A few years back, TASCAM developed a nearly pro-level cassette multitracker named the 238. It's a 3U rackmount deck that looks nearly identical to a DA-38. It doesn't have a built in mixer, like most cassette machines, and works very nicely as an intermediate step between a typical porta-studio and a full fleged project studio. It's a great option for someone who wants to make very good sounding demos at a reasonable cost. There was also a 4 track model (the 234) with the same options, although it looks quite differnt. I suspect the 234 will sound even better than the 238, due to the larger track width.
The original model (238) utilized dbx noise reduction, and the later model (238S) used Dolby-S noise reduction. The 238S is a much more desirable machine, and fetches an extra $50 to $100 in price on the used market.
So what makes this deck so special anyways? Well, the 238 originally retailed for well over $1000. It's retail price was higher than that of the Tascam 488. Why? Quality. Think about it... the 238S (which is a stand alone tape deck) costs more than the mixer and tape deck combination of the 488mkII. They must have cut some corners on the 488, and it's apparent in the sound quality. In a head-to-head comparison between my used 238S and a friends new 488mkII, the sonic difference was uncanny. There is much less hiss, crosstalk and wow and flutter on this deck than it's porta-studio cousin. Just picking up a 238 and feeling it's weight gives a good idea of the build quality. The transport is rock solid, keeping the wow and flutter to a minimum, and the Dolby-S seems to really keep things quiet without destroying the sound (like dbx can).
The 238 has all of the options of it's competition. It uses soft-touch transport controls, has variable speed, and individual VU meters (12 segment LED) for each channel. Other features include a shuttle wheel for fast searching forwards and backwards, manual punch in (with record button, or optional footswitch), automated punch in (with a few seconds of pre-roll, and a rehearsal option). The 238 also features 2 locate points and a return to zero function. The machine will also loop between the 2 locate points. Finally, the noise reduction is switchable in groups of 4 tracks.
Another thing to mention is the term "Syncaset". The 238S has a ribbon cable connector on the back labelled "Accessory 2" or "Serial I/F". With this connector and a special syncronizing box (actually, there's several sync options), you can link two 238's together and have one be a master and the other a slave. You still need to stripe a track on each deck, but this gives you 14 tracks of syncronized cassette recording. The SMPTE timecode on track 8 tells the sync box what position the tape is on, and the sync box then sends a signal down the serial cable to keep the two decks locked together. Very nice feature. Unfortunately, TASCAM's price on the sync boxes is outlandish (almost $2K for the nicest model), so a used sync box is the only logical route. (Especially since you can buy 2 used ADAT XT's for $2000 these days).
Here's all of the sync options for a Syncaset. All of these prices are suggested retail, and they should be cheaper on the street. Used will be much less.
So, here's the low-down on the machine's specs; Taken straight from the user's manual.
Tape: C-30 to C-90 cassettes, Cr02 (Type II)
Track Format: 8-track, 8-channel, one-way record/play
DC reel motor (x1)
DC ancillary motor (x1)
Pitch Control: +/- 12% of standard speed
Wow and Flutter:
+/- 0.08% W. PEAK (DIN/CCIR/IEC/ANSI weighted)
Recording Time: 15 minutes with C-60
Dimensions: (W x H x D): 480mm x 149mm x 345mm - 19" x 5-7/8" x 13-9/16"
Weight: 9.5kg - 20.94lbs
Line Inputs: (x8) 30K ohm, unbalanced RCA @ -10dBV (0.3V) nominal
Line Outputs: (x8) 470 ohms, unbalanced RCA @ -10dBV (0.3V) nominal
Channels: 8 channels of record/playback. Noise reduction switchible in groups of 4 (1-4 / 5-8)
Bias/Erase Frequency: 85kHz +/- 5kHz
Equalization: 3,180 +35 u s
Frequency Response: 30 Hz - 16 kHz +/- 3.0dB
Signal to Noise Ratio (ref to 3% distortion):
51 dB (NR OFF, not weighted 20 Hz to 20 kHz)
75 dB (NR ON, CCIR/ARM weighted, 1 kHz)
64 dB (NR ON, not weighted, 20 Hz to 20 kHz)
Crosstalk (adjacent channels): More than 70dB at 1 kHz, +10VU
U.K. / Australia: 240 VAC, 50 Hz
Europe: 230 VAC, 50 Hz
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