fieldwork with a current model sound devices mixpre or similar quality digital recorder, and then transfer to tape during post processing. You will have a much more reliable and convenient field recorder with much higher S/N ratio and far less inherent noise, which will give you a fairly pristine source material for you to manipulate to your heart’s desire back in the studio - there are nearly infinite options these days to achieve any type of β€œtape warmth” or other effect you wish.
Old 25th February 2019
  #8
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s wave's Avatar
I worked on a few films in the 90s - there are some incredible PRO portable cassette recorders with full xlr and vue etc. These things are amazing - I forget the top model & manufacturer but is made for this and is impeccable. They were often used on top movies. something like this:
Attached Thumbnails
Best portable vintage tape device for field recordings?-toys-maranz-b.jpg  
Old 25th February 2019
  #9
Gear Head
 
LegacyMix's Avatar
 
🎧 5 years
Stellavox SP7, SP8, SP9 use to be the Swiss watch for tape based field audio for motion pictures. Swiss made like a Studer.
Old 25th February 2019
  #10
Lives for gear
 
🎧 5 years
Nagra IV the only sensible choice and within budget
I had that Marantz Cassette machine
Most unreliable but lovely unobtainable spec!
Not sure the Nagra variature works on record but it might
Old 25th February 2019
  #11
Gear Guru
 
Thomas W. Bethe's Avatar
 
1 Review written
🎧 15 years
Nagra would be my first choice, Stellavox my second choice, UHER Report 4000L my third choice and a good portable "professional" cassette deck my last choice. FWIW. Make sure all of them have been maintained well and are all in "serviceable" condition. Parts maybe a problem for any of them if something mechanical goes wrong. Sounds like a fun and rewarding project.
Old 25th February 2019
  #12
Lives for gear
 
🎧 10 years
A cassette based solution that will give you variable speed (you'll have to research the parameters, might only be +\- 20%) in s the first generation of 4 track recorders by Tascam. They doubled the speed to 3.75ips, added DBX for noise reduction, and were quite robust. Being a 4 tracker, you could only utilise the tape in one direction, and a C-90 gave you 22 mins of recording time. Springsteen recorded his "Nebraska" album on one, at home, and decided he couldn't better the result in any studio...so that's what we got in 1981 or whenever it was.

Not battery portable though. Your research mission, should you decide to accept it, is the Tascam 144 and 244. The secretary will disavow any knowledge etc etc.....

If you wanted 'hifi' capture you'd probably have bought a Zoom H4n (which does give you speed variable playback) by now already. You could also try for one of those old micro-cassette Palm sized, suit pocket dictation machines....I'm pretty sure they used tape speed variations as a tape saving measure, and they ran at even slower speed than regular cassettes IIRC ? Every smart young exec in 1983 had one, Olympus was a brand I recall but there were many others. I doubt you'll find one today in working order however....the old failing rubber parts syndrome strikes again. The low-fi version of the H4n for the 1980's, and the telephone answering machines of the era often used the same tape mechanism....the cassette was smaller than a matchbook/matchbox

Last edited by studer58; 25th February 2019 at 03:52 PM..
Old 25th February 2019
  #13
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Robo's Avatar
 
🎧 10 years
Good options here, I feel obliged to add the WM-D6C, although you'll also need a pair or preamps with XLR and phantom power, converted to the minijack line input on the Sony.
Old 25th February 2019 | Show parent
  #14
Lives for gear
 
🎧 10 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by Robo ➑️
Good options here, I feel obliged to add the WM-D6C, although you'll also need a pair or preamps with XLR and phantom power, converted to the minijack line input on the Sony.
Yes the Walkman Pro was a great machine, really good tech specs. It could withstand a rough life too
Old 25th February 2019
  #15
Gear Nut
 
🎧 5 years
This is awesome guys, thank you!

Anyone have experience with the Sony TCM-5000EV?
Old 25th February 2019 | Show parent
  #16
Gear Addict
 
The model in the photograph looks like a Marantz PMD430 or PMD420. They were nice machines (the '430 even had DBX noise reduction), though their compact size necessitated very dense internal construction -- so skill and patience are requirements for making internal repairs or modifications (though a simple belt change isn't quite as bad as some reports make it sound... and last time I checked, a belt kit was still available -- and I believe that Superscope still offers a "tune-up" service as well).

The similar-looking Sony TC-D5 had/has many fans, as well (as does the WM-D6). I think the Sony models probably have lower wow-and-flutter specs vs. Marantz units (at least the D6 should, by a considerable margin).

The biggest problem I've run into in buying (used) pro-level cassette portables is they've all had moderate-to-severe head wear, even when their external condition has not belied any evidence of abuse.

Personally, I'd buy a good solid-state portable and transfer to tape in a controlled environment without the worry that something is going to go wrong with an old and potentially complex electro-mechanical machine... but if you absolutely want to use tape in the field, and it's a critical part of the creative process to do so, then I say: go for it.


Quote:
Originally Posted by s wave ➑️
I worked on a few films in the 90s - there are some incredible PRO portable cassette recorders with full xlr and vue etc. These things are amazing - I forget the top model & manufacturer but is made for this and is impeccable. They were often used on top movies. something like this:
Old 25th February 2019
  #17
Gear Nut
 
🎧 5 years
Also just wanted to add: this is for tape loops and ambient music and any amount of flutter or noise is entirely encouraged, I actually will rarely use this to try to capture pristine sound - more the opposite.
Old 25th February 2019 | Show parent
  #18
Lives for gear
 
s wave's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by WorldPowerLabs ➑️
The model in the photograph looks like a Marantz PMD430 or PMD420. They were nice machines (the '430 even had DBX noise reduction), though their compact size necessitated very dense internal construction -- so skill and patience are requirements for making internal repairs or modifications (though a simple belt change isn't quite as bad as some reports make it sound... and last time I checked, a belt kit was still available -- and I believe that Superscope still offers a "tune-up" service as well).

The similar-looking Sony TC-D5 had/has many fans, as well (as does the WM-D6). I think the Sony models probably have lower wow-and-flutter specs vs. Marantz units (at least the D6 should, by a considerable margin).

The biggest problem I've run into in buying (used) pro-level cassette portables is they've all had moderate-to-severe head wear, even when their external condition has not belied any evidence of abuse.

Personally, I'd buy a good solid-state portable and transfer to tape in a controlled environment without the worry that something is going to go wrong with an old and potentially complex electro-mechanical machine... but if you absolutely want to use tape in the field, and it's a critical part of the creative process to do so, then I say: go for it.
I have had success with the Sony TC-D5 (for solid state the Marantz pmd660) and the Marantz cassette recorders. I always preferred the cassettes. XLR or 1/4 or 1/8th inch input becomes a choice in your decision. I have had good luck with all of them... the other is the dynamic range... the cassette machine will vary - lower and upper frequency range capture. There was a big reason these were used on many films - often paired with a Nagra. Mainly for a back and different sound capture - I can't tell you how often we ended up using the cassette recording in the final film... alot. The TC-D5 can be a lil pricey - Some recorders like the Pressman series were originally made more for TV VOICE but will handle all sounds. But some recorders recorded as high as 90k hz which can record frequencies way higher than the human ear can hear. With todays DAWS and digital noise reduction I believe they would work great. If you could have the deck checked by someone before buying + definitely do it.

Like WorldPowerLabs said CHECK the 'Head WEAR and tear!'
Attached Thumbnails
Best portable vintage tape device for field recordings?-sony-tcm-5000ev-professional-three-head-portable-cassette-recorder-vintage-_1.jpg   Best portable vintage tape device for field recordings?-orosonyrecorder.jpg  
Old 25th February 2019
  #19
Lives for gear
 
🎧 15 years
The Sony D5 and that Marantz deck were fine machines in their day, but they are kind of lofi by current standards and worse than that, need expert and expensive maintenance. Many of the techs I used to use to service mine have stopped working on any cassette decks by now, so you are likely to have to ship one to another city to get any work done. Parts like pinch rollers and belts will be very dried up by now, and the record button/switches wore out eventually. The deck not having any use, ie sitting for a long time, is almost as bad as wear. Even a low budg Zoom recorder would be a better choice I think, and all the play speed ramps and shifts you want can be easily done in post.
Old 25th February 2019 | Show parent
  #20
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s wave's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by philper ➑️
The Sony D5 and that Marantz deck were fine machines in their day, but they are kind of lofi by current standards and worse than that, need expert and expensive maintenance. Many of the techs I used to use to service mine have stopped working on any cassette decks by now, so you are likely to have to ship one to another city to get any work done. Parts like pinch rollers and belts will be very dried up by now, and the record button/switches wore out eventually. The deck not having any use, ie sitting for a long time, is almost as bad as wear. Even a low budg Zoom recorder would be a better choice I think, and all the play speed ramps and shifts you want can be easily done in post.
I haven't used one in years... and you you might be right - the better path might be cheaper - picking one up for under $100 you can even use em as burners if you have to... Solidstate/digital ya you might be right. If you want that retro feel get good deal / cheaper tape machine with a good head or both.
Old 25th February 2019 | Show parent
  #21
Gear Nut
 
🎧 5 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by philper ➑️
but they are kind of lofi by current standards and worse than that, need expert and expensive maintenance.
Thank you - that has definitely been part of the trouble I've had pulling the trigger on a nicer one. Almost makes me want to just go with a cheapo $20 "cassette player" and just call it a day.
Old 25th February 2019
  #22
Lives for gear
 
🎧 5 years
You are not recording in fidelity, just noise ,so your pallet is wide open
Use a phone or a dictaphone
Its not location recording, just harvesting.
Old 26th February 2019
  #23
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s wave's Avatar
Type of microphone is important or a couple of them... I have a beater sony f-96 beater 1/8th inch cable unbalanced use it alot $3... shotgun mics are cool for isolating sounds farther away etc... get and adapter to for different size inputs... the world is your oyster.
Old 26th February 2019 | Show parent
  #24
Lives for gear
 
🎧 15 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by studer58 ➑️
Yes the Walkman Pro was a great machine, really good tech specs. It could withstand a rough life too
I had one brought to spec by a good tech in Nashville. It was crazy good sounding. Blew the doors off my Tascam 122MK2 which was a pristine, low-hours deck. Had to use my Nagra to get better sound.
Old 26th February 2019
  #25
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s wave's Avatar
I heard of a guy who took portable cassette deck and retrofitted a huge angled head - and same with playback machine... any body ever did that? take 1/4 inch tape player into like 3/4 or 1"? just wondering.
Old 26th February 2019 | Show parent
  #26
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tourtelot's Avatar
 
1 Review written
🎧 10 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by studer58 ➑️
Yes the Walkman Pro was a great machine, really good tech specs. It could withstand a rough life too
There were a few versions of Walkman Pro machines. My experience (with three different machines) was terrible. They were NOT, in my experience, tough machines. They would always fail. Someone actually made an outboard 60hz sync unit if I recall correctly, for use in making movies.

I had a Sony TC153SD deck that was larger, but still "portable" that could be aligned with an MRL tape to be a top performer. I used it for many a board feed recording when I used to tour Rock and Roll. I still have some of those cassettes.

I think, unless the OP wants to go down the rabbit-hold of restoring something, and unless he has a "must" for analog tape, he'd be better of with, let's say, a Zoom and then to do manipulation ITB.

If not digital, a rebuilt, properly aligned and set up Nagra 4.2 might work. But that won't happen cheaply, I'm afraid.

Splicing cassette tape, and even getting a good sounding recording with those 1980 machines would be a tough nut to crack. And maybe no cheaper in time and money than the Nagra.

D.

PS. I owned a copy of the very first Sony Walkman (think Guardians of the Galaxy), blue with the big orange button that allowed one to talk to another sharing the headphones. Hahaha. So cool. Listened to Joni Mitchell's Hissing of Summer Lawns over and over lying in a bunk on a tour bus going somewhere. Wore that cassette out!

Wish I still owned it seeing what they are going for on eBay.
Old 26th February 2019
  #27
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tourtelot's Avatar
 
1 Review written
🎧 10 years
Oh and that Sony TC-D5 ProII was a sexy beast. I never owned one but lots of my friends did. I recall a powered speaker pairing (can't remember the brand and maybe it used a 12 volt amp), all in a pleather bag or a briefcase (?) that those rich FOH mixers had for hotel room systems. I was jealous. I think Nak made a similar set.

D.
Old 26th February 2019 | Show parent
  #28
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s wave's Avatar
Quote:
Originally Posted by tourtelot ➑️
Oh and that Sony TC-D5 ProII was a sexy beast. I never owned one but lots of my friends did. I recall a powered speaker pairing (can't remember the brand and maybe it used a 12 volt amp), all in a pleather bag or a briefcase (?) that those rich FOH mixers had for hotel room systems. I was jealous. I think Nak made a similar set.

D.
I think Nakamichi displaced the TC along with digi at about that time... nice car... I had a Triumph TR-250 I miss that on dearly (and a GT6+) sexy too
Old 26th February 2019
  #29
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Plush's Avatar
 
5 Reviews written
🎧 15 years
At your price, Sony Professional Walkman.

Or get real and spend $5000 for a Nagra IV-S.
Old 26th February 2019 | Show parent
  #30
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tourtelot's Avatar
 
1 Review written
🎧 10 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by s wave ➑️
I think Nakamichi displaced the TC along with digi at about that time... nice car... I had a Triumph TR-250 I miss that on dearly (and a GT6+) sexy too
(Warning! Slight hijack)

Thanks. It's an expensive labor of love. Putting a new front-end it it as we speak. Coil-overs, rack, sway bar; all from an AC Cobra. Should handle better now.

(Now, back to the program already in progress)

D.
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