Re: [rumori] performance cassette players - do they exist?

From: The Evolution Control Committee (
Date: Wed Apr 25 2001 - 08:02:59 PDT

     Why am I replying to this? I have plenty of email I should be replying
to instead. But hey, Rumori's a good distraction, and this is one of those
questions I've often asked as well...

At 06:19 PM 4/22/01 -0700, you wrote:
>Hey everyone,
>I'm fantasizing about getting something like a cassette player
>specifically engineered for live musical performance. Does something like
>this exist? These days, there are performance turntables (Technics
>SL-2100) and a multitude of performance CD players and samplers. How about
>tape? Any equipment tweakers/builders on this list?
>I'd be looking for something with some or more of the following features:
>1) Variable speed: Something like an analog pitch wheel that can make the
>tape travel anywhere between half and double speed.

     Many dictation/transcription recorders have speed control, but are not
made for quality of sound (they're just concerned with speech
quality...sigh). The Sony BM-80 I have is great because it actually has
separate control of speed AND pitch -- i.e., it controls speed
-independently- of pitch through electronic pitch shifting of the sound.
Naturally it sounds like crap, which can be fun. The downside is that the
deck has solenoid ("soft-touch") controls, which aren't conducive to fast
live-performance action.
     It's not too hard to tweak a deck with a speed control (variable or
just double/half speed) but it's usually not instant.

>2) Instant reverse: The ability to instantly be able to switch something
>from forward to reverse and back again. (Instantly as in I wouldn't have
>to remove the tape to flip it over. It's okay if there's a minute pause or
>pitch bend as the tape changes directions.) This would be independent from:
>3) Instant tape flipping ability: As in what you have in most car stereos.

     But it's quite possible to tweak a small manual deck into reversing
tape direction but break the part which reverses the play head. A friend of
mine did this and it works great. He did this with a smallish Walkman-style
and used it in live performance all the time.

>4) Both a locking and a non-locking pause button: A locking pause button
>would be what you're used to seeing in a normal tape deck. A non-locking
>pause button would be one that you have to keep holding down for the tape
>to remain paused.

     Sometimes you can press a pause button halfway and it pauses but
doesn't lock. With the right deck you could just shove something around the
button that would keep it from pressing all the way... a "safety" if you will.

>5) Live cueing, rewinding ability: Like on a hand held tape recorder. If
>you press rewind while play is down, you hear that chirpy sound. If you
>hit rewind alone, it just rewinds.

     Occasionally you'll find 70's-era full decks that have this, but it's
rare. Sometimes you can achieve this by holding down the PLAY button while
pressing REW/FF, usually by pressing the REW/FF just slightly as you hold
the PLAY firmly down.

>6) Sliders for volume and panning. Preferably mounted on top of the thing
>for easy use. Sliders win more points than knobs. The panning knob
>wouldn't necessarily be panning the output of the device, but panning
>which channel of the tape the input signal is picked up from.

     I've never seen one with panning, but my Technics Model R-625US
cassette deck (VERY 70's) has independent left/right volume control right
on top, so those can be found too.

>Not as important:
>1) Mechanical (not electronic) tape transport buttons: These are the most
>common tape player control buttons. The kind where when you press play,
>the play button remains down. This would be opposed to digital controls,
>which have less moving parts and are supposed to last longer. I just
>prefer the mechanical ones.

     This is VERY important for live performance, because those
solenoid/soft-touch style controls really keep you from being able to time
your stuff well. And the digital controls are more prone to breakage I've
found, beacuse they're motor assisted... the older mechanical ones are more
solid, just mechanical, versus electronically-assisted mechanical, which is
more prone to breakage. I think the reason they switched is that older
mech-only controls are more prone to user error... you can press multiple
buttons and make it eat the tape; you might not press PLAY hard enough, etc.
     I think this -the- most important factor, personally. This is why I'm
always looking for 70's or early-80's era tape decks. Well, used to. :-)

>2) Top mounted controls (for ease of use)

     That Technics I mentioned are top-mounted. Almost all dictation decks
are top-mounted.

>3) 4 channels!! (Okay, this is just letting fantasy play too much here.)
>Wouldn't it be great to have the option of playing the front and back of a
>tape at the same time? Or to use tapes recorded in a 4-track?

     Yer asking a lot there buddy. :-) But actually, you might want to
search out an old Tascam Porta-One or Porta-Two multi-track cassette
deck... they work on four channels simultaneously, have top-mounted
mechanical controls, has speed control (+/- maybe 20%?), has volume and
panning controls of course, and believe it or not, has built-in "cue and
review" (soft REW/FF) as well! They'll play regular cassettes (well, chrome
only for recording, but playback works fine with anything), and while it
doesn't do instant direction reversal, you can pop the cassette out and
flip it over to play it in reverse. Works with dBx or no noise reduction
only (no dolby B or C).

     And best of all, it's made to sound better than speech quality...

- Mark G.

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