A couple months ago, I was at Seaside Lounge with Parquet Courts recording a bunch of new material. We finished an EP, which will be coming out this September – you can hear live versions of some of the songs (and a thoughtful interview with the band) on a recent edition of NPR’s World Cafe, recorded a couple weeks before we hit the studio.
Part of the setup process was figuring out what tape machine to use for the sessions. We recorded Light Up Gold on Austin’s Tascam 388, so we knew we could get something good on it. There’s an almost cult-like following surrounding the 388, from the San Francisco psych-garage scene to the Black Keys and a host of other analog enthusiasts. I’ve worked on it a number of times (with Austin’s other band The Keepsies and the folk-rock revivalists Wild Leaves) and really love the sound, but wanted to explore some other options.
Seaside Lounge – in addition to their beautiful Otari MTR-90II 2″ 16-track (on which we recorded Funky Was the State of Affairs) – also has an Otari MX-5050 1/2″ 8 track in their B room. Nirvana’s Bleach, Mudhoney’s Superfuzz Bigmuff, and a bunch of early Sub Pop records were recorded on an Otari MX-5050. The guys at Daptone Records still swear by them. I recently picked up a MX-5050 for Doctor Wu’s, and was eager to try it out with the band.
So I set up a shootout of the two machines! Through the Sony MPX console, I was able to simultaneously bus each track to the Otari (at 15 ips, no DBX), the Tascam (w/ DBX on), and Pro Tools HD (as a control). Since we were using 8-track tape machines, I submixed my drums (kick, snare, rack, floor, stereo overheads) to a stereo pair. The bass and two guitars had one mic each, but I’ve bounced the guitars as a stereo pair for this demonstration.
The recordings are from an early take that we discarded, so there are no vocals or other overdubs on it – just the live tracks. I adjusted the clips levels so that they would be roughly the same volume (the mix between -18 and -15 RMS). No other processing or effects were applied to these tracks post-tape/computer.
These clips are from a song called “Descend” (which will be on the upcoming EP). There’s a rough mix of all the tracks (with the same relative mix level for each transfer), and the drums, bass, and guitars by themselves. In each clip, the order is Pro Tools > Otari MX-5050 >Tascam 388 > Tascam 388 (w/ DBX off during playback, a really cool trick that seemed worth documenting!).
We went decided fairly quickly to go with the Otari. The low end is robust and punchy with a nice natural dip in the low mids, and an accented-but-not-hyped high end. The Tascam sounds are really cool too, though. With DBX on for both recording and playback, it gives a sound that’s more compressed and mid-rangey than either the Otari or Pro Tools… it sounds tough. The low-mids of bass guitar got a bit out of control on the 388 – if we had stuck with it, I would have adjusted the EQ on the amp or the console to clean it up a bit. Almost as an afterthought, I also transfered the tracks from the 388 with DBX off. Austin and I had done that with some of the Keepsies recordings, and it totally changes the sound (as you can tell) to something bright and sparkly. It’s a bit extreme in this case – I was using a lot of condensers on these recordings… but try it on something like a guitar overdub with a SM57 or whatever dynamic you’ve got around, and you can get some amazing/unique results.
This shootout was done for our own purposes, so it’s not particularly scientific or exact. I hope that these recordings are as interesting to you guys as they were to us! Big thanks to Charles and Mike at Seaside Lounge for all of their enthusiastic help to set this up. Thanks for checking this out, and feel free to get in touch at jonathan.schenke[at]gmail.