Mike Rivers' comments on MD Multitrack Recorders

At the January show, TASCAM introduced a 4 track MiniDisk based integrated recorder/mixer. At the time, it wasn't quite finished, and they were looking at a list price of around $2400, far too high in my opinion (and just about everyone else's that I talked with about it) to be a serious contender. Well, six months later, along comes the MDM-X4 from Sony (the owner of the MiniDisk technology), with the Yamaha MD-4 hot on it's heels, both priced around $1200. I got to the Sony booth today, but haven't had a look at the Yamaha yet, or seen what TASCAM's up to with theirs. I did hear a nasty rumor from my Sony rep that a couple of weeks ago, TASCAM dropped the price of their 4 track MD to $1695, and now it's dropped another couple of hundred bucks, so it's back in the running price-wise and we can get back to the feature race. Isn't capitalism wonderful?

Anyhow, the Sony MDM-X4, which was still in the 'playing prototype' stage, offers up to 37 minutes of 4 track time on a data format MiniDisk (all of these guys use the data format, not the audio format disks) with several editing functions such as cut, paste, copy, and move within tracks. A jog and shuttle wheel makes locating and marking edit points relatively easy. All the expected auto punch features are there, with 10 locate points. There's +/- 8.8% vari-speed which works both in playback and record so you can tune your tracks when you bring it over to your friend's house where the good piano is located. Of course a 4-track recorder isn't of much use these days without being able to bounce tracks, and the MDM-X4 offers something that you don't get with analog recorders - the ability to fill up 4 tracks, then bounce those down to one or two. It does this by reading before writing. Of course, if you blow your mix when you're bouncing, you can't re-do it because two of the tracks you were bouncing from get re-written with your mixed tracks, but you learn fast how to do it right that way. There are two foot switch inputs which can be assigned to just about any control function, typically punch in/out and play/stop. Two mic inputs are provided on the combination XLR-1/4" jacks, but as of this time there's no Phantom power. The marketing folks have asked for it, and it might happen by the time it comes to market in November. This may not be the workstation of your dreams at a price lower than you have a right to dream, and, yeah, it uses ATRAC audio data compression, but it's capable of producing good work if you're careful about what you put into it.

[On the second day of the show ...]

... there were a couple of features on the Sony MiniDisk 4 track recorder which I had asked about that weren't very clearly translated by the Japanese translator who briefed the rep. First off, if you have space on the disk, you can make another copy of your entire song. This will provide you with a safety net in the event that you're overwriting while bouncing tracks, and you blow your mix during the bounce. Also, when you use the auto-punch mode, you can un-do a punch-in. Both good features to reduce the awshit quotient when using this machine.

[The Yamaha MD4 MiniDisk based 4 track recorder/mixer] is sized and priced at $1200, just $50 less than the similar unit from Sony. The two are basically the same, but offer some different features that may sway you one way or another. For instance, the Sony offers 2 XLR mic inputs while the Yamaha has only 1/4" jacks. On the other hand, the Yamaha has three bands of equalization where the Sony has only two. The Sony has two more faders than the Yamaha, useful for line inputs from synths running in sync with the recorder, wheras the Yamaha provies only a single rotary pot for a stereo line level input. At first glance, the editing features on the Sony appear to be more flexible than on the Yamaha, but it's hard to tell without having some real projects to work with.

-mike rivers [email protected] (Mike Rivers)

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