Multitrack Cassette Recorders

Multitrack cassette recorders are thin on the ground these day's and as far as I am aware the last model commercially available was discontinued in 2011, and the few remaining models that can still be found in the channel as NOS are mostly budget units intended as musical notepads.

What is happening on the second hand market however is interesting, here in the UK the multitrack cassette recorder disappeared off the market a bit sooner that it did in the rest of the world but conversely has seen a rise in the second hand prices not (yet ?) noticeable elsewhere, 15 year old budget models from Fostex are fetching prices on ebay UK only slightly lower than when they were new.

This resilience of the cassette multitrack is perplexing from a technical standpoint but understandable from a functional one, the primary reason is the lack of a device on the market that replaces the cassette multitrack as a bedroom studio, but the cassette recorder can be turned on and be recording in under 3 seconds, the digital and the computer based alternatives need considerably longer than that and are slower in operation. The lack of maturity in the digital market simply means that all hardware reviews focus on features and capabilities, so makers have to compete on that basis rather than on the basic functionality of the unit.

This may seem a bit strange but keep in mind that the largest computer reviews sites out there only test computer hardware for speed and “value”, not compatibility so it is understandable that their much smaller musician related sites and papers mimic them to a degree. But the long and the short of it is that in addition to people that want to transfer old cassette recordings to a digital format there is enough people out there used to the cassette recorders that have tried to replace them with digital alternatives but feel that it was a sideways step and not a forward one to keep second hand 4 track recorders out of the bargain basement here in the UK, your mileage may vary depending on location.

Amstrad Studio 100

Oddball 4 track cassette based recording studio from Amstrad PLC circa 1985 also sold as the Sinclair Studio 100 although somewhat rare in that guise and on mainland Europe also sold as the Amstrad Fidelity Studio 100, and as far as we can gather the company's only foray into the multitrack market. Basically a Midi music centre with a mixer and with one of the 2 cassette recorders being a 4 track recorder, it even has built a tuner and the turntable on top a la a proper midi system. To accommodate the 6 channel mixer the cassette decks and tuner controls are moved to the right side of the front fascia, in addition to the usual speakers the unit was shipped with a pair of headphones and 4 microphones.

The mixer is a six channel affair with gain controls, high and low Eg and pan per channel and a built in simple BBD echo, to operate the unit you were offered three modes, a "studio" mode that allowed you to use it as a 4 track studio, a "DJ" mode that allowed the use of the mixer with the turntable and cassette and a Hi-Fi Mode that basically turned it into a normal midi system

The quality was not up with the better 4 track cassette recorders of the day and it got woeful reviews in the music press but it was by no means as hopeless as is often stated, perhaps the worst thing about it is the secondary cassette deck which is straight out of a budget midi music system and most users actually mixed down to an external deck using the aux outputs, the record deck and the tuner are also of budget variety, being a usable AM/FM tuner and a fairly nasty build quality especially of the case and loudspeakers which used ply closer to cardboard than anything used for furniture, this was topped by supplying cheap dynamic microphones and typical budget closed headphones which gave the unit an air of a bargain basement home electronics rather than a mini recording studio.

Most people just used it as a music centre than as a recording unit which is something of a bummer since the mixer and the 4 track tape recorder are actually quite serviceable, the mixer is much better than what was shipping with budget 4 track recorders in the day it is actually as good and in some cases better than the mid-price units of the period, goes to show you how far things have come in the last 25 years. The tape recorder allowed you to record on all 4 tracks at once but budget 4 track recorders of the day normally only allowed you to record 2 tracks at once, the sound quality was also quite reasonable next to other 4 track cassette recorders of the day and as before as good or better than the competition in the price range.

The mixer is slightly unusual compared to the competition and belies the fact that it was designed by someone that was more used to designing consumer electronics rather than amateur recording equipment but it is perfectly serviceable and here in the UK we sometimes find them still being used in home studios as an axillary mixer, the single ended noise reduction system is also unusual, it is pretty much par for the course for a cheap music system where the licensing of a system like Dolby B was cost prohibitive but all the other 4 track brands had some sort of a dual ended NR from Dolby Laboratories or dbx corp..

There is another unusual feature on this recorder that you usually only saw on more expensive units, but you can record on track 4 of the tape directly bypassing preamps, NR and eq sections of the mixer, the input is on the back of the unit and marked "Data" implying that is was meant to be used with a home computer of the day as a data recorder, but many computers like the Spectrum had problems with recording onto music systems because of the "always on" single ended noise reduction system used, but this was helpful in the studio as well, FSK and other synch unit would not work with noise reduction could be plugged into this input making this one of the few low budget 4 track studios that were usable with MIDI sequencing setups in the mid 80's.

We quite often find Amstrad Studio 100 models on the second hand market showing very little if any wear on the 4 track cassette recorder and mixer, which is the opposite of most 4+2 track recorders that have turned up here where the 4 track part is heavily used while the 2 track deck looks like new, implying that most of those units were never used for anything but as a music centre.

The last stocks of the Studio 100 were dumped to a discount retailer in 1988 and sold at 50 UKP.

Spares & service : The original part number is T46 for the turntable pick-up and TS-46 for the stylus, Amstrad no longer supplies spares or consumables for any of their audio products but this item was (and is) manufactured by Sharp and their model number for the stylus is STY-146, note that buying the original part appears to be cheaper than buying a third party replacement, even Maplin had them in stock lat time we checked for about 8 UK pounds, about 5 pounds less than many third party are quoting, and Maplin is not known for being cheap on replacement parts.

If you are looking for a replacement belts for the turntable or cassette recorder, or the motors for either then these are all standard parts which just about any stockist of such will be able to help you with.

Specifications :
Original RRP: 299 UKP in 1986.
Turntable: Belt drive with a ceramic Sharp T46 pick-up cartridge.
Tuner: 3 band, AM, LW, FM stereo (EU). 2 band, AM, FM stereo (UK).
Cassettes: 1x 2 track cassette, 1x 4 track cassette deck.
Global signal processing: 3 band graphic equaliser. Echo effect
Amplifier: Power 40 watts MPO (Music Watts, approx. 5 W DIN or less).
Inputs: 6 x variable gain inputs, 2 x line level inputs. Data I/O (Hard-wired to track 4)
Outputs: 2 x Speakers, 2 x Line Level outputs, Data I/O (Hard-wired to track 4).
Indicators: 4 Vu meters that can monitor inputs or tape.
Mixer: Facility for 6 inputs with mix and fade, gain high & low Eq, pan.
Shipped with loudspeakers, 4 microphones and 1 headphones.


The Korg CR-4 was one of the last new introductions of 4 track cassette recorders to the market, initially shipped the latter half of 2004 but did not hit some countries until early 2005. It is a somewhat oddball low budget design that takes into consideration that the market for 4 track cassette recorder had by then become the bedroom studio and makes no pretence at being a recorder usable for anything but audio note taking, it has a very simple recorder and mixer but adds to that a built in modelling signal processor and stereo loudspeakers built into the unit, making it functionally a multitrack recorder, an guitar practice amp, a recording interface and a cassette boombox all in one.

With no menus or multiple function buttons, all functions bar one having a dedicated button or knob and the mixer having no bus system this is one of the easiest multitracker to use that has ever been made. Other design features add to this simplicity and functionality, for compatibility reasons the recorder is run at standard speed rather than the 2x that had become the norm for most such recorders, this means that not only can it play back normal cassettes it can also record onto a tape that has been recorded onto using a standard cassette recorder, so a mix from a studio can be bought home and recorded or practiced over. Despite being firmly in the budget league it will unusually enough record onto any or all of the 4 tracks at the same time but has no noise reduction system.

The effect processor is simple and split into 3 parts, the analogue EQ, and the digital “modelling” and “effects” section and chained in that order, only one pre-set from each digital section can be used at once however. While the speakers and amp are not large they are compared to the 1w mini music systems that you will find in most homes quite adequate despite them being spaced so close together that a stereo effect is really only there if you are sitting close to the unit.

All in all a device you would never buy from looking at the specifications but also has a core of users that love it to bits, this is the ultimate bedroom recorder after all, wake up in the middle of the night with an idea in your head, be ready to record in 3 seconds, compared to the 5 minutes + you will need for the computer to boot and applications to start up, there are even people that use this permanently hooked up to their computer as a sort of a cassette and guitar interface. Strange that no-one has come up with a digital equivalent.

Resources : A review of the Korg CR4 from Sound on sound magazine
Owner’s manual in PDF form from Korg - If this link no longer works go to the support part of the Korg site and do a search for CR4.

Manufacturers specifications :
Format : 4 track, 4 channel cass.html @ 4.76cm. High bias.
Recommended tape : Chrome tape no longer than C60
Mechanism: 1x DC motor, 1x 4track record/replay permalloy head, 1x ferrite erase head. Rewind speed approx. 120 seconds.
Inputs : 4x unbalanced 6.3mm mono Jack plug line/microphone/guitar level inputs, -50dB minimum, impedance 1Mohms.
Outputs: 2x 6.3mm stereo jack plug headphone level (10mV 30 ohms) outputs, 2x cinch line level (-10dBV 10kohms) outputs.
Modelling processor: 6 guitar cabinets, 2 bass cabinets, 1 acoustic guitar EQ, 2 microphone models, Noise reduction.
Signal processor: Compressor, Wah, Chorus, Flange, Phaser, Tremolo, Rotary speaker emulation, delay, spring reverb, Chorus+Delay, Chorus+Reverb.
EQ : Bass, midrange and treble.
Amplifier and speakers : 2x 2.5W peak amplifiers, 2x 8cm bass reflex loudspeakers.
Frequency response : 50Hz to 12.5 kHz @ +/-3dB.
Wow & Flutter : 0.25%
Signal to Noise ratio : 43dB.
Channel Separation : Better than 40dB @ 1kHz.
Total Harmonic Distortion : Better than 3% @ 1kHz.
Erasure : 65dB @ 1kHz.
Physical : 434w x 103 h x 322 d; Weight: 4.9 kg.
Power : External adapter; EU # KA239, UK KA236, USA KA233. DC 12V pin -, sleeve +. Consumption 13W.
RRP : UKP 199 late 2004, USD 299 2004.

© 1993 - 2013 Ólafur Gunnlaugsson, all rights reserved.

The site was last compiled on Sun Nov 10 2013 at 9:15:00am