by Keith Mohr, courtesy of %%Christian Musician%%

Well, here I go again! I'm frantically clawing my way into yet another cool new electronic gizmo that will revolutionize the way us musician types record our music, all in the comfort of your easy chair! This time it's Tascam's Portastudio 564 Mini-Disc four tracker, which hit the mean streets of America's music stores after a lengthy trip across the Pacific in April of 1997.

After slicing through the tape and unwrapping this little guy, I was mesmerized by all the neat little buttons, and this really big wheel sort of thing, which I found out after reading the manual becomes your best friend and writing partner. What sets this Portastudio apart from its analog predecessors is that this guy uses no tape. It records your song information onto a mini-disc, which is akin to a little hard drive. Like the 564's competition, you can store up to 37 minutes of recorded media, divided amongst as many tracks as you can cram in. But that's where the comparisons end. Some of the great features that are totally unique to the 564 include, four XLR microphone inputs, four bands of EQ including sweepable mids, insert points on channels one and two, (I'll go into why this is important later), the ability to use two simultaneous effects returns, digital outputs through S/PDIF, and a very cool function called bounce forward. What's bounce forward? Well, imagine if you had four tracks full of drums, bass, guitar, and vocals, and you wished you could somehow take those four tracks and move them up the tape a bit, so you could add more tracks. Well my friend, that's exactly what bounce forward is. This handy feature allows you to digitally mix into a new location, without having to get out your super-duper catastrophic converter, twirl three times and say five Hail Marys! Once you have bounced forward, you can add on two more tracks, and do it all over again. Imagine being able to bounce forward up to four times. Now that's just too cool for me to handle! No other Mini-disc machine does that, so that's worth the price of admission right there.

O.K., now let's get down to other important just-gotta-know facts. With the 564, you can plug in up to four low impedance microphones at the same time. Why in tarnation would you want to do that? Well, for starters, have you ever tried to mic a drum kit with one Realistic Hi-Ball microphone? If you have, then you know what I'm talking about. If you haven't, have you ever tried to order a double-guts cheeseburger through one of those drive-through speakers? There you have it, case closed. The ability to use four good low impedance microphones make it worth the price of two extra tickets for your in-laws. Thanks Tascam!

The R&D folks at Tascam have also included a very musical four band equalizer section, complete with sweepable mids. What are sweepable mids? I know what protruding mids are, I have a well known case of Dunlop's Syndrome, where my belly done flopped over my belt. Sweepable mids allow the purist in all of us to "dial in" on a frequency where "offending" bumps or holes may be. Sounds like Pennsylvania roads. With just the flick of a wrist, and of course using your ears, you can add that warmth to a nasally vocalist, or add "air" to someone who likes to sing with a pillow over their larynx. You can even completely dial out offending vocalists from the studio altogether who want you to somehow "fix" incorrect intonation.(I made that part up).

Another very important feature included at no extra charge on the 564 is channel inserts. These 1/4" holes are very important when you are trying to capture the nuances of a great vocalist. The ability to "patch-in" a compressor/limiter is something that just about everybody should try at least once in their lifetime. Back in the early days of my recording experience, I used to wonder how they were able to get the singers to stay at a consistent volume. I finally figured out that they were using a little black box that would "squash" the vocals into this little tiny space in the recordings. If the vocalist would whisper, you'd hear it. If they screamed, your ears wouldn't bleed. This box is an absolute necessity for the home recordist, since you usually do not have all the other cool black boxes to make up for deficiencies in the recordings. When someone comes into the music store where I work, and asks for something that would improve the quality of their recordings, I head straight for the compressors. Did you know that the other manufacturers don't even give you the option of this little 1/4" hole?

Let's move on! How about the ability to record up to five takes on each track, audition them, and then being able to choose which one you like best. Oh no, I better find a new line of work! Let's add to that the capability to set up to 20 markers per song. Markers are places in time where you can distinguish from one musical passage to the next, like a verse into a chorus. The 564 allows you to copy, paste, delete, move, dissect, puree - oh wait, that's my mixer review. This is very similar to working with a computer program, you just select your markers, and the 564 performs it's magic.

Inputs. Why are these important? Tascam is the only company to be thoughtful enough to include some extra's on the 564. You get a total of 12 channel inputs. Why would you need these? Let's take a moment to see why. In a recording session, it's wise to keep all of your instruments separated, and have your vocals on separate tracks as well. Actually, it's wise to keep your drummer in a different county!(:-}) Control's the name, and separate inputs are the game. Let's say we have drums on track one, bass on two, guitar on three, and vocals on four. Now, if your a Midiot like myself, you probably have a keyboard and computer tied into the fray. What if you wanted to have your keyboard play all the keyboard parts at the same time as your tracks are playing. Without the extra inputs, you'd be a dead duck. No innies, no hits. Speaking of MIDI, the 564 has a MIDI out jack so it can control your keyboard or computer sequencer, all without having to waste a precious track for timecode. Very nice. I remember way back, trying to get my four track to synchronize to my keyboard. I had no clue what timecode was, so I would hit the play buttons on my keyboard sequencer, and my four tracker right at the same time and pray that I wouldn't hear that sickening flanging sound coming from parts being just a millisecond or two out of time. I had no idea there were these magical black boxes that cost about as much as a BMW that I, the home recording enthusiast, could purchase with my debtor's opportunity credit card. Thank God we have technology!

Have you had enough yet? Oh yeah, two simultaneous effects returns. What's effects? Well, did you see the remake of Star Wars? It's not those. Effects play an important part of most pop music out there, except maybe alternative music, where the object is to sound as dead as you can. Reverb is the most important effect after compression that a small home studio can have. It simulates different spatial environments artificially. That is, you don't need to go to your brother's cave where he hides all his money to record your guitar part. Where did that come from? Anyway, I like to use bunches on my mix, cause it makes any lame song sound like a big lame song! Tascam gives you two effects sends and returns on each channel which can be used at the same time. Brilliant, I mean brilliant idea! Why give 2 effects returns when you can only use one at a time? Hmm... how about some delay with that reverb? How about some chorus with that flanging?
S/PDIF. God bless you. What in the world is S/PDIF, and why would I want it way out here in the woods? Well, that would be like asking what is air, and why do I need it. S/PDIF is one of those fancy music acronyms that stands for Sony, Phillips Digital Interface. It's very important to us musicians, who are completely obsessed with achieving the maximum amount of headroom with the lowest possible noise floor allowed under international law, and 90 days same as cash plan. If you record digital, why not mix down digitally to a digital tape machine or mini-disc two track? Makes sense to me, and Tascam makes it a reality with the 564. They are the only ones who thought of us musicians highly enough to give it to us. Thanks Tascam!

I have only scratched the surface on the 564. Make sure you go and check one out, and remember, the Bible says "My people die for lack of knowledge." Don't be a musical statistic! Wear your seat belts, buy yourself a 564, and by all means, cover your nose when you S/PDIF!