So you want to start recording? You've squeezed all you can out of disposable gear? You're low on funds, experience or training? Read on - this is for you. In 1985 Tascam offered two related machines. The 234 and the 388. The 234 is a front-loading, rack-mountable cassette deck. It has VUs for each track, 1/4" ins, RCA outs, Dolby II NR, recording speed of 3 3/4 ips (double that of most cassette decks) and is variable +/- 12%. Additionally, each track features its own input, output and pan controls. The cool thing about this deck is it's easy to use, especially for an absolute beginner. If you've ever copied songs onto a cassette, then you have all the knowledge needed to use this unit. The 388 is the bigger brother. The machine contains it's own 8 channel mixing board and 1/4" tape machine. Features include a 3 band EQ, XLR and 1/4" ins, and aux and effects sends. The tape machine uses 7" reels of 1 mil tape. Again, simplicity is key. While there are more options (and more stuff) than the 234, it'll take just a bit of trial & error or manual-time to get up and running. These machines sound great, have a brown/orange color scheme firmly rooted in 1978, and are built like tanks. Both have great components and were built to be easily serviced and maintained as opposed to the seemingly planned obsolescence of some new gear. Wonderful, warm, full - all the analog superlatives apply. The only sonic flaw I've found is a slight loss of high end due to low tape speed and track thinness (consequently, the low end is quite thick). However, this can be circumvented by tracking with extra high end or dialing it up during mixdown. A little trial and error, as with all equipment, can yield familiarity that breeds stellar results. "Proof," you say, "give me proof." Here it is. David Garza released Kingdom Come and Go [see the review here] last year. Except for one song it was recorded entirely on a 234. Records made on a 388 include the entire East River Pipe catalog (Merge Records), super xx man vol. IV (Peek-a-Boo Records), and the Subset disc Overpass (Post-Parlo Records). Les Claypool is a 388-er and the first Primus release was recorded on one. If you are interested in getting either machine, spend a few bucks and listen to the above discs first. They illustrate the sonic capabilities much better than this review possibly could. Both show up with some regularity on eBay and in used gear shops. I've seen the 234 go for $100 - $300 - while 388s generally fetch $500 - $1,100 depending on condition and extras (tape, footswitches, etc).

Tape Op is a bi-monthly magazine devoted to the art of record making.

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