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Is There Such A Thing As A "GOOD" Portastudio?
Old 1st February 2009
  #1
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spenceroo's Avatar
 
🎧 10 years
Is There Such A Thing As A "GOOD" Portastudio?

Does anyone make a decent 8 or 16 track portastudio? I just can't seem to find anyone that's happy with the current models. Either the hard drive is really noisy, they record terrible or the preamps need goosed to the max to get any signal, not to mention problems with burning cds and on and on. I just need a good dependable tool to write and arrange songs. I don't want to end up spending big bucks on outboard preamps just to get a good signal. Is there anything out there that's portable and dependable? XLR's are a must.
Old 1st February 2009
  #2
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DCtoDaylight's Avatar
 
🎧 15 years
Lots of people like the Roland VS series (myself included, although I've moved on to a laptop setup). There's a learning curve in figuring out the internal routing and all, but the sound quality is quite good, and they definitely fill the bill for songwriter demo recording. You can probably pick up a lightly used one for short bucks on eBay. You can check out some user groups at vsplanet.com.
Old 1st February 2009 | Show parent
  #3
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BudgetMC's Avatar
 
1 Review written
🎧 10 years
I've got a Kord D3200. The hard drive can be a bit noisy, but if you optimize your tracks every so often that isn't a big deal. Beyond that, it's got a dozen xlr inputs, decent pre's (though I mostly run outboard pre's), moving fader automation, and some respectable dsp. And, if you do any live recording, it totally kicks butt for location work. For me, it strikes a nice ballance between ITB processing power and the joy of having faders and nobs right in front of you. Not perfect, but low-stress and with loads of potential I haven't yet tapped.

You can usually find them for about $800 used on ebay. A steal, in my opinion. But keep in mind, I started out on ADATS... heh
Old 1st February 2009 | Show parent
  #4
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spenceroo's Avatar
 
🎧 10 years
Thanks for the input guys. I just spent a couple of hours researching the Akai models only to find out they've been discontinued! I'm now looking at the Fostex LR16. It looks like the perfect tool for band practice, since it's a live mixer with a hard drive in it. Now if you can overdub on the thing, that would be perfect. I haven't been able to answer that question yet. I'm not looking to do a complete production, just basic songwriting and band rehearsal recording.
Old 1st February 2009 | Show parent
  #5
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cavern's Avatar
 
🎧 10 years
you can definitly overdub on that.(LR 16)
set whatever track/tracks to record
set whatever track/tracks for playback
you can bounce tracks and punch in
Old 1st February 2009 | Show parent
  #6
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A LaMere's Avatar
 
🎧 15 years
I've tried nearly all of them...
owned 3 of them myself and worked on other people's projects who had recorded using them.. they were all the rage before pro-tools came out with a version that you could run on a laptop and travel with easily.

(which by the way, would be a better suggestion than any porta-studio in my opinion.... plugs, upgrade-ability, compatibility, etc)

That being said, the Akai's can still be had for very cheap and work great.
Same can be said about the Yamaha. It's a tossup which of those two sounded better, but they were both light years ahead of the competition as far as actual sound quality went.

The Roland's are ok too.. but the mix-buss on those things is just flat out strange... in my opinion. That being said, there are a lot of Roland's... I haven't tried all of them.

The pre's aren't great on any of these. Period.
but if you're tracking with external pre's the Yamaha and Akai versions can work just fine.

Plus, you can track into them scratch-pad style and then mix in Pro-tools or some other program if needed.

The real and maybe only advantage that these offer over a cheaper m-box type solution is workflow. Granted, if you dig the workflow of these... it is a tangible advantage.
Best of luck.
Old 1st February 2009 | Show parent
  #7
Gear Maniac
 
🎧 15 years
I absolutely love my Zoom HD16CD

So much, that sometimes I sleep with it.

But I only use it for recording: You can take it anywhere, its far quieter than a laptop - its got 8 perfectly acceptable pres on it, though I use a DMP3 most of the time. Sure dorks will tell you that the conversion is crap, but as a I think that 90% of such talk is pure consumerist gear masturbation, it doesnt bother me.

Ive spent the last year making an album on it, which Im mixing now. The sound is clear and clean and noise free and its beautiful to be able to record anywhere I need to - down the local music school with a pair of NT5s in my backpack to record some piano. Play some guitars over at my mates house, do vocals in a hotel room on a weekend away. Fantastic fun, and so much better than the inspiration-sapping of staring at a computer - like going back to your old 4 track cassette days, except with much better sound quality.

Cant comment on the effects or anything, as Ive never used em, though the reverbs are decent enough for tracking.
Old 1st February 2009 | Show parent
  #8
Gear Addict
 
🎧 15 years
A used Yamaha AW2816 or AW4416 would be a worthwhile purchase for you. I don't think the sales for the company's later 24 channel machine were as successful. We still use three of the 2816s - two hardwired and cascaded in the studio, and one for live outside venue work. Data transfer is easy, with the optional ADAT cards. The units have been rock-steady for us. If self noise is an issue - as it is with us - the 2816 is much quieter than the more expensive 4416. Go figure.

Good luck in your choice.
Byll
Old 1st February 2009 | Show parent
  #9
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tropicalhotdog's Avatar
 
🎧 10 years
I use a Yamaha 2816 for all my at-home tracking. I love the thing - very flexible and fosters a lot of creativity since for me since I never have to think about recording - if I have an idea, I can get it down quickly and easily.

When I'm just playing around and writing stuff I use it as is, but if I'm tracking guitar overdubs and other stuff that will actually go onto a record, I go through my own pres into an apogee converter, bypassing the 2816's chain. Sounds great like that.

For doing anything more than that, though, I'm not sure how useful a tool it is if you want a super polished sound.

Don't much like a super polished sound myself though
Old 2nd February 2009 | Show parent
  #10
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spenceroo's Avatar
 
🎧 10 years
Thanks again guys for all the input. Like I mentioned before, I'm not looking for a complete or polished final production, jut something to record a live basic track with my band at rehearsal, then be able to add parts to it. Just a basic writing tool. I'm starting to like that Fostex LR 16 a lot. Being so new though, I'm hoping it doesn't have bugs.
Old 2nd February 2009 | Show parent
  #11
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mmcfarlane's Avatar
 
🎧 10 years
Be careful. I started with a $1600 korg 8 years ago and now, many tens oh thousands of dollars later,....

For rehearsal recording soemthing like the Korg, or a Yamaha, Fostex will be perfect. If you want to make music, have a history to listen to and practice from, these standalone units are much easier to get it done. Computer recording still has its share of problems and I've found the standalone records pretty easy and bulletproof.

If the recording bug catches you, you may choose to upgrade in a few years to a laptop system. You might check the resale value of these things before buying. I suspect the Roland and Yamaha keep their value better.

Another option is something like the Alesis HD24. It's almost as easy as runnning a tape recorder. You can mix through your live board and recapture the stereo signal, for copying to a computer to burn to CD.

The mix through the live board step may help improve your live sound mixes also, if you take notes . You can even do the mix with your sound man (if you are lucky enough) and discuss things like - should the guitar really sound like this...
Old 2nd February 2009 | Show parent
  #12
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cramseur's Avatar
 
🎧 15 years
I have an Akai DPS16 which records great from it's line ins. It's mic pres had to be turned up to max gain to get an adequate signal. So you'd have to have outboard pres. I switched to in the box (pc) 8-9 years ago, and the Akai is sitting in my closet.
Old 2nd February 2009 | Show parent
  #13
Lives for gear
 
🎧 10 years
Portable recording , how about a Nagra VI ?
Nagra VI
Old 2nd February 2009 | Show parent
  #14
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spenceroo's Avatar
 
🎧 10 years
Yago,
I'm sure that Nagra is a killer deck, but I'd like to get a little more bang for my buck.
Old 3rd February 2009 | Show parent
  #15
Lives for gear
 
🎧 10 years
As said , a laptop and interface of choice then ?
Old 3rd February 2009 | Show parent
  #16
Deleted 2848499
Guest
Another reason the "portastudio" stigma rings true, is because if one thing goes wrong on the unit, it all goes wrong, because it is all connected to the same brain. Think of it like a motorhome vs a truck pulling a trailor.

I agree with Joe Porto. Your best bet is a Digi 003, or an Apogee Ensemble in a softcase travel rack, and a mac laptop. They will provide a highly portable, stable environment, and will ensure efficient & maximum compatibility for where ever the audio ends up. heh
Old 3rd February 2009 | Show parent
  #17
Lives for gear
 
🎧 15 years
If all you're wanting is a multi-track audio sketchpad, buy one of the Roland VS series. Get one used for real cheap. I have the VS-1680 and it is a superb machine. Extremely dependable OS. Quite a versatile recording machine. Yes, you would do well to bypass the mic pres, but that's its only real flaw.

For more tracks and a very analog sound, I upgraded to an Akai DPS-24 and it's totally awesome. The best kept secret in the audio-world. A totally professional sounding all-in-one DAW. Akai stopped making them only because they didn't have a clue what a gem they had created. Their marketing department failed them. But the machine itself is a work of art.
Old 3rd February 2009 | Show parent
  #18
Lives for gear
 
🎧 15 years
Why won't the hardware makers build a decent digital portastudio for tracking and later integrating with a DAW ... what is the real holdup?

16 bit compressed data has been dead for some years now - where are the 24 bit portastudios? The hardware has been avaialable for years, it just needs putting together.

We don't need build in instruments or effects or toys - just some decent converters and a silent drive in a box - how hard could that be?

I don't understand - the market should be huge. I've been wanting one forever ...
Old 3rd February 2009 | Show parent
  #19
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headwerkn's Avatar
 
1 Review written
🎧 15 years
I'll second the Roland VSs. The final few of the series - the VS2480, VS2400 and VS2000 - are arguably the ultimate in the all-in-one digital Portastudio concept.

They were quite expensive units in their heyday and IMHO are well designed and built equipment. The mic pres aren't the sort of thing that will get GearSlutz moist in their nether regions but they're very usable, clean and have a reasonable amount of gain on tap.

The ability to use a DAW style visual GUI on a VGA monitor and mouse makes editing a breeze in comparison to using a small B&W LCD. The software VS plugin architecture is also something unique to the Roland. With these you get much of the feel and flexibility of software DAWs but with the convenience and reliability of hardware. Unfortunately only about half a dozen plugins were released for the VS8F-3 card before the platform started to fizz (namely UA LA2a/1176, Antares Autotune, SoundBlender, TRacks, TC Electronic Reverb and the Massenberg Parametric EQ) they're all well produced and professional sounding.

The Roland VSs also had arguably the best accessory ecosystem, though a cynic might say some of it was necessary because Roland insisted on using its own RBUS digital format rather than something standard like ADAT. Certainly there's no lack of stuff out there for expanding your studio though admitly some items - like the MB-24 Meter Bridge, SI-24 interface/controller and VE-7000 channel edit controller - are getting hard to find and command decent prices on the secondhand market.

I own a VS2400 with a few plugins and an DIF-AT24 RBUS-to-ADAT adapter, which I used with a Digimax FS to add an extra 8 mic pres so I can record 16 tracks at once. The Digimax typically gets used for the more 'important' signals and mics that need lots of gain, but the stock pres are fine for electric guitars, toms, bass and so on. I also use the VS2400 as a live recorder in conjuction with a Mackie TT24, which runs off the 8 digital mults from one of its ADAT outs and 8 analog insert-mults from the TRS jacks.

In my little 'studio' I run the Roland alongside an old Digi001 ProTools system, linked via MIDI (for MTC) and ADAT, which I use for when I need more than 24 tracks and more intense editing. I'll be honest, the Roland can do most edits fine but PT is faster, especially because the waveform redraws on the VSs are pretty slow.

Of the 3, I'd recommend the VS2480DVD if you can afford it - it's the most expandable (can take 4 VS8F-2/3 cards), has 16 analog ins (8 mic, 8 line ins), has SCSI for easy(ish) track transfers to a computer or external HD and 100mm motorised faders. A VS2480CD can be upgraded to a DVD model cheaply.

The VS2400CD has 60mm motorised faders and can also record 16 tracks at once but you'll need some kind of RBUS interface (either Roland's 8 channel mic pre with RBUS out or the asbeforementioned ADAT converter and something like the Digimax). It also only has 2 effects slots (I find myself rendering effects to tracks constantly) and the only way to move track data off is via the CD-R drive which is SLLLLLLOOOOOOOWWW. Seriously, it is faster to fly stuff over digitally into ProTools if need be. The VS2400CD lacks the phrase sampler functionality the other two units have, but its VGA board is built in, unlike the other two models.

The VS2000CD doesn't have have motorised faders and can only record 8 tracks at once, but can take 3 effects boards and is the only VS unit bestowed with USB, which means transferring tracks off the unit is as trivial as it ought to be. If you want a quality songwriting scratchpad to capture ideas then do further work elsewhere then this is probably the unit to get, as it is cheaper than the other two.

Roland has essentially end-of-life'd the entire VS line now and there's no lack of units on eBay and the VSPlanet marketplace getting around. I'm sure a lot of people will say "just get a laptop and interface" but considering you can get a VS2480 or VS2400 for the fraction of the cost of a decent Macbook Pro, external F/W HD and Digi002 or 003, it's definitely worth considering.

Hope this helps.
Old 3rd February 2009 | Show parent
  #20
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headwerkn's Avatar
 
1 Review written
🎧 15 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by Kiwiburger ➑️
Why won't the hardware makers build a decent digital portastudio for tracking and later integrating with a DAW ... what is the real holdup?
.... I don't understand - the market should be huge. I've been wanting one forever ...
Because unfortunately the world has moved on and the market isn't there. Everyone wants ProTools, everyone thinks a computer and software DAW is the way to go. Garageband on your Macbook does infinitely more than all but the most sophisticated hardware units. Hardware goes out of date too... and it easier for a company like Digidesign to convince people to update their computers each time they update their software, rather than say Roland or Akai try to add more power and features to their hardware workstations.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Kiwiburger ➑️
16 bit compressed data has been dead for some years now - where are the 24 bit portastudios? The hardware has been avaialable for years, it just needs putting together.
The top tier stuff - Roland VSs, Akai DPS, etc. - are all 24 bit.
Old 3rd February 2009 | Show parent
  #21
Lives for gear
 
🎧 15 years
Yeah - but there must be a whole generation of people like me who have burned out on [email protected]#$ software DAWs and just want a return to some simple hardware that works.

For the tracking stage that is.

I can futz for hours with temperamental software after the fact - that's ok. But who wants all the hassels of software while tracking something - especially if self engineering, or going mobile for location recordings.

This is why I record my TV shows with a HD recorder, not a fecking PC.
Old 3rd February 2009 | Show parent
  #22
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Jules's Avatar
Some folks with golden ears and a a large portion of talent can make amazing recordings on their portasudios. I remember a friend of mine who was a total portastudio ninja play something in an SSL studio I was doing a session at - and the in-house engineer said 'Where did you record that?" and my friend said - "on my portastudio" - the engineer nearly fainted with shock.
Old 3rd February 2009 | Show parent
  #23
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retractablezing's Avatar
 
🎧 10 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by Jules ➑️
Some folks with golden ears and a a large portion of talent can make amazing recordings on their portasudios. I remember a friend of mine who was a total portastudio ninja play something in an SSL studio I was doing a session at - and the in-house engineer said 'Where did you record that?" and my friend said - "on my portastudio" - the engineer nearly fainted with shock.
that begs the question...which portastudio was that?
Old 3rd February 2009 | Show parent
  #24
Lives for gear
 
🎧 10 years
i used Roland VS880 when it first came out, than VS 1680. Made quite a few Cds releases on them. They are excellent machines. Still use them sometimes. I also know that some fairly successful people used them. Some of The Prodigy lead vocals were tracked on VS880. They are easy to use, much quicker than computer because of all the faders. The only limitation are inbuilt effects. They are ok, but if you fancy anything else it becomes a bit of a pain.
I would highly recommend them.
You have to bear in mind this is Gearslutz, so anything that does not cost a fortune or is not Vintage/apogee,Lawry/ Benchmark.....is slightly frowned on. But as Jules pointed out, many a high end devotee would not be able to tell the difference. That was my experience too. I did have people asking how did i get that sound, that vocal, what it was mastered on and not believing it was all in VS880. I am not a genius or "golden ears" either. It's just because those things are easy to operate it leaves you more time and mental space for the sound and music.
Old 3rd February 2009 | Show parent
  #25
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spenceroo's Avatar
 
🎧 10 years
Like I said, I'm not looking for a complete production tool. Just something decent to write and arrange with. I might just pick up a used or even a B-stock ($1100) HD24 and go with that. I've got a small Mackie mixer that we use for band practice, and it's probably good enough to get the signals for a basic rythm track into the HD24. From there we can write and record the solos and overdub background tracks. It won't be quite as portable as I'd like, but at least the HD24 has a good track record. Does anyone make a 16 track recorder that's smaller and more portable than the HD24?
Old 3rd February 2009
  #26
Gear Head
 
🎧 10 years
I think you can get some pretty good recordings from Tascam 788 and 2488 units, but the learning curve is steep.
Old 3rd February 2009 | Show parent
  #27
JSG
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JSG's Avatar
 
🎧 10 years
I had a Boss BR 1600 CD and I found it to be a great little unit. I bought it because I live aboard a sailboat and space was limited. I've been recording for many years and was able to produce excellent results. I did end up selling it though and buying a DAW. Good luck.
Old 4th February 2009 | Show parent
  #28
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Fleaman's Avatar
 
🎧 15 years
I love my Yamaha AW2400. 24 trks, full automation including moving faders, nice on board eq and effects, pre amps/converters not bad. You can get optional cards in the back (same as the other digi Yami mixers) to increase inputs/outputs, etc. Use it for rehearsals but have made some nice mixes with it. Burn a mix CD on board.

Had mine for almost 2 years (about when they came out), no problems at ALL. Build quality is excellent, metal case, not plastic. They are on clearance now, should be able to get for $1500 or less. Doesn't look like Yamaha will be replacing it.

IMO it records and mixes better than my old Blackface ADAT's and Mackie mixer from the '90's.

Had their 16tk too, AW1600....it was nice and the reason I upgraded to the AW2400. The eq on the AW1600 isn't as good and no moving fader automation....I really think you should spring for the AW2400, a much better value with more of everything.

And you can't hear the HD in either unit.
Old 5th February 2009 | Show parent
  #29
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headwerkn's Avatar
 
1 Review written
🎧 15 years
Quote:
Originally Posted by Kiwiburger ➑️
Yeah - but there must be a whole generation of people like me who have burned out on [email protected]#$ software DAWs and just want a return to some simple hardware that works.
Totally with you.. it's the reason I got a VS. Unfortunately, we're in the minority and there just isn't the market to make such gear profitable the way it was 10 years ago when audio computers were limited and expensive.

Quote:
Originally Posted by spenceroo ➑️
Like I said, I'm not looking for a complete production tool. Just something decent to write and arrange with.
If you want to use the tracks you record later as part of the production then go for a VS2000 - the USB connection is worth sacrificing the motorised faders for, especially if you're not going to do serious mixing on it - but if you just want a musical scratchpad why not get something simple like a Tascam DP-004 {http://www.tascam.com/products/dp-004.html}? It's battery powerable, can record two tracks (voice and instrument) at a time and costs a mere US$200. There's no effects or anything fancy to distract you from simply laying down tracks. I'm sorely tempted to get one just to chuck in a guitar case.
Old 5th February 2009 | Show parent
  #30
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Fleaman's Avatar
 
🎧 15 years
To add> You can also transfer wav files out of the Yamaha AW2400 (via USB 2.0) to a DAW for editing/mixing. Also, you can do onboard waveform editing (on the AW2400). You can zoom down to a sample (can only edit 1 track at a time), but you can cut/paste/move between tracks. Nothing fancy, but it works.

You can b/u files to your computer thru USB or to the onboard CD burner.
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